Tag Archives: John Shaw

Season of 1725-1726: Other Entr’acte Duets at Drury Lane

The other entr’acte duets given at Drury Lane this season were the following:

Hussars

Muzette

Pierette

Whitson Holiday

Country Dance

Wooden Shoe Dance

Serious Dance

As their titles suggest, they provided a variety of danced entertainment.

Hussars was danced by Thurmond Jr and Mrs Booth on 2 October 1725 and repeated several times during the season. The duet had originally been performed by John Shaw and Mrs Booth in 1719-1720 and she would go on to dance it with William Essex as well as John Thurmond Jr. It is easy to suggest that it was created by Shaw, but it is certainly possible that it originated with Mrs Booth. I discussed the duet and its costuming in The Incomparable Hester Santlow, including its music which (according to a contemporary source) was the forlana from La Sérénade vénitienne, added by Campra to the Ballet des Fragmens de Lully in 1703. This music suggests that Hussars may have been seen as a dance in masquerade.

John Shaw (who sadly died on 8 December 1725) had been one of London’s leading male dancers. He is one of the very few dancers of this period for whom we have a portrait, although only an engraving of the painting by John Ellys now survives.

The Muzette seems to have been introduced to the London stage by Rainton and Miss Robinson in 1724-1725, so their performances of the duet in 1725-1726 were a revival of the dance. As with Hussars, it was Miss Robinson who would go on to perform the Muzette with a series of partners, including William Essex and in 1729-1730 ‘Master Lally’ (probably Samuel Lally, a younger member of the Lally family). Muzette dances continued to be performed into the early 1740s, although it is likely that there were a number of different choreographies. I am reluctant to link this dance to the choreographies that were published in notation, the majority of which were created for the ballroom, although it certainly belongs to the genre of French-inspired pastoral dances that were popular in London’s theatres.

La Peirette or Pierette, given by Roger and Mrs Brett at Drury Lane on 21 March 1726 almost certainly has links to the French comedians who specialized in commedia dell’arte (the French influences on this Italian dramatic form are important to performances in London). This Pierrot or Pierette duet was almost certainly created by Roger – he had been described as the ‘French Pierrot’ in earlier bills – who continued to dance it with Mrs Brett and then other partners in subsequent seasons. Although the duet continued in the entr’acte repertoire after Roger’s death in 1731, it may or may not have drawn on his original choreography.

Whitson Holiday, danced at Drury Lane on 18 April 1726 by Boval and Miss Tenoe, was first performed at Drury Lane on 29 May 1721 by Boval and Mrs Younger. It was evidently by Boval, who danced it with a series of female partners until 1729-1730. The duet was created for a benefit performance and continued to be danced at benefits a few times each season throughout its stage life. The music may have come from Songs Compleat, Pleasant and Divertive, the new edition of Thomas Durfey’s Wit and Mirth; or, Pills to Purge Melancholy published in 1719 and then reissued under the original title 1719-1720. The collection includes the song tune ‘The Parson among the Pease’, which begins with the line ‘One long Whitson Holliday’.

The use of country dances towards the end of plays is quite well-known, but both solo and duet Country Dances were occasionally billed in the entr’actes – as at Drury Lane on 21 April 1726, when Rainton and Miss Robinson were billed together in a Country Dance at his shared benefit. I suspect that these dances should really be billed as Countryman and Countrywoman (as some were). None of the dances with these titles were performed regularly.

The Wooden Shoe Dance was far more popular as a solo than as a duet, and in the latter form was performed this season only at Drury Lane by Sandham’s children. I will take a closer look at these dances when I consider the entr’acte solos performed at the two patent theatres during 1725-1726.

The title Serious Dance was used regularly in the bills from the mid-1710s onwards. Advertisements rarely mentioned Serious Dances and Comic Dances together, although dancing ‘Serious and Comic’ was quite often billed thus. I don’t know why this should be, although the latter wording indicates that the two were seen as quite different. I haven’t yet written a post on comic dancing, although I have addressed Serious Dancing (back in 2017) and The Grand Ballet, Grand Dance and Serious Dance on the London Stage (in early 2018). The only Serious Dance billed in 1725-1726 was a duet by Michael Lally and Mrs Walter at Drury Lane on 18 May 1726, a benefit for Mrs Walter shared with Sandham’s children. It occurs to me that the title may have been used for another dance performed by them this season. Was it perhaps the Pastoral they gave at other performances in 1725-1726?

My next post will be about the other duets performed at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1725-1726.

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.