Tag Archives: Mr Isaac

Reconstructing Isaac’s Rigadoon

After several sessions, I have finally learnt the whole of Isaac’s Rigadoon and I am beginning to feel comfortable enough with the choreography to work on shaping it as if for performance.

Isaac focusses on the changing rhythms and shifting dynamics of the Rigadoon’s steps. The footwork is not complicated, there are no quasi-theatrical steps but they are difficult to perform clearly and accurately, particularly at speed. The dance does need to be quite fast to make its proper effect. Isaac repeats steps and even short sequences, but he never exactly replicates sequences elsewhere in the choreography. I have found The Rigadoon quite hard to learn and I am still struggling to find the best way to perform the basic steps. How far should these travel? How much spring should there be in the jettés that come at the end of so many of them? I have performed many of the notated theatrical dances, which need amplitude and force even in basic steps. The Rigadoon requires neither, although it certainly demands swift and lively dancing.

The famous figure with glissades, that according to Kellom Tomlinson ‘forms a perfect Square’ (The Art of Dancing, p. 56), is very hard to get right.

Isaac Rigadoon 2

Isaac, The Rigadoon (1706), plate 2/15.

Each bar has two glissades and so has two mouvements and two steps with glissé. These need fast reactions in feet and ankles and downward pressure, without being heavy. The notation of the pas de bourées used to turn the corners is interesting. Each is different and three of them apparently require the first demi-coupé to move on an outward diagonal. I haven’t got this right yet, but it must surely serve to align the partners within the dancing space as well as with each other. The perfect square is formed by the paths of both dancers, who should end where they began but facing each other up and down the room instead of across it. I would love to work on this figure with a partner.

It is hard to get a proper sense of the figures in a duet when working on it alone. This is particularly true of the asymmetric figure in The Rigadoon, in which the man performs three quarter-turn sprung pirouettes as the woman dances around him with pas de bourées and he then moves around her with a coupé, a contretems with a bound and a pas de bourée as she does a coupé to first position, a half-turn pirouette and a coupé.

Isaac Rigadoon 4

Isaac, The Rigadoon (1706), plate 4/17

It is such a shame that I am unlikely to get to work on this dance with a partner. I would love to sort out exactly what happens in this section and how it should be performed.

I can’t really analyse the whole dance within a single blog post, so I will just look at those of Isaac’s choreographic effects that I really enjoy (from the point of view of the lady, as this is the side I have been working on). One is his use of the coupé to first position, in the second B section and the third A section. It brings the dancer to a dynamic stop after a lively sequence of pas de bourées. In both cases it is followed by a pirouette. The two B sections in the third AABB repeat reveal Isaac’s love of rhythm as well as his wit. The first B sequence comes at the top of the page, just below the music, in the plate illustrated above. There is a little game with the mouvement in demi-coupés, coupé and pas de bourée. Then in the second B (on the next plate of the dance, not shown here) there is a contrast between sliding steps and springs in two consecutive pas de bourée. I love the way Isaac has the couple bound towards one another before turning to face the back in order to travel away from the presence. Even though I can’t try this out with a partner, it always makes me smile.

The point is, of course, that Isaac’s Rigadoon isn’t simply a difficult dance exercise. It is a challenging choreography that is rewarding to learn and wonderful fun to perform. The same is true of the other dances by him that I have performed, including The Richmond, The Saltarella, The Pastorall and even The Union.


Isaac’s Rigadoon: the choreography

Isaac’s Rigadoon is one of 31 notated dances which either are or include a rigaudon (three more dances are labelled as rigaudons but are in fact gavottes). Among these 14 were published in London, of which 8 (Including Isaac’s Rigadoon) are rigaudons throughout. As I said in my previous post on this dance, it was first published in 1706 but may have been created some years earlier. Isaac choreographed a second rigaudon, The Rigadoon Royal, in 1711.

What made Isaac’s Rigadoon so admired and, apparently, so popular? Music theorists of the time characterised the rigaudon as ‘rustic’ and suggested that it was a fast dance. I have a delightful recording (made for rehearsal purposes some years ago) which is both and really brings the duet to life. The dance, in duple time, is quite long. The musical structure is the conventional AABB (A has 4 bars and B has 6) played through four times, so there are 80 bars of dancing. The choreography is lively. More than half of the steps incorporate small jumps, which are notated as such. There are no demi-jettés and only a few steps with a terminating demi-coupé to give a sense of suspension rather than a lilt. The step vocabulary is relatively limited, but Isaac’s use of variants on basic steps and his combinations of these demand swift reactions and rhythmic clarity. This can only be achieved through good underlying technique, particularly placement (or aplomb) and control over the mouvements that provide vertical articulation between and within the steps. The music needs some rustic heaviness (though not too much) but the steps need a feeling of upward spring. If the Rigadoon is as fast as I think it should be, it is not an easy dance and needs much practice to get it right. It must have been an agreeable challenge to able amateur dancers.

John Weaver identified four steps in Isaac’s Rigadoon that were rarely, if ever, found in other dances. All occur on the first plate of the notation, the first AABB section of the dance. Was Weaver (if not Mr Isaac himself) deliberately appealing not only to the contemporary love of novelty but also to a desire for ‘English Dancing’?

Weaver Step Suplement detail

Feuillet transl. Weaver. Orchesography (1706), ‘A Suplement of Steps’, detail.

Isaac Rigadoon 1 detail

Mr Isaac. The Rigadoon (1706), first plate, detail.

Weaver’s reference to ‘the so frequent use of them’ in the Rigadoon is a little puzzling. The ‘boree wth. a bound’ does appear throughout the dance. Feuillet gives notations for a large number of variants on the pas de bourée but none has either a final demi-jetté or jetté, even though Rameau refers to the former in Le Maître a danser. Weaver makes no reference to Isaac’s variant pas de bourée which has a pas glissé as the final step. The ‘contretem wth. a bound’ is used only four times by the man in the Rigadoon (the lady has three). There is nothing similar in Feuillet’s ‘Table des Contre-temps’. Although Rameau refers to a ‘contre-tems à deux mouvemens’ he actually means a contretemps balonné. My impression, from working through quite a number of notated choreographies over the years, is that the ‘contretem wth. a bound’ is quite widely used elsewhere, but I need to check this out. The ‘sissonne wth. a Contre temps’ occurs only at the very beginning of the Rigadoon. All the other sissonnes in the dance are the conventional version, as notated by Feuillet at the beginning of his ‘Table des Pas de Sissonne’ and described by Rameau. Isaac’s ‘contretems wth. a slide’ occurs only once, in the first B section near the beginning of the dance’. It is not recorded by either Feuillet or Rameau.

The contradiction between Weaver’s statement about ‘the so frequent use’ of these steps and the actual inclusion of them in his notation of Isaac’s Rigadoon raises questions. Could Weaver’s notation be inaccurate in some places? Did he perhaps use Feuillet’s standard notation instead of recording Isaac’s variant steps? Or was the dance as notated made more conventional to accommodate a greater range of amateur dance skills?

I meant this post to be a discussion of the difficulties, and the pleasures, to be encountered while learning Isaac’s Rigadoon, but I am still only about half-way through the choreography. A proper appraisal will have to wait for a little while longer.


Isaac’s Rigadoon

I am currently learning another of the most famous ballroom dances of the 18th century, Mr Isaac’s The Rigadoon. I first worked on this lively duet some years ago, but I never performed it and I’ve had to start on it afresh. The Rigadoon, like much of the rest of the ‘English’ baroque dance repertoire, rarely (if ever) features in workshops in the UK. Perhaps this is because these dances are choreographically idiosyncratic – and difficult. This is a pity, since they have much to offer in helping us to understand the dancing of the period and they are sheer pleasure to dance.

Mr Isaac. The Rigadoon (1706), first plate

Mr Isaac. The Rigadoon (1706), first plate

The duet is, of course, a rigaudon. The music has been attributed to James Paisible, the French recorder player who made his career in London, but this is by no means certain. Mr Isaac’s The Rigadoon has been dated as early as 1695. It was first published in 1706 in A Collection of Ball-Dances perform’d at Court, notations by John Weaver of six of Isaac’s choreographies. That same year, the dance also appeared in a different version notated by the dancing master Siris and published in his The Art of Dancing alongside Pecour’s ball dance La Bretagne. Siris’s The Art of Dancing was a rival to Weaver’s translation of Feuillet’s Choregraphie.

Weaver evidently passed his notations (or rather, the plates on which they were engraved) to the music publisher John Walsh, who reissued The Rigadoon along with other dances by Isaac around 1708 and again about 1712. Walsh published a second edition of Weaver’s Orchesography around 1722. In a late response to Siris, Weaver added notations of The Rigadoon, The Louvre (Pecour’s ball dance Aimable Vainqueur) and The Bretagne. Orchesography was reissued, with its dances, around 1730. Within thirty years of its first appearance in print, Isaac’s The Rigadoon had gone through at least six editions.

Weaver drew particular attention to Isaac’s dance in Orchesography, by including four steps from it in a ‘Suplement of Steps’ at the end of his step tables.

Raoul Auger Feuillet transl. John Weaver, Orchesography (1706), ‘A Suplement of Steps’

Raoul Auger Feuillet transl. John Weaver, Orchesography (1706), ‘A Suplement of Steps’

The steps, and Weaver’s comment on how graceful and unusual they are, provide a glimpse of English choreographic taste as exemplified by The Rigadoon.

Isaac’s The Rigadoon seems to have been continued to be taught and given in the ballroom for many years. In his 1729 poem The Art of Dancing, Soame Jenyns (referring to the invention of dance notation) wrote:

‘Hence with her Sister-Arts shall Dancing claim

An equal Right to Universal Fame,

And Isaac’s Rigadoon shall last as long

As Raphael’s Painting, or as Virgil’s song.’

A few years later, in 1735, Kellom Tomlinson referred to The Rigadoon several times in his manual The Art of Dancing. In describing ‘the Slip’, i.e. the glissade, Tomlinson wrote:

‘ … twice slipping behind, is in the Rigadoon of the late Mr. Isaac, where, in the Beginning of the Tune, the second Time of playing over, it forms a perfect Square, which is no small Addition to the Beauty of the said Dance; …’

Tomlinson mentions a number of notated dances in The Art of Dancing. Are these the choreographies he taught to his own pupils, including Isaac’s The Rigadoon?

Twelve years later, in his Essay on the Advantage of a Polite Education published in 1747, Stephen Philpot also referred to Isaac’s The Rigadoon since he featured the dance in his own teaching practice. The ball dance may well have survived into the 1750s. On 19 March 1752 at the Covent Garden Theatre, Cooke and Miss Hilliard gave ‘A Ball Dance call’d the Rigadoon concluding with a Minuet’. The performance was a benefit for Cooke.  On 12 May 1753 at Drury Lane, Mr and Miss Shawcross danced ‘The Rigadoon and Minuet’ for his shared benefit. If these performances were indeed Isaac’s The Rigadoon, then the dance must have continued to be taught in dancing schools for more than fifty years.

I will take a closer look at the choreography of The Rigadoon in a later post.





Favourite Ballroom Duets

I have reconstructed and performed many baroque dances in my time. Most have been theatrical solos or duets. It’s been a while since I worked on choreographies from the ballroom repertoire. However, I have long been curious about the handful of dances from the early 1700s that seem to have attained a special place in the dance culture of the period.

A dozen dances appear in multiple sources, some of which date to more than fifty years after their first publication, indicating that their fame lasted well beyond their own time. References by dancing masters such as Gottfried Taubert and Kellom Tomlinson as well as Pierre Rameau, in their respective dance manuals, suggest not only that these ballroom duets had travelled beyond France but also that they had become part of the course of instruction offered by leading dance teachers. Some of these duets even reached the stage, notably in London where a couple of them became staples of the entr’acte dance repertoire and were regularly featured during the benefit season.

The following may be described as favourite ballroom duets, dates of first publication are shown in parentheses:

La Bourée d’Achille, by Pecour (1700)

La Bourgogne, by Pecour (1700)

La Forlana, by Pecour (1700)

La Mariée, by Pecour (1700)

Le Passepied, by Pecour (1700)

Aimable Vainqueur, by Pecour (1701)

L’Allemande, by Pecour (1702)

La Bretagne, by Pecour (1704)

La Bacchante, by Pecour (1706)

The Rigadoon, by Isaac (1706)

Le Menuet d’Alcide, by Pecour (1709)

La Nouvelle Forlanne, by Pecour (1710)

Some of these dances have become familiar to baroque dance enthusiasts, while others are rarely (if ever) reconstructed. The list highlights the dominance of France, and of Guillaume-Louis Pecour, over European social dancing.

What made these dances special? Was it their music, their choreography or were there other reasons for their popularity? I will take a closer look at each of them to see if I can find out. I’ll also assess their modern status by checking YouTube for videos. In addition, I hope to find the time and the energy to work my way through at least some of the choreographies as part of my research.


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.

A Year of Dance: 1714

A while ago, I had the idea of looking at significant dance events year by year, placing them within a wider context and slowly developing a more detailed chronology than most dance histories can provide. 1714 seems as good a place to start as any. The year was notable for the death of Queen Anne, on 1 August, and the accession to the British throne of her protestant cousin the Elector of Hanover as King George I.

At the English court the social calendar revolved around royal birthdays, the accession and coronation days of the current monarch, New Year’s Day and Twelfth Night. All were occasions for dancing. Queen Anne’s birthday on 6 February had been the occasion of festivities throughout her reign. 1714 was no exception, with music, a ball and a ‘splendid entertainment’ at Windsor in the presence of the Queen herself. Her dancing master Mr Isaac created a new dance in her honour, The Godolphin named for Lady Harriot Godolphin the grand-daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and (at the age of fifteen) a lady of the bedchamber to the Queen. The dance was published in notation on 11 February 1714.

Mr Isaac. The Godolphin (London, 1714). Title page.

Mr Isaac. The Godolphin (London, 1714). Title page.

The status of another dance, published on 4 March 1714, is uncertain. The only surviving copy of The Siciliana by Siris has no title page but, like Isaac’s choreography, it was published by John Walsh and may have been intended to capitalise on the Queen’s birthday celebrations.

George I arrived in England before the end of September 1714, with his son the new Prince of Wales. His daughter-in-law Princess Caroline arrived in London, with her three daughters, in October. The coronation took place in late October 2014. There are no records of any balls at court or the publication of any dances until the following year, when the usual festivities were resumed.

One other event of note was the re-opening of the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre, renewing theatrical competition in London. This led very quickly to a great deal more dancing in the playhouses.  It seems that there was dancing at the first performance at Lincoln’s Inn Fields and there were at least six dancers (two women and four men) in the company. They appeared regularly throughout the season.

In London, dances were often published singly in notation whether or not they had a royal connection. In Paris, small collections of dances were published ‘pour l’année’ in time for the balls held during the carnival season (between Twelfth Night and the beginning of Lent). The XIIe Recueil de danses pour l’année 1714, published by Jacques Dezais, contained three duets – La Gavotte de Seaux and a Rigaudon by Claude Ballon and Dezais’s La Chamberi.

The Château de Sceaux was the venue for an experiment in dancing. At one of the duchesse du Maine’s ‘Grands Nuits’ of entertainments during 1714, Mlle Prévost and M. Ballon (leading dancers at the Paris Opéra) gave a scene from Corneille’s tragedy Les Horaces as a ‘danse caracterisée’. They performed with such intensity that they reduced themselves, as well as their audience, to tears. This event calls into question the idea that French stage dancing was fundamentally inexpressive. By 1714, Louis XIV’s long reign was drawing to a close and changing times were signalled at the Paris Opéra by the production of its first lyric comedy, Mouret’s Les Fêtes de Thalie.

Were all these events quite separate? Surely not, although the influences that flowed between them have yet to be explored.

Solos for Girls

Among the 18th-century dances surviving in notation are fourteen solos for unnamed female dancers. Who were these solos created for? What sort of choreographies are they?

Four of these dances are probably for young girls. Mr Isaac’s Chacone and his Minuet, published in 1711 in Pemberton’s An Essay for the Further Improvement of Dancing, are usually seen as one dance (following Pemberton’s title page) but may have been originally created independently. The anonymous La Cybelline, to music by Charles Fairbank, dates to 1719. Thomas Caverley’s Slow Minuet for a Girl, which shares its title page design with La Cybelline, has been dated to 1729. However, it may have been choreographed before 1720 since there is another version of the dance by Kellom Tomlinson. This was probably written down between 1708 and 1714 when Tomlinson was apprenticed to Caverley.

Two solos are from Feuillet’s 1700 Recueil de dances, a collection of his own choreographies. No dancers are named. The Sarabande pour femme, to music by Lully for Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, and the Folie d’espagne pour femme are among the easiest of the dances in Feuillet’s collection.

Two of the solos are from the 1704 Recueil de dances, a collection ‘des meillieures Entrées de Ballet de Mr. Pecour’. There is the Sarabande pour une femme, to the same music as Feuillet’s Sarabande pour femme, and the Chacone pour une femme, to music from Lully’s opera Phaéton. Of the six female solos in this collection, only these two have unnamed performers.

One solo is from the Nouveau recueil de dance de bal et celle de ballet, choreographies by Pecour published around 1713. The Gigue pour une femme seule non dancée a Lopera, to music from Alcide by Louis Lully and Marin Marais, is the only one of the female solos in this collection that has an unnamed performer. All the others were performed by leading dancers at the Paris Opéra.

Turning again to the English choreographies, L’Abbé’s solo Passacaille to music from Lully’s opera Armide followed Isaac’s Chacone and Minuet in Pemberton’s Essay of 1711. It is derived from the duet he had created for the professional dancers Mrs Elford and Mrs Santlow around 1706 (which was not published until about 1725).

L’Abbé’s Passacaille from Pemberton’s Essay (1711), plate 1.

L’Abbé’s Passacaille from Pemberton’s Essay (1711), plate 1.

The remaining three solos are all entitled Sarabande and are ascribed to Feuillet. They appear in a manuscript which has been dated to the first decades of the 18th century. The music for one of these dances has not yet been identified, but the other two are from Gatti’s opera Scylla and Colasse’s Polyxène et Pyrrhus respectively. The great majority of dances in this source (24 out of 28) are solos and most are by Feuillet.

The status of each of these solos for girls is difficult to determine. They may have been theatrical dances for the stage or display dances for the ballroom. They may have been created for amateurs, apprentice dancers or young professionals. Closer investigation of the choreographies, their music and the sources within which they appear might shed further light on them.