Tag Archives: Louis Dupré

LOUIS DUPRÉ – MARS

What of Louis Dupré, who was a newcomer to the London stage? How did he portray Mars?

Dupré is still too often identified with ‘le grand’ Dupré of the Paris Opéra. Some years ago, I published an article that disproved this idea on the simple grounds that the two men were performing on opposite side of the English Channel simultaneously.

A dancer named Dupré is first advertised on 22 December 1714 at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre and appeared there regularly during the 1714-1715 season. He then moved to Drury Lane, where he danced for the next two seasons, appearing in The Loves of Mars and Venus during that period. Dupré’s skills are often solely identified with the serious style, but from soon after his arrival in London he regularly performed a Harlequin dance. There is even a notated Harlequin choreography dedicated to him, which claims to include some of his characteristic steps and moves. The dancing skills that Dupré was able to bring to the character of Mars are amply demonstrated by the ‘Chacone of Amadis’ created for him by Anthony L’Abbé, probably around the time of The Loves of Mars and Venus. This solo contains a panoply of early 18th-century male virtuosity, from entrechats-six to multiple pirouettes and tours en l’air.

chacone-of-amadis-1

L’Abbé, ‘Chacone of Amadis’, A New Collection of Dances, [c1725], first plate

Dupré returned to Lincoln’s Inn Fields for the 1717-1718 season and continued to dance with John Rich’s company until he died in 1734 or 1735.

There is no known portrait of London’s Louis Dupré. This design reflects contemporary ideas about the appearance of a classical warrior.

mars

A late 17th-century costume design for a ‘Combattant’. 

Although the London Dupré was obviously more than just a serious dancer of the type that Weaver criticised for lack of expression in his Essay towards an History of Dancing, Mars is given fewer explicitly formal gestures than either Vulcan or Venus. Weaver describes the character thus in his scenario for the ballet:

mars-in-words

Weaver, The Loves of Mars and Venus (1717), p. xv

In scene 1, Mars dances an ‘Entry’, probably intended to show his power through a display of virtuosity, and a ‘Pyrrhic’ mimicking hand-to-hand combat with his Followers. In scene 4, he woos Venus in mime but his gestures (as well as those of the other dancers who take part in this scene) ‘are so obvious, relating only to Gallantry, and Love; that they need no Explanation’. Mars is asked to show ‘Gallantry, Respect; Ardent Love; and Adoration’ before Venus, a sequence that creates a crescendo of feeling. In scene 6, after being caught in the net with the goddess, Mars shows ‘Audacity; Vexation; Restlessness; and a kind of unwilling Resignation’. Weaver describes ‘Resignation’ as ‘To hold out both the Hands joyn’d together’ adding that it is ‘a natural Expression of Submission and Resignation’. Were ‘Audacity’ and ‘Vexation’ perhaps modified versions of ‘Threats’ and ‘Impatience’?

The way in which Weaver depicts Mars is reflective of the God of War as a man of action rather than one of thought or feeling. This may have had more to do with Weaver’s concept of his ballet and its characters than with Dupré’s supposed limitations when it came to gesture.

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THE DRAMATICK ENTERTAINMENT OF DANCING IN ACTION

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

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

mars

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

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

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

venus

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

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

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

vulcan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A VERY IMPORTANT DANCE ANNIVERSARY

Next year marks the 300th anniversary of John Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus. His ‘dramatic entertainment of dancing’ was first performed at the Drury Lane Theatre on 2 March 1717.

Loves Title Page Detail

John Weaver, The Loves of Mars and Venus, detail from title page

Why is this often overlooked dance work so important? It is the first modern ballet – the first theatrical work to tell a story and represent its characters solely through dance, mime and music. Unlike all the ballets that had come before it, including the much celebrated French ballets de cour and English masques, there were no spoken or sung words. The Loves of Mars and Venus was a dance work, nothing more and nothing less.

Weaver’s ballet tells the story of the love affair between the goddess Venus and Mars, the god of War, and the revenge enacted on them by her husband Vulcan. It draws on classical mythology, but contemporary passions abound. Despite Weaver’s appeal to the revered performances of the ‘mimes and pantomimes’ of classical antiquity, who he wished to emulate, his ballet was a thoroughly modern work in tune with the sophisticated comedies of his own time.

The Loves of Mars and Venus has six short scenes. Mars appears with his soldiers and performs a war dance. Venus is shown surrounded by the Graces and displays her allure in a sensual passacaille, but when Vulcan arrives she quarrels with him in a ‘dance of the pantomimic kind’. Vulcan retires to his smithy to devise revenge with the help of his workmen the Cyclops. Mars and Venus meet and, with their followers, perform dances expressive of love and desire. Vulcan completes his plan of revenge against the lovers. In the final scene, Vulcan and the Cyclops catch Mars and Venus together and expose them to the derision of the other gods, until Neptune intervenes and harmony is restored in a final ‘Grand Dance’. The entire ballet took, perhaps, about 40 minutes.

John Weaver was a dancer as well as a choreographer. He is also one of the very few dance practitioners who have written about their art. He was Vulcan. Venus was Hester Santlow, also an actress and a dancer of consummate skill and expressiveness. Mars was Louis Dupré, a virtuoso dancer who was probably French (although not Louis ‘le grand’ Dupré, with whom he is still often confused). Weaver’s bold experiment had the best dancers on the London stage.

This first modern ballet was a remarkable work and enjoyed success in its own time. It was subsequently far more influential than many realise. It may well have been seen by the young dancer Marie Sallé, who would herself later experiment with narrative and expressive dancing. Sallé, of course, influenced Jean-Georges Noverre when he came to create his ballets d’action. They led to the story ballets of the romantic period and onwards to today’s narrative dance works.

Has Weaver’s The Loves of Mars and Venus been consigned to history or can it be recovered? I will explore this innovative ballet further in later posts.