Tag Archives: Pas de Zephyr

The Origins of the Pas de Zephyr: Ballets

Last year, I wrote two posts about the pas de Zephyr, a step found in at least six different manuals of social dancing (in English, French and Italian) published between 1818 and 1834. It may have been described as early as 1804, in the first edition of J. H. Gourdoux-Daux’s treatise Principes et notions élémentaires sur l’art de la danse published that year (I have not been able to access a copy to check). I suggested that the social dance step might have been derived from a more demanding pas composé, or even an enchainement, performed onstage by a celebrated male dancer. The name of the step obviously links it to the character Zephyr, who appears in a number of ballets.

In classical mythology, Zephyrus was the personification of the West Wind. In Latin literature, Ovid recounted the story of Zephyrus and Flora in his Fasti, providing inspiration for artists from the Renaissance onwards. Zephyr appeared in numerous ballets between the mid-17th and early-19th century (the period I am interested in). Here is chronological list of these. It is probably not complete and I have included one or two productions in which Zephyr was a sung rather than a danced role.

1648, Paris. Ballet du déreglement des passions, Part 2, 5th entrée. Zephyr chases away two Satyrs who are pursuing Olimpe and dances with her. In this ballet de cour, Olimpe was danced by the Duc de Roennets and Zephyr by Monsieur de Bragelonne.

1656, Paris. Ballet de Psyché. In this ballet de cour,  Zephyr and Flore were sung, not danced, roles.

1681, Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Le Triomphe de l’Amour, 19th entrée. In this version of Zephyr et Flore, at court Zephyr was danced by Monseigneur (Louis XIV’s son). No cast was recorded when the ballet moved into the public theatre later the same year.

1688, Paris. Zephire et Flore (by Louis and Jean-Louis Lully). In this opera, Zephyr was a singing role.

1705, Paris. Le Triomphe de l’Amour, 3rd divertissement. In this revival of the ballet, Zephyr was danced by Claude Ballon with Mlle Subligny as Flore.

1735, Paris. The ‘Ballet des Fleurs’ in Rameau’s opera-Ballet Les Indes Galantes, 3rd entrée scene 8. This ballet shows a garden of flowers, amongst whom the Rose (originally danced by Marie Sallé) is Queen. Boreas, the North Wind, threatens them, but Zephyr arrives and revives them then pays homage to the Rose. David Dumoulin danced Zephyr. Rameau also wrote a one-act ballet, Zéphyre, at an unknown date which was never performed.

1759, Vienna. Zéphire et Flore (also titled Les Amours de Flore et Zéphire), a ballet with music by Gluck and choreography by Gasparo Angiolini. The action resembles that in Rameau’s ‘Ballet des Fleurs’. Did Angiolini himself dance as Zephyr? We don’t know.

Artists almost always depicted Zephyr with Flora, as in this fresco by Tiepolo.

Tiepolo Zephyr

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. The Triumph of Zephyr and Flora, 1734-1735.

I don’t have details of any other new productions with Zephyr as a dancing character during the middle decades of the 18th century. If the character was indeed absent during that period, he certainly returned to the stage in the 1790s. These were the productions, and the dancers, that may have led to the adoption of the pas de Zephyr as a social dance step.

1790, Paris. Psyché, ballet by Pierre Gardel. Zephyr is Cupid’s attendant. He opens the ballet with a solo and in act 2 has a pas de deux with Flore. The role was intended for Auguste Vestris, but he insisted on dancing the more important role of Cupid, so a younger dancer, Louis Laborie, created the role of Zephyr. Gardel’s ballet stayed in the repertoire until 1829 and among the dancers who later appeared as Zephyr were André Deshayes, Louis-Antoine Duport and Albert.

1793, Paris. Le Jugement de Paris, ballet by Pierre Gardel. This has a pas de trois by Flore, Pomone and Zephyr in act 2. Zephyr was danced by ‘Deshayes’, who was perhaps André Deshayes then aged sixteen.

1796, London. Flore et Zéphire, ballet by Didelot. He and Mme Didelot danced the title roles.

1802, Paris. Le Retour de Zéphire, a one-act divertissement by Pierre Gardel. André Deshayes danced Zephyr. His appearance marked his return to the stage after an 18-month absence because of injury. He was soon succeeded by Louis Duport.

1806, Paris. L’Hymen de Zéphire, ou Le Volage fixé, divertissement by Louis Duport, in which he danced the title role. The ballet culminates in the marriage of Zephyr to the nymph Chloris, who thereby becomes the goddess Flora.

1812, London. Zéphire inconstant, puni et fixé, ou Les Noces de Flore, Didelot’s revised version of his Flore et Zéphire with new music. Armand Vestris and Fortunata Angiolini danced the title roles.

1815, Paris. Flore et Zéphire by Didelot, given its first performance in Paris with Albert and Geneviève Gosselin in the title roles.

Clodion’s terracotta statuette of Zephyr and Flora has been described as dance-like in its composition. Could the artist have drawn inspiration from one of the ballets of the 1790s?

Clodion Zephyr

Clodion. Zephyrus and Flora, 1799.

Several of the later ballets held the stage for a number of years. Their choreography does not survive, but the dancing of the male ballet stars who appeared as Zephyr may well have inspired dancing masters looking for fresh steps for their more accomplished pupils to include in the newly fashionable quadrilles.

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Pas de Zephyr: the Step

I first came across the pas de Zephyr a few years ago at a workshop on early 19th-century quadrilles. The name, as well as the step itself, caught my attention. It was taught as part of a dance vocabulary, drawn from contemporary sources, that was very like ballet. I wanted to know more and recently I’ve finally found time to do some research into this step.

So far I have found the pas de Zephyr described in four manuals of social dancing:

  • Edward Payne, The Quadrille Dancer (London, 1818). I discovered this version transcribed on the Regency Dances website and I have yet to look at a copy of the original manual;
  • Alexander Strathy, Elements of the Art of Dancing (Edinburgh, 1822), this was the version I first encountered;
  • Charles Mason, A Short Essay on the French Danse de Société (London, 1827);
  • Giacomo Costa, Saggio analitico-practico intorno all’arte della danza (Turin, 1831).

There may well be other sources that also include it, although I have not found it in the manuals by Carlo Blasis or in Théleur’s 1831 Letters on Dancing. It doesn’t seem to appear in 18th-century dance manuals either.

The four sources I have been able to consult all describe the step slightly differently. Here is Payne’s description, as transcribed on the Regency Dances website:

‘Pas de Zephyr

To perform this step with the right foot behind, in the 4th position sink on your left foot, at the same time making an opening, or half circle with the right, to the 4th position behind, rising with a gentle spring on your left, at the same time making a half circle with the right, to the 4th position before, then bound forward on your right foot, with the knees perfectly extended, and make a battment [sic] with the left, finishing in the 4th position off the floor, repeat the same with the left foot before, to this add two Jettés on your right foot, two on the left, one on your right, one on the left, and finish with a Jetté et assemblé.

This step is applied when you advance, huit measures, tout seul, in la Pastoralle, and occupies eight bars, four advancing and four retiring.’

The pas de Zephyr is presumably not the entire enchainement, only the step Payne explains in detail.

Strathy’s version goes like this:

‘Pas de Zéphyre or Pas Battu

To perform this Step forward with the Right Leg.

Place the feet in the fifth position, the left foot before; balance the body entirely on the left leg; bend on it, and at the same time slide the right foot, on the point, back to the fourth position; rise on the point of the left foot, bring up the right foot to the third position behind, and, sustaining yourself still on the point of the left foot, pass the right foot by the first position into the fifth position before; then gently place the heels.’

By ‘rise on the point’ Strathy presumably means a rise onto the ball of the foot and not onto the tips of the toes. He offers several variations of the pas de Zephyr, beginning with those which have an extension of the free foot to second position rather than fourth. Strathy’s pas de Zephyr is notable for its use of a rise instead of a jump.

Mason writes as follows:

‘Jeté Ballonné et Tems de Zephyre

Make a jeté before with the right foot, disengaging the left to a fourth position behind; then ballonné or sissonne upon the right, pointing the left to a fourth before; reverse it; if, as you make the ballonné, a little battement forward and back be made with the other foot, it becomes a tems de zephyre.’

Although he gives it a different name, Mason’s version is similar to Payne’s.

I don’t have access to a good translation of Costa’s version (and my Italian is not up to a reliable translation of my own) but here is what he has to say in the original Italian:

‘Passo dello Zeffiro

Il piede destro che sta in quarta avanti per aria, gettasi a terra piegando, e distendendo il piede che sta addietro, s’incava alla quarta in aria avanti; gettando a terra il sinistro, piegando, s’incava nuovamente il destro alla quarta in aria avanti, e si avranno fatti due passi di seguito, sempre avanti.

Contiene esso due tempi soltanto, uno piegato, l’altro disteso. Il primo nel gettare a terra il piede che sta alla quarta in aria, piegando le ginocchia; il secondo, uscendo avanti il piede che trovasi addietro nell’atto che distendonsi le ginocchia, e che il piede che sta per terra fa il salticello, che discesi jeté.’

Costa’s explanation is notable for omitting the battement, which seems to me to be a fundamental element of the pas de Zephyr.

A very basic analysis of these four versions of the pas de Zephyr suggest that it is a pas composé which brings together a jeté, a sissonne and a battement (the last two performed either sequentially or simultaneously). Strathy omits the opening jeté called for by Payne and Mason, while Costa (apparently) substitutes a second jeté for the sissonne. Looking at modern technical dictionaries of classical ballet, I wonder if the pas de Zephyr relates to the brisé or the brisé vole. I suggest that all the versions in social dance manuals are modifications of a more demanding step for the stage. I will discuss a possible choreographic source for that stage step in a later post.