Entrée des divinités infernales

Entrée des divinités infernales



1 Original Performance Context and Style

This entrée grave was choreographed by Louis Pécour and was included in a revival of Lully’s opera Persée at the Paris Opéra in 1710. The entrée was performed by François Marcel and Michel Gaudrau in the second-act divertissement and (then presumably later) recorded in notation by Gaudrau himself.

This piece almost certainly belonged to the serious style. This is strongly suggested first of all by the tempo marking gravement (‘gravely’) in the 1682 score and by the choreography, which has two composite steps per bar, necessitating a very slow tempo, not to mention an absence of many (beaten) jumps or pirouetting steps. Also noteworthy is the performer François Marcel, whose specialty was the serious style, and further the venue itself, namely, the Paris Opéra, where the serious style was especially favored.

A closer consideration of the operatic context adds further weight to this postulate. In scene vii, Mercury returns from a trip to the underworld (and so most likely rose through a trap in the stage floor) and informs Perseus that all the gods save Juno will help him in his heroic quest to kill the Medusa. There follow three scenes involving singing and dancing which exemplify the gods’ willingness to help Perseus. In the eighth scene, according to the 1682 libretto, “Cyclopes come dancing on in order to give Perseus, on behalf of Vulcan, a sword and winged sandals like those of Mercury.” One of the Cyclopes briefly sings, explaining the gift, and then the dancing Cyclopes dance again to a repeat of the music. In the ninth scene, “one of warrior nymphs presents Perseus, on behalf of Pallas [Athena], a shield made of diamond; she sings while this gift is offered, and the other warrior nymphs dance.” The same structure is followed here as well: dance, song, and dance again. And in the tenth scene, “the divinities of the underworld come forth from Hades bearing Pluto’s helmet which they present to Perseus. One of these gods sings, and the others dance,” following the same pattern of dance, song and then dance again.

Pécour’s entrée is for these divinities of the underworld (divinités infernales), and on the basis of dramatic role alone, one would also expect this dance to be in the serious style. The entire structure of the divertissement further suggests that three dance styles were to be represented (at least as originally conceived by Lully and Quinault), moving from the low (comic) through the middle (half-serious) to the high (serious), as representatives of all the gods (save Juno) – Cyclopes, warrior nymphs and demi-gods from Pluto’s realm – present their gifts in their turn. And these gifts also ascend corporeally from the low (sandals and sword) through the middle (shield) and finally to the high (helmet). In other words, just as all the gods except Juno are involved, so too all of the dance styles except the grotesque are represented, in an ascending order of nobility.


2 Music

Fig. 1. An eighteenth-century bâton de mesure.

A MIDI mock-up of the music, with a suitable tempo, is included here. Since the Paris Opéra employed a batteur de mesure who audibly kept time by banging a stick (fig. 1) against a music stand — and this could be heard above the music even by the audience — I have added a percussion instrument to the mock-up in order to evoke something of this audible beating. A couple of “specialty” instruments were also added: a trombone (which traditionally was used to evoke the underworld) and a contrabass (to add gravitas). Overdotting, notes inégales, and ornaments have also been added, based mainly on Muffat’s discussion concerning the performance of French dance music (1698). (The at times rhythmic independence of the choreography may reflect ornamentation that was present in the original performance but which was not included by the notator.)

In its original context, at least some of the music would have been used for the entrance of the divinities from the underworld through a trap — there is no other music in the score provided for this — and so a dancer’s introduction would not have been needed. A three-note percussive lead-in has been added here, however. To hear the mock-up, click on the white arrow-head on the left of the black bar:




Preliminary Remarks on Technique

3 General Carriage of the Body

The body must always be well pulled up, as is still the case in classical ballet. Behr (1713: 22-23), for example, writes that “the dancer then must be well stretched from the feet up through the whole body when forming a position, and again for this reason that a perpendicular line is the finest and slickest for turning and bending in all places.”

The upper body should be slightly pigeon-chested, with the head drawn back somewhat (as if to form a double chin), and the abdomen drawn well in. This stance is well described in the nineteenth-century sources. Théleur (1831: 7), for example, notes that the dancer was to stand with “the upper part of the chest raised, which will cause the back to be hollow between and under the shoulders, and will draw the stomach in.” This stance is clearly shown in Blasis (fig. 2, right).

Such a carriage of the body was inherited from the eighteenth century, although it less clearly described in the eighteenth-century sources. Vieth (1794: 2/386) writes that the spine “may be held somewhat more hollowed than convex.” Sol (1725: 20) notes that “the head [is held] very upright, with the chin not too high or too forward but pressed back as if to form a double chin.” In his description of the demi-coupé, Rameau (1725a: 72) seems to have the same in mind when he writes that dancer holds himself with “the head strongly back.” Taubert (1717: 412) instructs his reader to “draw the abdomen or lower body back and inward towards himself;” that is, “do not let the lower body protrude but draw it in as much as you can” (Hänsel 1755: 68). Compare also the upper body in Hogarth’s caricature of a dancing master (fig. 2, left) to that shown in Blasis’s illustration (fig. 2, right).

Fig. 2. Left: A detail showing a caricature of a dancing master from the second plate of A Rake’s Progress (Hogarth 1735); right: “the dancer’s position in fourth in front off the floor, arms in second, profile view” (Blasis 1820:  105; pl. iv, fig. 1).


The legs should be turned out as much as possible. (For a discussion, click here.) More than one height of leg was used. The most common height appears to have been that wherein the foot of the gesture leg was raised to the height of the hip, as in traditional classical ballet. (For a brief discussion, click here.)


4 Caprice in the Upper Body Movements

The positions of the arms and ports de bras were subject to individual whim. In other words, there was considerable variation from one dancer to another. According to Feuillet (1700: 97), “the ports de bras depend more on the taste of the dancer than on any rules that could be given.” Hänsel (1755: 135, 137) writes that “many theatrical dancer do this port de bras [i.e., oppositional movement] according to their own caprice” and that “there is no difference between the gentleman’s and the lady’s theatrical port de bras except that the caprice of various dancing masters here and there has a great influence on this.” And in the grands bras, wherein one arm or both were raised higher than the head, Magri (1779: 1/114) states that “these arms cannot have a set measure or precise height but can be raised as much as you wish beyond the others depending on the character, the expression, the spirit, and the ability of the performer.” So too Angiolini (1773: 54) writes that

the diversity in the builds of both men and women dancers requires a varied treatment in the arms, in the movements, and in the legs, requires a dance that is either expansive, or confined, or in-between, requires freedom in rounding or raising the arms less or more, requires a dance that is either dry, or slow, or quick, and other little instances of chiaroscuro which do not in any way alter the aforesaid fundamentals although these instances of chiaroscuro adapted to the build of each executant are of greater consequence to each since upon them depends a fine, middling, or poor execution.


5 Height of Arms

More than one height of arms was used. Hänsel (1755: 135) writes that “the port de bras must be done low, mid, and high depending on whether the steps are low or high and strong.” And in discussing specifically theatrical dance, Magri (1779: 1/113) states that “all three kinds of ballerini [i.e., dancers in all the styles] can move the arms in four ways, low, mid, high, and forced, this last kind called les grands bras by the French.” These four heights are as follows: the height of the hip, the height of the waist, the height of the shoulder, the height of the (top of the) head, and the height of the area above the head.” There is a little evidence that the lower heights were less often used in the serious style than in the other styles. In his characterization of a “French” — i.e., serious-style — dancer, Martello (1715: 229), for example, notes that “his arms, always raised and lithesome, gracefully break the waves.” (For brief discussion of how ballroom positions differ from those of ballet, click here.)


6 Second Position of the Arms

Fig. 3. A detail from plate 1 in Hogarth’s An Analysis of Beauty (1753), showing a theatrical dancer.

In second position at the height of the shoulders, the arms are extended to the sides, described in a number of sources and in different contexts. In the so-called capering port de bras, Bonin (1712: 171) writes that “the movement [of the arms] with capers and other springs is always high such that both arms are held out in a straight line.” In the same context, Behr (1713: 47) writes that “with capers, however, if one wishes to do one with force (straight up, to the side, to the back or out to the fore), the arms are taken down during the tempo [i.e., the preparatory bend] but in springing they are re-extended so that both arms come to lie in a straight line.” As a beginning position from which to form fourth position, Taubert (1717: 560) mentions “both arms being held almost at the same height from the shoulders to the elbows.” Ratier (1759?: 33) mentions a position with “the arms high, opened from the height of the shoulders.” Magri (1779: 1/114) writes:

In those high, you take the arms up level with the shoulders where the movement begins. Note that if you wish to take them up from the position wherein they are held naturally at the sides, you begin by bending the elbows little by little; then raised as they are, always keeping the palms of the hands turned towards the thighs, turn the wrists until the flat of the hand is in view, and the arms remain extended in a straight line with the chest so that a string stretched from one hand to the other would touch the collarbones.

The second position given by Malpied (1789?: 129) is formed “by having both arms opened at the height of the shoulders.”


7 Fourth Position of the Arms

Fig. 4. Fourth position of the arms at the height of the shoulder, frontal view (top) and bird’s eye view (bottom).

The usual way of showing “opposition” in the serious style was to employ fourth position of the arms. This position does not appear to have been used in the other three styles as a bona fide dance position, although apparently it could be used in poses; but a lower version of fourth was used in la belle danse, i.e., a miniaturized version of the serious style used in ballroom dance. One arm here is “bent” (mainly from the elbow) and the other extended “straight” to the side. (For an acceptable degree of bend and straightness, see the bird’s eye view in fig. 4.)

1) Whenever the first [i.e. right] foot takes a step (both arms being held almost at the same height from the shoulders to the elbows [i.e., more or less parallel to the floor]), at the same time the left arm, pleasingly bent at both the wrist and primarily the elbow, is taken up so that the fingers come to stand level with the ear, or at least with the shoulder, and the right arm is gently extended and lowered a little. 2) If the left foot does a pas or step, then the right arm must go along in the aforesaid manner, and the left arm is extended and lowered. (Taubert 1717: 560)


Taubert prescribes that the elbow and the wrist be “pleasingly” bent, i.e., so as to avoid any angularity. So too Rameau (1725a: 204) advises that “you must guard against bending the wrist too much, for it would then look as if broken.” Borin (1746: 15) also states that “one can, furthermore, give as a rule to round the elbows and have the arms assume only pleasing shapes.”

Fig. 5. Book I, plate XII from Tomlinson’s The Art of Dancing (1735).

The hand of the bent arm is always higher than the hand of the extended arm. A small sidelong inclination of the upper body is added, bending away from the bent arm (with one exception apparently — see below). This inclination is only fitfully shown in extant depictions of dancers. See, for example, Tomlinson’s illustration of two ballroom dancers showing opposition, with the shoulder of the opposing arm clearly raised (fig. 5). See also figure 6, which shows a theatrical dancer with the arms in fourth position and the upper body clearly bent away from the opposing hand. But when the arms are at shoulder height (with the hand of the opposing arm at the height of the shoulder or ear) in an effacé orientation, a sidelong inclination away from the opposing arm causes the hand and / or forearm of the opposing arm to obstruct the view of the face. In this case, it seems likely that the direction of the inclination was reversed, such that the body inclined towards the opposing arm, as shown in the reconstruction (fig. 8, right). The sources are unclear in this regard.

Fig. 6. A portrait of Barbara Campanini c1750.

In the formation of fourth position, effacement was regularly used, at least in certain contexts; that is to say, the opposing shoulder is advanced in a twist of the upper body from the waist, while the non-opposing shoulder is drawn back. This shoulder-shading is mentioned a number of times in the sources. Suffice it to give only a couple of examples here. Rameau (1725a: 201), for example, notes broadly that “these movements of the shoulder are also evident in oppositions, in which, the arms being extended [rather than lowered], the shoulder is shaded to the rear.” He again mentions this shading of the non-contrasting shoulder in his general description of opposition (1725a: 211), with “the left arm extended to the side and even a little to the rear” when the left foot is forward. The sources, however, do not clearly indicate whether this effacement was always to be used in the formation of opposition or only in certain circumstances. I am inclined to think that this was the case with fourth position in diagonal orientations but not en face, but I cannot give any clinching evidence for this. All of my reconstructions of fourth position of the arms below show effacement only when the body is on the diagonal.

When effacement is present, the head turns to the side of the body with the opposing shoulder. The “Remarques” (1732: 811), for example, notes that “when the figure shades to the right, the head must not follow this shading,” for “a figure which shades to the right must show us a head gracefully directed toward the left shoulder. Or as Tomlinson (1735: 22) puts it, “the Nose, as it were, points out the graceful Twists or Turns the Head makes, in Opposition to the other Parts of the Body.”

As mentioned above, the arm positions could be formed at different heights.  A few of the handbooks note vaguely that the height of the arms was to be harmonized with those of the legs. Taubert (1717: 545, 559), for example, writes that “if the feet perform a step high and strong, then the arms as well must be high and strong.” Later in his handbook, he reiterates this principle that the height was to be in harmony with that of the legs, that in ballet “all the steps, even those which are borrowed from la belle danse [i.e., ballroom dance], are done high with considerable force” and thus “the arms here as well, which should necessarily accord with the legs, must always be held high, to the sides in a straight line with the shoulders.”

In other words, a high leg demands a high carriage of the arms. This implies then that if the gesture leg is raised to the height of the hip, the opposing arm is raised to the head-top height (fig. 7). If the foot of the gesture leg is raised only to the height of the calf (fig. 8) or ankle, or is on the floor (fig. 4), then only the height of the shoulder or ear need be used. (Poses are a different matter.)

Fig. 7. A reconstruction of fourth position of the arms at the height of the top of the head, croisé, en face, and effacé.

Fig. 8. A reconstruction of fourth position of the arms at the height of the shoulders, croisé, en face, and effacé.

To confirm the validity of the arm heights and shapes reconstructed in figures 4 and 7-8, compare the shoulder height in figures 4 and 8 with Camargo’s in figure 9 (left). Camargo’s “bent” arm is placed “so that the fingers come to stand level with the ear,” as Taubert states above, while my reconstruction shows the opposing hand alternatively placed such that the fingers are level “at least with the shoulder.” And compare the head height in figure 7 with that shown by Campanini in figure 6 and by the two dancers center and right in figure 9:

Fig. 9. Dancers in poses with the arms in fourth position. Left: a detail from a portrait of the famed dancer Camargo by Lancret, circa 1730; middle: a costume design for a dancer in the role of a faun, circa 1760s; right: “arms in opposition, frontal view” (Blasis 1820: 105, pl. 4, fig. 12).


8 “Sixth Position”

Fig. 10. Ballroom dancers apparently in “amplified sixth” position of the arms (Tomlinson 1735: bk. I, pl. XI).

Those sources that enumerate discrete arm positions usually identify five, but there is a little evidence that a sixth also existed. In this position in the serious style, both arms are “bent” at the elbow (instead of only one as in fourth position). It is in fact depicted in Tomlinson (1735: bk. I, pl. xi) with “drooping” elbows (fig. 10). Figure 11 shows a reconstruction with supported elbows. (For a brief discussion of “drooping” elbows, click here.) This might be called “amplified sixth,” a variant of the position described by Ratier (1759?: 32) as “the arms high in front of oneself,” almost certainly the version used in the half-serious style. This position appears to have been used when turning in a closed position of the feet; indeed, Tomlinson’s illustration shows just such a step.  Tomlinson also shows the opposing shoulder raised in opposition to the forward leg (cf. the raising of the opposing shoulder in fourth position); presumably, this tilt of the torso was assumed at the end of the turn.

Fig. 11. A reconstruction of amplified sixth position of the arms.


9 Shape of the Hands

The fingers of the hand could be disposed in a couple of different ways, and the choice was largely a question of personal taste. One option was to place the thumb on the forefinger, which is mentioned by Taubert (1717: 545) in connection with the so-called low port de bras. Here, Taubert advises that “the tip of the forefinger must first be placed on the thumb, and the other fingers, held close together, must be bent inward a little towards the hollow of the hand.” This same manner of holding the hand is also given by Bonin (1712: 147) in the same context:

Hold the hands so that the fingers are not outstretched but placed naturally, bent somewhat inwards toward the hollow of the hand; the thumb rests on the forefinger, but all the other fingers must be together and not outstretched, as some do, who splay their fingers as if they were rich and wished to show off a costly diamond ring on their hand, or as if they wished to claw in someone’s hair or catch crabs.

Hänsel (1755: 133) also instructs the reader to “hold the thumb on the forefinger with the other fingers brought together and not stretched” in the so-called low carriage of arms. This manner is also shown in almost all of Tomlinson’s plates (1735). This arrangement was clearly also used by theatrical dancers (fig. 12):

Fig. 12. Detail from figure 8.

Holding the thumb on the forefinger was not to the taste of everyone. Rameau (1725a: 199) prescribes that a position be assumed “with the hand neither open nor closed so that the movements of the wrist and elbow can be done with all the softness and freedom that must be apparent in their movements; if the thumb were joined to one of the fingers instead, this would hinder the movement of the other joints and robe them of this ease.” The “Remarques” (1732: 812, 815) similarly disapproved of this arrangement and took to task Lancret for painting Camargo with her hands thus disposed (cf. figs. 9 and 12). The author writes that “the position of the thumb and the forefinger of each hand is not right; this arrangement of the fingers is right only if the figure is holding a garland or something else” and that the fingers should be “neither too close together nor too spread apart.” In connection with the low rounded arms, Magri (1779: 1/113) also states that “the fingers must be neither together nor apart but in between, with the thumb and forefinger curved towards each other with a finger’s breadth between the tips, the same breadth between the forefinger and the middle-finger, and likewise between them all.”

Other writers simply note that the hand is to remain partially open without indicating the precise arrangement of the fingers and thumb. Dufort (1728: 94-95), for example, notes in connection with the so-called rounded arms that the hands should be held “with the fingers neither wholly closed nor wholly open (which in truth would not be very elegant) but halfway between the two” but fails to indicate whether any of the fingers touch the thumb. Irrespective of whether the thumb should or should not touch one or more of the fingers, all of the sources are in agreement that the fingers were to remain naturally curved.


10 Orientation of the Hands

The orientation of the hands in a position – such that one palm or both were directed forwards, upwards, or downwards – was also a question of personal taste. (For a brief discussion in connection with ballroom dance, click here.) It is difficult to determine which orientation, or combination of orientations, was the most typical. I would recommend that the positions be formed with the palms facing forwards (rather than upwards or downwards), and all of my reconstructions show this arrangement. (See also the orientation in figure 9.)


11 Movements from the Wrist, Elbow, and Shoulder

The sources indicate that three different arm movements were known throughout the century: movements from the wrist, movements from the elbow, and movements from the shoulder. (It is worth noting here that Rameau’s general description of these movements was plagiarized with abridgement by Blasis in his 1820 handbook. And so there was clearly a great deal of technical continuity in the basic technique here.)

Movements from the shoulder had limited use in the traditional serious style. The little evidence suggests that such movements belonged mainly to the other styles, especially the half-serious. Most of the time in the grave genre, a movement from the elbow was used.

Fig. 13. Left: change in opposition (Rameau); right: change of opposition (Feuillet).

A few words should be said here, however, concerning Rameau’s prescriptions. In changing opposition, he has the arms extend and bend sequentially and has them accompanied by circular movements from the wrists (fig. 14). In notation, the change in opposition (with the left in fourth position of the arms to begin, followed by the right taken to fourth) is shown in figure 13 (left).

Fig. 14. Changing opposition (Rameau 1725a: 212).

As noted above, there was considerable variation in the management of the arms. In contrast, Feuillet’s couplet (fig. 15) shows the arms usually changing position simultaneously rather than sequentially, and generally without movements from the wrists. Contrast Rameau’s manner (fig. 13, left) with Feuillet’s (fig. 13, right).

Fig. 15. Couplet from the Folies d’Espagne (Feuillet 1700: 102).

I much prefer Feuillet’s manner over Rameau’s. To my eye, the former looks less busy and less rushed, unless the music is played very very slowly. I would therefore recommend Feuillet’s manner as the default pattern, but you are, of course, free to use either. Indeed, one might use now one, now the other, in the same dance, in order to vary the choreography.

And furthermore, Rameau’s illustration shows the hand apparently describing a perfect circle (fig. 14), but again, this need not be followed slavishly. As noted above, Feuillet states that the management of the arms was subject to whim, and this almost certainly applied to the shape and size of the “circles” and “half-circles.” Indeed, Angiolini (1773: 54) recommends that there should be “freedom in rounding or raising the arms less or more.” And at end of the period, Noverre (1807: 1/82) notes that “the roundness and the size of the half-circles that the arms describe is not invariably set. Taste alone determines them.”

Again, I would recommend a smaller more oval shape to the movement, as a default. Otherwise, the arms are apt to look too “flappy,” and attempting to describe a perfect circle, especially when the arms are held high, requires the moving arm to twist markedly, producing a rather unpleasant angular line with the elbow sticking up.


12 Orientations of the Body

As in classical ballet, different orientations of the body were used, such that a dancer could be en face, effacé, croisé, or écarté. This aspect of the technique is very poorly dealt with in the sources. Indeed, the handbooks as a whole completely neglect this area. Even the dances recorded in Beauchamps notation arguably do not clearly show all of the orientations. In fact, the track in notation simply shows the general direction, like a road, but whether the dancer moves straight forward along it or proceeds in a zigzagging manner, alternating from one diagonal orientation to another, is seldom made clear.

Consider the notation on the left in figure 16, for example. When taken on their own and taken at face value, the track and the steps placed along it here suggest that the dancer is simply to advance en face with steps executed en avant, but the eighth-turn symbols placed by the step characters make it clear that the dancer is in fact to proceed with changes in orientation. On the right in the same figure, the sequence has been redrawn to show the actual changes in orientation. These changes are not reflected in the actual orientation of the track or the step characters as it stands in the original. In other words, the track and step characters need not accurately reflect orientation in notational practice.

Fig. 16. Left: a detail from Le Roussau (1722?: 37); right: the same sequence with the track redrawn to reflect the actual changes in orientation.

A comparable example is also found in figure 17:

Fig. 17. Left: A detail from Feuillet (1704: 209); right: the same sequence redrawn to reflect the actual path.

Thus, in the same way that eighteenth-century music notation can be misleading when taken at face value and simply assumes that the performer will know where to use notes inégales, overdotting, ornaments, etc., so too Beauchamps notation appears to assume that the performer will know where to use one or other orientation, unless a departure from the general principles is required by the choreography and is then explicitly noted (as in figs. 16-17). Indeed, Noverre (1760: 365) writes that Beauchamps notation “shows us neither the attitudes of the body nor their effacements” (effacement here is to be understood as diagonal orientation and not just shoulder-shading).

Despite this neglect, a few sources do allude to or at least imply the use of diagonal orientations. Consider the following (my bolding):

There are other dances that entertain merely because they are composed of a variety of movements and performed in proper time, but the less they consist of serpentine or waving lines, the lower they are in the estimation of dancing-masters: for, as has been shewn, when the form of the body is divested of its serpentine lines it becomes ridiculous as a human figure, so likewise when all movements in such lines are excluded in a dance, it becomes low, grotesque and comical; but however, being as was said composed of variety, made consistent with some character, and executed with agility, it nevertheless is very entertaining. Such are Italian peasant-dances, &c. (Hogarth 1753: 148)

These “serpentine or waving lines” result when a dancer proceeds in a zigzagging manner, shifting from one diagonal orientation to another. (Compare the serpentine or zigzagging dotted lines on the first page of Tomlinson’s Gavot of 1720 (fig. 18), apparently an eighteenth-century explanatory annotation.

Fig. 18. The first page from Tomlinson’s The Gavot (reprinted in Gregg International’s 1970 facsimile reprint edition The Art of Dancing and Six Dances).

In his general characterization of a “French” dancer, which was largely synonymous with a serious dancer, Martello (1715: 229) writes that “you will see him turn again and again without any set figure that can be made out in any way to be a square, oval, or circle.” Given that pirouettes were used only sparingly in the grave genre, the reference here to the dancer turning “again and again” is more likely an allusion to frequent changes in orientation, that is, to the “serpentine or waving lines” mentioned above by Hogarth. And in his Art de la Danse (1806: 187), written piece-meal during the late eighteenth century, Jean-Étienne Despréaux (1748-1820) equates the frequent use of an en face orientation with gracelessness Thus, a graceless dancer — my bolding —

limits himself to a few steps: He changes the tunes but he himself does not change. Without grace, without bearing, he presents himself en face. He walks, he promenades, he runs from place to place; he does an attitude here, beats there; he always repeats the same movements. In dancing his legs are never equal; the same one always does the ronds or ovals. He does twenty entrechats to get to the end; overcomes with fatigue, he at last disappears.

And just beyond our period, the publication “Dilettanti-Theatricals; – or – a Peep at the Green Room” in London and Paris (1803: 158-88) alludes to “the artistic zig-zags they [i.e., dancers] make as they dance their pas de deux.

Perhaps the most compelling visual evidence is found in the plates to the first book of Tomlinson (1735). These illustrations shows ballroom dancers realizing steps in notation marked on the floor beneath the dancers’ feet, and in a number of cases, the dancers are shown oriented diagonally to the tract directly underneath them (fig. 19).

Fig. 19. Bk. I, pl. ix from Tomlinson (1735).

It would take several pages of discussion, however, to present all the evidence needed to substantiate the following remarks. Instead, I simply present the reconstructed principles, assuming that you will accept them on faith.

Fig. 20. A hypothetical example showing the actual path in a sequence of steps performed en avant with zigzagging.

In steps deemed en avant, the dancer is normally to assume an effacé orientation. When linking a series of composite steps together, the dancer is to change orientation, proceeding in a zigzagging or serpentine manner. For every zig-, there should be a zag-, always maintaining an effacé orientation with en avant steps. If a following movement does not allow one to shift to the opposite oblique orientation and still be effacé, then the dancer is to proceed with the movement executed en face until a shift to the opposite effacé orientation is possible, unless the choreography exceptionally – and in the case of notated dances, explicitly – indicates otherwise. In steps deemed en arrière, the dancer is to try to maintain a croisé orientation, with the same qualifications just given. In steps deemed de côté, the dancer normally remains en face, again with the same qualifications (fig. 20).

In shifting from one diagonal orientation to another, the dancer does a forward inclination of the upper body during the preparatory bend and straightens up in rising and shifting orientation, and also when changing direction (from an en avant movement to an en arrière movement, or vice versa). (See fig. 19 for a depiction of a forward inclination in conjunction with a change in direction.) There is not much evidence for this, and again it requires more discussion than is practical to present here.

The following illustrations then show the first two figures redrawn so that the track reflects the dancer’s orientation in each bar, according to the principles I have reconstructed.

The first figure redrawn to reflect orientations.

The second figure.


13 Entrance

As it stands, the dance in notation assumes that the dancer is already in place to begin. But as mentioned in §1, this dance would have been preceded by stage action – the emergence of the divinities from the underworld and their movement into position – and the music for the dance almost certainly would have been used for this, with multiple repeats.

There were various ways for dancers to make their entrances, but a little evidence suggests that soloists in the serious style entered with a cadenced walk into position, even after some bars had elapsed. Casanova’s description (1961: 2/140-41) of a performance in 1750 by Louis Dupré (a famed dancer in the serious style at the Paris Opéra) alludes to such an entrance (my bolding):

All of a sudden I heard those in the pit clap their hands at the appearance of a tall, fine-figured dancer wearing a mask, a black wig of long curls which came down to his waist, and a robe open in front that reached his heels. Patu told me in a devout and penetrating manner that I now beheld the great Dupré. I had heard him spoken of, and I payed close attention. I saw this fine figure come forth in cadenced steps, and reaching the edge of the orchestra, he slowly raised his rounded arms, moving them gracefully, and extended them fully. Then he brought them together again, moved his feet, did some petits pas, battements at mid-leg, followed by a pirouette, and disappeared after appearing by backing into the wings. The whole of Dupré’s dance lasted but thirty seconds. The clapping from the pit and the boxes was general. I asked Patu what this applause meant, and he answered me seriously that they were applauding Dupré’s gracefulness and the divine harmony of his movements. He added that he was sixty years old and that he was the same as he was forty years earlier.
“What? He has never danced otherwise?”
“He could not have danced better because this development that you have seen is perfect. Is there anything beyond the perfect? He always does the same thing, and we always find him fresh; such is the power of the beautiful, the good, and the true, which enters the soul. This is true dance, this is song. You Italians have no idea.”
At the end of the second act, Dupré appeared again with his face covered with a mask (that goes without saying) and danced to a different tune, but to my eyes it was the same thing. He came towards the orchestra, stopping an instant, his figure well shaped I own. And suddenly I heard a hundred voices in the pit say out loud:
“My God! My God! He’s unfolding! He’s unfolding!”
Truly, it was an elastic body, which became bigger as it unfolded. I conceded to Patu that there was grace in all that, and I saw that made him happy.

A further example comes from the tambourin sérieux (i.e., a solo tambourin in the serious style) found in Ferrère (1782: 47). Here (fig. 21) there is a four-bar delay before the dancer apparently enters (see the digit “4″ at the beginning of the track beside the rest), followed by a few pas marchés, each taking up a full measure.

Fig. 21. The opening figure of the tambourin sérieux from the incidental choreography to L’embarras des richesses (Ferrère 1782: 47).

The performer was to reach his desired end position on stage by tracing out a curvilinear path from the wing (see the curvilinear path at the beginning of the figure in fig. 21). This was still the case in the early nineteenth century. Jelgerhuis (1827, pl. 3), for example, provides an illustration (fig. 22) showing the acceptable and unacceptable paths for entrances in a high style (the solid and dotted lines respectively):

Fig. 22. A detail from plate 3 in Jelgerhuis’s treatise on playhouse acting (1827: 2/pl. 3).

In entering, the performer was not to show his back to the audience but was to keep his face and upper body directed toward the viewer as much as possible.

When making one’s entrance on stage, it is first of all to be noted that the actor, in coming out of the wings onto the stage, is immediately to direct his face and body toward to the audience and present his face such that the viewers are able to read in his eyes what humor he is in. (Lang 1727: 40)

Even a half-decade later, the convention of keeping one’s front directed toward the audience as much as possible was strictly followed in the English theater. Of English performers, Goede (1807: 2/208-9) writes that “they never turn their backs on the public, and seldom show their faces in profile.”

These prescriptions, of course, apply specifically to playhouse actors, but it is most likely that dancers would have followed general theatrical conventions when not dancing, that is, in walking on or in pantomime.


14 Lâche-le-Pied

It appears that a port de bras could be used on its own at the beginning of a solo. This movement was apparently called a lâche-le-pied (lit., ‘leave-off-the-foot,’ or more loosely, ‘forget-the-feet’). The term is extant in the Ferrère manuscript, wherein it is undefined, but the term very likely referred to the “high rounded arms,” as Magri (1779: 1/115-16) called them, used on their own:

Fig. 23. A detail from Feuillet’s couplet (1700: 102).

The high rounded arms are those which are fully open and little by little are taken forwards almost as if you wished to bring them together, but they do not go beyond the line of the shoulders and, coming into eyeshot [forming] almost a half circle, go back to their position. The ballerino does not need to follow this equal movement of the arms with his eyes, for they like the head must remain indifferent, unlike with the arms of opposition. Whenever done, this arm movement is accompanied by an inclination from the waist, to the fore together with the arms, and in rising from the waist, the arms extend as well until they are back to where they were to begin when the body was well stretched. Serious ballerini usually make use of this at an end, in a solo, in going back, and the like.

Magri goes on to say that “these arms are also used in doing a jump,” and it seems then that he has the port de bras shown in figure 23 in mind, which is both described and shown in notation in the context of jumping. In other words, both arms do a circular movement from the elbow, beginning and ending in second position. Figure 24 (d-h) shows a reconstruction of the lâche-le-pied.

Fig. 24. A reconstruction of the lâche-le-pied in the serious style.


Other writers seem to allude to the port de bras being used on its own. Borin (1746: 17-18), for example, alludes to “the unusual way of marking the cadence [i.e., the downbeat] with a bend (called a pas tombé or péri), with a movement of the arms, or some other attitude.” And in reference to the same port de bras, Bonin (1712: 167) also notes that it could be done “for the sake of appearance,” that is, merely as an embellishing movement.

Magri states that the high rounded arms could be done “at an end, in a solo, in going back, and the like.” The occurrences of the lâche-le-pied in Ferrère suggest that this port de bras was used broadly at well-defined breaks in the choreography, which is not incompatible with Magri’s “and the like.” It could be used much like the assemblé, that is, as a kind of punctuation mark ending phrases or sections of dance or even the dance itself. In Ferrère’s lists of steps, the lâche-le-pied is often found right after an assemblé or some other step typically ending in a closed position of the feet, more often than not marking the middle or end of a half-phrase or full phrase of music.

There is some suggestion that the movement could also be done at the very beginning of a solo. According to Casanova’s account of a performance at the Opéra in 1750, the serious-style dancer Louis Dupré began his solo thus (my bolding):

I saw this fine figure come forth in cadenced steps, and reaching the edge of the orchestra, he slowly raised his rounded arms, moving them gracefully, and extended them fully [fig. 24a-d]. Then he brought them together again [fig. 24e-h], moved his feet, did some petits pas, battements at mid-leg, followed by a pirouette, and disappeared after appearing by backing into the wings.

The movement shown in figure 24a-d is based on Magri’s description (1779: 1/114):

In those high, you take the arms up level with the shoulders where the movement begins. Note that if you wish to take them up from the position wherein they are held naturally at the sides, you begin by bending the elbows little by little; then raised as they are, always keeping the palms of the hands turned towards the thighs, turn the wrists until the flat of the hand is in view, and the arms remain extended in a straight line with the chest so that a string stretched from one hand to the other would touch the collarbones.


15 Grand Rond de Jambe

The grand rond de jambe in figure 25 is shown beginning with the sole of the supporting foot on the floor, but in the context of this dance, the beginning position would be up on the toe. In bringing in the foot of the gesture leg, the ball slides into the closed position once it touches the floor. A vertical foot is shown here, as is a disengaged third (third and fifth were largely in free variation).

Fig. 25. A reconstruction of a grand rond de jambe.


16 Attitude

The attitude of early ballet — also called a pose, posture, or action — is a complex subject, and I give here only a few examples. First of all, it should be stressed that the early dance pose was a moment of non-dance within dance, as it were. That is to say, the rules of dance were not observed or at least did not need to be observed in the formation of a pose. More often than not, such poses show the legs with little or no turnout and bent knees, the feet unpointed or quite flexed, and the arms in fanciful arrangements. Most depictions of dancers from the eighteenth century are arguably illustration of poses, and Lambranzi’s 1716 collection of theatrical dance scenarios is a prime example. Consider figure 26, for example, which shows Lambranzi’s “Roman” (typically a serious-style role), and a remodeling of the same, which eliminates the anatomical awkwardness of Puschner’s engraving: Note the lack of turnout, the bent knees, the unpointed foot, and the arrangement of the arms:

Fig. 26. Left: a posed dancer in the role of a Roman (Lambranzi 1716: ?/?); right: a remodeling of the same.


The following are a few examples of “arm-poses” found in the iconography from the late seventeenth right down to twentieth century, illustrating continuity of use. In many cases, the same poses were used also in the visual arts (painting, sculpture, drawing) and in playhouse tableaux. They are subject to minor alterations, especially in the orientation of the hands.


Both arms are raised at the sides, with a gentle curve at the elbows, until the hands are roughly level with the top of the head.





Fig. 27. Left: posed dancer (second half of the 17C); left middle: posed woman dancer from a scene in the ballet La statue et les jardinières (1752); Jean Rozier and Amalia Brugnoli (1832); right: Bolshoi dancers in The Nutcracker (2016).


Both arms are raised at the sides to a height between the shoulder and eyes, with a marked bend at the elbows.




Fig. 28. Left: “man in a ballet costume” (late 17C); left middle: “Gentleman Clad as a Dancer” (c1680s); right middle: woman theatrical dancer (1711); woman theatrical dancer (1716).


This arm pose is almost certainly derived from the famous statue the Apollo Belevedere surviving from antiquity (fig. 29 left), a Roman copy of an original bronze by Leochares (mid fourth century BC), in the possession of the Vatican since the early sixteenth century. Here, one arm is extended to the side away from the body at the height of the shoulder, while the opposite arm hangs down at the side of the body, with head usually turned to the side of the higher arm.


Fig. 29. Left: The Apollo Belvedere; left middle: posed dancer (1716); right middle: posed actor or dancer (second half of 18C); right: the dancer Giovanni Guidetti (second half of 18C).


Both arms are parallel to each other, sloping downwards diagonally. The arm crossing the body may bend somewhat.






Fig. 30. Left: posed dancer in a grotesque role (1716); left middle: the dancer Marie-Louise Hiligsberg (c1790s); right middle: the dancer Charles Didelot in a pose with garland (1838); right: Olga Spessivtseva (early 20C).


Both arms are held to the sides, one arm rounded with the palm up, the other arm extended with the palm down.




Fig.31. Left: “Madame Subligny Dancing at the Opéra” (c1690s); middle: dancing dwarf woman (c1720s); right: “Galant Shepherdess” (c1770s).


One arm is extended to the fore, and the other to the rear and held somewhat lower.





Fig. 32. Left: “Costumed Masker Dancing at the Opéra” (c1690s); left middle: dancer as Scaramouche in a pose (1716); right middle: Léopold Adice’s “second arabesque position épaulé” (1868?); right: Galina Ulanova (1927).


17 Pas de Chaconne

The pas de chaconne is not particularly well explained in the sources, and the illustrative reconstruction here (fig. 33) shows my current thinking on the performance of one version. It is shown here executed on the diagonal, from an en face position beginning with false opposition. Tomlinson (1735: bk I, pls. 13-14) provides two plates showing a ballroom execution: The first shows the land from the initial jeté, and the second the land from the following demi-contretemps. In both instances, the dancer is shown oriented diagonally to the track beneath his feet. In both, a low fourth position of the arms is shown, in opposition to the  leg that is more forward after the lands in the first two jumps. I would argue that his bent leg to fourth off the floor to the rear is a compromise for the ballroom and that a stretched leg would have been the norm in the theater. For the half-turns, the arms are shown here in amplified sixth position (discussed above in section 8). For the forward inclination of the upper body with fourth to the rear, see the “excursus on the upper body.”

Fig. 33. A reconstruction of the pas de chaconne in the serious style, to be read from top to bottom, left to right.

This reconstruction shows the step in isolation (without the final land). Consequently, the beginning position will partly depend on the preceding step; the choice of orientation (en face or diagonal) will depend on context; and the choice of leg height will depend on the performer’s whim.

Fig. 34. The paths of the arms in the reconstruction.

For the path of the arms in passing through the positions shown in the illustration, those in figure 34 would seem to work best. In the first jump, the left does a full turn from the elbow from below upwards (view the image upside down for this), while the left arm remains bent at the elbow. In the second, the right arm does a turn from the elbow from above downwards, while the right does a turn from below upwards into fourth position.

The “Baroque dance” interpretation of this jump, of course, differs noticeably. I have not found any support for keeping the rear leg “nailed” in a fixed position during the second half-turn. Moreover, the first jump apparently does not travel to the rear; Sol (1725: 91) at least prescribes that the dancer advance forward.


18 Pas Tombé

The pas tombé can be done in difference ways, and the version I show here (fig. 35) is a little difference to that in Pécour’s entrée. This particular version involves a fall onto both feet, that is, with the body’s weight equally over both feet, clearly indicated in Feuillet’s example (fig. 36). And I include this one here in order to make an important point, which invalidates the “Baroque dance” way of doing the fall.

Fig. 35. A reconstruction of one version of the pas tombé.

Fig. 36. One version of the pas tombé from Feuillet (1701: 86b).

In falling to the side, the free foot is taken into fifth position, according to Rameau (1725: 142-43), Dufort (1728: 84), Ferriol (1745: 1/101), and Magri (1779: 1/53), and shown in Feuillet; or alternatively into third position, according to Sol (1725: 69). In Feuillet’s example, the foot of the supporting leg clearly is not displaced in falling. And Magri too states that in the demi-tombé, there is no displacement of the supporting foot: “You end with the second movement, that is, the rise in the tombé, straightening only the knees while keeping the toes of the feet in the same place, rather than moving [one of the feet to another position].”

This means then that the body’s center of gravity cannot shift beyond the supporting foot, which is fixed to its spot; otherwise the dancer will indeed lose balance and fall to the floor. The only way to avoid a complete loss of balance is for the upper body to lean away from the direction of the fall (i.e., away from the lateral shift of the pelvis), thereby keeping the body’s center of gravity over the supporting foot (see the second and third figures in fig. 34). If this upper-body lean away from the fall is not done, the only way to prevent a complete loss of balance is for the gesture leg to sweep behind into an overcrossed position, but none of the sources prescribes this; indeed, it was possible to fall into third position, which is, of course, even less crossed than fifth. And both Feuillet and Magri point to a lack of displacement.

This is also one of the few composite steps in the serious style wherein was used a port de bras involving a full movement from the shoulders. According to Rameau (1725a: 208-09),

you must drop [the arms] a little lower than the hips without bending the elbows or wrists as are shown by the words tombé [‘fall’] and relevé [‘rise’], which is by each arm [fig. 37]. When they have been lowered, they are taken back to the height from which they were lowered, which is done only by a movement from the shoulder.

Fig. 37. The tombé arms according to Rameau (1725a: 208).

Elsewhere (1725a: 240), he stresses that the movement here is done from the shoulder joints, for “the arms, although extended, are lowered through a slackening movement at the shoulder letting the arms fall and at that instant rise again,” and that “you merely lower and raise your arms, which is a movement from the shoulder, since it is only at this joint that the arms move.”

Rameau’s illustration of this port de bras shows the hands upturned before their fall from second position, but the orientation of the palms was a question of taste (see above). Nowhere does Rameau describe or show the position or shape of the arms when lowered. His illustration only vaguely suggests the path that the hands describe in falling and rising, and it does not agree with his prescription to take the arms “a little lower than the hips.” It seems unlikely that he intended the arms to be taken down only to a low second position at roughly hip level. In discussing a ballroom second position of the arms (1725a: 198), he notes that “if he [i.e., the dancer] is tall, the arms must be raised merely to the height of the hips.” And so if a dancer, with his arms at this low height, were to try and do this port de bras, the arms would barely move at all in being taken “a little lower than the hips.” It would seem then that Rameau had in mind a lower position of the arms, one that even someone with the arms held at hip height could still do. And this lower position was likely a low sixth (figures 4-5 in fig. 35), which was clearly used in the ballroom minuet port de bras and also in one of the theatrical capering ports de bras, both of which are very similar to this port de bras. (First position of arms is also a possibility, i.e., with the arms hanging down at the sides of the body.) However it may be, his illustration does clearly imply that the dancer begins and ends with the arms in second position.

Moreover, the arms here fall at the same time that the knees bend in the plié, and rise again as the legs straighten. In his description of the tombé (1725a: 240), Rameau notes that

the legs agree with the arms, since at the same time that you draw your foot behind and bend your knees as if strength failed them, which is your pas tombé, you likewise lower your arms, and [then] raise them when you do your second step, which ends your pas tombé, namely, the demi-jeté.

In summary then, this port de bras seems to have been done as follows, with the necessary changes for a theatrical context. Beginning in second position, the arms fall, in a mouvement de l’épaule, until they are apparently in low sixth position (shown above), or alternatively first, and this occurs at the same time that the knees bend. The arms then are immediately taken back up to second position, again in a mouvement de l’épaule, and this happens at the same time that the knees straighten in rising.

Moreover, when performed en diagonale, this port de bras appears to have been accompanied with a forward inclination of the upper body and head, the dancer bending forward while the arms lowered during the plié, and then straightening up as the arms rose during the straightening of the knees (fig. 35). And when en face, only a forward inclination and straightening of the head was apparently done (fig. 38).

Fig. 38. A reconstruction of the pas tombé en face.