Tag Archives: Saraband

Dancing ‘Spaniards’

There were dancing ‘Spaniards’ on stage long before ‘Spanish’ dances were recorded in notation. They appeared in English masques as well as in the French ballets de cour. Charles II is unlikely to have remembered the ‘grave Spanish lover’ in the second antimasque to William Davenant’s Triumphs of the Prince d’Amour, given in 1635 when he was only five years old. During his exile, Charles spent several periods in France. The last of these ran from 1651 to 1654, and the King might well have seen the Ballet des Proverbes when it was performed at the Louvre on 17 February 1654. Its final entrée of ‘Espagnols’ and ‘Espagnolles’ included the young Louis XIV and Pierre Beauchamp among the dancers (the ‘Espagnolles’ were all danced by men).

Dancing Spaniard from designs for Le Ballet de la Nuit, 1653

Dancing Spaniard from designs for Le Ballet de la Nuit, 1653

It is a matter for conjecture as to how such performances might have influenced the entertainments offered by the London theatres. Charles II and his court were certainly committed patrons of the theatres, after they legally reopened with the patents granted to Davenant and Killigrew in 1660. I was interested to come across dancing Spaniards in Dryden’s The Indian Emperor, first given at the Bridges Street Theatre in 1665 and published in 1667. The dance comes in act 4 scene 3 of the play and the stage direction reads ‘two Spaniards arise and Dance a Saraband with Castanieta’s’. The dance follows a song, ‘Ah fading joy, how quickly thou art past?’ sung by ‘many Indian Women’ who are captives of the Spanish (the play deals with the Spanish conquistadors).  The use of castanets suggests a dynamic dance, so perhaps it was meant to contrast with the song. It calls to mind the final entrée in the 1659 Ballet de la Raillerie in which an ‘Espagnolle’ appears ‘dansant avec Castagnettes’. However, Dryden’s inspiration was probably closer to hand. Davenant’s The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru, performed and published in London in 1658, also includes a ‘Saraband’ danced by two Spaniards ‘with Castanietos’. The play was revived in 1661 and Dryden must surely have known it.

Was the music for the dance in The Indian Emperor Spanish or French, or did it draw on a more local tune? A country dance called The Spaniard had appeared in The English Dancing-Master when it was published in 1651 and was still included in the third edition of 1665. The music for Davenant’s The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru was by Matthew Locke.

Undoubtedly more influential in later years, although we lack direct musical evidence, was Lully’s score for Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, which included the Ballet des Nations with its Spanish, Italian and French entrées as well as the celebrated ‘Turkish’ ceremony. The comédie-ballet was given before Louis XIV at Chambord on 14 October 1670 and repeated later the same year for the public at the theatre in the Palais Royal in central Paris. It was revived in 1689, 1691 and as late as 1716. At the first court performance, the English actor Jo Haines was much applauded when he danced between the acts. Le Bourgeois gentilhomme was translated and adapted for London audiences by Edward Ravenscroft as The Citizen Turn’d Gentleman, given at the Dorset Garden Theatre in July 1672. Although it included Jo Haines as the French tutor and singing master, Ravenscroft’s version omitted the Ballet des Nations. The lasting influence of Lully’s dance music in France is clearly shown by the eight notated dances that use it. Did it also affect dancing on the London stage?

Campra’s opéra-ballet L’Europe galante, first performed at the Paris Opéra on 24 October 1697, was even more influential. Its four entrées were set in France, Spain, Italy and Turkey – the same as the four nations featured in Le Bourgeois gentilhomme. L’Europe galante was revived in 1706, 1715, 1724, 1725, 1736 and 1747, providing clear evidence of its lasting popularity. There are nine notated dances to its music. The significance of L’Europe galante to French dance culture is obvious. Its importance to dancing in London is more difficult to determine, although Anthony L’Abbé later used music from the Turkish entrée for a popular stage duet.

There was also a ‘Ballet des Nations’ in Europe’s Revels for the Peace, performed at the English court on 4 November 1697 to celebrate both the Peace of Ryswick which had ended the Nine Years’ War and King William III’s birthday.  This work, with music by John Eccles, has dances by Spanish, Dutch, French and English men and women. The music for these dances was not included in the surviving manuscript score, but some of the tunes were published in Thomas Bray’s Country Dances in 1699. Unfortunately, the ‘Spanish’ dance was not among them. Europe’s Revels for the Peace was revived at the Queen’s theatre in 1706, so perhaps its music and dances did influence ‘national’ dances given on the London stage later in the 18th century.

So, there are some clues to the nature of performances by dancing ‘Spaniards’ during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Do the surviving dance treatises tell us anything about their dance style and technique?


The Saraband on the London Stage

The first saraband to be advertised as an entr’acte dance on the London stage was danced, together with a ‘Jig’, by the actress Elizabeth Younger at Drury Lane on 3 May 1714. Her appearance was described as ‘being the first time of her dancing alone on the stage’ – she was just fourteen but already had several years of acting experience. The last advertisement to mention a saraband was for a performance at Covent Garden on 13 February 1742. The dancer was the Italian virtuoso Barbara Campanini, ‘La Barbarina’. Little evidence survives to tell us what these dances were like. Both dancers were trained in French dancing, la belle danse. Miss Younger was really an actress who danced, although the surviving choreography for the Türkish Dance duet by Anthony L’Abbé shows that her technique was quite considerable. Perhaps her solo saraband was comparable to Feuillet’s Sarabande de Polixène. Although she was only twenty-one, La Barbarina was a first-rate ballerina fresh from success at the Paris Opéra where her technique had dazzled audiences.  I wonder whether her saraband was more like those created by Feuillet and Pecour for male soloists?

The first saraband duet was advertised for a performance at Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre on 5 May 1724. The dancers were Dupré and Mrs Wall. He was then one of the leading male dancers in the company, while Mrs Wall seems to have been a promising newcomer (she disappeared from the bills within just a few years).  She danced another saraband later the same season with Leach Glover, also a leading dancer at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Both Dupré and Glover were accomplished exponents of la belle danse. Glover went on to perform sarabands with Mrs Laguerre and then Miss La Tour, both leading dancers in John Rich’s company, into the early 1730s. A clue to the nature of all these duets may lie in the Saraband’ of Issee, created by Anthony L’Abbé in the mid-1710s for Dupré and Mrs Bullock and published in his A New Collection of Dances around 1725. The duet is one of three choreographies to the same piece of music, taken from Destouches 1697 opera Issé. The other two dances are both by Pecour. L’Abbé’s dance is technically the most demanding of them. Mrs Bullock, as well as Dupré, was expected to perform beaten steps, turns and ornamentations normal for male technique (although she did not do the entrechats-six notated for Dupré, substituting plain changements instead).

The Saraband’ of Issee was a showpiece, which later dancers advertised in sarabands may or may not have been able to emulate. There is also a quite different saraband danced on the London stage and published in notation. L’Abbé’s The Prince of Wales’s Saraband was created for the birthday of Queen Caroline and performed at Drury Lane on 22 March 1731 by William Essex and Hester Booth. This ballroom duet has no spectacular steps. It makes its effects through subtle ornamentation, including modulations to the timing of individual pas composés although, like the stage choreographies, it recalls the contrast between fast and slow, dynamic and languid described by Pomey in 1671. Such an unadorned choreography requires true elegance and the utmost refinement of technique from its dancers. Hester Booth (née Santlow) was famous for her ‘address’ (which may loosely be translated as comportment). Her partner William Essex (son of the dancing master John Essex who had translated Rameau’s Le Maître a danser) must have been her equal. Was the notated choreography what they actually danced at Drury Lane? Evidence from other notated dances suggests that they may well have included some difficult unrecorded ornamentations.

Did the saraband really disappear from the London stage after 1742?

Anthony L’Abbé. Saraband’ of Issee [c1725], first plate.

Anthony L’Abbé. Saraband’ of Issee [c1725], first plate.

Anthony L’Abbé. The Prince of Wales’s Saraband [1731], first plate.

Anthony L’Abbé. The Prince of Wales’s Saraband [1731], first plate.



Feuillet’s Sarabands

Six of the surviving notated sarabands are by Raoul Auger Feuillet. All are solo dances. He included two in his 1700 collection of his own choreographies, both to the ‘Spanish’ saraband in the Ballet des Nations from Le Bourgeois gentilhomme. I’ll look at those later, alongside Feuillet’s versions of the Folie d’Espagne. The other four sarabands are from a manuscript collection possibly compiled between 1710 and 1720. Three are solos for a woman and the fourth is a solo for a man.

As I said in my last post, I’ve been working on one of the sarabands for a woman – the Sarabande de Polixène. I’ve been wondering how the three female solos relate to one another, given that they are all by the same choreographer. I’ve long been interested in the very different choreographies created for male dancers (the complexities of most of these suggest that they were created for male professionals). These four sarabands provide an opportunity for some analysis. Unfortunately, I only have recorded music for the Sarabande de Polixène which makes reconstruction of the other solos difficult. I feel that such reconstruction is always the best basis for any analysis. I’ll just have to see what the notations themselves can tell me.

None of these solos is long. The Sarabande de Mr. Feüillet for a woman, whose music remains unidentified, has 40 bars. The Sarabande de Mr. Feüillet to music from act 1 scene 5 of Gatti’s opera Scylla (1701) has only 36 bars – I’ll refer to this dance as the Sarabande de Scylla. The Sarabande de Mr. Feuillet for a man, also with unidentified music, has 48 bars. The Sarabande de Polixène is the longest, with 64 bars of music taken from act 3 scene 5 of Colasse’s opera Polixène et Pirrhus (1706). All the music for these dances has a basic AABB structure with a B section longer than the A section. However, the Sarabande de Scylla has an AABBB’ structure in which both A and B have 8 bars and B’ has 4.

I find it useful to do some basic analysis to start with, looking at how many steps in a choreography incorporate jumps or beats or turns. Sometimes such ornamentations can point to a dance for the stage rather than the ballroom. In all three of the female solos around one-third of the steps include one or more jumped elements. The inclusion of beats runs from only 3% of steps in the Sarabande de Scylla to 11% in the Sarabande de Polixène. Both the female solo Sarabande de Mr. Feüillet and the Sarabande de Scylla add turns to around 45% of their steps, but the Sarabande de Polixène does this with only 22%. Does this suggest that the last is more presentational than the other two? Well, it might depend on where the dancer most often faces at the end of individual steps. The number of basic, unornamented steps ranges from 35% in the female Sarabande de Mr. Feüillet to 50% in the Sarabande de Scylla. Are there any conclusions that can safely be drawn from this?

The male solo saraband both overlaps with and radically departs from the step vocabulary of the other three dances, so I will devote a separate post to it. I will also look at the pas composés shared by these four solos, by which I mean those steps formed from two or more basic steps with or without further ornamentation.

In the meantime, here is some notation from one of the female solos. Note the pirouette on both feet with a full turn towards the end of this section.

Sarabande de Mr. Feüillet (undated). First plate

Sarabande de Mr. Feüillet (undated). First plate

The Saraband

I’ve recently been working on Feuillet’s solo Sarabande for a woman to music from Colasse’s 1706 opera Polyxène et Pirrhus. This choreography survives in a single manuscript source and must date to period 1706 to 1710. The music is very different from the better-known saraband in the Entrée for Spain within the Ballet des Nations that ends Lully and Molière’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme. It seems that, in the early 18th century, there were two distinct types of saraband – one being French, as in the Sarabande de Polyxène, and the other Spanish, the best known examplar being the Folie d’Espagne.

A remark on the radio, describing  the saraband as ‘slow and stately’ prompted me to take a closer look at this dance type. I admit to being very tired of hearing the expression ‘slow and stately’ in relation to the very varied ballroom and theatre dances of the late 17th and 18th centuries, but it is difficult to know how to counter it.

There are at least 27 surviving choreographies labelled as sarabands, to which can be added four Folie d’Espagne notations (not included in the following statistics). The dance was popular both in the ballroom and on the stage. Ten of the notated sarabands are identifiable as ballroom dances. Nine of these include the saraband alongside other dance types in mini-dance suites. Five choreographies can be linked directly either to the Paris Opéra or the London stage. Six more dances are male solos and there are five female solos. All of these may have been intended either for the stage or as exhibition dances. Four of the solos (two male and two female) are to the saraband in Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, marking them out as ‘Spanish’.

There is, of course, much more to the saraband as a dance. Do the choreographies themselves differentiate between ‘French’ and ‘Spanish’ sarabands, or do these distinctions lie hidden within style and technique rather than on view in the step vocabulary and choreographic motifs? I will try to address these issues in later posts.

In the meantime, here is a description of a dancer performing a saraband from Father François Pomey’s Le Dictionnaire royal augmentée published in Lyon in 1671. The translation of the French original comes from a 1986 article by the researcher Patricia Ranum.

‘At first he danced with a totally charming grace, with a serious and circumspect air, with an equal and slow rhythm, and with such a noble, beautiful, free and easy carriage that he had all the majesty of a king, and inspired as much respect as he gave pleasure.

Then, standing taller and more assertively, and raising his arms to half-height and keeping them partly extended, he performed the most beautiful steps ever invented for the dance.

Sometimes he would glide imperceptibly, with no apparent movement of his feet and legs, and seemed to slide rather than step. Sometimes, with the most beautiful timing in the world, he would remain suspended, immobile, and half leaning to the side with one foot in the air; and then, compensating for the rhythmic unit that had just gone by, with another more precipitous unit he would almost fly, so rapid was his motion.

Sometimes he would advance with little skips, sometimes he would drop back with long steps that, although carefully planned, seemed to be done spontaneously, so well had he cloaked his art in skilful nonchalance.

Sometimes, for the pleasure of everyone present, he would turn to the right, and sometimes he would turn to the left; and when he reached the very middle of the empty floor, he would pirouette so quickly that the eye could not follow.

Now and then he would let a whole rhythmic unit go by, moving no more than a statue and then, setting off like an arrow, he would be at the other end of the room before anyone had time to realise that he had departed.

But all this was nothing compared to what was observed when this gallant began to express the emotions of his soul through the motions of his body, and reveal them in his face, his eyes, his steps and all his actions.

There is more, but isn’t this more than enough to refute the idea of the saraband (or, indeed, any baroque dance) as ‘slow and stately’? The expressive possibilities outlined in this passage can readily be seen in the surviving notated sarabands.