Tag Archives: Pierre Rameau

The Fundamental Step of the Cotillon

In his Le Repertoire des Bals of 1762 de La Cuisse set down the steps to be used in cotillons, although he did not explain how to perform them. One of these steps is:

‘Le Pas de Gavote ou Demi-Contretems … un Pas naturel; C’es le Pas fondamental de la Contredanse; C’est enfin avec ce Pas que se font les Ronds, les Moulinets, les Courses, et prèsque toutes les figures des Contredanses. Chacun de ces Pas vaut une demie-mesure de Musique.’

So, the demi-contretems was much used in France when dancing cotillons. As the name, as well as de La Cuisse’s explanation, implies, there were two demi-contretems to each bar of music.

Gallini made no mention of the demi-contretems among the steps in his A New Collection of Forty-four Cotillons. Perhaps this was a deliberate omission, for he writes ‘it is intended here to explain only those [steps] which are used in the following cotillons’. Gherardi included ‘Demi contre-tems d’un Pied et de l’autre’ within his list of ‘The Names of the French Country Dance Steps’ in his Fourteen Cotillons or French Dances published around 1767, repeated in his subsequent collections. Contrary to what I said in my post Dancing the Cotillon: Gherardi’s Steps, the dancing master did list some individual steps among the sequences. However, he did not explain how this, or any other, step should be performed. Hurst says nothing about steps and Siret also remains silent. Villeneuve’s list of steps does not include the demi-contretems.

The demi-contretems is a step for travelling forwards in a variety of figures, as recommended by de La Cuisse. This is how it is recorded in the 1705 dance for four Le Cotillon. This is also how it has been used in those modern reconstructions of cotillons which I have danced. I don’t know why it was ignored by some of the dancing masters publishing in London – unless the cotillons in their collections hold the answer.

In the dance manuals of the early 18th century, the first mention by name of the demi-contretems seems to be in Pierre Rameau’s Abbrégé de la nouvelle méthode published around 1725. He includes notated versions of the step, with its name, in his table ‘Suitte des contretems’ (p.65) but he does not describe it. In Rameau’s Le Maître a danser it is not mentioned by name, but its manner of performance may be taken from the description of the contretems de gavotte (translation by John Essex, The Dancing-Master, p. 97):

‘To make one with the right Foot, the Body must be on the Left in the fourth Position, the Heel of the right behind up; then sink upon the Left, and rise upon it with a Spring; but at the same Time the right Leg, which was ready to go, moves forwards in the fourth Position and on the Toes, both Legs well extended; …’

Instead of making the second step, to perform a contretems de gavotte, the dancer should transfer his or her weight onto the right foot to repeat the demi-contretems on the left.

The instruction ‘rise upon it with a Spring’ (Rameau writes ‘se relever en sautant dessus’) has resulted in two different modes of execution by dancers today. One is simply a hop followed by a step (usually onto a flat foot). The other begins with a small spring onto the ball of the foot, much like a rélevé in classical ballet, followed by step onto the ball of the foot and a quick sink into plié. The latter is more difficult and travels less, but gives a pleasing vivacity and crispness to both the step and the figures in which it is used. The demi-contretems can also be performed with a pas rond, in which the working leg traces a small half circle in the air as it passes from back to front. This little embellishment suits the rococo elegance of the cotillon very well.

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.


A Year of Dance: 1725

1725 was quite a busy year, both culturally and politically.

In Britain, one noteworthy event was George I’s foundation of the Order of the Bath. However, the hanging of the notorious thief-taker Jonathan Wild at Tyburn on 24 May 1725 probably attracted greater interest. In Europe, there were several events of undoubted political significance. Tsar Peter the Great died on 8 February and was succeeded by his second wife – Catherine I was the first woman to rule Russia. The Emperor Charles VI and King Philip V of Spain signed the Treaty of Vienna on 30 April, which included a guarantee of the Pragmatic Sanction allowing the Emperor to be succeeded by a daughter, despite the prevailing Salic law. In France, the fifteen year old Louis XV married the Polish Princess Marie Leszczyńska. She was seven years older than the King.

At the Paris Opéra, Les Eléments an opéra-ballet by Delalande and Destouches was given its first public performance on 29 May 1725. The work had initially been performed in 1721 as a court ballet, with Louis XV among the dancers. Its popularity on the public stage was to be long-lived. In London there were two notably diverse premieres within a week. Handel’s latest opera Rodelinda was performed at the King’s Theatre on 13 February. On 20 February, Drury Lane’s new pantomime Apollo and Daphne opened. It was described in the bills as a ‘Dramatick Entertainment of Dancing’ and it did indeed have a great deal of serious dancing in its main plot.

1725 was an unusually busy year for dance publishing. In London, L’Abbé’s new dance for the year was Prince Frederick, in honour of George I’s eldest grandson. L’Abbé’s A New Collection of Dances, notations for 13 choreographies performed in London’s theatres, may have appeared this year (it has no publication date). The undated 18th edition of The Dancing-Master has also been assigned to 1725, although some modern sources prefer 1728. The dancing master Siris published his own ‘dance for the year’ The Diana, in honour of the Duchess of Marlborough’s much-loved grand-daughter Lady Diana Spencer.

Siris. The Diana. First plate

Siris. The Diana. First plate

In Paris, the most important dance publication of 1725 was undoubtedly Pierre Rameau’s treatise Le Maître a danser. This work explains how to perform the steps recorded by Feuillet a quarter of a century earlier. Rameau’s revision of the Beauchamp-Feuillet system of notation, put forward in his Abbrégé de la Nouvelle Méthode, probably appeared in late 1725. He followed Feuillet by including a collection of twelve dances by Pecour as part two of the treatise, all in his revised notation. These dances, described as the most beautiful and best liked of Pecour’s many choreographies, were apparently still popular in the ballroom. They were given a new lease of life by their appearance in subsequent reissues of Rameau’s Abbrégé.

Pecour. La Mariée, notated by Rameau. First plate

Pecour. La Mariée, notated by Rameau. First plate

The regular annual collections of dances issued first by Feuillet and then by Dezais continued with the XXIII Recüeil de dances pour l’Année 1725. Dezais also published his Premier Livre de Contre-Dances, which I have written about in other posts. The title Premier Livre … suggests that he was intending to pursue a new series devoted to notations of contredanses. No more collections of either danses à deux or contredanses appeared after 1725. The abrupt cessation suggests that Dezais died before he could prepare or publish further collections. 1725 marks the end of the publication of notated dances in France, until the contredanses known as cotillons began to appear in a simplified form of notation in the early 1760s.

La Mariée on the London stage

La Mariée, a ballroom dance for a man and a woman, was one of the dances Pierre Rameau described as the most beautiful choreographies created by Guillaume-Louis Pecour. Rameau included his own notation of the dance in his Abbregé de la nouvelle methode,dans l’art d’ecrire ou de traçer toutes sortes de danse de ville, published in Paris probably in 1725. The duet already had a long history by then, for it was first published in 1700 in Feuillet’s Recueil de dances composées par M. Pecour, one of the collections that accompanied Choregraphie.

Guillaume-Louis Pecour. Recueil de dances (Paris, 1700), plate 12, opening of La Mariée

Guillaume-Louis Pecour. Recueil de dances (Paris, 1700), plate 12, opening of La Mariée

The dance historian Rebecca Harris-Warrick showed, in an essay published in 1989, that La Mariée was almost certainly originally a stage dance created for a revival of Lully’s opera Roland in 1690. She suggested that the dance entered the French ballroom repertoire during the 1690s. It may have been danced in mascarade entertainments during the 1700 carnival season at the French court. It may well have continued to be danced on the stage of the Paris Opéra in later revivals of Roland, by such stars as Ballon and Mlle Subligny (1705) and David Dumoulin and Mlle Prévost (1709). It was mentioned in many dance treatises and republished in notation many times between 1700 and 1765. After that it apparently faded from view.

Pecour’s popular duet had probably reached London by 1698, when the music was published in John Walsh’s compilation Theater Musick, being a Collection of the Newest Ayers for the Violin. Harris-Warrick speculates that it may have been danced at William III’s birth night ball that year. If so, one of the performers could have been Anthony L’Abbé who had already danced before the King in May 1698. On 1 June 1703, L’Abbé was billed at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in The Wedding Dance. This was described in advertisements as ‘compos’d by Monsieur L’Abbé, and perform’d by him, Mrs Elford, and others’. The piece seems to have been a divertissement, which may or may not have incorporated Pecour’s La Mariée.

In later years, ‘Wedding’ dances reappeared every so often among the entr’acte entertainments in London’s theatres. There was a Wedding Dance ‘by Prince and others’ at Drury Lane on 20 July 1713 and a Grand Comic Wedding Dance, created by Moreau, at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 14 January 1717. Moreau’s Wedding Dance was performed by three men and three women together with the Sallé children, Francis and Marie. I am inclined to think that La Mariée was performed as part of Moreau’s divertissement, possibly by the Sallés. On 15 May 1718, a dance titled Marie was given at Drury Lane by Cook and Miss Schoolding. Apart from the ongoing dance rivalry between the theatres, which caused much copying of repertoire, Cook had danced in Moreau’s piece and Miss Schoolding was Mrs Moreau’s younger sister.

Thereafter The Marie (as it was often billed) was regularly given as an entr’acte dance. The Sallés performed it, as adult dancers, several times during the 1725-26 and 1726-27 seasons. The duet was later taken up by Leach Glover, one of the leading dancers in John Rich’s company, who gave it regularly at his benefit performances during the 1730s. Pecour’s famous ball dance apparently made its last London stage appearance, after a gap of many years, on 24 April 1759 at Covent Garden. It was performed ‘By Desire’ by Lalauze and Miss Toogood at his benefit. Did they really dance the choreography as created some seventy years earlier?

Learning to dance: Pierre Rameau

Pierre Rameau’s Le Maître a danser, published in Paris in 1725, is today the best-known and most widely consulted of the 18th-century dance manuals. The same may well have been true in its own time.  Rameau’s treatise was translated into English by John Essex as The Dancing-Master and published in London in 1728. Both versions went through a number of editions. There was a second edition of Le Maître a danser in 1734 and a third in 1748. The Dancing-Master appeared in a second edition in 1731, which was reissued around 1733 with new engraved illustrations, and there was another ‘second edition’ in 1744. Rameau’s influence elsewhere can be traced in a number of treatises. Among these are the translation into Portuguese by Joseph Thomas Cabreira, Arte de dançar à franceza (Lisbon, 1760), and Pablo Minguet e Yrol’s Arte de danzar à la francesa (Madrid, 1758) for which it was the principal source.

Rameau was well aware of the pre-eminence of French dancing (the quotation is from Essex’s translation, which I will use in these and other posts).

‘We may say to the Glory of our Nation that it has a true Taste of fine Dancing. Almost all Foreigners far from disallowing it, have very near an age admired our Dancing, and formed themselves in our Academies and Schools: Nay there’s not a Court in Europe but what has a Dancing-Master of our Nation.’

Rameau wrote ‘près d’un siécle’, translated by Essex as ‘near an age’, dating French dominance of the world of dance to the early 17th century and the reign of Louis XIII, father of the Sun King.

Like Taubert, who was following French practice, Rameau deals with standing, walking and bowing before turning to dancing itself. In his first chapter ‘Of the Manner of disposing the Body’, Rameau declares:

‘I have laid down a Plan, or Method of Teaching, for the Master to lead his Scholar from one Step to another, and at the same Time instruct him in the different Motions of the Arms, to make them agreeable to the different Steps in Dancing: …’

He goes on ‘And as it is essential to dispose the Body in a graceful Posture, that shall be explained in this first Chapter’, referring the reader to an illustration showing a man ready to begin walking. In his preface, Rameau had said ‘I have caused many Copper Plates to be engraved, which represents the Dancer in the several Positions: For Precepts communicated by the Eye have always a better Effect’. Undoubtedly, demonstration was a key element in Rameau’s teaching methods. It is interesting that Taubert did not try to illustrate his Rechtschaffener Tantzmeister. The illustration of 18th-century dance manuals, and indeed of dancing itself during that period, is a topic worth pursuing in its own right.

Rameau begins his second chapter, on walking, by referring back to his illustration of ‘The Disposition of the Body’ making clear that  ‘the Manner of Walking well is very useful, because on it depends the first Principle of Dancing a good Air’. In his third chapter, Rameau turns to ‘the Positions’. Taubert had paid little, if any, attention to the five positions of the feet, whereas Rameau devotes six chapters to them, explaining:

‘What is called a Position, is no more than a just Proportion, found out to divide, or bring the Feet nearer together, in a limited Distance, whether the Body be in an easy Balance, or perpendicularly upright; or whether it be in Walking, Dancing, or Standing.’

These positions have survived into the 21st century, although they are now mainly associated with classical ballet.

After the positions, Rameau turns to ‘Honours in General’. He begins with those for Gentlemen, for whom the management of the hat was an important skill – ‘It is very necessary for every one, in what Station of Life so ever he be, to know how to take off his Hat as he ought, and to make a handsome Bow’. There are four chapters on the various bows to be made by gentlemen, after which Rameau turns to the ladies and instructions for how they should walk and make their curtsies. Like Taubert, Rameau directs his treatise first and foremost to gentlemen.

Only after fourteen chapters – dealing with standing, walking, the positions of the feet and bowing – does Rameau feel his pupils are ready to begin dancing. Of course, he turns immediately to the minuet. Whether this was actually the approach he followed in his lessons is impossible to tell. Were pupils routinely taught alone, in couples (to learn the danses à deux) or groups? We have little real evidence, although one illustration to Le Maître a danser (copied by The Dancing-Master) shows a couple under the tuition of their dancing master, who is playing his pochette.

Pierre Rameau, translated by John Essex, The Dancing-Master (London, 1728). Plate facing opening page of chapter 1.

Pierre Rameau, translated by John Essex, The Dancing-Master (London, 1728). Plate facing opening page of chapter 1.

The Minuet: Sources

The topic of Georgian balls brings me to that most terrifying of dances with which they all began – the minuet. This was the one duet that everyone had to learn, if not to master, if they hoped to gain a place within polite society.

The minuet disappeared from the ballroom, and from dancing lessons, some 200 years ago. There is no recognisable descendant among our modern ballroom dances. We must, therefore, turn to written sources if we wish to reconstruct the dance. None of the surviving dance manuals and notations is entirely clear and, between them, they pose many problems of interpretation.

The earliest surviving notated minuet is a dance for four (two men and two women) from the mascarade Le Mariage de la Grosse Cathos, created by Jean Favier the elder for performance at Versailles in 1688. Favier recorded the whole entertainment in his own system of dance notation. The steps of the ballroom minuet were published in Beauchamp-Feuillet notation in 1701. Feuillet inexplicably omitted them from the first edition of Choregraphie in 1700 and had to add a ‘Supplément de pas’ to the second edition.

The earliest dance manual to describe and explain the ballroom minuet in detail is Gottfried Taubert’s Rechtschaffener Tantzmeister, published in Leipzig in 1717. Better known, at least to baroque dance aficionados, is Pierre Rameau’s Le Maître a danser (Paris, 1725) with its translation by John Essex The Dancing-Master (London, 1728). Kellom Tomlinson, whose The Art of Dancing appeared in London in 1735, followed them by devoting several chapters to the steps and figures of the ballroom minuet. Like Taubert, he provided a notated version of the duet. It is reasonable to assume that all three treatises reflect the teaching practice of the dancing masters themselves.

During the 18th century dance treatises were published throughout Europe. Many drew on Rameau’s work and included the minuet as part of a course of instruction in ‘French Dancing’. Alongside these were the minuets published in notation. Many are duets for a man and a woman. There are also minuets for four (two men and two women), as well as dances for five or more and a number of solos. In addition, there are several dances that include the minuet as one of the sections in a small-scale ‘suite’ of differing dance types.

I will look more closely at these and other sources for the minuet in future posts, as I explore the various facets of this familiar but little-known and much-misunderstood dance.

The Illustration is from George Bickham the younger’s An Easy Introduction to Dancing: or the Movements in the Minuet Fully Explained published in London in 1738. This little work draws heavily on The Dancing-Master, for which Bickham had provided new illustrations when it was reissued in the early 1730s.

Bickham Minuet