Tag Archives: Jacques Dezais

A Year of Dance: 1717

1717 was a busy year on the London stage, at least so far as dancing was concerned. With hindsight, the most significant event was the performance at the Drury Lane Theatre on 2 March 1717 of John Weaver’s ‘New Dramatick Entertainment of Dancing after the Manner of the Antient Pantomimes’ The Loves of Mars and Venus – now widely recognised as the first modern ballet. Weaver followed it up on 2 April with a ‘New Dramatick Entertainment of Dancing in Grotesque Characters’, The Shipwreck; or, Perseus and Andromeda. Together, the two afterpieces were surely intended to show the full range of the expressive dancing that Weaver was eager to promote. On 5 December 1717, Weaver’s Harlequin Turn’d Judge was given at Drury Lane. It was later advertised as an ‘Entertainment of Dancing in Grotesque Characters’ but was, to all intents and purposes, a pantomime (a genre new to London’s theatres). Both The Loves of Mars and Venus and Harlequin Turn’d Judge were successful enough to survive into the 1720s.

The popularity of Weaver’s danced afterpieces attracted several responses from John Rich at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Rich began with The Cheats; or, The Tavern Bilkers on 22 April 1717. The alternative title apparently refers to a much earlier piece by Weaver, which the dancing master claimed was performed at Drury Lane in 1702. Although, as Weaver’s The Tavern Bilkers was never revived, how did Rich know about it? A few months later, Rich turned his attention to Weaver’s new ballet with Mars and Venus; or, The Mouse Trap, given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 22 November 1717. He then produced Colombine; or, Harlequin Turn’d Judge on 11 December. Neither of Rich’s ripostes were anything like as successful as the originals. However, The Jealous Doctor; or, The Intriguing Dame, a pantomime given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 29 April 1717 continued to be popular until the mid-1720s.

All these afterpieces had casts of dancers, and Rich did not neglect entr’acte dancing. His star dancers in 1717 were the ‘two Children, Scholars of M Ballon, lately arriv’d from the Opera at Paris’. Francis and Marie Sallé had made their London debut at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 18 October 1716. Rich billed them frequently, in a varied repertoire of serious and comic dances, between then and their last performance on 20 June 1717. Was their ‘New Comic Scene’ entitled The Loves of Harlequin and Colombine, given on 23 April 1717, intended as another hit at The Loves of Mars and Venus? They also performed ‘The Submission, a new Dance, compos’d by Kellom’ on 21 February 1717 demonstrating their versatility.

Kellom Tomlinson’s The Submission was one of the only two notated dances to be published in London this year. The other was L’Abbé’s The Royal George, according to newspaper advertisements published ‘for the Princess’s Birth Day’ in March 1717 although the title page says only a ‘A New Dance … for the Year 1717’. The title must thus honour the Prince of Wales her husband. Fortunately, the dance appeared several months before the serious quarrel between the King and his son the following November, which would divide the royal family for the next few years. The other noteworthy cultural event of 1717 was the first performance on 17 July of Handel’s Water Music for George I as he travelled by barge along the River Thames.

In Paris, the annual dance publication was the XV Recüeil de danses pour l’année 1717 published by Dezais. It contained three short ballroom duets, La Clermont and La de Bergue by Claude Ballon and La Ribeyra by Dezais himself. The last of them was dedicated ‘A Madame l’Ambassatrice de Portugal’, providing an insight into the naming of such choreographies. At the Paris Opéra, besides the usual revivals of works by Lully, André Campra was represented not only by revivals of his Fragments de M. Lully and Tancrède but also by a new opera Camille, Reine des Volsques given on 9 November 1717 (N.S.).

The most important dance publication of the year, at least for many 21st-century dance historians, was Gottfried Taubert’s monumental treatise Rechtschaffener Tantzmeister which appeared in Leipzig and provided a German view of French dancing. It shows not only how influential la belle danse was around Europe but also how this French style and technique could be moulded to suit other national tastes and ideas.


A Year of Dance: 1716

In both England and France relatively little of importance happened politically during 1716. The Jacobite uprising which had begun in 1715 suffered its final failure when James Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender, fled Scotland for France in February 1716. That same month, some of the Jacobite leaders were executed in London. In France, the duc d’Orléans continued to act as regent for his great-nephew Louis XV.

The Paris Opéra offered no significant new works this year, although there was a revival of Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, the first since 1691. However, the duc d’Orléans invited a troupe of commedia dell’arte players to Paris for the first time since the suppression of the Comédie-Italienne in 1697. There had been Italian comedies and comedians in the Paris fair theatres in the intervening years, but the Nouveau Théâtre Italien took up residence at the theatre in the Palais-Royal thereby showing royal approval. They gave their first performance there on 18 May (New Style) and played regularly for the rest of 1716.

Was it simply a coincidence that London audiences saw the beginnings of pantomime that same year? The new genre was introduced not at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where the manager John Rich was to become a noted Harlequin, but at Drury Lane where Sir Richard Steele engaged two forains (fair performers) to provide entr’acte entertainments. Sorin and Baxter gave an afterpiece The Whimsical Death of Harlequin at Drury Lane on 4 April 1716. They were described as ‘lately arriv’d from Paris, who have variety of Entertainments of that Kind, and make but a short Stay in England’. London’s playhouses had advertised any number of commedia dell’arte characters and scenes among their entr’acte entertainments over the years, but the billing of The Whimsical Death of Harlequin as an afterpiece was surely intended to signal something new.

Another coincidence was the publication in Nuremberg of Gregorio Lambranzi’s Neue und Curieuse Theatrialische Tantz-Schul, a collection of 101 engraved illustrations of dances. It provides virtually the only visual record we have of the dances that were performed on stages throughout Europe. This plate shows Harlequin and Scaramouch in what must have been an ‘Italian Night Scene’, popular as an entr’acte piece on the London stage from the early 1700s and one of the precursors of the pantomime.

Lambranzi, Neue und Curieuse Theatrialische Tantz-Schul (1716), Part 1, Plate 29

Lambranzi, Neue und Curieuse Theatrialische Tantz-Schul (1716), Part 1, Plate 29

The dances that appeared in notation during 1716 could not have been more different. In Paris, Dezais published a XIIIIe Recüeil de danses pour l’année 1716. This had two choreographies by Claude Ballon, La Gavotte du Roy a quatre and the duet La Bouree Nouvelle, together with Le Cotillon des Fêtes de Thalie by Dezais himself. In the Avertissement at the beginning of the collection Dezais declared that La Gavotte du Roy had been created for the six-year-old Louis XV. The brevity and simplicity of La Bouree Nouvelle suggests that it, too, might have been created for the child King. The cotillon is an early example of the contredanse for eight that would become a dance craze in the 1760s.

In London, Edmund Pemberton published Anthony L’Abbé’s The Princess Anna ‘a new Dance for his Majesty’s BirthDay 1716’, dedicated to the King’s eldest granddaughter the young Princess Royal. As in the previous year, the birthday dance was quickly pirated by the music publisher John Walsh, who also tried to undercut Pemberton. The dancing master was having none of it and attacked Walsh in the Evening Post for 14 June 1716.

‘Whereas the judicious Mr. Walsh has condescended to sell Mr. Isaac’s dances for 1s. 6d. each, the usual price being 5s. It is to be hop’d his tender conscience will cause him to refund the overplus of every 5s. he has receiv’d for 8 or 10 years past, but as it appears his design is equally level’d against me his friend, he having pirated upon me the last birth day dance, compos’d by Mr. Labee. The main reason he gives for it, is, he loves to be doing, and by the same rule, a highwayman may exclaim against the heinous sin of idleness, and plead that for following his vocation: as I have attain’d to a mastery in my art, ‘tis but reasonable I should reap some advantage by it; the masters are impos’d upon by his impression, it being faulty in several places, particularly in the footing. The original is sold against Mercer’s street, Long-Acre, by me the author, E. Pemberton.’

Pemberton had worked for Walsh as a notator of Isaac’s dances, and was clearly acquainted with his wiles.  Walsh gave up without a fight. Presumably Pemberton’s patrons (who extended ultimately to the King) were too powerful for him.

The publication of Kellom Tomlinson’s second ball dance The Shepherdess, a forlana, could have been little more than a sideshow to the publicly expressed rivalry over the printing of the birthday dances created by the royal dancing master. Similarly the appearance of the 16th edition of The Dancing-Master (printed by W. Pearson and sold by John Young) and even Nathaniel Kynaston’s Twenty Four New Country Dances for the year 1716 (printed for Walsh and his partner Hare) were simply part of the normal round of music and dance publishing.

Le Menuet d’Espagne

I have been meaning to return to the minuet for a while, and I would like to open my discussions with a choreographed version of this most revered of ballroom dances. Le Menuet d’Espagne by Dezais was published in his XIII Recueil de danses pour l’année 1715 alongside Balon’s La Transilvanie (discussed in an earlier post). The collection appeared early in the year, aimed at the carnival season which took place several months before the death of Louis XIV on 1 September.

Le Menuet d’Espagne is one of a number of choreographed minuets published in notation during the 18th century. There are about 20 in all and a dozen or so of them date to the early 1700s. Among all these dances are several minuets for four, figured minuets for larger groups of dancers, solo minuets (mostly intended for the stage) and minuets within dance suites that display a number of different dance types in a single choreography. I will return to each of these in due course.

The music for Le Menuet d’Espagne is a rondeau with the structure ABACA (A has sixteen bars, B and C each have eight bars), but the source of the tune has not so far been identified. The choreography is almost a ballroom minuet in miniature. The steps are limited to pas de menuet à deux mouvements, pas de menuet à trois mouvements and contretemps du menuet, with just a couple of agréments or grace steps. The figures are essentially those of the ballroom minuet. The minuet’s opening figure has been simplified. The Z figure has been freely adapted – the sideways steps at the beginning and end are there, together with the crossing of the dancers, but the order of these elements, the paths of the dancers and the spatial relationships between them are quite different. The taking of right hands, then left hands and the closing figure, in which the dancers take both hands, are all clearly recognisable. The whole dance has just 64 bars of music, rather shorter than was expected for a ballroom minuet.

Why is this very French choreography titled Le Menuet d’Espagne? Could it have been a compliment to King Philip V of Spain, grandson of Louis XIV, who had married his second wife Elisabeth Farnese on 24 December 1714? Their proxy marriage on 16 September 1714 would have allowed Dezais plenty of time to create a new ballroom dance honouring the couple. What better duet to choose than a minuet,  performed at royal and other formal balls before (and sometimes by) the highest ranking guests?

I would like to have included a video of this charming duet, but the version I had in mind is not so far available on YouTube. Here is the close of the dance in notation, showing the couple taking both hands as they retreat from the presence.

Dezais. Le Menuet d’Espagne (Paris, 1715), final plate

Dezais. Le Menuet d’Espagne (Paris, 1715), final plate

Various Authenticities

When I first began to study baroque dance, I tried very hard to be authentic – not least because I was so often criticised for my ‘balletic’ approach. It took me some time to realise that such authenticity is impossible. We know a great deal about dancing in the late 17th and early 18th centuries (far more than most people realise), but there is just as much that we don’t and indeed cannot know. My own reconstructions of dances, particularly the solos danced by Mrs Santlow and Mlles Subligny and Guiot, owe as much (if not more) to my personal style and technique as a ballet-trained dancer as they do to the notations and dance manuals of the early 1700s.

The subject of authenticity came into my mind again a week or so ago, when I went to a talk at the Wallace Collection. The speaker was the choreographer and Director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet David Bintley. His new ballet The King Dances is based on Le Ballet de la Nuit, the 1653 ballet de cour in which the fourteen-year-old Louis XIV appeared as the rising sun and became known ever after as the ‘Sun King’. Bintley talked about his forays into history and the world of baroque dance as he developed his choreography. He had gone so far as to have a baroque dance expert give instruction to his dancers – only to find that the unfamiliar style and technique was too difficult to learn in a short period. Although it marked the beginning of ballet, baroque dance was far from the strength and extension now characteristic of its descendant.

At the time of writing, I have not seen Bintley’s The King Dances so I cannot comment on the ballet. However, the photographs of the production are stunning. The young male dancers look as fabulously glamorous as their youthful antecedents at the French court must have done. When they are caught in mid-step the effect is strangely evocative of the ballet de cour, as we glimpse it through the few surviving designs for costumes and scenes. Could Bintley’s work possibly be ‘authentic’ in ways that a production consciously attempting complete ‘authenticity’ could not?

I thought about authenticity again this weekend, while I was taking part in a dance display for a heritage open day which also gave me time to watch. The dances – several cotillons by Dezais and a couple of ballroom duets – were all faithfully reconstructed from 18th-century sources. The costumes were handsome and in good period style, right down to the corsets. However, these were not the essential factors that made the display authentic. There was a range of skills and experience among the dancers and the dances were practised but not perfect. The dances were lively and all the dancers very evidently enjoyed performing them. They took pleasure in dancing with each other and for their audience. I couldn’t help thinking that it must have been very similar at many real balls in the 18th century – except that we may well have danced better than our forebears did.

Authenticity surely resides as much, if not more, in the spirit of the reconstruction as in the letter.


Two more Dezais dance names

There are just two more dances in Dezais’s 1725 Premier Livre de Contre-Dances that I haven’t considered yet – L’Inconstante and L’Esprit Follet. Again, I won’t look at the choreographies but pursue the sources of the dances’ names.

L’Inconstante, for four dancers, is the second dance in the collection. Its duple-time music is identified on the notation as a tambourin. The music has A and B strains of eight and sixteen bars respectively, while the dance has the ‘Change’ and ‘Figure’ structure of a cotillon. So far, I have not been able to find a plausible source for the title. Marivaux’s play La Double Inconstance was given at the Thêâtre Italien on 6 April 1723, but there seems to be nothing to link it to Dezais’s choreography. It is interesting to note that, in London, Farquhar’s play The Inconstant was revived at the Drury Lane Theatre on 16 October 1723. It is unlikely that there is a link, so is there another source which also flirts with the idea of inconstancy?

L’Esprit Follet, for eight dancers, is the seventh dance in the Premier Livre. The duple-time music is titled ‘Rigaudon’ but has the half-bar upbeat of a gavotte. The A strain has four bars and the B strain has eight. The dance has the familiar structure of a cotillon. I haven’t got to the bottom of this title either. ‘Esprit follet’ can be translated as ‘goblin’, which gives me the idea of mischievous (if not malicious) playfulness. Esprits follets featured in the ballets de cour of the mid-17th century and there is a 1684 play by Noël Le Breton de Hauteroche titled L’Esprit Follet. There is no singing or dancing in any of the editions I’ve looked at, so I’m tempted to go in a different direction.

The repertoire of the Italian comedians in 17th-century Paris included a play entitled Arlequin Esprit Follet. I haven’t been able to track down any performances in Paris either at the fairs or the Théâtre Italien in the early 18th century, but a piece with that title was played in London intermittently between 1719 and 1735. The earliest of these performances were given by a troupe led by Francisque Moylin which included the Sallé children Francis and Marie. This suggests that Arlequin Esprit Follet was a given regularly in Paris and elsewhere.  In the absence of a text and, particularly, any music it is impossible to prove, but could Dezais’s  cotillon L’Esprit Follet draw on music from the commedia dell’arte piece Arlequin Esprit Follet?

Do such links, which may be less tenuous than I suggest, say anything about the spirit in which these contredanses should be performed?


Le Cotillon de Surenne

Le Cotillon de Surenne, for eight dancers, is the fourth contredanse in Dezais’s 1725 Premier Livre de Contre-Dances. The music is a gavotte, with A and B strains of four bars each, and the dance has the cotillon ‘Change’ and ‘Figure’ structure. I’m not going to examine the choreography. Instead, I’ll pursue possible sources for the name of this dance.

Surenne (also spelled Suresne in the 18th century, and now Surêne) is a place in the environs of Paris. Nowadays, it lies within the city’s suburbs around six miles west of its centre. In the 1700s, it seems to have been somewhere that Parisians went for entertainment. Could the title of Dezais’s choreography refer to this? Or could it be linked to a short comédie-ballet, written by Florent Carton Dancourt , with the title L’Impromptu de Suresne? According to the title page of the libretto published in 1713, this piece was played that year by the ‘Comediens du Roy’ at Surêne itself. The composer of the music is not named.

The comédie-ballet ends with a divertissement of singing and dancing, with several dances. There is a Passepied, a Menuet, a Rigaudon, another Menuet, an Entrée and a Gavotte (also titled ‘Branle’). The 1713 libretto has no music, but this was included when the work was republished in Paris in 1760 in volume eleven of Les Oeuvres de Théâtre de M. d’Ancourt.  The following lines are sung to the gavotte tune:

En ces lieux l’Amour amene

Les plaisirs, les jeux, les ris;

Des plus doux nœuds il enchaîne

Les coeurs de ses feux épris,

Chacun déserte Paris

Pour venir rire à Surêne.

While the music is recognisably a gavotte, and has A and B strains of four bars each, it is not the same as that of Dezais’s cotillon. It may or may not be the original music for the divertissement.

It is possible that Dezais drew on earlier music for L’Impromptu de Suresne. It is more than likely that his title Le Cotillon de Surenne refers to the pleasures to be encountered just outside Paris.

A Year of Dance: 1725

1725 was quite a busy year, both culturally and politically.

In Britain, one noteworthy event was George I’s foundation of the Order of the Bath. However, the hanging of the notorious thief-taker Jonathan Wild at Tyburn on 24 May 1725 probably attracted greater interest. In Europe, there were several events of undoubted political significance. Tsar Peter the Great died on 8 February and was succeeded by his second wife – Catherine I was the first woman to rule Russia. The Emperor Charles VI and King Philip V of Spain signed the Treaty of Vienna on 30 April, which included a guarantee of the Pragmatic Sanction allowing the Emperor to be succeeded by a daughter, despite the prevailing Salic law. In France, the fifteen year old Louis XV married the Polish Princess Marie Leszczyńska. She was seven years older than the King.

At the Paris Opéra, Les Eléments an opéra-ballet by Delalande and Destouches was given its first public performance on 29 May 1725. The work had initially been performed in 1721 as a court ballet, with Louis XV among the dancers. Its popularity on the public stage was to be long-lived. In London there were two notably diverse premieres within a week. Handel’s latest opera Rodelinda was performed at the King’s Theatre on 13 February. On 20 February, Drury Lane’s new pantomime Apollo and Daphne opened. It was described in the bills as a ‘Dramatick Entertainment of Dancing’ and it did indeed have a great deal of serious dancing in its main plot.

1725 was an unusually busy year for dance publishing. In London, L’Abbé’s new dance for the year was Prince Frederick, in honour of George I’s eldest grandson. L’Abbé’s A New Collection of Dances, notations for 13 choreographies performed in London’s theatres, may have appeared this year (it has no publication date). The undated 18th edition of The Dancing-Master has also been assigned to 1725, although some modern sources prefer 1728. The dancing master Siris published his own ‘dance for the year’ The Diana, in honour of the Duchess of Marlborough’s much-loved grand-daughter Lady Diana Spencer.

Siris. The Diana. First plate

Siris. The Diana. First plate

In Paris, the most important dance publication of 1725 was undoubtedly Pierre Rameau’s treatise Le Maître a danser. This work explains how to perform the steps recorded by Feuillet a quarter of a century earlier. Rameau’s revision of the Beauchamp-Feuillet system of notation, put forward in his Abbrégé de la Nouvelle Méthode, probably appeared in late 1725. He followed Feuillet by including a collection of twelve dances by Pecour as part two of the treatise, all in his revised notation. These dances, described as the most beautiful and best liked of Pecour’s many choreographies, were apparently still popular in the ballroom. They were given a new lease of life by their appearance in subsequent reissues of Rameau’s Abbrégé.

Pecour. La Mariée, notated by Rameau. First plate

Pecour. La Mariée, notated by Rameau. First plate

The regular annual collections of dances issued first by Feuillet and then by Dezais continued with the XXIII Recüeil de dances pour l’Année 1725. Dezais also published his Premier Livre de Contre-Dances, which I have written about in other posts. The title Premier Livre … suggests that he was intending to pursue a new series devoted to notations of contredanses. No more collections of either danses à deux or contredanses appeared after 1725. The abrupt cessation suggests that Dezais died before he could prepare or publish further collections. 1725 marks the end of the publication of notated dances in France, until the contredanses known as cotillons began to appear in a simplified form of notation in the early 1760s.