For many years, I have been bringing together what information I can find about the entr’acte dances given in London’s theatres between 1700 and 1760, although I have recently been extending my attention backwards to the Restoration and forwards as far as 1800 (occasionally even beyond that). My work is based on the calendar of performances in The London Stage, 1660-1800, but I am trying to add details of music, dancers, notated dances and other sources where and when I can. So far as I can tell, there is no detailed study of dancing on the London stage from the late 17th to the early 19th century and I need to try to fill this gap for my work as a dance historian of the period.
I thought I would look through my several files to find the dances that were most popular during the first six decades of the 18th century. What follows is necessarily incomplete and subjective. I have written posts on some of the dances mentioned, which I will refer to as I go. I have grouped together those dances which plausibly have a common theme and I hope to return to some of them in more detail with later posts.
This advertisement in the Daily Post for 30 April 1726 shows the bill offered at Lincoln’s Inn Fields that evening, with dances at the end of each act of the tragedy.
Comic Dances and Serious Dances
Comic Dances and Serious Dances seem, at first sight, to represent the opposite extremes of the entr’acte repertoire. In some ways they do, and they are sometimes billed together in ways that suggest that they were seen that way by 18th-century audiences. The title Serious Dance is perhaps easier to interpret. These were less often advertised than Comic Dances and many can plausibly be linked to belle danse style and technique. My post Serious Dancing looks at John Weaver’s discussion of the genre.
Comic Dances were among the most popular of the entr’acte entertainments in London’s theatres throughout the 18th century, although it is next to impossible to define exactly what was meant by a ‘comic’ dance. Few clues are provided in the advertisements, although there are hints that ‘comic’ quite often indicates an element of pantomime or points to a speciality act with dancing but performed by a player who was not, first and foremost, a dancer.
Grand Dances and Ballets
The Grand Dance emerges during the Restoration period. Most such dances billed in the 18th century are advertised with no details other than a list of performers, although some add ‘Grand Dance’ to a more specific title which takes them into another genre. For example, the Grand Dance of Momus originated in Momus Turn’d Fabulist; or, Vulcan’s Wedding by Ebenezer Forrest, first given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1729-1730. It continued as an entr’acte dance until 1745-1746. The cast lists in later bills suggest that it was a mini-ballet (in the modern sense of the term).
The Ballet first appears in London at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1726-1727, when ‘A Grand Ballet by ten Persons of different Characters’ was given for the benefit of Michael Poitier. Like the Grand Dances, the advertisements rarely give any clues to the nature of Ballets other than a list of dancers. The title Grand Dance seems, over time, to have given way to Ballet or Grand Ballet. The last two continued to be advertised into the 1780s.
My posts on this topic include Grand Ballet, Grand Dance and Serious Dance and The Rise and Fall of the Grand Dance on the London Stage.
Dance Types: Chacone, Hornpipe, Loure, Minuet and Tambourin
This heterogeneous list indicates part of the range of dance types to be seen on the London stage. The Chacone, Loure and Minuet may, of course, be classed as belonging to the genre of French belle danse. The Loure is actually the Louvre – Pecour’s famous duet Aimable Vainqueur – see my post Aimable Vainqueur on the London Stage. Like the Louvre, the Minuet was a staple of the benefit repertoire. I have also written about Minuets on the London Stage and Minuets Mocked.
The Chacone makes its first recorded entr’acte appearance in 1702-1703, when Mrs Elford (who was regularly partnered by Anthony L’Abbé) danced one as a solo at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. It was later taken up by Ann Bullock, who performed a solo Chacone regularly from 1714-1715 to 1734-1735. There were also Chacones given as duets and group dances – the latter often including commedia dell’arte characters, underlining the diverse nature of the musical form. The group Chacones given in the 1770s and 1780s were probably rather different choreographically from the earlier dances.
The Hornpipe is unlikely to have been the pastoral dance in 3/2 known from the notations published in London in the early 1700s, with one possible exception in the form of a solo choreographed by L’Abbé for a ‘Gentleman’ which may have been related to the dance performed at Drury Lane in 1713 ‘by a Gentleman for his Diversion’. The notation published in the mid-1720s reveals a lively and demanding dance with pas battus and a cabriole in the opening sequence.
The Hornpipe advertised regularly from the 1720s to the 1750s and added to The Beggar’s Opera, as well as being given at benefits to the end of the 18th century, was a duple-time dance with nautical associations. It was really a speciality dance performed by dancing actors.
The Tambourin or Tambourine (as it was often billed) made its debut on the London stage as a solo performed by Marie Sallé at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1730-1731. Its alternative title French Tambourin suggests links with the Paris Opéra. It was subsequently danced as a solo or a duet, sometimes as a group dance, into the 1750s. The Tambourine dances performed in London’s theatres into the 1780s seem to have taken the dance in a new direction by making it closer to a speciality dance.
National Dances: Dutch, Irish and Scotch
Many entr’acte dances linked to different nations were given in London’s theatres from the early 1700s into the 1760s and beyond. Among the Dutch Dances the most popular seems to have been the Dutch Skipper for which the earliest known billing was in 1703-1704 when it was danced by Mr and Mrs du Ruel (he was French and she was English). There were also Dutch Clown, Dutch Sailor and Dutchman and Wife, among others. The Dutch Skipper as well as the Dutch Sailor call to mind the illustrations in Lambranzi’s Neue und curieuse theatrialische Tantz-Schul of 1716. Here is a ‘Dutch Sailor’ duet from part two.
Irish dances appear in the bills as early as 1700, although the most popular became the Fingalian which began its stage career in 1724-1725 and survived (doubtless in a succession of choreographies) into the early 1780s.
Neither Dutch Dances nor Irish Dances were anywhere near as popular as Scotch Dances. In the entr’actes these were initially associated with solo female dancers – Mrs Bicknell (who was from Scotland) in the first decade of the 18th century and Ann Bullock from 1719-1720 to 1740-1741. There were duets as well as solos and group dances as well, notably the Scotch Dance choreographed by Leach Glover for three couples which held the stage from the early 1730s for around ten years. Dances like these were performed into the 1760s and I suggest that they drew their identity primarily from their music. The ‘Scotch’ dances that claimed the stage from the 1780s seem to have emerged from a changed cultural milieu, in which costume as well as music may have proclaimed their nationality.
Commedia dell’arte Characters: Harlequin, Scaramouch and Pierrot
Three commedia dell’arte characters made their mark on the entr’actes. Harlequin and Scaramouch arrived before 1700, as characters in plays rather than dancing masks. Both had migrated to the entr’actes by 1700 and continued into the 1730s. Harlequin often appeared solo, or in scenes with other commedia dell’arte characters. Female Harlequins, Harlequines, were popular too. Although Scaramouch also appeared solo, one of the most popular entr’acte offerings in the early decades of the 18th century was Four Scaramouches. When pantomime afterpieces became the rage in the 1720s, they were centred around Harlequin and Scaramouch who were thereafter seen less often in the entr’actes.
Pierrot seems to have been introduced in 1723-1724 by Francis and Louis Nivelon as Two Pierrots. There was also the Pieraite, a duet for a man and a woman billed from the mid-1720s to the later 1730s. Pierrot Dances continued into the mid-1750s and were occasionally revived until 1770-1771.
This painting, ascribed to Philippe Mercier (1689-1760), perhaps gives an idea of Harlequin, Harlequine and Pierrot as they appeared on the London stage.
Scaramouch was depicted several times by Lambranzi, in this plate he performs his characteristic long step.
Punch made a number of entr’acte appearances over the years, but he was never as popular as his fellow masks.
Peasants, Sailors and Shepherds
Peasant Dances were by far the most popular in London’s theatres. Leaving aside the Drunken Peasant, which became a speciality turn by dancing actors, there were dancing Peasants of nationalities ranging from Bohemia to Venice. French Peasants were the most popular, although there were many Peasant Dances with no national connotations. These various dances were seen from the 1710s to the 1760s. Did the male French Peasants perhaps look like this early 18th-century depiction of Henri Dumoulin?
Dancing Sailors go back to the Restoration and before. Sailor Dances remained popular into the 1750s and were quite frequently revived into the 1790s. Some of these choreographies had national overtones – there were French Sailors (and Matelots), Grecian Sailors (from an opera with a plot from classical antiquity) and even a Russian Sailor. Such dances were likely to have been closer to French belle danse than the speciality hornpipes mentioned above.
Shepherds had featured as dancing characters for many decades before they reached the London stage, although Shepherd Dances only really began to be billed in the entr’actes during the 1720s. There were, of course, also Bergers and Bergeries as well as a number of Pastoral Dances. Did Shepherds and Shepherdesses on the London stage emulate their French counterparts, as in this depiction by Watteau?
Entr’acte Dances on the London Stage
The challenge with all of the entr’acte dances given in London’s theatres is to uncover the steps, figures, style and technique they may have used and to get an idea of the choreographies that depicted them. Some have links to the notated dances, while many relate to music popular at the time (what we would now regard as classical music, as well as popular and traditional tunes). All the dances I have mentioned were affected by their political as well as their cultural context. Hopefully, further research will not only reveal more about the dances but also show more clearly their influence on the other dancing to be seen in London’s theatres.