Tag Archives: Serious Dancing

Serious Dancing

In his An Essay towards an History of Dancing (1712), John Weaver described three distinct genres of stage dancing ‒ serious, grotesque and scenical. He drew on all three in The Loves of Mars and Venus, beginning with serious dancing in the first two scenes of the ballet, which introduce in turn Mars and Venus. I have quoted this passage from Weaver’s Essay before, in a piece about stage dancing posted more than two years ago, but it is worth repeating:

Serious Dancing, differs from the Common-Dancing usually taught in Schools, as History Painting differs from Limning. For as the Common-Dancing has a peculiar Softness, which would hardly be perceiveable on the Stage; so Stage-Dancing would have a rough and ridiculous Air in a Room, when on the Stage it would appear soft, tender and delightful.’

Weaver was drawing attention to the greater power and amplitude in the performance of dancing on stage. His list of ‘some Steps peculiarly adapted to this sort of Dancing’ reveals its innate tendency to virtuosity, for he mentions ‘Capers, and Cross-Capers of all kinds; Pirouttes [i.e. pirouettes], Batteries, and indeed almost all Steps from the Ground’. These are among the more difficult steps recorded in Feuillet’s Choregraphie and Weaver had himself recorded them in notation for his translation of that work.

Is he contradicting himself when, in his next paragraph, he declares that serious dancing is ‘the easiest attain’d’ of the genres, even if he adds that ‘a Man must excel in it to be able to please’?

Despite his dismissal of serious dancing, at least so far as his ambitions for dance drama are concerned, Weaver provides further insights into its demands.

‘There are two Movements in this Kind of Dancing; the Brisk, and the Grave; the Brisk requires Vigour, Lightness, Agility, Quicksprings, with a Steadiness, and Command of the Body; the Grave (which is the most difficult) Softness, easie Bendings and Risings, and Address; and both must have Air and Firmness, with a graceful and regulated Motion of all Parts; but the most Artful Qualification is a nice Address in the Management of those Motions, that none of the Gestures and Dispositions of the Body may be disagreeable to the Spectators.’

He is, of course, talking about the rigours of classical dancing, the genre that strives for formal technical perfection.

Weaver is forced to admit that ‘the French excel in this kind of Dancing’ and he singles out Guillaume-Louis Pecour, ballet master at the Paris Opéra, as an exemplar in the genre. It is interesting that Weaver lauds Pecour for his mastery of ‘the Chacoone, or Passacaille, which is of the grave Movement’. In London, Anthony L’Abbé created two highly virtuosic solos: the ‘Chacone of Amadis’, to music from Lully’s 1684 opera Amadis, for Louis Dupré – Weaver’s Mars; and the ‘Passagalia of Venüs & Adonis’, to music from Desmarets 1697 opera Venüs & Adonis, for Hester Santlow – Weaver’s Venus. Both choreographies post-date Weaver’s Essay and perhaps date to shortly before The Loves of Mars and Venus. They reflect the tradition of French serious dancing to which Weaver’s two principal dancers, and indeed Weaver himself (as a teacher at least), belonged.

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