Below are links to videos with performances of dances based on my research. These include reconstructions of extant dances in notation, or newly created choreography based on a variety of primary sources, performed by Mojca Gal with male technique. (Before c1730, women dancers, even on stage, were expected to be more modest in their movements.)
Eighteenth-century ballet consisted of four distinct conventional styles: the serious, the half-serious, comic, and grotesque. These differed not merely in kinds of roles but also in movements and positions as well as choreographic principles. (For a discussion of these styles, see my The Styles of Eighteenth-Century Ballet.) The dances in the videos below are in the serious, half-serious style and comic styles.
This gavotte is a recreation of a dance in the so-called half-serious or demi-caractère style. The choreography is based on a few surviving examples of this genre in notation as well as on descriptions of the style in a variety of primary sources. The music is from Rameau’s opera Les Indes galantes (1735), and both the choreography and dance technique are intended to reflect practices in this style current by the 1730s.
Entrée from Lully’s Opera Persée (1710)
This entrée is found in Gaudrau’s collection of dances (c1714) choreographed by Pécour. The piece is entitled an “entrée for two men, danced by Messieurs Marcel and Gaudrau in the opera of Persée” by Lully, specifically in the Paris Opéra’s remounting of the work in 1710. The music corresponds to the “Entrée des divinités infernales” in the second act, and so the dance was a duet for two of the divinities from the underworld who emerge bearing gifts in order to aid Perseus. This piece was almost certainly in the serious style.
The piece is notated as a duet with one dancer mirroring the other, but in this reconstruction, the dance has been adapted as a solo, by removing one of the dancing parts and introducing a couple of alterations to the choreography. The notation describes only the movement of the feet; the upper body movements and orientations of the body have been reconstructed based on a variety of other primary sources. A short musical introduction was also added.
Comic Peasant Dance
This is a short solo in the comic style. The dance is imagined to be what the peasant woman Ninette might have done in the seventh scene of the first act to Maximilien Gardel’s pantomime ballet Ninette à la cour (1777). Earlier in the story, all the peasants in Ninette’s village go inside to find safety when the sounds of a royal hunt are heard in their nearness. The king Astolphe, who is infatuated with Ninette, leaves the hunt and comes to the village, in the hope of seeing her. She “comes out of her cottage dancing,” apparently to see if the huntsmen have passed. “Astolphe watches her with as much surprise as pleasure,” evidently from a hidden position, while Ninette remains unaware of his presence. The music comes from the Stockholm score, perhaps Gardel’s original version, for the two performances before the French court in 1777. The score was heavily revised, however, before the beginning of 1781, perhaps for the ballet’s premiere at the Paris Opéra in 1778. (It was not performed in 1779.) The ballet was performed over 80 times, in different versions, between 1777 and 1815, in Paris, London, Dublin, Stockholm, Turin and Naples. It was one of the most frequently performed pantomime ballets of the late eighteenth century and, therefore, may be rightly regarded as one of the “classics” from the period.
Les caractères de la danse
Jean-Féry Rebel’s Les caractères de la danse of 1715 is a suite of “dance characters,” i.e., musical dance types (sarabande, chaconne, etc.). Like some of his other instrumental pieces, this work was to inspire choreographers and to serve as bona fide dance music. Perhaps the most famous choreographic treatment was that by Prévost, first mentioned in 1721. An entry in the Nouveau Mercure suggests that her version may have been a mix of pantomime and dance, like her treatment of Rebel’s Le caprice, and like Cammasse’s version of Les caractères de la danse from 1738-39, although the latter was set to a new score by Nicolas Racot de Grandval and with different scenarios. In dance parlance, “character” connoted especially comic roles, wherein pantomime was common (cf. the expression pas de caractère ‘character dances’ in use already by this time). Ultimately, very little is known, however, about what these different choreographic treatments actually looked like. The excerpts presented here show newly created choreography without pantomime performed in the serious style (courante, menuet, musette, sarabande) and the half-serious style (bourrée, chaconne, and sonata).
Sarabande pour deux hommes (1704)
The Sarabande pour deux hommes is a theatrical dance which appears in notation in Feuillet’s collection of solos and duets choreographed by Pécour (1704). The sarabande is said to have been “danced by Monsieur Piffetot and Monsieur Chevrier in the opera Alcide,” which was mounted at the Paris Opéra in 1693. Like the other dances in the collection, this piece was almost certainly in the serious style.
This sarabande is notated as a duet, with one dancer mirroring the other, but in this reconstruction, the dance has been adapted as a solo, by removing one of the dancing parts and introducing a very small number of alterations to the choreography. The notation describes only the movement of the feet; the upper body movements and orientations of the body have been reconstructed based on a variety of other primary sources.
The original music has been replaced with a sarabande from a Bach partita in B minor for violin solo (BWV 1002).