Le peintre amoureux de son modèle The Opening Dance

Le peintre amoureux de son modèle
The Opening Dance



The first page of Ferrère’s manuscript, showing the overture and the opening corps dance.

Le peintre amoureux de son modèle (‘The Painter in Love with his Model’), seemingly based very loosely on the plot from Duni’s comic opera of the same name (1757), is one of the very few eighteenth-century pantomime ballets that survive with scenario, music, choreography and pantomime fully intact. The work, perhaps from the 1760s by an unknown choreographer, was recorded using a combination of music and dance notation, verbal description and simple line drawings. It is found in a manuscript dated 1782, put together by the rather obscure dancer Auguste Frédérick Joseph Ferrère (fl. 1782-1794). Unknown is whether the work had any connection to The Painter in Love with his Picture, a dance entr’acte performed at Covent Garden in May 1761.

The manuscript collection is of immense important to understanding how eighteenth-century ballets were put together, especially in regard to the handling of a corps. While a few group dances in notation are extant predating those in the manuscript, the latter contains the earliest that appear to have been performed in an eighteenth-century theater.

Le peintre amoureux de son modèle was almost certainly in the comic style, one of the four conventional genres of eighteenth-century ballet, beside the serious, half-serious and grotesque. For further information on the comic style, see the video below:

For a more detailed discussion of the four traditional styles, see The Styles of Eighteenth-Century Ballet (2003, Scarecrow Press, click here for further information).



In the manuscript, the figures for corps dances are represented by a bird’s eye view of the dancers’ path drawn as a line over the floor. The line loops in the case of turns. The bottom of the image representing the dance space on paper is where the audience would be placed.

The body of the dancer is represented by a small circle (empty for men, solid for women). The orientation of the body is occasionally indicated, by a short stroke passing through the circle, with the line more or less parallel to the foot of the stage when the dancer is en face, although these are often placed carelessly, resulting at times in ambiguity. Generally, there is no description of upper body movements. (Giving hands is represented by two dots close together (see dance figure 4c below).)

The footwork is indicated minimally, through a list of dance steps. The latter are often abbreviated: e.g., “cont” = contretemps, “ent” = entrechat. A given sequence is usually followed by an indication of the number of bars allotted to its performance: e.g., “coupe ent,,” = coupé, entrechat (2 bars).

There is usually no indication concerning which foot should start a given step. Moreover, all eighteenth-century steps could be done in a variety of ways, and so relying merely on the names of steps when attempting to reconstruct the footwork precisely results in some incertitude. Even in the most basic forms, the gesture leg could be raised to differing heights (for a brief discussion on height of leg, click here.)

The section of music corresponding to each figure is signaled in the manuscript by the number of dots placed after the figure number: e.g., “2.” = second figure, first section of music;  “3:” = third figure, second section of music, etc.


The Opening Corps Dance

A partial reconstruction of the opening dance is outlined below (the movements of the upper body are not discussed). The manuscript states that “plusieurs peuples arrivent chez le peintre en dansant” (‘several persons arrive at the painter’s in dancing on’). Presumably one is to understand, in the context of the story, that they are lovers of art who have come to the painter’s to view his work, although there is no indication that any pantomime is to be performed; indeed, there is no real apparent opportunity to do so.

In the reconstructions of the figures below, the dancers are placed simply in a neutral position. The point is to show the approximate placement of the bodies on stage at a given moment (but the precise amount of space between them depends in some measure on the size of the stage). The reconstruction of steps below is based on a judicious consideration of the primary sources which deal with the dance technique of this century.



The music is scored for violins I/II in unison, basso, and horns. To hear an arrangement, click on the arrowhead on the left of the bar directly below.

(Arrangement for violin (Mojca Gal) and harpsichord (Thys Grobelnik))  

The music as notated in the manuscript does not fully agree with the choreographic notes, which reorder the sections into a kind of rondeau form, as shown below. Whether this was deliberate or erroneous is unclear.


Figure 1

Normalization of Text

1. [Les cavaliers:] contretemps, entrechat (ii); ballotté (ii); quatre entrechats de volée (iv).
1. [The men:] contretemps, entrechat (2 bars); ballotté (2 bars); four entrechats de volée (4 bars).


BARS 1-2

SIX MEN, forming two single files of three, dance on, in profile to the audience, three from one wing and three from the other:

They reach mid-stage, where one file comes to be in front of the other:

In dancing on, as shown above, the dancers advance by doing two instances of the sequence contretemps en avant + entrechat. Dancers 1-3 presumably begin the sequence with the right leg, while dancers 4-6 begin with the left, in order to create mirror-image symmetry (a common feature in the choreography of this century). The entrechat here is likely to be done de volée, like the ones at the end of the figure, since such an execution would help the dancers gain ground. (It seems that the choreography was devised for a rather narrow stage, as the performers are expected to reach center-stage by the end of the second bar.)

A reconstruction of a contretemps en avant, which consists of a hop and a step forward, shown above beginning with the left, for dancers 4-6, while a mirror image would in this case be expected for dancers 1-3.

No port de bras is shown.

To do a jump de volée means to have the body assume a diagonal or even horizontal line in the air. This manner is mentioned in several sources throughout the eighteenth century. Ferriol (1745: 1/128), for example, states that “all of the aforesaid capers can be done tilting the body while in the air and landing straight.”

An entrechat droit (i.e., without tilting) is not wholly out of the question, however, if done strongly gaining ground. In either case, the openings of the legs were ideally to be wide, showing second position in the air:

BARS 3-4

The notation shows a turn of the body (represented by a loop). Dancers 1-3 turn clockwise, while dancers 4-6 turn counterclockwise, until they all face front:

This turn takes up two bars, executed by doing two ballottés per bar. Thus, the first ballotté is done facing the wing (with dancers 1-3 facing the stage-right wing and presumably beginning with the left foot, and dancers 4-6 facing the stage-left wing and beginning with the right foot), the second ballotté facing upstage, the third facing the opposite wing, and finally the fourth facing the audience. At the end of these ballottés the dancers are positioned thus:

Reconstruction of a drawn-up ballotté to the rear and then to the fore, beginning with the left foot and each jump taking up one count of music. (No turn of the body is shown.)

In the comic style, which is apparently the genre of this ballet, the feet could be drawn up under the body as an alternative way of executing steps, and the ballottés reconstructed in the illustration show this. (For a brief discussion of this execution, click here.)

BARS 5-8

The dancers now advance towards the audience, maintaining the formation assumed at the end of bar 4 and performing four entrechats de volée, evidently one per bar.

There are two possibilities here. In the first, the entrechats are done very high such that the dancers are in the air on the first count and land only on the second count. In the second possibility, the first row does an entrechat landing on the downbeat and then rests for the second count, while the second row rests on the downbeat and does an entrechat landing on the second count, creating an undulating effect.

This manner of dancing en écho (in the second alternative given just above) is mentioned in a number of sources. In a duet in Gardel’s ballet Le déserteur, for example, such contrast was lost on a critic in the Mercure de France (26 Jan. 1788: 176-78), who bemoaned that “Bertrand dances like a madman, out of time everywhere.” In a letter published in the Journal de Paris (3 Feb. 1788: 160), Pierre Gardel responded to the critic’s comments, explaining ‘the method in the choreographer’s madness’:

The grand cousin does not at all dance out of time everywhere, as [the critic] fancies. Rather, the dance set to the tune “Tous les hommes sont bons” is the same as that which Montauciel has just danced to “Vive le vin,” and so forth. This same dance is perfectly in time with both of these tunes, and is set to a different mesure [i.e. beat] (to word it correctly), which makes one bend on the mesure while the other jumps.


Figure 2

Normalization of Text

2. Les dames: chassé à quatre pas, sissonne (ii); ballotté [(ii)]; brisé à trois pas (iv).
Les cavaliers: quatre chassés à trois pas (iv); contretemps (ii); pas de bourrée ouvert (ii).
2. The women: chassé à quatre pas, sissonne (2 bars); ballotté [(2 bars)]; brisé à trois pas (4 bars).
The men: four chassés à trois pas (4 bars); contretemps (2 bars); pas de bourrée ouvert (2 bars).


BARS 1-2

SIX WOMEN enter as the men did in the first figure above:

The reconstruction above shows the position of the men at the very start of the women’s entrance. They are, however, to start moving towards the wings as the women dance on, and so in performance, the two files of men will not be exactly as shown above.

The women reach mid-stage, where one file comes to be in front of the other:

In dancing on, as shown above, the women perform the sequence chassé à quatre pas + sissonne twice.

The sissonne can be done in sundry ways. An alternative here would be to take the gesture leg to second or fourth off the floor in the second jump. The whole composite step normally takes up one bar of music.

THE MEN dance towards the wings, performing two chassés à trois pas in two bars, at the same time that the women dance on, in contrary motion.

The women in fact appear behind the men but have not been inserted into the reconstructed scene above.

BARS 3-4

THE WOMEN do the same that the men did in bar 3 of the first figure, namely, a three quarter turn on the spot while performing four ballottés in two bars:

THE MEN continue their movement, turning and advancing upstage so as to form two files along the wings (while the women do the turning ballottés). In doing so, they performed two more chassés à trois pas in these two bars:

Position of the dancers by the end of the fourth bar.

BARS 5-8

THE WOMEN advance towards the audience, doing four brisés à trois pas, one in each of the four bars. Presumably the back row would begin with the foot opposite to that of the front row, in order to create mirror-image symmetry.

THE MEN  perform two contretemps, one in bar 5 and one in bar 6, presumably in mirror-image symmetry. These are perhaps to be done on the spot with a half-turn of the body, to wit, a quarter turn in the first and another quarter turn in the second. Such a turn is not shown in the notation, however, but by the beginning of the next figure, the men are facing forward again, and so at some point they need to turn in order to face the audience again. (Two contretemps are used later in the dance to turn on the spot.)

The contretemps can be done in different ways, with the gesture leg taken to fourth position (behind or in front) or to second during the hop. In a non-traveling version, a leg gesture to second is more likely. After the hop, the raised leg is set down in fifth (or third), and the body’s weight shifted onto it. No turn of the body is shown here.

In bars 7-8, the men do two pas de bourrée ouverts, one in each bar, and presumably the first to one side and the second to the other. The one file is likely to do the mirror image of the other for the sake of symmetry.

The bourrée ouverte can be done in different ways, one of which is shown here. Instead of beginning and ending in a closed position, fourth position is also an option. The final step can also be done by sliding the foot over the floor, but that would be more suitable in a slow sustained dance. Moreover, the battement can be left out, although its inclusion appears to have been more common.

At the end of this figure, the dancers are apparently placed thus:


Figure 3a

Normalization of Text

3: quatre chassés à trois pas (iv).
3: four chassés à trois pas (4 bars).


Two of the men and four of the women reposition themselves in a circling manner, doing four chassés à trois pas, one in each of the four bars allotted to this figure, while the other dancers stand still. The women appear to be in profile here, judging from the small strokes passing through the body symbols. It is unclear at what point they are to assume a profile orientation: in doing the last movement of the brisé à trois pas in the foregoing scene or as the two men approach in this figure. I have assumed the latter. At the end of this figure, the dancers seem to be positioned as follows, although the orientation of the women is uncertain.


Figure 3b

Normalization of Text

Glissade à trois pas, assemblé (ii); contretemps (ii).



All of the dancers do a croisé figure, each dance moving in the opposite direction to his or her partner so as to assume one other’s spot. This is done by performing one sequence of glissade à trois pas + assemblé. In beginning the first step, the dancers presumably turn somewhat so as to face each other more or less, thus:


The women move inwards in order to form two inner rows, while the men move outwards in order to form two outer rows sandwiching the women. This is done by performing another sequence of glissade à trois pas + assemblé. Any needed reorientation can be effected by turning in the assemblé.

At the end of this bar, the dancers are positioned thus:

It is unclear from the notation whether the dancers are to move de côté (sideways) or en avant (forwards), or even en arrière (backwards) in the glissades. The orientation strokes for the two middle women suggest sideways movement for the women, while the corresponding strokes for the men suggest en avant and en arrière movement. I have assumed sideways movement for all, although this is far from certain.

The assembled position shown here is fifth, but other positions were possible (first or third).

BARS 3-4

The loop at the end of each track-line indicates a full turn of the body, a half-turn in the first contretemps and another half-turn in the second. This turn is apparently to be done on the spot. The clockwise direction for the man and woman in the upper right-hand corner as drawn in the manuscript has been taken here to be an oversight, since such a direction produces a lack of symmetry.


Figure 3c


Normalization of Text

. Les cavaliers: échappé marqué (ii); le même (ii); pirouette douce (ii); coupé, entrechat (ii).
Les dames: six chassés à trois pas (vi); contretemps (ii).
. The men: échappé marqué (2 bars); the same (2 bars); gentle turn (2 bars); coupé, entrechat (2 bars).
The women: six chassés à trois pas (6 bars); contretemps (2 bars).


THE MEN remain in their spots during bars 1-6. They begin by doing four échappés marqués facing forwards, one in each of the first four bars. (The modifier marqué means here ‘on the spot’ or ‘without traveling.’)

The women, who are standing between the two rows of men at the beginning of this figure, are not shown above in the reconstruction.

It is unclear which variety of the échappé was intended; illustrated here is a version found a number of times elsewhere in Ferrère and recorded in Beauchamps notation.

The dancer rises on the toes and slides them apart, going into a bend on the downbeat, and then springs out of this position in order to land in a closed position on the following beat.

The men then do a pirouette douce (‘gentle turn’). The word pirouette in this period could refer to any kind of turn, namely, a rotation on both feet, on one foot, or in the air. The modifier “douce” suggests a leisurely turn on both feet, a half-turn during the fifth measure and another half-turn in the sixth, resulting in a full turn of the body, specifically counter-clockwise for all the men as shown above in the notation. One version of a turn on both feet is shown here (the forebear of the modern détourné). The right foot will need to be brought quickly in front again at the end in order to do the second half-turn.

The dancer bends (b), then on the downbeat rises on both toes (c), and then during the remainder of the bar pivots on both feet to effect a half-turn, counter-clockwise in this case (d-e).

In the seventh bar, the men do a coupé en avant, and in the eighth an entrechat. (The coupé, the forebear of the modern temps lié, is a common preparation for an entrechat.)

The coupé normally takes up one bar of music, with the first step (and rise) on the downbeat, and the following step on the second beat.

THE WOMEN in beginning apparently do a quarter turn in order to face the wings, resulting in two files, each made up of three dancers. Executing six chassés à trois pas, one in each of the first six bars, the two files move away from each other toward the wings. They turn, continue upstage along the wings in order circle around, and then move downstage toward the audience. In the last two bars, they perform two contretemps, one in each bar, perhaps on the spot.

At the end of this figure, the dancers are positioned as follows:


Figure 4a

Normalization of Text

4:. Deux chassés à quatre pas (ii); contretemps (ii).
4:. Two chassés à quatre pas (2 bars); contretemps (2 bars).


BARS 1-2

While the women stand still, the men change their positions as shown below, executing two chassés à quatre pas (presumably en avant), one per bar. The man in the middle of the front row evidently does a half-turn in beginning.

At the end of the second bar, the dancers are positioned thus:

BARS: 3-4

The women continue to stand still. The notation for the men shows a full turn (represented by a loop), to be performed once they have arrived in their new positions. The turn is done over two bars by executing two contretemps, each with a half-turn on the spot:


Figure 4b

Normalization of Text

Demi-contretemps, contrepas (ii); contretemps (ii).


BARS 1-2

All of the couples do a partial carré or square figure as shown below (with a mirror image of this for the couples on the left):

This is done by executing four demi-contretemps in two bars, presumably facing forward, in mirror-image symmetry. In the land from the second jump, the free foot is quickly set down so that the dancer can spring off the other foot twice, in order to alternate feet (contrepas).

At the end of the second bar, the dancers are positioned thus:

BARS 3-4

The loop at the end of each track-line indicates a full turn of the body, to be done by performing two contretemps, one per bar, and each with a half-turn to produce a full turn of the body, apparently on the spot.


Figure 4c

Normalization of Text

. Pas de bourrée, ballonné (ii); le même [(ii)].
. Pas de bourreé, ballonné (2 bars); the same [(2 bars)].


BARS 1-2

They take their partner by the hand (indicated by the double dots). The couples dance sideways towards center-stage:

In doing so, they all perform the sequence pas de bourrée de côté + contretemps ballonné de côté (the size of the steps will be determined by the amount of space available):

The bourrée can be done in different ways. In this context, the free leg would need to close at the end to allow a weight change for the following ballonné.

The step can also be done without the beat. In this context, the free leg would need to close at the end to allow a weight change for the next sequence of steps.

BARS 3-4

They do a quarter turn and dance upstage, still apparently moving sideways and holding hands, with one couple facing another. It is unclear whether the two dots at the top of the figure are meant to indicate that the two leading men are to give hand across as well:

In doing this, they all perform another sequence of pas de bourrée de côté + contretemps ballonné de côté.


Figure 4d

Normalization of Text

Chassé à quatre pas, demi-entrechat fermé (ii); contretemps (ii).



Because of the damage to the manuscript, the appearance of the final figure is somewhat uncertain: It is not entirely clear whether the paths of the dancers cross or not; I have assumed that they do. Moreover, it is unclear whether the dancers are moving in steps de côté or en avant; I have assumed the latter, which then implies that the dancers release hands and turn in order to face upstage, as shown below:

The four dancers furthest upstage seemingly do a further quarter turn in starting, in order to move towards the wings, while the remaining pairs, one by one, cross over — or alternatively simply turn — in order to move towards the wings. At the end of the first bar, the dancers would seem to be positioned thus:

This is done by performing the sequence chassé à quatre pas and demi-entrechat fermé.


The dancers continue to move as described above until they come to be in the following arrangement:

This is done by doing another sequence of chassé à quatre pas and demi-entrechat fermé.

BARS 3-4

The loop in the tracks indicates a full turn of the body at the end of the figure, evidently with a half-turn in each of the two contretemps.



Some of the figures above require some of the dancers to be stationary for a given number of bars. Almost certainly, these performers were to assume poses during such stasis. Elsewhere in Ferrère, a pose is explicitly  mentioned at times, such as in the opening corps dance to Les villageois galants, which begins with chassé à quatre pas, sissonne (ii), coupé, entrechat (ii); chassé à quatre pas, attitude (ii); contretemps, sissonne (ii). In fact, the practice of dancers assuming a pose is mentioned in several sources, mockingly, for example, in an letter published in the Mercure de France (Jul. 1762 2/121-22):

I have heard it declared a miracle, this ingenious art of having the corps (ranged on stage like skittles in a courtyard or gaming tokens on the table of someone bored) assume a hundred different poses, one after the other. It is like seeing a crowd of painters placed behind spring-loaded mannequins, moving them most admirably as one. Such was, and such still is, what in these kinds of entertainments soon comes to be confounded and confused with a small action that springs from some notion of good pantomime.

For further information on dance poses, see Fairfax (2003: 172-79).


The practice of striking poses on stage was an old one: here a scene of apparently dancers in poses from the opera Ercole in Tebe (1660).

A detail from the print above showing one of the performers in a pose, beside the approximate modern equivalent.



Nothing has been said above about the management of the upper body.  Suffice it merely to show some of the arm positions that one would expect to have been used in this dance.