Tag Archives: Hester Santlow

Stage Dances for Women and the Demie Cabriole

There is another pas composé which appears in many of the stage dances for women, although Feuillet does not include it specifically in his step tables. This is how it is notated in the ‘Entrée pour une femme Dancée par Mlle Victoire au Ballet du Carnaval de Venise’, a forlane included in the 1704 collection of Pecour’s ‘Entrées de Ballet’ (plate 7):

Forlana 7 (2)

The first element of the step is the same as Feuillet’s jetté ‘en avant et le second emböetté derriere’ (Choregraphie, pl. 72).

Choregraphie Jettes 72 (2)

This particular jetté is the basis for Feuillet’s ‘demie cabriole en avant’, which he also calls a ‘jetté battu’ (Choregraphie, pl.84).

Cabrioles Feuillet 1 (2)

In the women’s dances, it is notated as a jetté, without the third line that denotes the cabriole movement, the beating together of the legs in the air.

The demie cabriole is one of the few theatrical steps to get a mention in Pierre Rameau’s Le Maître a danser of 1725, in his chapter XXXVI ‘Des Jettez, ou demies Cabrioles’ (the translation is by John Essex, from The Dancing-Master of 1728, p. 96)

‘They  [jettés] are yet made after another Manner which requires more Strength in the Spring, Quickness in the Rise, and Extension of the Legs, striking them one against the other, falling on the contrary Foot to that sunk upon, and then change their Names and are called half Capers: But as these are Steps for the Stage, and in this Treatise I undertook to teach the Manner of making Steps used in Ball Dancing, I shall not trouble my Reader with these latter, which are only for those whose Form is exquisitely nice, and who make Dancing their Business.’

We might assume that Rameau (as well as his translator) refers to male professional dancers, but he does not specifically say so.

So, where does this jetté ‘emböetté’ appear in the solos and duets for women within the three collections I am looking at? The other solo dance in the Pecour collection of 1704 which includes it is Mlle Subligny’s ‘Gigue pour une femme’, to music from Gatti’s Scylla, first in bar 22 (plate 43, shown below) and again in bar 34 (plate 44).

Gigue Angleterre 43 (2)

She starts with the right foot the first time and the left foot when the step reappears. Both times it is preceded by a pas de bourée emboîté and followed by a coupé battu. The step is embedded within a repeated 12-bar sequence of steps danced to the first and second repeats of the B section of the music.

It also occurs in the one duet in the 1704 collection, the forlane danced by Mlle Victoire and Mlle Dangeville in the Ballet des Fragments de Lully (bar 17, plate 53).

Forlana duet 53 (2)

Here, it is preceded by an assemblé / pas simple combination and followed by a coupé battu.

The jetté emboîté occurs in three of the women’s solos in Pecour’s Nouveau recüeil of around 1713. The first is the ‘Gigue pour une femme seul’ from Campra’s Tancrède (bar 18, plate 75), danced by Mlle Guyot.

Gigue Tancrede 75 (2)

Here, it follows a contretemps backwards and is followed by a coupé battu.

In the ‘Passacaille pour une femme’ danced by Mlle Subligny to music from Lully’s Armide it appears twice. First in bar 62 (plate 82, shown below left), where it is preceded by a pas de bourée and followed by a coupé battu, then in bar 74 (plate 83, shown below right), where it follows a pas de bourée emboîté. This second time, the concluding pas simple becomes a pas plié and the dance bar ends with a coupé avec rond de jambe.

Passacaille Armide 82 (2) Passacaille Armide 83 (2)

 

This proto-cabriole turns up in both the canary duets for women in this collection. In the ‘Canarÿe’ it occurs twice, first in bar 10 (plate 43, see below top), where it is preceded by a pas de bourée emboîté and followed by a coupé battu. The second time, in bar 38 (plate 45, see below bottom), it begins the final musical section after the assemblé / pas simple which finishes a pas de rigaudon and is followed by a coupé battu.

Canarye Guyot Prevost 43 (3)

Canarye Guyot Prevost 45 (2)

In the ‘Entrée de deux Bacchante’, like the ‘Canarÿe’ danced by Mlle Guyot and Mlle Prévost, it also begins the final musical section (bar 26, plate 63) and is preceded by a pas de bourée and followed by a coupé battu.

Bacchante Guyot Prevost 63 (2)

In his New Collection of around 1725, L’Abbé’s ‘Passagalia of Venüs & Adonis’ provides Mrs Santlow with several variants on the basic jetté emboîté which I will discuss in another post. In the ‘Passacaille of Armide’ danced by Mrs Elford and Mrs Santlow, this proto-cabriole comes in bar 100 (plate 13), immediately preceding the assemblé battu which closes the musical variation. It is preceded by a pas composé comprised of a coupé to first position, a pas plié and a jetté. And, as you see, there are three of these variant jettés emboîtés in the bar rather than the more usual two.

Passacaille Armide Duet 13 (3)

Like the pas de sissonne battu, this jetté emboîté is a commonplace in stage dances for women. Should we make anything of the fact that in the majority of the dances by Pecour it is followed by coupé battu? If nothing else, it seems to point to one of his favoured choreographic devices.

Why have I dealt with this topic at such length? Am I the only one who has danced all these choreographies to wonder whether the jetté emboîté should really be a demie cabriole? The female professional dancers for whom these dances were created undoubtedly had the strength and the technical skill to perform cabrioles, which would have been clearly seen under the shorter skirts we know they wore. Did the notations follow a convention related to the one that routinely depicts leading ballerinas in floor-length skirts? I believe they did.

 

Pas de Sissonne Battu in Stage Dances for Women

The pas de sissonne battu, shown in Feuillet’s ‘Table des Pas de Sissonne’ turns up in several of the notated stage solos and duets for women. I am not going to attempt any detailed analysis in this post, I will simply point out where the step occurs.

It can be found in two of the choreographies in the 1704 collection of Pecour’s ‘Entrées de Ballet’: the ‘Passacaille pour une femme’ performed by Mlle Subligny in Gatti’s Scylla; and the ‘Entrée Espagnolle pour une femme’ danced by her in Campra’s L’Europe galante.

It is notated twice in the passacaille, first in bar 96 (plate 28), when it is not (strictly speaking) a pas de sissonne since the assemblé battu is followed by a changement, and the dance bar concludes with a coupé simple.

Passacaille Scylla 28 (2)

It is danced again in bar 152 (plate 31). In both cases, the step is preceded by a coupé soutenue and followed by a coupé battu avec ouverture de jambe.

In the ‘Entrée Espagnolle’ it comes in the penultimate bar of the dance, bar 29 (plate 40) – the loure is notated with two pas composés to each bar of the music. The pas de sissonne is preceded by a contretemps and has an ouverture de jambe on the concluding spring. The assemblé battu is performed with a half turn in the air.

Entree Espagnolle 40 (2)

In Pecour’s Nouveau recüeil of around 1713, the pas de sissonne battu turns up in four of the female solos and just one of the duets. The ‘Gigue pour une femme’ danced to music from Louis Lully’s and Marais’s Alcide is a highly embellished choreography. The unnamed danseuse has a wealth of steps incorporating pas battus, although only one is a pas de sissonne battu. It comes early in the dance, bar 11 (plate 69) and concludes with a changement. It is preceded by two unusual pas composés incorporating tortillé movements (only one is shown here) and followed by a pas de bourée.

Gigue Alcide 69 (2)

I have often wondered whether the anonymous female soloist was, in fact, Mlle Guyot who is the female star in this collection.

Mlle Guyot is named as the performer of the ‘Gigue pour une femme’ from Campra’s Tancrède. This lively little number has a pas de sissonne battu in bar 32 (plate 76), although again it has a concluding changement rather than a spring onto one foot. It is followed by a coupé simple and a coupé avec ouverture de jambe, recalling the sequence in the passacaille from Scylla.

Gigue Tancrede 76 (2)

The ‘Entrée pour une femme seul’, a gavotte from Lully’s Atys, also danced by Mlle Guyot, has a pas de sissonne battu in bar 22 (plate 78). It, too, has a changement instead of a spring and is followed by a pas de bourée battu.

Gavotte Atys 78 (2)

The choreographic masterpiece in this collection, so far as the dances for women are concerned, is the ‘Passacaille pour une femme dancée par Mlle. Subligny en Angleterre’, presumably during her visit to London in the winter of 1701-1702. The music is from Lully’s opera Armide.

Mlle Subligny performs two assemblés battus during the solo. The first comes in bar 101 (plate 84) as a new variation begins in the music. It is followed by a changement and a coupé simple.

Passacaille Armide 84 (2)

The second is in bar 147 (plate 86), as the solo draws to its conclusion, and is the step just before she begins her final retreat. Again, it is followed by a changement and a coupé simple.

Passacaille Armide 86 (2)

The collection of c1713 is notable for the five duets performed by Mlle Guyot and Mlle Prévost. These characterful choreographies are full of pas sautés, although only the ‘Canarÿe dancée … au triomphe de l’amour’ includes a pas de sissonne battu (bar 8, plate 43). This example has a half-turn in the air and is preceded by a contretemps and followed by a pas de bourée.

Canarye Guyot Prevost 43 (2)

In L’Abbé’s New Collection of Dances, published around 1725, neither of Mrs Santlow’s solos include a pas de sissonne battu. However, the ‘Passagalia of Venüs & Adonis’ is an astounding choreography, so far as our ideas of the conventions of female dance technique are concerned. I have performed it numerous times and written about in several different contexts. I hope to return to it later.

L’Abbé’s ‘Passacaille of Armide’ danced by Mrs Elford and Mrs Santlow has one assemblé battu in bar 101 (plate 13). It draws attention to itself not only because it marks the transition to a new musical variation but also because it is followed by two beats in which the dancers come to a dynamic stop – a moment of stillness in which energy continues to flow through their bodies as they wait to resume their dance.

Passacaille Armide Duet 13 (2)

I suggest that, given the number of examples in these collections, the assemblé battu, within the pas de sissonne battu (which is often in a variant concluding with a changement) or alone, was a step integral to the vocabulary of early 18th-century professional female dancers. If they regularly performed this step, what other jumped pas battus might they have performed? There are some hints in the notated female solos and duets and also in the male-female duets as well as the dances for men.

Notated Dances for the Stage

Among the many dances published in notation in the early 18th century are four collections ostensibly for the stage.

  • Raoul Auger Feuillet. Recüeil de dances (Paris, 1700)
  • Guillaume-Louis Pecour. Recüeil de dances (Paris, 1704)
  • Guillaume-Louis Pecour. Nouveau recüeil de dances (Paris, c1713)
  • Anthony L’Abbé. A New Collection of Dances (London, c1725)

Feuillet’s 1700 collection has 15 of his own choreographies, the music for many being taken from French operas. The 1704 collection has 35 choreographies by Pecour and is described on the title page as ‘contenant un tres grand nombres, des meillieures Entrees de Ballet’. Many of these are linked, in the head titles on the first plate of individual notations, to specific performers in the operas from which the music is taken. The Nouveau Recüeil, dated to 1713 on internal evidence, is described on its title page as ‘Dance de Bal et celle de Ballet contenant un tres grand nombres des meillieures Entrees de Ballet’. It contains 9 ballroom dances and 30 choreographies for the stage. Many of the latter are also linked to specific performers in particular French operas. L’Abbé’s New Collection is dated, again on internal evidence, to around 1725. It contains only 13 choreographies, all but one of which are linked to dancers who appeared in London’s theatres and most of which use music from French operas.

These collections between them provide many insights into the dances performed onstage in both Paris and London during the first quarter of the 18th century (and perhaps the decade before). However, with so small a corpus of material, representing only three dancing masters, and uncertainty about the purpose of these collections it is difficult to draw any firm conclusions about the dance repertoire in either of the two cities.

Here are some statistics relating to the contents of each collection:

Feuillet (1700): 2 duets for a man and a woman; 3 male duets; 7 male solos; 2 female solos; one dance for 9 men (the only example of a stage dance for a group of dancers among all the surviving notations). The first dance in the collection is Le Rigaudon de la Paix, a duet for a man and a woman.

Pecour (1704): 15 duets for a man and a woman; 5 male duets; 1 female duet; 8 male solos; 6 female solos. The first dance in the collection is Sarabande pour une femme, to music from the Entrée for L’Espagne in the ‘Ballet de Nations’ within Le Bourgeois gentilhomme. Prominent among the named performers are Ballon and Mlle Subligny.

Pecour (c1713), stage dances only: 12 duets for a man and a woman; 4 male duets; 5 female duets; 3 male solos; 6 female solos. The first stage dance in the collection is the Entrée pour un homme et une femme, danced by Ballon and Mlle Subligny in Lully’s Thesée, although this time the most prominent of the named performers are Mlle Guyot and David Dumoulin.

Entree Thesee 1 (2)

L’Abbé (c1725): 4 duets for a man and a woman; 2 male duets; 1 female duet; 4 male solos; 2 female solos. The first dance in the collection is the Loure or Faune performd, before his Majesty King William the 3d bÿ Monsr. Balon and Mr. L’Abbé. The leading dancers in this collection are Dupré and Mrs Santlow, who each feature in four dances.

Loure or Faune 1

So, we get a flavour of changing emphases between the dances included in each collection, for example the increasing proportion of female solos and female duets in the two Pecour recüeils. The bedrock of the repertoire throughout all four remains the duets for a man and a woman and the solos and duets by men, which may well reflect the distribution as well as the status of dances within the original stage context.

Dancers on the London Stage

Back in 2015, I wrote a short piece about dancing on the London stage from 1660 to 1760, a topic that still receives scant attention from dance historians. In the course of writing a recent post about one particular set of dances performed in London’s theatres, it crossed my mind that I should also pursue the dancers who worked there. Many of them have never featured in dance histories, which generally confine themselves to the same few famous names.

London’s best-known dancers, in their own time as well as ours, were quite often from Europe. They came from France in particular, but also from Italy as well as what is now Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. There were also many native-born dancers in London’s theatres, although they seem (more often than not) to have taken supporting roles to the visiting European stars. Claude Ballon and Marie-Thérèse de Subligny were acclaimed when they came to London in the years around 1700. Hester Santlow and John Shaw were two English dancers who always took leading roles – they were quite definitely not members of the corps de ballet.

We can only really trace the dancers in London’s theatre companies from the early 18th century, when newspaper advertising takes off. Even so, although this gives us records of their performances and, if we are lucky, the repertoire of individual dancers, there is still very little other evidence about their lives and careers. We know of very few portraits, even of the most famous dancers.

By the early 1700s, the playhouses and the opera house seem to have had small dance companies alongside the acting companies. There was also a dancing master, who may or may not be identifiable as such, who was a dancer, choreographer and (probably) the teacher of the actors and actresses of the main company. He would (probably) have been responsible for teaching new repertoire to the other dancers and even rehearsing them, in the group numbers at least. (The leading dancers would probably have taken care of their own solos and duets). I will take a look at some of these men in future posts. There is very little direct evidence of the dancing master’s status and duties – these have to be inferred from occasional references to him or his work. If there were any female dancers who fulfilled this role (and we know that some professional female dancers taught dancing), their status was never mentioned.

The dancers themselves had a range of skills and experience. In the early 18th century many of the female dancers were also actresses, even those who had a level of dance virtuosity equal to that of the visiting French ballerinas. At the same period, most of the leading male dancers (English as well as French) were solely dancers. Several English male dancers were, by repute, able to match the skills of their French counterparts. Lower down the rankings, male as well as female dancers had to deploy a range of performing skills. So far as we can tell, many of the native-born dancers on the London stage had some training in French belle danse, but probably as many did not.

The leading dancers in each company performed regularly in the entr’actes and, from the late 1710s, would take the principal dancing roles in pantomime afterpieces. Ballets, as we understand the term, only came into their own in the later 1700s (although the first example of the genre, John Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus, dates to 1717). Pantomimes also needed a number of players who included dancing among a range of other skills. These supporting performers rarely, if ever, gave dances in the entr’actes unless they had a popular dance speciality. Actors and actresses were called upon to take part in country dances within plays – they rarely danced otherwise.

So, there is quite a range of lives and careers among the dancers on the London stage from 1660 to 1760, and beyond, ripe for investigation. As and when I write about them, I will use their repertoire to try and appraise their dancing skills as well as their status within the dance companies.

The Passacaille

As every musician knows (but not necessarily every dancer), the passacaille is a set of variations over a repeated 4-bar bass line. It shares this musical form with the chaconne, although the notated dances surviving from the 18th century reveal several differences between them. In her recent book Dance and Drama in French Baroque Opera, Rebecca Harris-Warrick looks at passacailles and chaconnes from various perspectives. Her observations are of interest in relation to the appearance of these dances on the London stage. Harris-Warrick points out that passacailles have a slower tempo than chaconnes and that they are often found in association with women ‘not infrequently when seduction is involved’ (p. 60). She also explains that they are the longest of the dances performed on stage and usually feature soloists and groups of dancers in their choreography (although this is not the case with the notated dances).

Passacailles are indeed the longest of the surviving recorded choreographies, in particular two solos created for female professional dancers: Anthony L’Abbé’s ‘Passagalia of Venüs & Adonis’ for Hester Santlow to music from Desmaret’s 1697 opera Vénus et Adonis, 209 bars; Guillaume-Louis Pecour’s ‘Passacaille pour une femme’ for Marie-Thérèse Subligny to music from Gatti’s 1701 opera Scylla, 219 bars. In all six passacailles survive in notation, published between 1704 and the mid-1720s. All are to music from French operas, four are female solos, one is a female duet and one is a duet for a man and a woman.

Advertisements indicate that the passacaille was performed in the entr’actes at London’s theatres quite regularly between the 1705-1706 and 1735-1736 seasons. It was given either as a solo or a duet but not, apparently, as a group dance. The solos are exclusively performed by women, from Mrs Elford at the Queen’s Theatre on 13 June 1706 (when she danced a ‘Chacoon and Passacail’) to Mrs Bullock at Goodman’s Fields on 13 October 1735. Duets were quite rare, although four different couples were billed between 1715-1716 and 1725-1726. After 1735-1736, the dance type disappears from the bills, except for a single performance of ‘A New Dance call’d Le Passecalle de Zaid’ by Anne Auretti at Drury Lane on 26 March 1754 (the occasion was her benefit). The passacaille reappears in the early 1770s for occasional performances until the mid-1780s.

For most of the passacailles performed in London, it is all but impossible to know what was danced either in terms of the music or the choreography. There are exceptions. The earliest is Pecour’s version of the passacaille from Lully’s 1686 opera Armide, created as a solo for Mlle Subligny and performed by her ‘en Angleterre’ during the winter of 1701-1702 – the only time she visited London. This demanding solo (a mere 149 bars) was published in notation around 1713.

Pecour Passacaille Armide 1

Guillaume-Louis Pecour, ‘Passacaile’, Nouveau recueil de danse de bal et celle de ballet (Paris, [c1713]), pl. 79

Anthony L’Abbe’s version of the passacaille from Lully’s Armide was created as a female duet, and must have been danced late in the 1705-1706 season in the brief interval between Mrs Santlow’s debut and Mrs Elford’s retirement.

Labbe Passacaille Armide 1

Anthony L’Abbé, ‘Passacaille of Armide’, A New Collection of Dances (London, c1725]), pl. 7

In his Preface to The Art of Dancing, the manual of dancing he published in 1735, Kellom Tomlinson referred to ‘Miss Frances, who, on the Theatre Royal in Little Lincoln’s Inn Fields, performed the Passacaille de Scilla, consisting of above a thousand Measures or Steps, without making the least Mistake’. He seems to be referring to the music from Gatti’s Scylla, if not to the choreography created by Pecour for Mlle Subligny (although neither the music nor the notated dance extends to a thousand bars). A Miss Francis did in fact dance a ‘new Passacaille’ at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre on 19 March and again on 27 April 1719. The other exception is, of course, L’Abbé’s solo for Mrs Santlow referred to above. Although no date or place for a performance of this choreography is known, it is a stunning example of the challenges of such a dance.

Was the music for the other passacailles billed in the early 18th century invariably French? There are some beautiful examples of the dance type (usually titled chaconnes but with the features of passacailles) among late 17th-century music by English composers. Some of these were undoubtedly danced in the semi-operas of the period. Did any of the other performers billed in passacailles dance the choreographies that have survived? Mrs Bullock is known to have been a virtuoso dancer. She danced a passacaille with Charles Delagarde at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 7 May 1716 as well as her later solo, either of which could have drawn on notated dances. Since they were showpieces, it is not surprising that most passacailles were billed for benefit performances, although not always the dancer’s own. It is interesting that not one of the named performers, male or female, of passacailles given in London up to 1735-1736 is French. There are many puzzles about French dancing in London’s theatres in the early 18th century.

HESTER SANTLOW – VENUS

In the 1716-1717 season, Hester Santlow was Drury Lane’s leading dancer and one of the company’s leading actresses. Who was she and how might she have danced Venus?

Hester Santlow’s date and place of birth and, indeed, her origins remain unknown. Her name seems to be French in derivation (St Loe) and her family were, apparently, not connected with the theatre. What evidence there is suggests that she was born in 1693 or 1694 (see my 2007 book The Incomparable Hester Santlow). She made her stage debut as a dancer in 1706, adding acting to her professional skills in 1709 when she appeared as Miss Prue in Congreve’s comedy Love for Love. Thereafter, she pursued a double career as both a dancer and an actress. Her acting roles show her as a light comedienne – her most popular roles included Harriet in Etherege’s The Man of Mode and Miranda in Mrs Centlivre’s The Busy Body. She was much admired in breeches roles such as Hellena in Aphra Behn’s The Rover. In tragedy, she was best suited to such roles as Ophelia in Hamlet and Cordelia in Nahum Tate’s version of King Lear, both of which she played for many years.

As a dancer, Hester Santlow had no peer on the London stage. She was trained by the Frenchman René Cherrier and had dances created for her Anthony L’Abbé, royal dancing master and a leading choreographer. L’Abbé’s solo ‘Passagalia of Venüs & Adonis’ (to music from the opera by Desmarets), published in notation in the mid-1720s, remains a testimony to her virtuoso technique and her expressive powers.

passagalia-1

L’Abbé, ‘Passagalia of Venüs & Adonis’, A New Collection of Dances, [c1725], first plate

Her impact is well described by the dancing master John Essex in his Preface to The Dancing Master (his translation of Rameau’s Le Maître a danser).

essex-santlow-1

essex-santlow-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hester Santlow married her fellow actor and Drury Lane manager Barton Booth in 1719. Her career ended in 1733, following the death of her husband. During her final season on the London stage, she created the role of Helen of Troy in Weaver’s last ballet The Judgment of Paris.

In Hester Santlow, Weaver had a Venus ‘Goddess of Love and Beauty’ who could both dance and act. Unsurprisingly, she has the greatest range of gestures in the ballet after Weaver himself as Vulcan. He used her dancing skills and her expressive abilities to the full. He also took every chance to show off her beauty. Another contemporary described Mrs Santlow as ‘a beautiful Woman, lovely in her Countenance, delicate in her form’. She is one of the very few dancers of the 18th century for whom we have several portraits.

vanderbank-santlow

John Vanderbank, Hester Santlow, c1720

Venus is first shown ‘in her Dressing-Room at her Toilet’ surrounded by the Graces with Cupid and the Hour (probably Flora). She ‘rises and dances a Passacaile’ first solo and then with the other women. The choreography could have shared features with L’Abbé’s ‘Passagalia’. The ‘Dance … of the Pantomimic kind’ with Vulcan which follows is worth its own post. Weaver entrusted a significant number of gestures to Venus, although she has a far narrower range of ‘Passions’ which have less powerful physical expressions. She is, however, allowed to improvise ‘Coquetry. … seen in affected Airs, given herself throughout the whole Dance’. In scene 4, with Mars, Mrs Santlow’s gestures are again improvisatory – ‘reciprocal Love’ and ‘wishing Looks’. Were these expressions stock-in-trade for Mrs Santlow the actress, or were they new to her?

In the final scene, Venus has to express ‘Shame’, ‘Confusion’ and ‘Grief’. Weaver provides gestures for the first and last of these, leaving her to find her own way of showing ‘Confusion’. How and with whom did Venus dance in the closing ‘Grand Dance’? Were there echoes of her ‘Pantomimic’ dance with Vulcan in scene 2 and of her gestures and dancing with Mars in scene 4? If there were, with her breadth of dance repertoire and her acting skills, Hester Santlow could surely have encompassed them all.

THE DRAMATICK ENTERTAINMENT OF DANCING IN ACTION

The only surviving evidence for The Loves of Mars and Venus is the scenario written by John Weaver to accompany the first performances of the ballet. There were probably several reasons for its publication. Weaver writes in his Preface ‘I know it will be expected that I should give the Reader some Account of the Nature of this kind of Entertainment in Dancing, which I have here attempted to revive from the Ancients in Imitation of their Pantomimes’, thereby presenting himself as a scholar as well as a dancing master. The detail within the scenario suggests that he was rather more concerned that the audience might not understand the story, and the gestures used by the dancers, without some help. He acknowledges that ‘I have not been able to get all my Dancers equal to the Design’, admitting that ‘I have in this Entertainment too much inclin’d to the Modern Dancing’. So, what does the scenario tell us about Weaver’s dance drama?

The ballet unfolds in six scenes, for each of which Weaver describes the action – dance, gesture and even music – quite closely. The first scene is devoted to Mars and is preceded by a ‘Martial Overture’.

mars

A late 17th-century costume design for a ‘Combattant’. Did Weaver’s Mars look something like this?

The four ‘Followers of Mars’ enter to perform a ‘Pyrrhic Dance’ which Weaver explains as an exercise in training for combat. After a ‘Warlike Prelude’, Mars joins them. He dances a solo ‘Entry’ and then performs the Pyrrhic Dance with them.

The second scene provides a complete contrast, as Venus is discovered ‘at her Toilet’ surrounded by Cupid, the Graces and ‘one of the Hours’ (this character is probably one of the ‘Horae’ or Seasons, most likely Flora).

venus

A mid-17th century costume design for Venus (danced by a man). Nothing in her dress declares that she is a goddess.

She is introduced by a ‘Simphony of Flutes’ and rises to dance a passacaille, in which she is joined by the Graces and the Hour. They have just finished their dance when a ‘Wild Rough Air’ heralds the arrival of Vulcan. Everyone except Venus hastily departs. There follows what Weaver describes as a ‘Dance being altogether of the Pantomimic kind’ – a mute quarrel between Venus and Vulcan, for which Weaver specifies in great detail their gestures. This duet surely reaches to the heart of Weaver’s ambition to recreate the ‘surprizing’ performances of the mimes and pantomimes of classical antiquity.

The third scene belongs to Vulcan and his workmen the Cyclops.

vulcan

A late 17th-century depiction of a stage Vulcan. Did Weaver make his god lame?

It begins with a set piece probably familiar from other works on the London stage. Vulcan ‘strikes at the Scene’ and it opens to show the Cyclops, blacksmiths like Vulcan himself, at work to a ‘Rough Consort of Musick’. Four Cyclops dance an ‘Entry’, joined by Vulcan. The ‘Entry’ is, of course, very different from the one performed by Mars in the first scene. The pantomime, as Vulcan plans his revenge on his wife and her lover, differs from that between Venus and Vulcan in scene two.

As well as setting the plot in motion, these three scenes introduce, successively, the principal characters in the drama, through contrasting music, dance and gestures.

Scene four brings Mars and Venus together for the first time. Weaver explains that ‘This Performance is alternate, as representing Love and War’, adding ‘As to the Gestures made use of in this Scene; they are so obvious, relating only to Gallantry, and Love, that they need no Explanation’. Mars and Venus meet and embrace, and Mars woos the goddess in mime. The two deities and their respective Followers then dance another ‘Entry’ which, Weaver says, portrays ‘Strength and Softness, reciprocally, and alternately’. The dance, and the scene, end ‘with every Man carrying off his Woman’.

In scene five, the Cyclops are again shown at work and Vulcan dances a solo showing his pleasure as his plan moves to fruition. The final scene of the ballet begins with a ‘soft Symphony of Flutes’, to which the scene opens showing Mars and Venus sitting together. Their ‘pleas’d Tenderness which supposes past Embraces’ is rudely interrupted as Vulcan and the Cyclops enter and catch the two in a net and then give an ‘insulting Performance’. After that, ‘Jupiter, Apollo, Neptune, Juno, Diana, and Thetis’ arrive to witness the humiliation of Mars and Venus. Finally, Neptune persuades Vulcan to forgive the lovers and release them. Much of this scene was played in gestures, again described by Weaver. The ballet concludes as ‘Mars, with the rest of the Gods, and Goddesses, dance a Grand Dance’. This choreography was, presumably, for nine. Weaver’s wording suggests that Mars danced alone, with the other gods and goddesses in couples. Although it is surely likely that Mars, Venus and Vulcan came together for a trio at some point.

The action of The Loves of Mars and Venus was a mixture of old and new. The dancing of Mars and Venus seems to have used the current French stage style and technique and the final ‘Grand Dance’ followed a well-established convention. Vulcan and the Cyclops probably danced in a comic style commonly seen in the entr’actes in London’s theatres. However, Weaver went well beyond accepted ideas in his use of dance to establish the individuality of his characters. His use of gesture and, apparently, its combination with conventional dance steps was completely new and was, for the first time, the means through which a story was told. Weaver was boldly experimental and innovative, despite his use of a great deal of ‘Modern Dancing’ and the justification of his work through an appeal to classical antiquity.

I will say more about the dances and Weaver’s gestures in future posts on The Loves of Mars and Venus.