Tag Archives: Louis XIV

A Year of Dance: 1662

The diary kept by Samuel Pepys is one of the most important sources of information about the public theatres in London during the 1660s. His testimony reveals that by 1662 dancing had become part of the entertainments offered on the newly revived stage. Although it seems to have been little more than an occasional light interlude within or alongside plays.

On 18 February 1662, Pepys went to see The Law Against Lovers (Sir William Davenant’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure with additions from Much Ado About Nothing) at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre. He commended ‘the little girl’s (whom I never saw act before) dancing and singing’. She may well have been Moll Davis, who played the role of Viola in the play. She would later become one of Charles II’s many mistresses. Pepys records seeing dancing in other plays during the first months of the 1662-1663 theatrical season, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream on 29 September 1662. He thought it an ‘insipid ridiculous play’ but there was ‘some good dancing’.

At court, the most notable event of the year was the marriage of Charles II and Catherine of Braganza. She landed at Portsmouth on 13 May and the wedding took place there on 21 May 1662. Just a few weeks earlier, on 30 April, Anne the wife of James Duke of York had given birth to a daughter Mary (who would later become joint ruler of Britain with her husband William of Orange). On 18 June, Barbara Palmer, Countess of Castlemaine gave birth to the king’s illegitimate son – named Charles after his father.  As if that was not enough, in July 1662 the Queen Mother Henrietta Maria visited London, bringing with her Charles II’s 13-year-old illegitimate son James Crofts. He quickly became a favourite at court.

In France, the only ballet de cour of 1662 was the Ballet d’Hercule Amoureux inserted into Cavalli’s opera Ercole amante composed in honour of Louis XIV’s marriage in 1660. The whole entertainment was performed in the new Salle des Machines in the Tuileries Palace in Paris on 7 February 1662 (N.S.). Louis XIV ‘representant la Maison de France’ danced the first Entrée, accompanied by the Comte de St. Aignan as Valour. The King and the Queen (as ‘la Maison d’Austriche’) both danced in the second Entrée, with Louis’s brother Monsieur as Hymen. The king made further appearances as Pluton in the eighth Entrée and Mars in the ninth. One of the handful of female professional dancers at the French court, Mlle Girault, danced as La Lune in the tenth Entrée, while another, Mlle de Verpré, danced as L’Aurore in the sixteenth Entrée. She had the distinction of heralding the final appearance of the king in the eighteenth and penultimate Entrée of the ballet, as Le Soleil. Sadly, no design seems to survive to show how Louis XIV looked as a young adult in his signature role.

At court, Louis XIV’s sister-in-law Madame gave birth to her first child on 26 March 1662 (N.S.), a daughter named Marie Louise. She later became Queen of Spain. On 18 November, the Queen gave birth to her second child and first daughter, named Anne Elisabeth. The baby died before the end of the year. Late in December, Nicolas Fouquet was sentenced to be banished, ensuring that he would never return to power to challenge the French king’s cultural supremacy.

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.


A Year of Dance: 1715

The most significant event of 1715 was the death of Louis XIV on 1 September. He was succeeded by his five year old great-grandson, who became Louis XV. Philippe, duc d’Orléans, the son of Louis XIV’s brother (who had died in 1701) became Regent to the child-king. The new reign would usher in significant cultural as well as political changes.

In Britain, George I was briefly threatened by a Jacobite rising that sought to put the Catholic James Francis Edward Stuart, son of James II, on the throne. The rebellion began in September and was over before Christmas. With the succession assured, at least for the time being, the new Hanoverian dynasty began to settle into English court life.

In Paris, Dezais published the XIII Recüeil de danses pour l’année 1715. This contained only two duets – La Transilvanie by Claude Ballon and Le Menuet d’Espagne by Dezais himself. Another collection, notated and published by Gaudrau, was entitled Danses nouvelles presentées au Roy. Gaudrau had begun to publish dances by Guillaume-Louis Pecour a couple of years earlier, with a Nouveau recüeil de dance de bal et celle de ballet. The Danses nouvelles were two ballroom duets by Pecour, La Venitienne and Le Branle allemand. The former was to a piece of music from Mouret’s Les Fêtes de Thalie.

Pecour. Danses nouvelles (Paris, [1715?]), title page.

Pecour. Danses nouvelles (Paris, [1715?]), title page.

Dezais’s collection was probably published early in the year (perhaps even towards the end of the previous year). Gaudrau’s is undated, but has been ascribed to 1715. The collection must have appeared after the death of Louis XIV, for it is dedicated to his successor. Pecour wrote:

J’ay l’honneur de presenter a Votre Majesté les deux premieres dances que j’ay composées depuis son règne, je souhaitte avec ardeur les voir un jour éxécuter par Votre Majesté, …

Pecour was in his early sixties and had worked for the French court for more than forty years. It seems that he was hoping for further employment.

In London, at least nine dance publications appeared during 1715 as dancing masters vied for the patronage of the new royal family. The first to appear was Siris’s The Princess Anna, advertised towards the end of January. No copy of this dance is known to survive. A new edition of For the Further Improvement of Dancing, John Essex’s translation of Feuillet’s 1706 Recüeil de contredances, probably dates to 1715. Essex dedicated it to ‘Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales’ and the only known copy may well have been the one presented to her. It included some new country dances and ‘a new French Dance, which I presume to call the Princess’s Passpied’. This duet may have been created with an eye to the Princess’s birthday on 1 March.

The dancing master Richard Shirley published his own notated versions of Ballon’s La Silvie (which had appeared in Paris in 1712) and Pecour’s Aimable vainqueur (first published 1701) in mid-March. He, too, may have had an eye on the birthday celebrations for the Princess of Wales.

George I’s birthday on 28 May was marked by the appearance of a duet honouring his eldest granddaughter Princess Anne, aged five. There were two competing editions of L’Abbé’s The Princess Royale. One was notated by Edmund Pemberton, who was to record and publish L’Abbé’s ballroom duets for many years. The other was by the music publisher John Walsh, who seems to have pirated Pemberton’s version.

L’Abbé. The Princess Royale (London, [1715]), title page.

L’Abbé. The Princess Royale (London, [1715]), title page.

Walsh also published Mr Isaac’s new ballroom dance The Friendship, which may have appeared early in the year. The Morris, Mr Isaac’s ‘new Dance for the year 1716’, was published towards the end of 1715 not by Walsh but by Pemberton.

The ninth of the dance publications was from an up-and-coming dancing master, Kellom Tomlinson. He produced his first published duet The Passepied Round O during the year. It may simply have been fortuitous that it appeared in 1715, but Tomlinson was soon to prove himself adept at attracting patronage.

One other dance may belong to 1715, although it was not published for several more years. L’Abbé’s stage dance Canaries ‘perform’d by Mr La Garde and Mr Dupré’ appeared in his A New Collection of Dances around 1725. Charles Delagarde and Louis Dupré were both among the dancers at Lincoln’s Inn Fields during the 1714-1715 season. This was the only time they are known to have danced together. The duet signals the new emphasis on dancing in London’s theatres, as well as the virtuosity of the male professional dancers working in them.

Dancers in Ballets de Cour, 1648-1669

Between 1648 and 1669 the dancers in ballets de cour were predominantly male. More than 300 male dancers appeared during this period. Around 90 of them, not quite one-third, were professionals. About 100 men, mostly courtiers, appeared in only one or two of the ballets. Of those who appeared in a significant number of ballets, i.e. at least half of the productions, around two-thirds were professional dancers. These men were the core performers in the ballets de cour. They ensured that the performances were the spectacular events they were meant to be.

Among the most important of the professional dancers were:

Louis de Mollier (c1615-1688). He took 48 roles in 18 ballets and was the most prominent dancer up to 1660.

Pierre Beauchamps (1631-1705). He took an astounding 93 roles in 23 ballets. His significance for the development of ballet cannot be overestimated, not least because of his dominant position as a performer over the whole period.

François Hilaire d’Olivet. He took 46 roles in 18 ballets and like Beauchamps was active throughout the period.

These men were also leaders of the profession of dancing masters. D’Olivet was a founder member of the Académie Royale de Danse, established in 1661. Beauchamps became Director of the Académie in 1680.

Two other men were, if anything, even more important to the ballet de cour and dancing:

Louis XIV, the monarch around whom these entertainments were created, was the subject of an earlier post. His regular appearances alongside professional dancers, as well as the range and extent of his repertoire, suggest that reports of his dancing skills were not simply hyperbole.

Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), composer and dancer. He took 45 dancing roles in 11 ballets. He made his dancing debut in 1653 in the Ballet de la Nuit. He began to compose music for the ballets de cour in 1655. His involvement as a dancer diminished as his role as a musician and composer expanded.

Ballets de cour did include female dancers. Around 120 noblewomen and female professionals appeared in 15 out of the 26 ballets performed over the period. Six of these ballets involved only professional female dancers. The number of female professionals is uncertain, because they are difficult to identify from the sources, but there seem to have been about 15 of them. Of the other nine ballets, five were closely associated with Louis XIV’s sister-in-law, the English Princess Henriette-Anne, known as Madame, also the subject of an earlier post.

However, so many male dancers and the irregular appearance of female dancers meant that female roles were often danced by men. This is a topic I will return to.

Ballroom Dancing in the 18th Century

It is not widely known that, in the early 18th century, ballroom dancing (duets by a man and a woman) reached a height of sophistication probably not seen again until the 20th century. These dances were, of course, very different to their modern counterparts. The couple danced side by side, performing the same steps and floor patterns often in mirror image. They did not touch except occasionally to take hands.

The only one of these dances still known today (although it is widely misunderstood) is the minuet, which dominated the ballroom for around 100 years from the late 1600s to the late 1700s. However, there were also the ‘danses à deux’ or ‘double dances’, many of which were created for important occasions at court and then more widely disseminated through their publication in notation. These appeared over a shorter period, roughly the first third of the 18th century. A handful of choreographies became so famous that they were danced throughout the 18th century and are referred to many times in contemporary writings.

Beauchamp-Feuillet notation, the system developed at the court of Louis XIV in the 1680s, published in 1700 and used to record these ballroom duets, will be the subject of a later post. The duets themselves have been catalogued by Meredith Little and Carol Marsh in La Danse Noble (1992) and by Francine Lancelot in La Belle Dance (1996).

The danses à deux use the steps, style and technique of what is now recognised as an early form of ballet. They range over a variety of different dance types – the saraband, the loure, the passsepied, the bourée, the rigaudon, the English hornpipe among others. Some of them bring together two or more dance types within their choreographies. Although they vary in difficulty, some are as complex as stage dances while others are short and simple, even the most straightforward of these duets require much practice if they are to be performed with the requisite skill and ease.

There has been much disagreement over the appropriate style and technique for these dances, not least because the original sources can be obscure and contradictory. That, and the need for would-be dancers to have had some formal dance training as well as the time and patience to practise, has deterred most from learning these choreographies. They are currently rarely taught or performed in the UK. Most people, even those closely concerned with dance or dance history, will never have seen them.

Yet, these duets provide a window onto a vanished world of dancing. They are an integral part of the history of dance. As well as looking in detail at the ballroom minuet, I will analyse individual choreographies and pursue the stories behind them in future posts.

The illustration shows where these ballroom duets began.

A ball at the court of Louis XIV. Pierre Rameau. Le Maître à danser (Paris, 1725).

A ball at the court of Louis XIV. Pierre Rameau. Le Maître à danser (Paris, 1725).


Louis XIV, Premier Danseur Noble

Louis XIV is the only dancer, among the many nobles and professionals who appeared in the ballets de cour, to repeatedly attract the attention of scholars. His rank and the extent of his repertoire make any appraisal of his dancing career a challenge. The King performed some 68 roles in 24 ballets de cour, together with at least one role in a comédie-ballet, from 1651 to 1669, a period of nearly twenty years.

I list all these roles below. I will limit myself to just a few observations about them. There is more work to be done on Louis XIV premier danseur, but as much (if not more) research is needed on his dancing contemporaries if we are to reach a proper understanding of his involvement in the ballet de cour.

The King took some roles more than once. He danced the role of le Soleil (the Sun) three times:  le Soleil levant, Ballet de la Nuit (1653); le Soleil, Ballet d’Hercule Amoureux (1662); le Soleil, Ballet de Flore (1669). Despite the frequent identification of the Sun with Apollo, Louis XIV danced the latter role only once, in Les Nopces de Pélée et de Thétis (1654). He appeared as a Maure in three ballets, as Printemps (Spring) in three and as a Berger (Shepherd) in three. These few roles give us an idea of his range as a dancer.

Between 1651 and 1666, Louis also danced seven female roles:

1651 Ballet des Festes de Bacchus (Bacchante; Muse)

1654 Les Nopces de Pélée et de Thétis (Furie; Dryade)

1661 Ballet des Saisons (Cérès)

1663 Les Noces de Village (Fille de Village)

1666 Ballet des Muses (Nymphe)

His first such appearance was at the age of thirteen and the last took place when Louis was twenty-eight.

Louis XIV began to dance in public when he was thirteen and ceased when he was thirty-one.  Over the period of his dancing career, he not only danced alongside his own courtiers but he also appeared with the leading professional dancers of the time.

Louis XIV’s dancing roles in ballets de cour and other entertainments:

1651 Ballet de Cassandre 

(III: Chevalier Suivant de Cassandre. XI:  Tricotet Poitevin)

1651 Ballet des Festes de Bacchus

(IV: Filou. VIII: Devin. XVIII: Bacchante. XXII: Homme de Glace. XXVII: Titan. XXX: Muse)

[an entrée with Louis XIV as a Coquette was suppressed]

1653 Ballet de la Nuit

(Part 1. I: Heure. Part 2. II: Jeu. Part 3. VI: Ardent. XI. Curieux.  Part 4. II: Furieux. X: Le Soleil Levant)

1654 Ballet des Proverbes

(Part 1. IV: ‘Tout ce qui reluit n’est pas or’. X: Maure. Part 2. II: Attaquant. XI: Espagnol)

1654 Les Nopces de Pélée et de Thétis

(I: Apollo. IV: Furie. VI: Dryade. VIII: Academiste de Chiron habillé en Indien. IX: Courtisan. [X]: La Guerre)

Louis XIV as La Guerre in Les Nopces de Pélée et de Thétis (1654). Workshop of Henry de Gissey.

Louis XIV as La Guerre in Les Nopces de Pélée et de Thétis (1654). Workshop of Henry de Gissey.

1654 Ballet du Temps

(Part 1. II: Moment. XII: Siecle d’Or. Part 2. VI: Printemps. XI: Feu)

1655 Ballet des Plaisirs

(Part 1. I: Jeune Berger. XII: Egyptien. Part 2. I: Desbauché. XI: Genie de la Danse)

1655 Ballet des Bienvenus

(Part 2. II: Partie de la Renommée)

1656 Ballet de Psyché

(Part 1. II: Printemps. XII: Esprit Folet. Part 2. XII: Pluton)

1656 Ballet de la Galanterie du Temps

II, X: Galant

1657 Ballet de l’Amour Malade

(I: Divertissement.  X: Parent des Mariez)

1658 Ballet de l’Alcidiane

(Part 1. I: La Haine. Part 2. I: Eole. VI: Demon. Part 3:  VII. Maure)

1659 Ballet de la Raillerie

(I: Ris. V: Le Bonheur. XII: Gentilhomme Français)

1661 Ballet Royal de l’Impatience

(Part 1. I: Grand Amoureux. Part 2. IV: Jupiter. Part 3. III: Chevalier de l’ancienne Chevalerie)

1661 Ballet des Saisons

(IV: Cérès. VIII: Printemps)

1662 Ballet d’Hercule Amoureux

(I: Maison de France. VIII: Pluton. IX: Mars. XVII: Le Soleil)

1663 Ballet des Arts

(I: Berger)

1663 Les Noces de Village

(VIII: Fille de Village)

[He apparently did not dance, as announced, as a Bohémien in entrée XIII.]

1664 Ballet des Amours Déguisés

(VII: Regnaut)

1665 Ballet de la Naissance de Vénus

(Part 2. VI: Alexandre)

[1665 La Réception

(X: Paysan)]

1666 Ballet des Muses

(IV: Berger. VI: Espagnol. VIII: Cyrus. XII: Nymphe. XIV: Maure)

1668 Le Carnaval

(I: Plaisir. VI: Masque Serieux)

1669 Ballet de Flore (2)

(I: Soleil. XV: Européen)

Louis XIV did not appear in the Ballet des Plaisirs Troublés (1657), Ballet de Xerxes (1660), Le Triomphe de Bacchus (1666).

He danced as an Egyptien in the III entrée of the comédie-ballet Le Mariage Forcé (1664). He probably did not dance the roles in the first and last entrées (Intermède 1. I: Neptune. Intermède 6. V: Apollon) intended for him in the comédie-ballet Les Amants Magnifiques (1670).

The Ballets de Cour of Louis XIV

Among the most significant works for the creation of modern ballet were the ballets de cour of Louis XIV. Louis succeeded to the throne of France in 1643, before he had reached the age of five. Between 1648 and 1669, some 26 ballets de cour were performed. Louis XIV made his dancing debut at the age of twelve in 1651, in the Ballet de Cassandre. His last performance may have been in 1670, in the comédie-ballet Les Amants magnifiques, when he was 31 (his appearance in this work is uncertain). He danced in many ballets de cour, alongside his family and his courtiers. These high-ranking amateurs were trained and supported by skilled professional dancers, who must have created the choreographic content of these hybrid works.

Nicolas de Larmessin. Louis XIV. 1661. © Trustees of the British Museum

Nicolas de Larmessin. Louis XIV. 1661. © Trustees of the British Museum

The ballets de cour ultimately gave way to the comèdies-ballets created by the actor and dramatist Molière and the court composer and dancer Lully. These works, performed between 1661 and 1671 (the most important date to 1669 – 1671), had a largely professional cast. They were succeeded from 1672 by Lully’s operas, which included much dancing and were performed in Paris on the public stage by professionals. I will return to the dancers and dancing in these.

Louis XIV’s ballets de cour have been studied in some detail, although little attention has been paid to the development of the style and technique, and the conventions, of the dancing we now call ballet. Apart from the King himself, one of the most important dancers in the court ballets was a professional – Pierre Beauchamps, his dancing master, who performed several roles in nearly every ballet de cour. Louis XIV and Beauchamps, between them, established the danseur noble – the leading male dancer in ballets ever since.

Beauchamps was credited with technical innovations, including the codification of the five positions of the feet still used in ballet today (Pierre Rameau, Le Maître a danser. Paris, 1725, p. 9). This was only possible once turn-out of the legs and feet had become the norm. Beauchamps must surely have developed this and other ideas in the course of his work in the ballets de cour.

The ballets de cour also saw the emergence of the ballerina – the leading female dancer in ballets – and laid the foundation of a repertoire of stories and characters that have not entirely been relinquished by theatre dance even today. I will also return to these themes.