Tag Archives: Quadrilles

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.

Pas de Zephyr: Two More Versions

I recently gave a paper on dancing on the London stage during the regency period. During my research, I encountered Monsieur Albert, a dancer and dancing master I had heard of but knew little about. He wrote a treatise on ballroom dancing L’Art de danser à la ville et à la cour, published in Paris in 1834. He, too, includes the pas de Zephyr among the steps he suggests for use in the contredanse française or quadrille.

‘Le pas de zephyr se fait par le balancé.

Jeté du pied droit de devant à la troisième position, contre-temps du pied gauche à la quatrième position, en avant; la même chose du pied gauche; plus, encore une fois du pied droit; jeté et assemble devant pour finir le balancé.

Le même pas de zephyr se fait avec balonné derrière, du pied gauche, pour commencer le même balancé et continuer.’

Albert also describes the contre-temps en avant, which closely resembles the early 18th-century step of the same name except that it finishes with an assemblé (which seems not to be included in the pas de Zephyr). He apparently uses the term balancé to denote a sequence of steps as well as the balancé step itself. His version of the pas de Zephyr is very different from those of Payne, Strathy, Mason and Costa, for which I transcribed the descriptions in an earlier post.

There is yet another version of the pas de Zephyr, described by J. H. Gourdoux-Daux in his treatise De l’art de la danse. The step presumably appears in the first edition, published in Paris in 1811, although I have only been able to consult the third edition of 1823. Gourdoux-Daux says:

‘Pour executer ce tems ou pas, suivez la même règle que pour le tems de cuisse à la première position, avec la seule différence que vous passerez une cuisse contre l’autre, sans opérer le mouvement comme pour le battre.’

He describes the tems de cuisse ‘à la première position’ thus:

‘Ainsi pour exécuter le tems de cuisse à la première position, faites un tems préparatoire, soit un jeté à la quatrième position devant, ou une sissone de la jambe qui est derrière; ou lâchez simplement la jambe qui est derrière à la quatrième position de ce côté, en pliant en même tems, ce qui vous placera entièrement sur la jambe de devant, laquelle doit être pliée et l’autre relevée derrière à la quatrième position, le genou un peu plié et bien en dehors. Dans cette attitude, faites un mouvement de la cuisse de derrière, en partant de la hanche comme pour lui faire prendre un élan en la dirigeant un peu de côté; puis enlevez-vous, et de cet élan faites en même tems le mouvement ou le tems de la cuisse, passant contre l’autre à la première position, à laquelle vous retiendrez le mouvement de votre cuisse, comme si elle y rencontrait quelque chose contre laquelle elle heurterait et qui lui ferait éprouver un bondissement un peu en arrière, en la soutenant dans ce bondissement; ramenez-la, et continuez de la passer simplement à la quatrième position devant vous, où vous la tiendrez levée, tendue et en dehors et le corps toujours bien d’aplomb dessus l’autre jambe sur laquelle vous vous êtes enlevé, ayant eu soin de ne se point quitter la place dans cette execution.’

There is a temps de cuisse in modern ballet technique, which may well be the descendant of the step Gourdoux-Daux describes. As can be seen, his version of the pas de Zephyr is different from all the others.

So, what was the pas de Zephyr? Was it a pas composé, a complex individual step, or was it actually an enchaînement, a sequence of steps? Were the different versions drawn from the same source but then amended by individual dancing masters to suit the needs of their own pupils? Was that source perhaps a short variation performed on stage by a leading male dancer, whom many of the teachers (if not their pupils) may have seen? I confess to being baffled by the pas de Zephyr! More research, practical as well as academic, is obviously needed.