Tag Archives: John Weaver

Publishing the Scenario for The Loves of Mars and Venus

John Weaver’s innovative ‘Dramatick Entertainment of Dancing’ The Loves of Mars and Venus was first performed at the Drury Lane Theatre on 2 March 1717. The scenario for the afterpiece was published the same week, as announced in the Evening Post, 23-26 February 1717.

‘This Week will be published, as it will be perform’d at the Theatre in Drury Lane. The Loves of Mars and Venus, a Dramatick Entertainment of Dancing in Imitation of the Pantomimes of the ancient Greeks and Romans, compos’d by Mr. Weaver being a Description thereof, written by him for the Benefit of the Spectators, the Novelty of the Undertaking absolutely requiring some Instructions for the better [illustrating?] the same. Printed for W. Mears at the Lamb, and J. Brown at the Black Swan both without Temple-bar.’

This small work is the only surviving source for Weaver’s ballet and it is worth looking more closely at its publication history.

The scenario is the first work to describe in detail the action, dance and gesture in a ballet. It has been linked to the livrets published to accompany ballets at the French court in the late 17th century, but these works had little in the way of extended narrative and included songs which helped audiences to understand the action.

As the advertisement states, The Loves of Mars and Venus was printed for William Mears and J. Browne. Both were involved in the printing of plays and active in selling them. Mears also published opera libretti as well as masques and some early pantomime texts. The origins of Weaver’s scenario perhaps lie in such printed play texts and libretti for the Italian operas that were so popular in London. It was printed as an octavo – the same format as most plays in the early 18th century. The scenario was not ‘printed for the author’, so Weaver presumably sold his copyright to Mears and Browne and did not have to cover any of the printing costs. They were free to republish the text as and when they wished.

Weaver’s scenario is a pamphlet of just 24 pages. The imprint tells us that it cost 6d. (6 old pence), the same price as brief interludes or song texts. Mainpiece plays were 1s. 6d., reflecting their greater length. Although modern equivalents of 18th-century prices are difficult to calculate, 6d. was roughly £5 to £7.50 in today’s money. The size of the print run can only be guesswork, although 250 to 500 copies provide a reasonable estimate.

The relationship between the number of copies printed and audiences at performances of The Loves of Mars and Venus indicates that, even in its first season, very few spectators are likely to have been able to consult the scenario. Drury Lane held 800 to 1000, of whom around half were seated in the more expensive seats in the pit and boxes. We have no idea how many were in the audience at each of the seven performances of the afterpiece in 1716-1717. The advertisement says nothing about the scenario being available for purchase at the theatre, so would-be members of the audience would have needed to seek out a copy at the bookseller. On the other hand, the sale of the scenario elsewhere may have encouraged theatre-goers to attend Weaver’s experimental ballet.

There were more than forty performances of The Loves of Mars and Venus between 1716-1717 and 1723-1724 and another edition of the scenario was published by William Mears in 1724 to accompany the last revival of the afterpiece. This new edition was advertised in the Evening Post for 28-30 January 1724, a few days after the initial performance that season. It carries no edition statement and has the same internal pagination as the 1717 edition, so it may have been a reissue of unsold copies of the original edition. Unfortunately, I have not been able to examine a copy of the 1724 edition and there is no digital version which might allow me to check its status.

There was also an edition published in Dublin in 1720, which I would dearly like to see (according to the English Short Title Catalogue there is only one known copy, which is not accessible digitally). The Loves of Mars and Venus was never performed in Dublin, so far as we know, so this edition perhaps reflects the ballet’s success in London.  Mears and Browne went on to publish the scenario for Weaver’s next ‘Dramatick Entertainment of Dancing’ Orpheus and Eurydice in 1718, which needs a post of its own.

The irregularity in the pagination of the 1717 scenario is worth investigating. The volume collates [A]2 B – C4 D2, which is not unusual, but the pagination runs [4], ix-xvi, 17-28. There seems to be a four-page gap, suggesting either an initial gathering of four leaves rather than two, or perhaps an additional two-leaf gathering after [A]. Was Weaver hoping to include a dedication, which did not materialise? In 1706, he had dedicated Orchesography (his translation of Feuillet’s Choregraphie) to Mr Isaac and his An Essay Towards an History of Dancing of 1712 to Thomas Caverley. Who might have been the intended recipient of The Loves of Mars and Venus? Did Weaver perhaps wish to dedicate the scenario to Sir Richard Steele, licensee and manager of the Drury Lane Theatre and also a playwright? Steele had apparently invited Weaver to return to Drury Lane to mount his ballet but may not have wanted to accept the dedication. Or did Weaver have an aristocratic or even a royal patron in mind, only to be disappointed at the last moment?

The scenario for The Loves of Mars and Venus has a Preface, in which Weaver explains his intention to introduce dancing ‘in Imitation of the Pantomimes of the Ancient Greeks and Romans’ to the London stage and apologises for the deficiencies in the performance of this ‘entirely novel’ form of entertainment. This is followed by a cast list, with mini-biographies of Mars, Vulcan and Venus. The action and the dancing in the afterpiece are divided into six scenes and described in detail. Another innovation is that Weaver adds descriptions of the gestures used in scenes two and six. Without this information, we would have little idea of his approach to expressive mime. Here is the description of scene two together with the first of the pages devoted to the gestures used by Vulcan.

Weaver’s scenario allows us to envisage his ‘Dramatick Entertainment of Dancing’ in performance. The Loves of Mars and Venus is one of very few 18th-century ballets for which we have evidence which, even without any music or surviving choreography, gives us the possibility of recreating a seminal work.

Further Reading

Richard Ralph, The Life and Works of John Weaver (London, 1985), which includes a facsimile reprint of Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus published in 1717.

Judith Milhous and Robert D. Hume, The Publication of Plays in London 1660-1800 (London, 2015)

Season of Dancing: 1716-1717

One of the London stage seasons I have wanted to look at more closely is 1716-1717. It was the season that saw the first performances of John Weaver’s ‘Dramatick Entertainment of Dancing’ The Loves of Mars and Venus. I am not going to explore 1716-1717 in as much detail as I did 1725-1726, although I will pick up some of the topics I mention here in later posts.

1716-1717 was the third season to follow the reopening of the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre in 1714, which ended Drury Lane’s monopoly over drama and associated entertainments. I have mentioned elsewhere that John Rich at Lincoln’s Inn Fields turned to dancing to counter Drury Lane’s far more experienced acting company. His success forced Drury Lane to take other genres, including dancing, more seriously so it could respond in kind. In 1715-1716, the forain performers Joseph Sorin and Richard Baxter had appeared at Drury Lane and presented a variety of entr’acte dances and two afterpieces which drew on the commedia dell’arte. I will return to the afterpieces, The Whimsical Death of Harlequin and La Guingette, on another occasion, but it may have been their success which prompted Drury Lane’s managers to look out for other similar entertainments and to engage the dancer and choreographer John Weaver for the next season.

During 1716-1717, Drury Lane offered 204 performances between September and the following August – including a summer season with 19 performances, which ran from 24 June to 23 August 1717. At Lincoln’s Inn Fields, there were 185 performances between October 1716 and July 1717 with no separate summer season. There was also the King’s Theatre, which offered a season of Italian opera between December 1716 and June 1717 with a total of six operas and 32 performances. At King’s, dancers were advertised at just three performances although they must have appeared more often.

The figures for performances with entr’acte dances are very different at the two main theatres. At Drury Lane there were 93 (including the summer season, 45% of the total), while at Lincoln’s Inn Fields there were 154 (83% of the total). Drury Lane had 10 performances with danced afterpieces and Lincoln’s Inn Fields had 12. However, Lincoln’s Inn Fields was evidently working hard to catch up, because their afterpieces were given in April and May – after Drury Lane’s in March and April.

As for the dancers, Drury Lane had 5 men and 3 women who danced regularly in the entr’actes, although the three women were also actresses. These dancers were:  Dupré, Boval, Dupré Jr, Prince and Birkhead; Mrs Santlow, Mrs Bicknell and Miss Younger. John Weaver and Wade danced only in afterpieces. Dupré and Mrs Santlow were the company’s leading dancers. At Lincoln’s Inn Fields there were 7 men and 3 women as regular entr’acte dancers: Thurmond Jr, Moreau, Cook, Newhouse, Delagarde, Shaw and ‘Kellum’s Scholar’ (perhaps the dancer John Topham); Mrs Schoolding, Miss Smith, Mrs Bullock. Rich’s leading dancers were Anthony Moreau and Mrs Schoolding (although Miss Smith was most often billed among the women). There were also the Sallé children, Francis and Marie, who were a special attraction. At both playhouses there were other dancers who were only billed a few times during the season, although they may have performed more often. At the King’s Theatre, the dancers were Glover, billed as ‘De Mirail’s Scholar’ and Mlle Cerail. The Sallé childen made what was apparently a single appearance there on 5 June 1717, alongside Handel’s opera Rinaldo.

Francis and Marie Sallé were making their first appearance in London. At their first performance at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 18 October 1716, they were billed as ‘two Children, Scholars of M Ballon, lately arriv’d from the Opera at Paris’ with the additional notice that ‘Their Stay will be short in England’. They were undoubtedly the star dancers of the 1716-1717 season at Lincoln’s Inn Fields.  Rich even resorted to a ‘count down’ trick to increase audiences, with an announcement on 5 December 1716 that they ‘stay but nine days longer’, while 10 December was ‘the last time but one of their Dancing on the Stage during their Stay in England’. If this was true, he must have negotiated an extension to their contract for they reappeared not only on 11 December but on 15 December (their ‘last appearance’) and again, without comment, on 20 December. They then danced regularly until 10 June 1717.

Unsurprisingly, there were far more entr’acte dances advertised at Lincoln’s Inn Fields than at Drury Lane. Rich’s dancers gave 27 (6 group dances, 18 duets and 3 solos), while those at Drury Lane gave only 10 (5 group dances, 1 trio, 1 duet and 3 solos). Two of the Drury Lane dances – a solo Mimic Song and Country Dance and the group Countryman and Women – were only given during the summer season. The overlap in entr’acte dances between the two theatres was among the commedia dell’arte numbers. On 18 October, Drury Lane advertised Dame Ragundy and her Family, in the Characters of a Harlequin Man and Woman, Two Fools, a Punch and Dame Ragundy. According to the dancers billed for the performance, the Harlequin Man and Woman were probably Dupré and Mrs Santlow. At Lincoln’s Inn Fields that same evening there was Two Punchanellos, Two Harlequins and a Dame Ragonde, ‘the Harlequins to be perform’d by the Two Children’. Both dances were revivals from the previous season, probably with some changes. Drury Lane was trying to capitalise on its success with Sorin and Baxter in 1715-1716 as well as answer the Lincoln’s Inn Fields forays into commedia dell’arte.

On 22 October 1716, Drury Lane billed a Mimic Night Scene, after the Italian Manner, between a Harlequin, Scaramouch and Dame Ragonde, ‘being the same that was perform’d with great Applause, by the Sieurs Alard, 14 years ago’. The theatre’s revival of a piece from its own past (if that is what it was) was a success, for this Night Scene was given some 19 times during the season. The response from Lincoln’s Inn Fields was a Night Scene by the Sallé children, given three performances between 5 and 7 November. There had been some tit-for-tat billing of Night Scenes between the two theatres in 1715-1716, but Rich may now have felt he had other fish to fry when it came to dancing ‘after the Italian Manner’.

His focus was, of course, on the Sallé children, who together performed in a dozen entr’acte dances during 1716-1717. They gave nine duets and took part in three group dances. I have already mentioned the Dame Ragonde dance in which they performed as Harlequins and I will come to the other group dances shortly. Their London repertoire as child dancers in the late 1710s is worth closer analysis and I hope to return to it in another post.  Here, I will only mention the ‘Scene in the French Andromache burlesqued’ in which Francis danced Orestes with Marie as Hermione – the play was presumably Racine’s Andromaque and the children may have been drawing on their repertoire at the Paris fairs. This was repeated at least five times during the season. They also performed a new duet, The Submission, by the London dancing master Kellom Tomlinson who was then starting out on his career. This was first given on 21 February 1717 and repeated another three times that month. The Submission is the only dance performed by Marie Sallé to survive in notation, for it was published by Tomlinson that same year. Here is the first plate.

The leading dancer and perhaps the dancing master at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Anthony Moreau, was credited with five dances in the bills and may well have been responsible for more. His most popular choreography by far was the Grand Comic Dance first performed with The Prophetess on 15 November 1716. It was advertised as the Grand Comic Wedding Dance alongside The Emperor of the Moon on 28 December but reverted to its original title when it was given on 8 April 1717. It received 21 performances in all in the course of 1716-1717 and the Sallé children were among its dancers.

Drury Lane revived two of its popular pastoral dances from the previous season – Lads and Lasses on 18 October and Myrtillo on 13 December – although neither of them were given more than a few performances, perhaps because there was no response from Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Lads and Lasses is one of those dances for which it is impossible to discover exactly who danced it at most, if not all, of its performances. Myrtillo may have deployed the same six dancers as in the previous season (Dupré, Boval, Dupré Jr, Mrs Santlow, Mrs Bicknell, Miss Younger – who were all named as entr’acte dancers at its first performance in 1716-1717). Lads and Lasses would last into the late 1720s. Myrtillo became a regular feature of the entr’acte dance repertoire at Lincoln’s Inn Fields as well as Drury Lane and lasted into the mid-1730s.

Both companies gave mainpieces with dancing this season. At Drury Lane these were Macbeth and The Tempest, while at Lincoln’s Inn Fields The Island Princess, Macbeth and The Prophetess as well as The Emperor of the Moon were performed. However, the most important productions, so far as future developments are concerned, were the afterpieces at both theatres. With these, the sequence of first performances is of interest as it shows clearly the progress of the rivalry between Drury Lane and Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

Drury Lane, 2 March 1717, The Loves of Mars and Venus by John Weaver

Drury Lane, 2 April 1717, The Shipwreck; or, Perseus and Andromeda by John Weaver

Lincoln’s Inn Fields, 22 April 1717, The Cheats; or, The Tavern Bilkers

Lincoln’s Inn Fields, 29 April 1717, The Jealous Doctor

Lincoln’s Inn Fields, 20 May 1717, Harlequin Executed

These were all new productions and it is evident that Rich at Lincoln’s Inn Fields was responding to Weaver at Drury Lane. I have written about The Loves of Mars and Venus elsewhere and I will take another closer look at this ballet in due course. Rich would produce a direct response to it in 1717-1718 and there would be several Lincoln’s Inn Fields afterpieces which used the phrase ‘Loves of’ in their titles. This season, though, there was only an entr’acte dance, The Loves of Harlequin and Colombine, performed by Francis and Marie Sallé on 23 April 1717. Might this suggest that the two children had been taken to Drury Lane to see Dupré and Mrs Santlow as Mars and Venus, so they could mimic them?

The Cheats; or, The Tavern Bilkers was, of course, a direct hit at Weaver by Rich – who obviously knew of Weaver’s claim to have created a piece entitled The Tavern Bilkers some fifteen years earlier, described by Weaver some years later as ‘The first Entertainment that appeared on the English Stage, where the Representation and Story was carried on by Dancing, Action and Motion only’ (The History of the Mimes and Pantomimes, published 1728, see page 45). The Jealous Doctor was based on a new, short-lived play given at Drury Lane on 16 January 1717, Three Hours after Marriage by John Gay, Alexander Pope and John Arbuthnot. Harlequin Executed had begun as a Lincoln’s Inn Fields entr’acte dance, entitled Italian Mimic Scene between a Scaramouch, Harlequin, Country Farmer, His Wife and Others on 26 December 1716 before being renamed as Harlequin Executed; or, The Farmer Disappointed on 29 December. After some seven performances as an entr’acte dance, it became an afterpiece on 10 May 1717 and would last in the Lincoln’s Inn Fields repertoire until 1721-1722. Although there is no mention of him in Harlequin Executed until 1717-1718, ‘Lun’ (John Rich himself) took the role of Harlequin in both The Cheats and The Jealous Doctor – directly challenging Weaver as Vulcan in The Loves of Mars and Venus and Perseus (Harlequin) in The Shipwreck. All of these afterpieces were, of course, laying the foundations for the new genre of English pantomime that would emerge over the next few years. This satirical print depicts how unsettling that would be for serious drama on the London stage. ‘Lun’ as Harlequin takes centre stage.

Season of 1725-1726: Afterpieces with Dancing at Drury Lane

There were three afterpieces with dancing at Drury Lane during the 1725-1726 season. All were pantomimes.

The Escapes of Harlequin

Harlequin Doctor Faustus

Apollo and Daphne

All had been created by John Thurmond Junior and none were new this season. The second two are worth posts of their own and I will write these in due course.

The Escapes of Harlequin was given on 19 October 1725. The cast listed in the bills consisted entirely of commedia dell’arte characters – Roger and Mrs Booth were Harlequins, Thurmond and Boval together with Mrs Brett and Miss Lindar were Punches, Bridgwater and Mrs Willis (both actors rather than dancers) were the Doctor and his Wife, while Rainton danced Pierrot and Miss Tenoe Columbine. The pantomime had first been given, at Drury Lane, on 10 January 1722 and had been moderately successful in subsequent seasons, although it was performed only twice in 1725-1726 and would be revived only once more, in 1727-1728. No scenario was published and no music is known to survive (the composer is never mentioned in the bills). The afterpiece is ascribed to John Thurmond Junior by John Weaver, who included it in his ‘List of the Modern Entertainments that have been Exhibited on the English Stage; Either in Imitation of the Ancient Pantomimes, or after the Manner of the Modern Italians’ within his The History of the Mimes and Pantomimes published in 1728. Weaver’s lengthy title provides a summary of the influences that lay behind the new pantomimes. The Escapes of Harlequin was initially described in the bills as ‘A new Dramatick Entertainment of Dancing in Grotesque Characters’ linking it to the ‘Modern Italians’.

The pairs of characters suggest a series of duets, while the separate characters of Pierrot and Columbine perhaps hint at a plot which involves them, although it is impossible to guess at the action of the afterpiece. Thurmond Junior may have drawn on one or more of the plays (many of which were commedia dell’arte pieces) performed by a company of French comedians at the Little Theatre in the Haymarket during 1720-1721. I did wonder whether he might have been using existing entr’acte dances, but the evidence points another way – a Harlequin duet later performed in the entr’actes which might have originated in The Escapes of Harlequin. We know little, if anything about the dancing in Thurmond Jr’s pantomime but, since it had a cast of characters entirely from the commedia dell’arte performed by leading dancers at Drury Lane, might this drawing by Claude Gillot evoke its style?

Harlequin Doctor Faustus, given on 9 November 1725, was the pantomime that had started a craze for the genre when it was first performed at Drury Lane on 26 November 1723. John Rich had swiftly responded at Lincoln’s Inn Fields with the even more successful pantomime The Necromancer; or, Harlequin Doctor Faustus (which I will discuss in my next post) and both productions were integral to the repertoires of the two theatres for many seasons. At least three scenarios were published for Harlequin Doctor Faustus, which differ in some details, so we have a good idea of its action. Little if any of the music survives. The pantomime is, of course, based on the legend of Doctor Faustus and his pact with the Devil, told through the distorting lens of the commedia dell’arte. Thurmond Junior is identified as the author of the piece on the title pages of the scenarios. At the first performances, he played Mephistophilus with John Shaw as Faustus. In 1725-1726, no cast was listed until 3 June 1726 when Roger was Harlequin / Faustus and either Rainton or Haughton (both young dancers) performed Mephistophilus.

An important feature of this particular pantomime was the ‘grand Masque of the Heathen Deities’ with which it ended. This was an extended divertissement of serious dancing, in complete contrast to the grotesque commedia dell’arte characters who appeared in the main part of the afterpiece. The transition from pantomime to divertissement is described in the scenario, Harlequin Doctor Faustus: with the Masque of the Deities (1724). Time and Death enter the Doctor’s study and sing, in turn, to warn Faustus his time is up.

‘When the Songs are ended, it Thunders and Lightens; two Fiends enter and seize the Doctor, and are sinking with him headlong thro’ Flames, other Devils run in and tear him piece-meal, some fly away with the Limbs, and others sink. Time and Death go out.

The Music changes, and the Scene draws, and discovers a Poetical Heaven with the Gods and Goddesses rang’d in order on both sides the Stage, who express their joy for the Enchanter’s Death, (who was supposed to have power over the Sun, the Moon, and the Seasons of the Year.)’

The ‘Gods and Goddesses’ are the dancers in the masque. The excerpt above from the printed text shows how elaborate the staging was, with its tricks, transformations and sophisticated scenery. Sadly, there is no visual record at all of Harlequin Doctor Faustus but the ‘assembly of the gods’ was a favourite topic for ceiling paintings, including this one by William Kent which dates to around 1720.

The last of Thurmond Junior’s pantomimes to be given in 1725-1726 was his most recent, Apollo and Daphne; or, Harlequin’s Metamorphoses on 11 February 1726. Thurmond Junior and Mrs Booth danced the title roles, with Theophilus Cibber as Harlequin. It had first been given as Apollo and Daphne; or, Harlequin Mercury at Drury Lane on 20 February 1725 with the same leading dancers. John Rich had had to wait nearly a year before he could reply from Lincoln’s Inn Fields with Apollo and Daphne; or, The Burgomaster Tricked, in which the title roles were danced by Francis and Marie Sallé with Francis Nivelon as the Burgomaster. Two scenarios were published for the Drury Lane pantomime, which tell us that it began and ended with episodes from Apollo’s fruitless pursuit of Daphne, separated by a complete comic plot in four scenes, and had a concluding pastoral divertissement. In 1724-1725, Thurmond Junior and Mrs Booth were a Sylvan and a Nymph, while in 1725-1726 the divertissement had become ‘a Rural Masque: Les Bois d’Amourette’ with Mrs Booth again as a Nymph and both Thurmond Junior and Roger as two Rival Swains.

It is worth noting that, for its first performance in 1724-1725, Apollo and Daphne is billed as ‘A New Dramatick Entertainment of Dancing’, linking it to John Weaver’s ballets of a few years before. In 1725-1726, Thurmond Junior had obviously revised his pantomime in answer to Rich’s version and it received more than 25 performances that season (more than in 1724-1725), although it would remain in the Drury Lane repertoire only until 1727-1728. The music for Thurmond Junior’s Apollo and Daphne was by Richard Jones and Henry Carey, but no score survives. We have little idea of the visual effect of the production, although the scenarios record some of the scenic and special effects in both the serious and the comic parts of the pantomime. Apollo’s pursuit of Daphne and her transformation into a laurel tree when he catches her, were favoured topics for artists of the period and both moments were depicted in the pantomime. This version, by Giambatista Tiepolo, is nearly thirty years later, but it shows Daphne beginning her transformation beside her father the river god Peneus as Apollo catches up with her too late.

In my next post, I will turn to the Lincoln’s Inn Fields afterpieces with dancing.

La Bretagne in London

A dance titled The Bretagne turns up very occasionally in the bills for London’s theatres during the first half of the 18th century. Its earliest appearance was at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 5 April 1731, when Francis and Marie Sallé danced the ‘Louvre and Bretagne’ at his benefit performance. The Louvre is, of course, Pecour’s Aimable Vainqueur which was a favourite dance of the period. From this performance, it seems clear that the second dance must have been Pecour’s La Bretagne, created in honour of the duchesse de Bourgogne following the birth of her son the duc de Bretagne in 1704. This ballroom choreography was published in notation the same year, in Feuillet’s IIIme. Recüeil de danses de bal. Here is the title page for the dance (which was evidently also sold separately) and the first plate.

In 1706, P. Siris included La Bretagne in his translation of Feuillet’s Choregraphie, published in London as The Art of Dancing by Characters and Figures. Here is the first plate.

Bretagne Siris plate 1

His version differs from Feuillet’s in some of the steps and the figures. It must have served to make the dance known in London, for John Weaver included it in the second edition of his translation of Choregraphie, Orchesography, published around 1722. Siris’s version also attracted the attention of Sir Richard Steele, who referred to the dance in his periodical The Lover on 4 March 1714. Steele mentions a separate edition of Siris’s notation of The Bretagne which had been published in London the same week (no copy is known to survive). The short essay that Steele weaves around it (with references to the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht that ended the War of Spanish Succession and made peace between Britain and France) needs detailed analysis that I cannot undertake here.

By the time that the Sallés performed it on stage in 1731, La Bretagne must have been known in London – at least to the capital’s dancing masters and perhaps to some of their pupils as well. Its next known performance on the London stage was not until 25 May 1738, when it was given (again at a benefit performance) alongside a Minuet by Miss Wright and Miss Morrison. The advertisement makes no mention of cross-dressing by one of the young women, although the practice was not unusual on the London stage. The next performance was on 5 May 1740 at Covent Garden, when James Dupré and Mrs Ozanne danced ‘The Britain (Ball Dance) and Minuet’ for his benefit. The last recorded performance was on 1 April 1742, again at Covent Garden, when Desnoyer and Sga Barberina gave ‘A Ball Dance call’d the Britannia, and a Louvre concluding with a Minuet’ for his benefit. I have wondered whether this might have been Isaac’s The Britannia, published in notation in 1706 and reissued a number of times subsequently, or perhaps a dance to music from Thomas Arne’s 1740 masque Alfred. The latter included the song ‘Rule Britannia’ and Sga Barberina had danced at the masque’s first performance before Prince Frederick at Cliveden. On reflection, I am inclined to believe that the dance at Covent Garden in 1742 was Pecour’s La Bretagne, but I cannot be sure.

La Bretagne appeared in notation many times over the years. The duet was notated afresh by Pierre Rameau and published in his Abbrégé de la nouvelle méthode, which was reissued several times after its first appearance in 1725. It also turns up in a number of manuscript sources – see the entry for the dance in Francine Lancelot’s invaluable catalogue of surviving notations La Belle Dance (1996). It is mentioned by Taubert in his Rechtschaffener Tantzmeister (1717) as well as Rameau in Le Maître a danser (1725) and Kellom Tomlinson in The Art of Dancing (1735) – in each case in relation to the performance of individual steps, indicating its use in teaching.

I haven’t diligently pursued the teaching of La Bretagne in London or elsewhere, but the dance does turn up occasionally in dancing masters’ advertisements. One, for Messrs Welch and Hart in the Public Advertiser for 14 April 1768, offers cotillons, minuets, the Louvre, Passepied, Matlotte, the ‘Almand François’ and English country dances, as well as a ‘Nouvelle Bretaigne’ listed among the duets. I haven’t been able to locate any notation for a ball dance called ‘Nouvelle Bretaigne’ but it does hint that La Bretagne was routinely offered by London’s dancing masters, so Welch and Hart were attempting to go one better.

The explicit references to the teaching of the duet in London come much later, long after it had disappeared from the theatres. An advertisement in the Morning Post for 13 September 1776 announces that ‘Mr. Ferrere’ had established himself in London.

Ferrere Morning Post 13 Sep 1776 (2)

He must surely have been the Ferrère who created some of the works preserved in the manuscript compiled in 1782 by August Ferrère, who was his son. So far as I am aware, no reference to Ferrère Senior teaching in London has previously been found. He was still successfully plying his trade some sixteen years later, as this advertisement in the Oracle from 12 April 1792 shows.

Ferrere Oracle 12 Apr 1792 (2)

The list of dances that he was teaching includes several of Pecour’s ballroom choreographies from the beginning of the 18th century. Ferrère was surely not the only dancing master to include these in his curriculum, although I have been unable to locate other examples from the earlier 1700s.

More research is needed – into the inclusion of these early ballroom dances in performances on the London stage, as well as into London’s dancing masters and what they taught. There is more to be said, too, about Pecour’s choreography for La Bretagne, but that will have to wait for another occasion.

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.

MAINPIECES, AFTERPIECES AND JOHN WEAVER’S BALLET

John Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus was an afterpiece, an entertainment intended to follow another, longer play on the theatre bill. During its stage life, what did the ballet accompany on the bills and does it matter?

At the first performance on 2 March 1717, The Loves of Mars and Venus was given after Beaumont and Fletcher’s The Maid’s Tragedy, a Jacobean revenge tragedy revived after the Restoration and still popular. At its second performance, the ballet followed Addison’s Cato. This was a new tragedy, first performed in 1713, with a story drawn from classical antiquity. It was a great success at its first performance and would remain in the repertoire for many years. Weaver’s ballet was paired with a different play at each of its seven performances in the 1716-1717 season. Five were tragedies and two comedies. Of the other tragedies, the most noteworthy was Nicholas Rowe’s Tamerlane. First performed in 1701, the play used exotic historical characters to represent the rivalry of William III and Louis XIV. Tamerlane was identified with William III and Rowe’s play was routinely given each year by both playhouses on the 5 November, the anniversary of his landing at Torbay. The other two tragedies were Nathaniel Lee’s Mithridates (1678, another story drawn from classical antiquity), and Otway’s The Orphan (1680). The two comedies were Farquhar’s The Beaux Stratagem (usually billed simply as The Stratagem), first performed in 1707, and George Villiers’s The Rehearsal, a satirical view of the London stage first performed in 1671. All these plays, tragic and comic, were staples of the London stage.

Do these pairings tell us anything? It is interesting that the majority of the mainpieces were tragedies. This might indicate that Drury Lane’s three actor-managers thought of The Loves of Mars and Venus as a serious piece, albeit a far lighter entertainment than the preceding tragic plays.

Over the period it remained in repertoire, The Loves of Mars and Venus was paired most often with The Maid’s Tragedy, Cato and Tamerlane. I have taken a look at the bills for other performances of those plays between 1715-1716 and 1719-1720 to see if these might tell us more. The Maid’s Tragedy was usually given with entr’acte entertainments – the only afterpiece with which it was billed was Weaver’s ballet. Cato was either billed alone, with entr’acte entertainments or with an afterpiece. Addison’s tragedy was also billed with Weaver’s second dance drama, Orpheus and Eurydice, in both 1717-1718 and 1718-1719. Tamerlane was most often given alone, although it, too, was sometimes accompanied by either entr’acte entertainments or an afterpiece. There is insufficient evidence to provide definite conclusions, but it seems that at Drury Lane the pairing of mainpieces and afterpieces could be by careful choice and that The Loves of Mars and Venus was seen as more than merely a transient amusement.

The ballet disappeared from the repertoire after the 1723-1724 season. The reasons why it was dropped are still to be investigated, but it should be noted that at four of the five performances given in its last season The Loves of Mars and Venus was paired with mainpiece comedies. Only at its last performance was it given with a tragedy, Hildebrand Jacob’s The Fatal Constancy first performed the previous season. Both mainpiece and afterpiece were reviewed in Pasquin for 18 February 1724. The Fatal Constancy was praised as written ‘upon the Model of Antiquity’ and even for ‘the Shortness of the Piece’. The Loves of Mars and Venus may have been added to the bill for both reasons – during its short stage life, The Fatal Constancy was not billed with any other afterpiece. Pasquin condemned The Loves of Mars and Venus for its classical inaccuracy (two-eyed Cyclops) and its lack of dramatic credibility.

Pasquin Loves 1

From Pasquin, 18 February 1724

Does this suggest that Weaver’s serious intentions for his ballet had already been forgotten? Pasquin also revealed that the afterpiece was the victim of economies at the theatre.

Pasquin Loves 2

From Pasquin, 18 February 1724.

By 1724, it seems that Weaver’s innovative ballet had worn out its welcome with Drury Lane’s managers and audience alike.

 

Serious Dancing

In his An Essay towards an History of Dancing (1712), John Weaver described three distinct genres of stage dancing ‒ serious, grotesque and scenical. He drew on all three in The Loves of Mars and Venus, beginning with serious dancing in the first two scenes of the ballet, which introduce in turn Mars and Venus. I have quoted this passage from Weaver’s Essay before, in a piece about stage dancing posted more than two years ago, but it is worth repeating:

Serious Dancing, differs from the Common-Dancing usually taught in Schools, as History Painting differs from Limning. For as the Common-Dancing has a peculiar Softness, which would hardly be perceiveable on the Stage; so Stage-Dancing would have a rough and ridiculous Air in a Room, when on the Stage it would appear soft, tender and delightful.’

Weaver was drawing attention to the greater power and amplitude in the performance of dancing on stage. His list of ‘some Steps peculiarly adapted to this sort of Dancing’ reveals its innate tendency to virtuosity, for he mentions ‘Capers, and Cross-Capers of all kinds; Pirouttes [i.e. pirouettes], Batteries, and indeed almost all Steps from the Ground’. These are among the more difficult steps recorded in Feuillet’s Choregraphie and Weaver had himself recorded them in notation for his translation of that work.

Is he contradicting himself when, in his next paragraph, he declares that serious dancing is ‘the easiest attain’d’ of the genres, even if he adds that ‘a Man must excel in it to be able to please’?

Despite his dismissal of serious dancing, at least so far as his ambitions for dance drama are concerned, Weaver provides further insights into its demands.

‘There are two Movements in this Kind of Dancing; the Brisk, and the Grave; the Brisk requires Vigour, Lightness, Agility, Quicksprings, with a Steadiness, and Command of the Body; the Grave (which is the most difficult) Softness, easie Bendings and Risings, and Address; and both must have Air and Firmness, with a graceful and regulated Motion of all Parts; but the most Artful Qualification is a nice Address in the Management of those Motions, that none of the Gestures and Dispositions of the Body may be disagreeable to the Spectators.’

He is, of course, talking about the rigours of classical dancing, the genre that strives for formal technical perfection.

Weaver is forced to admit that ‘the French excel in this kind of Dancing’ and he singles out Guillaume-Louis Pecour, ballet master at the Paris Opéra, as an exemplar in the genre. It is interesting that Weaver lauds Pecour for his mastery of ‘the Chacoone, or Passacaille, which is of the grave Movement’. In London, Anthony L’Abbé created two highly virtuosic solos: the ‘Chacone of Amadis’, to music from Lully’s 1684 opera Amadis, for Louis Dupré – Weaver’s Mars; and the ‘Passagalia of Venüs & Adonis’, to music from Desmarets 1697 opera Venüs & Adonis, for Hester Santlow – Weaver’s Venus. Both choreographies post-date Weaver’s Essay and perhaps date to shortly before The Loves of Mars and Venus. They reflect the tradition of French serious dancing to which Weaver’s two principal dancers, and indeed Weaver himself (as a teacher at least), belonged.

CYCLOPS ‘BY THE COMEDIANS’

Neither Weaver’s scenario nor the advertisements for the first performances of The Loves of Mars and Venus tell us who played the Cyclops, Vulcan’s Workmen. It was only on 12 March and the fourth performance of the ballet that the bills announced ‘4 Cyclops by the Comedians’ (Weaver’s scenario calls for seven Cyclops in all). Weaver does not give the Cyclops individual names, although these were used elsewhere including the masque by Motteux that was his main source.

The billing ‘the Comedians’ suggests that audiences would have known which players would take the roles. The Drury Lane company had 25 actors for the 1716-1717 season, including a number who specialised in comedy – several of whom occasionally danced. The cast for Weaver’s ‘Entertainment of Dancing in Grotesque Characters’ The Shipwreck; or, Perseus and Andromeda included ‘Four Sailors and Wives by the Comedians’. This tells us that there were four (and perhaps, if the ‘Wives’ were played by men, eight) players who might have appeared as Cyclops in Weaver’s ballet. The billing also suggests that the Comedians had been popular enough in The Loves of Mars and Venus for Weaver to be happy to use the idea in a fresh context. Who could these ‘Comedians’ have been?

Most obvious among them is William Pinkethman, who was probably the leading low comedian at Drury Lane during this period. Primarily an actor, Pinkethman sometimes sang and danced. He regularly ran a booth at London’s summer fairs and also managed a theatre during the summer months, first at Greenwich and then at Richmond. His repertoire included Harlequin in Aphra Behn’s The Emperor of the Moon, a role he took early in the 18th century. This indicates that he had physical skills that were akin to dancing. He often appeared with the comic actor William Bullock (who was a member of John Rich’s troupe at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1716-1717). Their respective talents were described in 1709 in an issue of the Tatler.

‘Mr. William Bullock and Mr. William Penkethman are of the same age, profession, and sex. They both distinguish themselves in a very particular manner … Mr. Bullock has the more agreeable sqwal, and Mr. Penkethman the more graceful shrug. Penkethman devours a cold chicken with great applause. Bullock’s talent lies chiefly in asparagus. Penkethman is very dexterous at conveying himself under a table. Bullock is no less active at jumping over a stick.’

The description gives us an idea of the stock in trade of the London stage’s low comedians and suggests something of the physical comedy Pinkethman might have brought to the role of a Cyclops. He is one of the few actors of the period for whom we have a portrait.

Pinkethman 1709

William Pinkethman, mezzotint by John Smith after a portrait by Johann Rudolf Schmutz, 1709. © British Museum

Another comedian at Drury Lane in 1716-1717 was Henry Norris, who often worked with Pinkethman at the fairs and in the latter’s summer theatres. Norris had begun his career by the mid-1690s, perhaps in Dublin. He had arrived in London for the 1699-1700 season, when he played at Drury Lane. Like Pinkethman, he was a comic actor who occasionally sang and danced and quite often managed a booth at the fairs. He, too, was noted for his expressive skills, as a discussion of his appearance in the afterpiece The Country Wake in the Tatler in 1712 reveals:

‘I am confident, were there a scene written wherein Penkethman should break his leg by wrestling with Bullock, and Dicky [i.e. Henry Norris] come in to set it, without one word said but what should be according to the exact rules of surgery in making this extension, and binding up the leg, the whole house should be in a roar of applause at the dissembled anguish of the patient, the help given by him who threw him down, and the handy address and arch looks of the surgeon.’

Such skills and such interplay must surely have been put to good use in the scenes involving the Cyclops.

Also at Drury Lane at this period was the comedian Francis Leigh, who had begun his career in the early 1700s. He later worked with Pinkethman at Greenwich as well as running a fair booth with Norris during the summer. Leigh occasionally danced, although the only piece in which he was explicitly billed was a Miller’s Dance (in which he apparently sometimes appeared as the Miller’s Wife – I will take a closer look at the various versions of this entr’acte dance in due course). Sadly, there is no known portrait of Leigh and no description of him in performance. However, his close association with both Pinkethman and Norris suggests compatible skills.

The fourth comedian at Drury Lane who may have played one of the Cyclops was Josias Miller, who had begun his career around 1704. Like the others I have mentioned, he was a comic actor who occasionally sang and danced (he later took non-speaking roles in some of Drury Lane’s most successful pantomimes). There are a couple of depictions of Miller as different characters, but no description of him in performance.

Miller Josias

Josias Miller, as Teague in Sir Robert Howard’s The Committee. Mezzotint by Andrew Miller after a painting by Charles Stoppelaer, 1739. © British Museum

More research may uncover further information about the performance styles of these four comedians, perhaps shedding light on how they may have played the Cyclops in The Loves of Mars and Venus. Dancing skills were obviously not the point of their appearances in the ballet. They were surely there to make the audience laugh at their antics as they mimed their way through their actions as blacksmiths and responded to the orders of their master, Vulcan.

Cyclops Psyche 1671

Henry Gissey, Design for a Cyclops in the tragédie-ballet Psyché , 1671

FOLLOWERS OF MARS

According to the cast list in Weaver’s scenario for The Loves of Mars and Venus, Mars had four ‘Followers’ danced by Mr Prince, Mr Boval, Mr Wade and Mr Birkhead. They were the first characters to appear in the afterpiece, coming onstage at the end of the overture to perform a Pyrrhic Dance before the arrival of Mars himself. If Weaver’s description of the action in scene four is to be taken literally, they represented the strength and vigour of warriors. The four dancers who took the roles of the Followers are not listed alphabetically, so perhaps the order of their names reflects their status within the company (if it is not simply random). Weaver does not distinguish between them, as he does with the Attendants on Venus.

The first name is that of Mr Prince. It is difficult to disentangle the various dancers named Prince who worked in London’s theatres in the years before and after 1700. The dancer in The Loves of Mars and Venus has been identified as the Joseph Prince who in 1678 married Judith Channell (daughter of Luke Channell, a leading dancing master of the late 17th century). This seems unlikely, as Joseph Prince would have been around 60 years old in 1717, rather older than the other dancers in the ballet. Was he the ‘famous Dancing-Master’ named Prince who died in 1718? This man may have been the Mr Prince who is recorded as dancing in London’s theatres from the mid-1690s and who danced alongside John Weaver in the 1701-1702 season. Was he the Prince commended by the Spectator for his choreography in 1712?

‘In all the dances he invents, you see he keeps close to the characters he represents. He does not hope to please by making his performers move in a manner in which no one else ever did, but by motions proper to the characters he represents.’

Mr Prince’s repertoire seems to have been mainly comic, but there are so few records of him dancing that it is impossible to be sure.

Second on the list of Followers is Mr Boval. He was a relative newcomer to the London stage, for he is first recorded as dancing at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre in 1714-1715. Like several of the other dancers engaged by John Rich following the reopening of that theatre, Boval may have been French. His repertoire in his first season included Harlequin and Two Punches (probably as a Punch) and a Grand Spanish Entry. After he moved to Drury Lane, for the 1715-1716 season, Boval appeared in the pastoral divertissement from the masque Myrtillo as well as performing an unspecified ‘New Dance’ with Prince and Birkhead. The records for Boval’s repertoire are scant but they suggest that he was a versatile dancer in both the serious and the comic styles.

Mr Wade’s first known billing was at Drury Lane during the 1711-1712 season (other records name him as John Wade). His early repertoire included the Dutch Skipper and the French Peasant, suggesting that he was mainly a comic dancer. In Weaver’s ‘Dramatick Entertainment of Dancing in Grotesque Characters’ The Shipwreck; or, Perseus and Andromeda, given at Drury Lane on 2 April 1717, Wade was billed as the Monster Crocodile (which presumably tried to devour Andromeda/Colombine, played by Mrs Bicknell, until Perseus / Harlequin, played by Weaver, intervened). Does the casting indicate that his skills extended to broad comedy?

The last of the four Followers of Mars is Matthew Birkhead. He was first recorded at Drury Lane during the 1707-1708 season, although his career may well have begun earlier. Birkhead was both an actor and a dancer. As a supporting, rather than a leading, player he was not always mentioned in the bills, so it is difficult to get a full picture of his repertoire. Among the dances he is known to have performed are the Miller and His Wife, Four Scaramouches, a Country Man and Woman, the Boor Left in the Lurch and a Wedding Dance (with Prince among others). Birkhead’s skills evidently ran in the direction of broad comedy.

Prince, Boval and Birkhead danced together several times, if not regularly, during the 1715-1716 season, so perhaps there were similarities in their dancing styles and techniques. All four of the Followers of Mars seem to have been versatile performers, with Mr Prince the most senior among them. Boval, Wade and Birkhead were all definitely supporting dancers. Such evidence as there is suggests that, although they probably could portray the strength and vigour wanted by Weaver, their dancing could not (and was not intended to) challenge the sophisticated virtuosity of Louis Dupré as Mars.

There are no known portraits of any of these men. For The Loves of Mars and Venus were they costumed in a style reminiscent of the conventions of the French ballet de cour and opera?

mars

A late 17th-century costume design for a ‘Combattant’. Did the Followers of Mars wear something like this?

Or did they merely add a breastplate, shield and sword to less military attire. A plate in Lambranzi’s Neue und Curieuse Theatralische Tantz-Schul provides an idea (if you ignore the hats).

 

Lambranzi 1-50 detail

Gregorio Lambranzi, Neue und Curieuse Theatralische Tantz-Schul, Part 1, Plate 50 (detail)

I will consider the dances of the Followers of Mars in a later post.

 

CONSTANT ATTENDANTS ON VENUS

Weaver’s scenario for The Loves of Mars and Venus lists the 3 Graces as ‘Constant Attendants on Venus’. Aglaia was danced by Mrs Bicknell, Thalia by Mrs Younger and Euphrosyne by Mrs Willis. The ‘Hour’, whom I have elsewhere identified as one of the Horae or Seasons and probably Flora, has no performer named, but it may be possible to discover who among the women in the Drury Lane company for the 1716-1717 season might have danced the role.

The three Graces were, collectively, goddesses of beauty, but each also had an individual personality. Aglaia was associated with splendour and glory, Thalia with prosperity and festivity and Euphrosyne with joy and mirth. Weaver must have been well aware of these characteristics since he gave them their own names in his cast list. Did this affect his casting of these roles, or was that based purely on practical considerations?

Aglaia (splendour, glory) was performed by the actress-dancer Margaret Bicknell. Born Margaret Younger in Edinburgh in 1681, she was first recorded at Drury Lane as a dancer in 1702 with her first known billing as an actress in 1703. By 1709, she had evidently become a favourite of Sir Richard Steele. Following her first appearance in the title-role of Wycherley’s The Country Wife on 14 April 1709, he wrote in the Tatler that she made ‘a very pretty Figure’ and had ‘a certain Grace in her rusticity’. In the Spectator, a while later, he wrote of her performances:

‘One who has the Advantage of such an agreeable Girlish Person as Mrs. Bicknell, joined with her Capacity of Imitation, could in proper Gesture and Motion represent all the decent Characters of female Life’.

He was obviously captivated by her powers of mimicry, a useful skill in the context of John Weaver’s ambitions for the art of dancing. As an actress, Mrs Bicknell appeared almost exclusively in comedy, taking supporting as well as leading roles. As a dancer, she had a relatively narrow repertoire which centred on comic duets and did not (so far as we can tell) include any of the important serious dance types like the passacaille or the saraband.

Thalia (prosperity, festivity) was danced by Mrs Bicknell’s sister Elizabeth Younger, born in 1699. She had made her first stage appearances as a child actress, joining the adult company at Drury Lane for the 1712-1713 season. Miss Younger made her first solo appearance as a dancer at that theatre on 3 May 1714, dancing a saraband and a jig. As both an actress and a dancer, she had a wider repertoire than Mrs Bicknell and must have been trained in ‘French Dancing’ (which her sister possibly was not). A few years later, Anthony L’Abbé created a Turkish Dance duet for her and the young virtuoso George Desnoyer which was published in notation in the mid-1720s. It shows that she had a good belle danse technique.

According to Weaver’s scenario, Euphrosyne (joy, mirth) was danced by ‘Mrs. Willis’ but the performer was surely her daughter Miss Willis (as stated in the advertisements for The Loves of Mars and Venus). Mary Willis, probably born in the 1690s, was an actress who occasionally danced. She was a supporting player, too far down the company’s ranks to get individual billing in advertisements regularly, so we have almost no evidence about her dance repertoire. However, it seems unlikely that she had much grounding in ‘French Dancing’.

The most plausible if not the only candidate for the role of the ‘Hour’ (probably Flora) is the singer-dancer-actress Miss Lindar. So far, I haven’t been able to discover exactly who she was and where she was from. She may have begun her career at Drury Lane around 1715, although she was not mentioned in the bills until 14 May 1717 when she gave a new prologue to John Fletcher’s comedy Rule a Wife and Have a Wife. The following season, on 30 October 1717, the advertisements declared that the dancing would include ‘A Chacone, a Minuet and a Jigg by Miss Lindar, being the first time of her Dancing on any Stage’.  As with many other performers of the time, this was simply an advertising ploy and need not be taken as the literal truth. The listing indicates that she had been trained in ‘French Dancing’ and she was later billed as the scholar of Mr Shirley, a London dancing master who may well have known John Weaver. It seems likely that in 1717 Miss Lindar (like Elizabeth Younger a few years earlier) was making the transition from a child to an adult performer. She was possibly in her mid-teens.

Sadly, we have no known portraits of Margaret Bicknell, Elizabeth Younger, Mary Willis or Miss Lindar. Here is an image of three female dancers in a pas de trois from a few years later, suggesting how the three Graces may have appeared in Weaver’s ballet.

Lancret Salle Detail 1

Nicolas Lancret, Portrait of Marie Sallé (1732), detail

Weaver’s three Graces were competent and experienced stage dancers whose skills did not reach anywhere near the heights of Hester Santlow as Venus. As actresses, however, they must surely all have been able to portray characters even without words (as Steele’s description of Margaret Bicknell shows). Miss Lindar, as the Hour, had less experience but the advantage of training in ‘French Dancing’. Perhaps she was less in evidence as a character in the ballet (as Weaver’s scenario hints), but she must have been able to participate fully in the dances by these ‘Attendants on Venus’ in scenes 2 and 4.

I will look at what the dances by the three Graces and the Hour might have been like in a later post.