[Transcriber's Note: Spelling and punctuation are unchanged. Exceptions are noted at the end of the text.]
By Giovanni-Andrea Gallini.
Printed for the AUTHOR; And Sold by R. DODSLEY, in Pall-Mall; T. BECKET and P. A. DE HONDT, in the Strand; J. DIXWELL, in St. Martin's-Lane, near Charing-Cross; and At Mr. BREMNER's Music Shop, opposite Somerset-House, in the Strand.
Of the Antient Dance p. 17
Of Dancing in General 49
Of sundry Requisites for the Perfection of the Art of Dancing 89
Some Thoughts on the Utility of Learning to Dance, and especially upon the Minuet 139
Summary Account of various Kinds of Dances in different Parts of the World 181
Of Pantomimes 227
What I have here to say is rather in the nature of an apology than of a preface or advertisement. The very title of a Treatise upon the art of dancing by a dancing-master, implicitly threatens so much either of the exageration of the profession, or of the recommendation of himself, and most probably of both, that it cannot be improper for me to bespeak the reader's favorable precaution against so natural a prejudice. My principal motive for hazarding this production is, indisputably, gratitude. The approbation with which my endeavours to please in the dances of my composition have been honored, inspired me with no sentiment so strongly as that of desiring to prove to the public, that sensibility of its favor; which, in an artist, is more than a duty. It is even one of the means of obtaining its favor, by its inspiring that aim at perfection, in order to the deserving it, which is unknown to a merely mercenary spirit. Under the influence of that sentiment, it occurred to me, that it might not be unpleasing to the public to have a fair state of the pretentions of this art to its encouragement, and even to its esteem, laid before it, by a practitioner of this art. In stating these pretentions, there is nothing I shall more avoid than the enthusiasm arising from that vanity or self-conceit, which leads people into the ridicule of over-rating the merit or importance of their profession. I shall not, for example, presume to recommend dancing as a virtue; but I may, without presumption, represent it as one of the principal graces, and, in the just light, of being employed in adorning and making Virtue amiable, who is far from rejecting such assistence. In the view of a genteel exercise, it strengthens the body; in the view of a liberal accomplishment, it visibly diffuses a graceful agility through it; in the view of a private or public entertainment, it is not only a general instinct of nature, expressing health and joy by nothing so strongly as by dancing; but is susceptible withall of the most elegant collateral embellishments of taste, from poetry, music, painting, and machinery.
One of the greatest and most admired institutors of youth, whose fine taste has been allowed clear from the least tincture of pedantry, Quintilian recommends especially the talent of dancing, as conducive to the formation of orators; not, as he very justly observes, that an orator should retain any thing of the air of a dancing-master, in his motion or gesture; but that the impression from the graces of that art should have insensibly stoln into his manner, and fashioned it to please.
Even that austere critic, Scaliger, made the principles of it so far his concern, that he was able personally to satisfy an Emperor's curiosity, as to the nature and meaning of the Pirrhic dance, by executing it before him.
All this I mention purely to obviate the prepossession of the art being so frivolous, so unworthy of the attention of the manly and grave, as it is vulgarly, or on a superficial view, imagined. It is not high notions of it that I am so weak as to aim at impressing; all that I wish is to give just ones: it being perhaps as little eligible, for want of consideration, to see less in this art than it really deserves, than, from a fond partiality for it, to see more than there is in it.
ART of DANCING.
Of the ANTIENT Dance.
In most of the nations among the antients, dancing was not only much practised, but constituted not even an inconsiderable part of their religious rites and ceremonies. The accounts we have of the sacred dances, of the Jews especially, as well as of other nations, evidently attest it.
The Greeks, who probably took their first ideas of this art, as they did of most others, from Egypt, where it was in great esteem and practice, carried it up to a very high pitch. They were in general, in their bodies, extremely well conformed, and disposed for this exercise. Many of them piqued themselves on rivalling, in excellence of execution, the most celebrated masters of the art. That majestic air, so natural to them, while they preserved their liberty, the delicacy of their taste, and the cultivated agility of their limbs, all qualified them for making an agreeable figure in this kind of entertainment. Nothing could be more graceful than the motion of their arms. They did not so much regard the nimbleness and capering with the legs and feet, on which we lay so great a stress. Attitude, grace, expression, were their principal object. They executed scarce any thing in dancing, without special regard to that expression which may be termed the life and soul of it.
Their steps and motions were all distinct, clear, and neat; proceeding from a strength so suppled, as to give their joints all the requisite flexibility and obedience to command.
They did not so much affect the moderately comic, or half serious, as they did the great, the pompous, or heroic stile of dance. They spared for no pains nor cost, towards the perfection of their dances. The figures were exquisite. The least number of the figurers were forty or fifty. Their dresses were magnificent and in taste. Their decorations were sublime. A competent skill in the theatrical, or actor's art, and a great one in that of dancing, was necessary for being admitted into the number of figurers. In short, every thing was in the highest order, and very fit to prove the mistake of those who imagine that the dances are, in operas for example, no more than a kind of necessary expletive of the intervals of the acts, for the repose of the singers.
The Greeks considered dancing in another point of light; all their festivals and games, which were in greater number than in other countries, were intermixed and heightened with dances peculiarly composed in honor of their deities. From before their altars, and from their places of worship, they were soon introduced upon their theatres, to which they were undoubtedly a prior invention. The strophe, antistrophe, and epode, were nothing but certain measures performed by a chorus of dancers, in harmony with the voice; certain movements in dancing correspondent to the subject, which were all along considered as a constitutive part of the performance. The dancing even governed the measure of the stanzas; as the signification of the words strophe and antistrophe, plainly imports, they might be properly called danced himns. The truth is, that tragedy and comedy, made also originally to be sung, but which, in process of time, upon truer principles of nature, came to be acted and declaimed, were but super-inductions to the choruses, of which, in tragedy especially, the tragic-writers, could not well get rid, as being part of the religious ceremony.
This solves, in a great measure, the seeming absurdity of their interference with the subject of the drama: being deemed so indispensable a part of the performance, that the scene itself was hardly more so: consequently, there was no secret supposed to be more violated by speaking before them, than before the inanimate scene itself. But what was at least excusable, on this footing, in the antients, would be an unpardonable absurdity in the moderns.
Athenaeus, who has left us an account of many of the antient dances, as the Mactrismus, a dance entirely for the female sex, the Molossic, the Persian Sicinnis, &c. observes, that in the earliest ages of antiquity, dancing was esteemed an exercise, not only not inconsistent with decency and gravity, but practised by persons of the greatest worth and honor. Socrates himself, learnt the art, when he was already advanced in years.
Cautious as I am of using a false argument, I should say, that the making dances a part of their religious ceremonies, was a mark of their attributing even a degree of sanctity to them; but that I am aware there were many things that found a place in their festivals and games, which, among those heathens, were so far from having any thing of sacred in them, that they did not even show a respect for common decency or morality.
But as to dancing, it may be presumed, that that exercise was considered as having nothing intrinsically in it, contrary to purity of manners or chastity, since it made a considerable part of the worship paid to the presiding goddess of that virtue, Diana, in the festivals consecrated to her. Her altar was held in the highest veneration by the antients. Temples of the greatest magnificence were erected in honor of this goddess. Who does not know the great Diana of Ephesus? The assemblies in her temples were solemn, and at stated periods. None were admitted but virgins of the most spotless character. They executed dances before the altar, in honor of the deity, with a most graceful decency; invoking her continual inspiration of pure thoughts, and her protection of their chastity. Those of them, who distinguished themselves above the rest, by superior graces of performance, received rewards not only from the priestess of Diana, but from their own parents. Nor were the young men but curiously inquisitive, as to who particularly excelled on these occasions. Distinction in these dances was a great incentive to love, and produced many happy unions.
Such of these virgins as married, retained, in quality of wives, such a veneration for this sort of worship, that they formed an assembly of matrons, who on set days, performed much the same devotion, imploring, in concert, of the goddess, a continuance of her gifts, and of that spirit of purity, the fittest to make them edifying examples of conjugal love and maternal tenderness.
Innocent amusements having been ever reputed allowable, and even necessary expedients for relaxing both mind and body from the fatigue of serious or robust occupations, Diana had her temples, especially in countries proper for hunting, where the parents used to resort with their children, and encouraged them to partake of the diversions in which dancing had a principal share.
The antients have left us an unaccountable description of the Bacchanalians, whose deportment forms a striking contrast to the decent regularity observed in the worship of Diana. The Bacchanalians strolled the country, and, in the course of that vagabond scheme, erected temporary huts, their residence being always short wherever they came. In their intoxication they seemed to defy all decency and order; affecting noise, and a kind of tumultuous, boisterous joy, in which there could never be any true pleasure or harmony. They were, in the licentiousness of their manners, a nuisance to society; which they scandalized and disturbed by their riots, their mad frolics, and even by their quarrels. Their heads and waists were bound with ivy, and in their hands they brandished a thirsus, or kind of lance, garnished with vine-leaves. When by any foulness of weather they were driven into their huts, they passed their time in a kind of noisy merriment, of shoutings and dithirambic catches, accompanied by timpanums, by cymbals, by sistrums, and other instruments, in which noise was more consulted than music, and corresponded to the sort of time they kept to them, in the frantic agitations of their Bacchic enthusiasm. The Corybantes were called so from their disorderly dancing as they went along.
The Pirrhic dance differs not much from Plato's military dance. The invention of it is most generally attributed to Pirrhus, son of Achilles; at least this opinion is countenanced by Lucian, in his treatise upon dancing; though it is most probably derived from the Memphitic dance of Egypt. The manner of it was to dance armed to the sound of instruments. Xenophon takes notice of these dances in armour, especially among the Thracians, who were so warlike a people. In their dance to music, they exhibited the imitation of a battle. They executed various evolutions; they seemed to wound each other mortally, some falling down as if they had received their death-wound; while those who had given the blow sung to the song of triumph, called Sitalia, and then withdrew, leaving the rest to take up their seeming dead comrade, and to make preparations for his mock-funeral, in the pantomime stile of dance. He has also described the dance of the Magnesians, in which they represented their tilling the ground, in an attitude, and in readiness for defence, against expected moroders. They put themselves in a posture of protecting their plough, with other motions expressive of their resolution and courage, all adapted to the sound of the flute. The moroders arrive, prevail, and bind the husbandmen to their plough, and this terminates the dance. Sometimes the dance varies, and the husbandmen prevailing, bind the moroders.
The same author mentions also the Mysians who danced in armour, and used a particular sort of peltae or targets, on which they received the blows. In short, these armed dances had different names bestowed upon them, according to the countries in which they were used.
The Egyptians and Greeks were extravagantly expensive in their public festivals, of which, dancing always constituted a considerable part.
The Romans, among whom the more coarse and licentious dances derived from the Hetruscans, had at first prevailed, came at length to adopt the improvements of taste, and consequently of decency and regularity; the festivals, of which dancing was to compose the principal entertainment, were adapted to the season of the year.
Every autumn, for example, it was a constant custom, for those who could afford the expence, to build a magnificent saloon in the midst of a delightful garden. This ball-room was decorated in the most brilliant manner: At one end of the ball-room stood a statue of Pomona, surrounded with a great number of baskets made in the neatest manner, and full of all the finest fruits that the season produced. These, with the statue, were placed under a canopy hung round with clusters of real grapes and vine-leaves, so artfully disposed as to appear of the natural growth. These served to refresh both the eye and mouth. The performers of the ball went up to this part of the saloon, in couples, processionally, to avoid confusion. Each youth took care to help his partner to what she liked best, and then returned, in the same regular manner, to the other end of the room, when they served what remained to the rest of the spectators. After which the ball immediately began.
I was shown, by an Italian painter, a curious picture in his possession, of the antients celebrating one of this kind of festivals. The attitudes into which the figures were put, and which appeared to have been drawn for the conclusion of the ball, were beautiful beyond imagination.
In winter there were balls in the city of Rome; for which the appropriated apartments were commodious; and where the illuminations were so great, that notwithstanding the usual rigor of that season, the room was sufficiently warm.
Round the room there were tables and stands, on which was placed the desert; and there were generally twelve persons chosen to distribute the refreshments, and do the honors of the ball. The whole was conducted with the utmost decency and regularity, while Rome preserved her respect for virtue and innocence of manners.
By the best accounts procurable, their serious dances were properly interspersed and inlivened with comic movements. Their first steps were solemn and majestic, and, by couples they turned under each other's arms; and when the whole thus turned together, they could not but afford a pleasing sight. After which they resumed the serious again, and so proceeded alternately till they concluded the dance.
In the spring, the country became naturally the scene of their dances. The best companies resorted, especially to such villages as were noted for the most pure and salubrious springs of water. If the weather was mild, they danced upon an open green; if not, they formed a large covered pavilion, in the middle of which they placed the statue of Flora, ornamented with flowers, round which they performed their dances. First the youth, then those of riper years; and lastly, those of a more advanced age. After each of these divisions had danced separately, they all joined and formed one great circle. The most distinguished for excellence in the performing these dances, had for reward the privilege of taking a flower, with great solemnity, from the statue of the goddess. This was esteemed so high an honor, that it is scarce imaginable how great an emulation this inspired; as this privilege was to be obtained by the impartial determination of the best judges.
Summer was however the season in which the pleasure of dancing was carried to the highest pitch. For the scene of it, they chose a shady and delightful part of a wood, where the sunshine could not incommode them, and where care was taken to clear the ground underfoot, for their performance. A young lady of the most eminence for rank and beauty was chosen to personate the goddess Ceres. Her dress was of an exquisite taste, ornamented with tufts of gold, in imitation of wheat-sheaves: while her head was decked with a kind of crown composed of spangles, representing the ears of ripe corn, and perhaps, for the greater simplicity, of the natural grain itself. Those who danced round her, all wore wreaths of the choicest flowers, and were dressed in white, with their hair flowing loose, in the stile of wood-nimphs. On this occasion, there was always a great croud of spectators; and the joy that appeared in each parent's eye, when their daughters were applauded, made no small part of the entertainment. As garlands, and wreaths of flowers composed the principal ornament of the persons who performed in this dance, such a respect was had for it by the people in general, that they abstained from gathering any flowers, till after this festival was over.
I have myself seen a drawing of this rural dance, in which I counted no less than sixty performers.
The celebrated Pilades is mentioned to have been the great improver of this dance. He excluded from it all jumping or capering, for fear of violating or of disfiguring the graceful regularity of the whole, which he considered as the most essential towards preserving a pleasing effect.
Not less than two months were the usual time of preparation for this dance, to which there was always a confluence of persons from all the neighbouring parts. But none were allowed the liberty of dancing, except persons of the first rank and distinction in the country; the whole being regulated by some person acting in quality of choragus, or director of the dance.
The reign of Augustus Caesar was undoubtedly the epoch, of the establishment in Rome, of the art of dancing in its greatest splendor. Cahusac, an ingenious French author, in his historical treatise of this art, assigns to that emperor a deep political design in giving it so great an encouragement as he undoubtedly did; that of diverting the Romans from serious thoughts on the loss of their liberty; especially in fomenting a dissention among them, about so frivolous an object as the competition between those two celebrated dancers, Pilades and Bathillus. That something of this sort might be the design of that emperor, is not to be doubted; but Cahusac, over-heated, perhaps, by his subject, exagerates the importance of it beyond the bounds of cool reason. So much however is true, that those two dancers were extremely eminent in their art, and may be esteemed the founders of that theatrical dancing, or pantomime execution, for which it is not sufficient to be only a good dancer, but there is also required the being a good actor; in both which lights, these two artists were allowed to excel, Pilades in the serious or tragic dance, Bathillus in the comic.
These also founded a kind of academies of dancing, which produced several eminent artists, but none that ever equalled themselves in performance or reputation. What history records of them, and of their powers, as well as of that theatrical pantomime dance, of which they were the introductors, in Rome, would exceed belief, if it was not attested by such a number of authors as leave no room to think it an imposition.
But as to dancing itself, either considered in a religious, or in only an amusive light, it may be pronounced to have been among the Romans, as old as Rome itself, and like that rude in its beginnings, but to have received gradual improvement, as fast as the other arts and sciences gained ground.
Processional dances were also much in vogue among that people. They had especially an anniversary ceremony or procession, called, from its pre-eminence, singly, POMPA, or the Pomp.
It was celebrated, in commemoration of a victory obtained over the Latians, the news of which was said to have been brought by Castor and Pollux, in person. This festival, was, at first, consecrated to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. But it was afterwards made more general, and celebrated in honor of all the Gods. This procession was in the month of September. It began at the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, proceeded to the Forum Romanum, from thence to the Velabrum, and afterwards to the Grand Circus. You have in Onuphrius Panvinius, the order of this procession at large, of which the directors were the chief magistrates of the city: the sons of the nobility leading the van. Those of the Equestrian order, whose fathers were worth a hundred and fifty thousand sesterces, followed on horseback. It would be here foreign from my purpose to give the whole description of this procession, and of those who composed it. It is sufficient to observe, that processional dancing constituted a considerable part of it. The Pirrhic dance, executed to a martial air, called the Proceleumaticus, employed the men of arms. These were followed by persons who danced and leaped, in the manner of Satirs, some of them in the dress ascribed to Silenus, attended by performers on instruments adapted to that character of dance. These made the comic part of the procession, and the persons representing Satirs, took care to divert the people by leaps, by a display of agility, and by odd uncouth attitudes, such as were in the character they had assumed. There were also in another part of the procession twelve Salii, or priests of Mars, so called from their making sacred dances in honor of that God, the most considerable part of their worship; these were headed by their master or Praesul, the leader of the dance, a term afterwards assumed by the Christian Prelates. There were also the Salian virgins, besides another division of the Salii called Agonenses or Collini.
Nor is the processional dancing any thing surprizing; concerning that among the heathens, and even among the Hebrews, they were greatly in use. Who does not know that David's dancing before the arch was but in consequence of its being one of the religious ceremonies on that occasion?
The heathens used especially to form dances before their altars, and round the statues of their gods. The Salii, or priests of Mars, whose dances were so framed as to give an idea of military exercise and activity, threw into their performance steps so expressive and majestic, as not only to defend their motions and gestures from any idea of levity and burlesque, which it is so natural for the moderns to associate with that of dancing, but even to inspire the beholders with respect and a religious awe. The priests chosen for this function, were always persons of the noblest aspect, suitable to the dignity of the sacerdotal ministry. And so little needs that dignity of the heathen ministry be thought to be wounded or violated by the act of dancing, in religious worship, that dances were actually in use among the primitive Christians, in their religious assemblies. There was a place in their churches, especially allotted for these consecrated dances, upon solemn festivals, which even gave the name of choir to those parts of the church now only appropriated to the reading of the divine service, and to singing. In Spain, it long remained an established custom for Christians to assemble in the church-porches, where, in honor of God, they sang sacred himns, and to the tunes of them, performed dances, that were extremely pleasing, for the decent and beautiful simplicity of the execution. All which I mention purely to salve that inconsistence, of the levity of dancing with the gravity of divine worship. An inconsistence of which the antients had no idea; since, on that occasion, they almost constantly joined dancing to singing.
They are both natural expressions of joy and festivity; and as such they thought neither of them improper in an address of gratulation to the deity, whom they supposed rather pleased at such innocent oblations of the heart, exulting in his manifold bounties and blessings.
From before the altar, among the heathens, the admission of dances upon the theatre, was rather an extension of their power to entertain, than a total change of their destination; since the theatres themselves were dedicated to the worship of the heathen deities, of which their making a part was one of the principal objections of the primitive Christians to the theatres themselves. However, it was from the theatres that dancing received its great and capital improvement.
As an exercise, the virtue of dancing was well known to the antients, for its keeping up the strength and agility of the human body. There is a remark which I submit to the consideration of the reader, that it is not impossible but that the antient Romans, who were, generally speaking, low in stature, and yet were eminently strong, owed that advantage to their cultivation of bodily exercise. This kept their limbs supple, and rendered their constitution stout and hardy. Now, very laborious exercises would rather wear out the machine than they would invigorate it, if there was not a due relaxation, which should not, however, be too abrupt a transition from the most fatiguing exercises to a state of absolute rest. Whereas that dancing, of which they were so fond, afforded them, not only a pleasing employ of vacant hours, but, withall, in its keeping up the pliability of their limbs, made them find more ease in the application of themselves to more athletic, or to more violent exercises, either of war or of the chace: while all together bred that firmness of their muscles, that robust compactness and vigor of body, which enabled them to atchieve that military valor, to which they owed all their conquests and their glory.
Certain it is then, that among the Romans, even in the most martial days of that republic, the art of dancing was taught, as one of the points of accomplishment necessary to the education of youth; and was even practised among the exercises of the Circus. I need not observe, that there were also various abuses of dancing, which they very justly accounted dishonorable to those who practised them, whether in public or private. These, in the degenerate days of Rome, grew to an enormous excess. But I presume no one will judge of an art by the abuse that may be made of it.
This is one of the arts, in which, as in all the rest, the study of nature is especially to be recommended. She is an unerring guide. She gives that harmony, that power of pleasing to the productions of those who consult her, which such as neglect her must never expect. They will furnish nothing but monsters and discordances; or, at the best, but sometimes lucky hits, without meaning or connexion.
All the imitative arts acknowledge this principle.
In Poetry, a happy choice of the most proper words for expressing the sentiments and images drawn from the observation of nature, constitutes the principal object of the poet.
In Painting, the disposition of the subject, the resemblance of the coloring to that of the original, in short the greatest possible adherence to nature, is the merit of that art.
In Music, that expression of the passions which should raise the same in the hearer, whether of joy, affliction, tenderness, or pity, can never have its effect without marking and adopting the respective sounds of each passion as they are furnished by nature.
In Dancing, the attitudes, gestures, and motions derive also their principle from nature, whether they caracterise joy, rage, or affection, in the bodily expression respectively appropriated to the different affections of the soul. A consideration this, which clearly proves the mistake of those, who imagine the art of dancing solely confined to the legs, or even arms; whereas the expression of it should be pantomimically diffused through the whole body, the face especially included.
Monsieur Cahusac, in his ingenious treatise on this art, has very justly observed, that both singing and dancing must have existed from the primeval times; that is to say, from the first of the existence of human-kind itself.
"Observe, says he, the tender children, from their entry into the world, to the moment in which their reason unfolds itself, and you will see that it is primitive nature herself, that manifests herself in the sound of their, voice in the features of their face, in their looks, in all their motions. Mark their sudden paleness, their quick contortions, their piercing cries, when their soul is affected by a sensation of pain. Observe again, their engaging smile, their sparkling eyes, their rapid motions, when it is moved by a sentiment of pleasure. You will then be clearly persuaded of the principles of music and dancing proceeding from the beginning of the world down to us."
Certain it is, that even in children, the motions and gesture, strongly paint nature; and their infantine graces are not unworthy the remarks of an artist, who will be sure to find excellence in no way more obtainable than by a rational study of her, where she is the purest.
The cultivation of the natural graces, and a particular care to shun all affectation, all caricature, unless in comic or grotesque dances, cannot be too much recommended to those who wish to make any figure in this art. It is doing a great injustice to it, to place its excellence in capers, in brilliant motions of the legs, or in the execution of difficult steps, without meaning or significance, which require little more than strength and agility.
I have already observed, that the Greeks, who were so famous for this art, as indeed for most others, which is no wonder, since all the arts have so acknowledged an affinity with each other, studied especially grace and dignity in the execution of their dances. That levity of capering, that nimbleness of the legs, which we so much admire, held no rank in their opinion. They were inconsistent with that clearness of expression, and neatness of motion, of which they principally made a point. The great beauty of movements, or steps, is, for every one of them to be distinct; not huddled and running into one another, so as that one should begin before the precedent one is finished. This so necessary avoidance of puzzled or ambiguous motion, can only be compassed by an attention to significance and justness of action. This simplicity will arise from sensibility, from being actuated by feelings. No one has more than one predominant actual feeling at a time; when that is expressed clearly, the effect is as sure as it is instantaneous. The movement it gives, neither interferes with the immediately precedent, nor the immediately following one, though it is prepared or introduced by the one, and prepares or introduces the other.
This the Greeks could the better effectuate, from their preference of the sublime, or serious stile; which, having so much less of quickness or rapidity of execution, than the comic dance, admits of more attention to the neat expressiveness of every motion, gesture, attitude, or step.
As to the great nicety of the Greeks, in the ordering and disposing their dances, I refer to what I have before said, for its being to be observed, how much at present this art is fallen short of their perfection in it, and how difficult it must be for a composer of dances to produce them in that masterly manner they were used to be performed among the antients. Let his talent for invention or composition be never so rich or fertile, it will be impossible for him to do it justice in the display, unless he is seconded by performers well versed in the art, and especially expert in giving the expression of their part in the dance; not to mention the collateral aids of music, machinery, and decoration, which it is so requisite to adapt to the subject.
But where all these points so necessary are duly supplied, and dancing is executed in all its brilliancy, it would be no longer looked upon, especially at the Opera, as merely an expletive between the acts, just to afford the singers a little breathing time. The dances might recover their former lustre, and give the public the same pleasure as to the Greeks and Romans, who made of them one of their most favorite entertainments, and carried them up to the highest pitch of taste and excellence.
The Romans seem to have followed the Greeks, in this passion for dancing; and the theatrical dances, upon the pantomime plan, were in Rome pushed to such a degree of perfection as is even hard to conceive. Whole tragedies plaid, act by act, scene by scene, in pantomime expression, give an idea of this art, very different from that which is at present commonly received.
Every step in dancing has its name and value. But not one should be employed in a vague unmeaning manner. All the movements should be conformable to the expression required, and in harmony with one another. The steps regular, and properly varied, with a graceful suppleness in the limbs, a certain strength, address, and agility; just positions exhibited with ease, delicacy, and above all, with propriety, caracterise the masterly dancer, and in their union, give to his execution its due beauty. The least negligence, in any of these points, is immediately felt, and detracts from the merit of the performance. Every step or motion that is not natural, or has any thing of stiffness, constraint, or affectation, is instinctively perceived by the spectator. The body must constantly preserve its proper position, without the least contortion, well adjusted to the steps; while the motion of the arms, must be agreeable to that of the legs, and the head to be in concert with the whole.
But in this observation I pretend to no more than just furnishing a general idea of the requisites towards the execution: the particulars, it is impossible, to give in verbal description, or even by choregraphy or dances in score.
Many who pretend to understand the art of dancing, confound motions of strength, with those of agility, mistaking strength for slight, or slight for strength; tho' so different in their nature. It is the spring of the body, in harmony with sense, that gives the great power to please and surprize. The same it is with the management of the arms; but all this requires both the theory of the art, and the practice of it. One will hardly suffice without the other; which makes excellence in it so rare.
The motion of the arms is as essential, at least, as that of the legs, for an expressive attitude: and both receive their justness from the nature of the passions they are meant to express. The passions are the springs which must actuate the machine, while a close observation of nature furnishes the art of giving to those motions the grace of ease and expertness. Any thing that, on the stage especially, has the air of being forced, or improper, cannot fail of having a bad effect. A frivolous, affected turn of the wrist, is surely no grace.
One of the most nice and difficult points of the art of dancing is, certainly, the management and display of the arms; the adapting their motion to the character of the dance. In this many are too arbitrary in forming rules to themselves, without consulting nature, which would not fail of suggesting to them the justest movements. For want of this appropriation of gesture and attitude, the movements fit for one character are indistinctly employed in the representation of another. And into this error those will be sure to fall, who deviate from the unerring principles of nature; which has for every character an appropriate strain of motion and gesture.
Nothing then has a worse effect, than any impropriety in the management of the arms: it gives to the eye, the same pain that discordance in music does to the ear.
There are some who move their arms with a tolerably natural grace, without knowing the true rules rising out of nature into art: but where the advantage of theory gives yet a greater security, consequently a greater ease and a nobler freedom to the motions of the performer; the performance cannot but meet with fuller approbation. And yet it may be as bad to show too much art, as to have too little. The point is to employ no more of art than just what serves to grace nature, but never to hide or obscure her.
Great is the difference between the antient and the modern dances. The antient ones were full of sublime simplicity. But that simplicity was far from excluding the delicate, the graceful, and even the brilliant. The moderns are so accustomed to those dances from which nature is banished, and false refinements substituted in her room, that it is to be questioned whether they would relish the returning in practice to the purer principles of the art. Myself knowing better, and sensible that the principles of nature are the only true ones, have been sometimes forced to yield to the torrent of fashion, and to adopt in practice those florishings of art, which in theory I despised; and justly, for surely the plainest imitation of nature must be the grounds from which alone the performance can be carried up to any degree of excellence. It is with our art, as in architecture, if the foundation is not right, the superstructure will be wrong.
This primitive source then must be studied, known, and well attended to; or we only follow the art blindly, and without certainty. Thence the common indifference of so many performers, who mind nothing more than a rote of the art, without tracing it to its origin, nature.
To succeed, we must abandon the false taste, and embrace the true; which is not only the best guide to perfection; but when rendered familiar, by much the most easy and the most delightful. It has all the advantages that truth has over falshood.
The greater the simplicity of steps in a dance, the more beautiful it is; and requires the more attention in the performer to exactness and delicacy; for slowness and neatness being in the character of simplicity, afford the spectator both leisure and distinctness for his examination: whereas dances of intricate evolutions, or quick motions, in their confusion and hurry, allow no clearness, or time for particular observation.
If the merit of a theatrical dancer were to consist, as many imagine, in nothing but in the motions of the legs, in cutting lively or brilliant capers, in surprizing steps, in the agility of the body, in vigorous springs, in vaulting, in a tolerable management of the arms, and especially in being well acquainted with those parts of the stage where the perspective gives him the greatest advantage; the art of dancing might be, as it is generally looked upon to be, an art easily acquired. Whereas, for the attaining to a just perfection in it, there are many other points required, but none so much as the close imitation of beautiful nature; and that especially in its greatest simplicity.
Nor should it be imagined that the simplicity I recommend, tends to save the composer of dances any trouble of invention: on the contrary, that sort of simplicity of execution intended to produce, by means of its adherence to nature, the greatest effect, will cost him more pains, more exertion of genius, than those dances of which the false brilliants of extravagant decoration, and of mere agility without meaning or expression, constitute the merit. It is with the composition of dances, as with that of music, the plainest and the most striking, are ever the most difficult to the composer.
The comic, or grottesque dancers, indeed are in possession of a branch of this art, in which they are dispensed from exhibiting the serious or pathetic; however, they may be otherwise as well acquainted with the fundamental principles of the art, as the best masters. But as their success depends chiefly on awakening the risible faculty, they commonly chuse to throw their whole powers of execution into those motions, gestures, grimaces, and contortions, which are fittest to give pleasure by the raising a laugh. And certainly this has its merit; but in no other proportion to the truth of the art, which consists in moving the nobler passions, than as farce is to tragedy or to genteel comedy. They are in this art of dancing, what Hemskirk and Teniers are in that of painting.
The painter, can only in his draught present one single unvaried attitude in each personage that he paints: but it is the duty of the dancer, to give, in his own person, a succession of attitudes, all like those of the painter, taken from nature.
Thus a painter who should paint Orestes agitated by the furies, can only give him one single expression of his countenance and posture: but a dancer, charged with the representation of that character, can, seconded by a well-adapted music, execute a succession of motions and attitudes, that will more strongly and surely with more liveliness, convey the idea of that character, with all its transports of fury and disorder.
It was in this light, that the antients required the union of the actor and of the dancer in the same person. They expected, on the theatre especially, dances of character, that should express to the eye the sensations of the soul: without which, they considered it as nothing but an art that had left nature behind it; a mere corpse without the animating spirit; or at the best, carrying with it a character of falsity or tastelessness. A thorough master of dancing, should, in every motion of every limb, convey some meaning; or rather be all expression or pantomime, to his very fingers ends.
How many requisites must concur to form an accomplished possession of this talent! It is not enough that the head should play on the shoulders with all the grace of a fine connection; nor that his countenance should be enlivened with significance and expression; that his eyes should give forth the just language of the passions belonging to the character he represents; that his shoulders have the easy fall they ought to have; let even the motions of his arms be true; let his elbows and wrists have that delicate turn of which the grace is so sensible; let the movement of the whole person be free, genteel, and easy; let the attitudes of the bending turn be agreeable; his chest be neither too full nor too narrow; his sides clean made, strong, and well turned; his knees well articulated, and supple; his legs neither too large, nor too small, but finely formed; his instep furnished with the strength necessary to execute and maintain the springs he makes; his feet in just proportion to the support of the whole frame; all these, accompanied with a regularity of motion; and yet all these, however essential, constitute but a small part of the talent. Towards the perfection of it, there is yet more, much more required, in that sensibility of soul, which has in it so much more of the gift of nature, than of the acquisition of art; and is perhaps in this, what it is in most other arts and sciences, if not genius itself, an indispensable foundation of genius. There is no executing well with the body, what is not duly felt by the soul: sentiment gives life to the execution, and propriety to the looks, motions and gestures.
Those who would make any considerable progress in this art, should, above all things, study justness of action. They cannot therefore too closely attend to the representation of nature, either upon the stage, or in life. I cannot too often repeat it; those who keep most the great original, Nature, in view, will ever be the greatest masters of this art.
As to the different characters of dances, there are, properly speaking, four divisions of the characters of dances: the serious, the half serious, the comic, and the grottesque; but for executing any of them with grace, the artist should be well grounded in the principles of the serious dance, which will give him what may be called a delicacy of manner in all the rest.
But as one of these divisions may be more adapted to the humor, genius, or powers of an artist, than another, he should, if he aims at excellence, examine carefully for which it is that he is the most fit.
After determining which, whatever imperfections he may have from nature, he must set about correcting, as well as he can, by art. Nothing will hardly be found impossible for him to subdue, by an unshaken resolution, and an intense application.
Happy indeed is that artist, in whom both the requisites of nature and art are united: but where the first is not grossly deficient, it may be supplemented by the second. However well a beginner may be qualified for this profession by nature, if he does not cultivate the talent duly, he will be surpassed by another, inferior to him in natural endowments, but who shall have taken pains to acquire what was wanting to him, or to improve where deficient. The experience of all ages attests this.
The helps of a lively imagination, joined to great and assiduous practice, carry the art to the highest perfection. But practice will give no eminent distinction without study. Whoever shall flatter himself with forming himself by practice alone, without the true principles and sufficient grounds of the art, can only proceed upon a rote of tradition, which may appear infallible to him. But this adoption of unexamined rules, and this plodding on in a beaten track, will never lead to any thing great or eminent. It carries with it always something of the stiffness of a copy, without any thing of the graceful boldness of originality, or of the strokes of genius.
Vanity should never mislead a man in the judgment he forms of his own talents: much less should an artist resort to the meanness of depending in the support of cabals: it must be the general approbation that must seal his patent of merit.
I have before observed that the grave or serious stile of dancing, is the great ground-work of the art. It is also the most difficult. Firmness of step, a graceful and regular motion of all the parts, suppleness, easy bendings and risings, the whole accompanied with a good air, and managed with the greatest ease of expertness and dexterity, constitute the merit of this kind of dancing. The soul itself should be seen in every motion of the body, and express something naturally noble, and even heroic. Every step should have its beauty.
The painter draws, or ought to draw his copy, the actor his action, and the statuary his model, all from the truth of nature. They are all respectively professors of imitative arts; and the dancer may well presume to take rank among them, since the imitation of nature is not less his duty than theirs; with this difference, that they have some advantages of which the dancer is destitute. The Painter has time to settle and correct his attitudes, but the dancer must be exactly bound to the time of the music. The actor has the assistance of speech, and the statuary has all the time requisite to model his work. The dancer's effect is not only that of a moment, but he must every moment represent a succession of motions and attitudes, adapted to his character, whether his subject be heroic or pastoral, or in whatever kind of dancing he exhibits himself. He is by the expressiveness of his dumb show to supplement the want of speech, and that with clearness; that whatever he aims at representing may be instantaneously apprehended by the spectator, who must not be perplexed with hammering out to himself the meaning of one step, while the dancer shall have already begun another.
In the half-serious stile we observe vigor, lightness, agility, brilliant springs, with a steadiness and command of the body. It is the best kind of dancing for expressing the more general theatrical subjects. It also pleases more generally.
The grand pathetic of the serious stile of dancing is not what every one enters into. But all are pleased with a brilliant execution, in the quick motion of the legs, and the high springs of the body. A pastoral dance, represented in all the pantomime art, will be commonly preferred to the more serious stile, though this last requires doubtless the greatest excellence: but it is an excellence of which few but the connoisseurs are judges; who are rarely numerous enough to encourage the composer of dances to form them entirely in that stile. All that he can do is to take a great part of his attitudes from the serious stile, but to give them another turn and air in the composition; that he may avoid confounding the two different stiles of serious and half-serious. For this last, it is impossible to have too much agility and briskness.
The comic dancer is not tied up to the same rules or observations as are necessary to the serious and half serious stiles. He is not so much obliged to study what may be called nature in high life. The rural sports, and exercises; the gestures of various mechanics or artificers will supply him with ideas for the execution of charracters in this branch. The more his motions, steps, and attitudes are taken from nature, the more they will be sure to please.
The comic dance has for object the exciting mirth; whereas, on the contrary, the serious stile aims more at soothing and captivating by the harmony and justness of its movements; by the grace and dignity of its steps; by the pathos of the execution.
The comic stile, however its aim may be laughter, requires taste, delicacy, and invention; and that the mirth it creates should not even be without wit. This depends not only upon the execution, but on the choice of the subject. It is not enough to value oneself upon a close imitation of nature, if the subject chosen for imitation is not worth imitating, or improper to represent; that is to say, either trivial, indifferent, consequently uninteresting; or disgustful and unpleasing. The one tires, the other shocks. Even in the lowest classes of life, the composer must seize only what is the fittest to give satisfaction; and omit whatever can excite disagreeable ideas. It is from the animal joy of mechanics or peasants in their cessations from labor, or from their celebration of festivals, that the artist will select his matter of composition; not from any circumstances of unjoyous poverty or loathsome distress. He must cull the flowers of life, not present the roots with the soil and dirt sticking to them.
Even contrasting characters, which are so seldom attempted on the stage, in theatrical dances, might not have a bad effect; whereas most of the figures in them are simmetrically coupled. Of the first I once saw in Germany a striking instance; an instance that served to confirm that affinity between the arts which renders them so serviceable to one another.
Passing through the Electorate of Cologne, I observed a number of persons of all ages, assembled on a convenient spot, and disposed, in couples, in order for dancing; but so odly paired that the most ugly old man, had for his partner the most beautiful and youngest girl in the company, while, on the contrary, the most decrepid, deformed old woman, was led by the most handsome and vigorous youth. Inquiring the reason of so strange a groupe of figures, I was told that it was the humor of an eminent painter, who was preparing a picture for the gallery at Dusseldorp, the subject of which was to be this contrast; and that in order to take his draught from nature, he had given a treat to this rustic company, in the design of exhibiting at one view, the floridness of youth contrasted to the weakness and infirmities of old age, in a moral light, of exposing the impropriety of those matches, in which the objection of a disparity of years should not be duly respected.
I have mentioned this purely to point out a new resource of invention, that may throw a pleasing variety into the composition of dances; and save them from too constant a simmetry, or uniformity, either of dress or figure, in the pairing the dancers: by which I am as far from meaning that that simmetry should be always neglected, as that it should be always observed.
The comic dance, having then the diversion of the spectator, in the way of laughing, for its object, should preserve a moderately buffoon simplicity, and the dancer, aided by a natural genius, but especially by throwing as much nature as possible into his execution, may promise himself to amuse and please the spectator; even though he should not be very deep in the grounds of his art; provided he has a good ear, and some pretty or brilliant steps to vary the dance. The spectators require no more.
As to the grotesque stile of dance, the effect of it chiefly depends on the leaps and height of the springs. There is more of bodily strength required in it than even of agility and flight. It is more calculated to surprize the eye, then to entertain it. It has something of the tumbler's, or wire-dancer's merit of difficulty and danger, rather than of art. But the worst of it is, that this vigor and agility last no longer than the season of youth, or rather decrease in proportion as age advances, and, by this means, leave those who have trusted solely to that vigor and agility deprived of their essential merit. Whereas such as shall have joined to that vigor and agility, a proper study of the principles of their art; that talent will still remain as a resource for them. Commonly those dancers who have from nature eminently those gifts which enable them to shine in the grottesque branch, do not chuse to give themselves the trouble of going to the bottom of their art, and acquiring its perfection. Content with their bodily powers, and with the applause their performances actually do receive from the public, they look no further, and remain in ignorance of the rest of their duty. Against this dissipation then, which keeps them always superficial, they cannot be too much, for their own advantage, admonished.
They will not otherwise get at the truth of their art, like him who qualifies himself for making a figure in the serious, and half-serious stiles, which also contribute to diffuse a grace over every other kind of dancing, however different from them.
But though the grotesque may be a caricature of nature, it is never to lose sight of it. It must ever bear a due relation to the objects of which it attempts to exhibit the imitation, however exagerated. But in this it is for genius to direct the artist. And it is very certain that this kind of dancing, well executed, affords to the public, great entertainment in the way, if what may be called broad mirth; especially where the figure of the grotesque dancer, his gestures, dress, and the decorations, all contribute to the creation of the laugh. He must also avoid any thing studied or affected in his action. Every thing must appear as natural as possible, even amidst the grimaces, contortions, and extravagancies of the character.
PERFECTION OF THE
I have already observed how necessary it is that all the steps, in the theatrical dances, which have imitation for their object, should be intelligible at the first glance of the eye. This cannot be too much inculcated. The passions and manners of mankind, have all a different expression, which cannot be presented too plain, and too obvious. The adjustment of the motions to the character must be observed through every stile of dancing, the serious, the half-serious, the comic, and the grotesque. The various beauties of these different kinds of dances, all center in the propriety or truth of nature. Looks, movements, attitudes, gestures, should in the dancer, all have an appropriate meaning; so plainly expressed as to be instantaneously understood by the spectator, without giving him the trouble of unriddling them: otherwise, it is like talking to them in a foreign language for which an interpretor is needed.
But to give a sentiment, a man must have it first: where a pathetic sentiment is well possessed of the mind, the expression of it is diffused over the whole body.
The theatre shows to advantage a well proportioned dancer. A tall person appears the more majestic on it; but those of a middling stature are more generally fit for every character; and may make up in gracefulness what they want in size. The remarkably tall commonly want the graces to be seen in those of the more general standard.
A young dancer who displays a dawn of genius, cannot be too much exhorted to deliver himself up to the power of nature; so that acquiring a particular manner of his own, he may himself proceed on original. If he would hope to arrive at any eminence in the art, he must break the shackles of a servile imitation, and preserve nothing but the principles and grounds of his art, which will be so far from fettering him, that they will assist his soaring upon the wings of his own genius.
Where a dancer undertakes to represent a subject on the theatre, he must ground his plan of performance on the selecting all the most proper situations for furnishing the most strikingly pictures, prospects, and consequently, producing the greatest effect.
This was doubtless the great secret of Pilades, the founder, at least in Rome, of the pantomime art. It was on this choice of situations, that the understanding whole pieces, both tragic and comic, executed in dances, entirely depends.
And here, upon mentioning the pantomime art, be it allowed me to defend it against the objections made to it, by those who consider it only under a partial or vulgar point of view.
If any one should pretend that the pantomime art is superior to the actor's power of representation in tragedy or comedy, or that such an entertainment of dumb show ought to exclude that of speaking characters; nothing could be more ridiculous or absurd than such a proposition.
That indeed would be rejecting one of the most noble improvements of nature, in favor of an art rather calculated for the relaxation of the mind than for the instruction of it; in which it can only claim a subordinate share.
Those subjects, whether serious or comic, which are executed by dances, or in the pantomime strain, are chiefly intended for the throwing a variety into theatrical entertainments, without disputing any honors of rank.
The very same person who shall have at one time, taken pleasure in seeing and hearing the noble and pathetic sentiments of tragedy, or the ridicule of human follies in a good comedy, finely represented, may, without any sort of inconsistence, not be displeased at seeing, at another time, a subject executed in dances, while the music, the decorations, all contribute to the happy diversification of his entertainment. Ought he therefore either to call his own taste to an account for his being pleased, or to grudge to others a pleasure, which nature itself justifies, in his having given to mankind a love of variety?
Nor is there perhaps, in the world, an art more the genuine offspring of Nature, more under her immediate command, than the art of dancing. For to say nothing of that dancing, which has no relation to the theatre, and which is her principal demonstrations of joy and festivity, the theatrical branch acknowledges her for its great and capital guide. All the motions, all the gestures, all the attitudes, all the looks, can have no merit, but in their faithful imitation of Nature: while man himself, man, the noblest of her productions, is ever the subject which the dancer paints through all his passions and manners.
The painter presents man in one fixed attitude, with no more of life than the draught and colors can give to his figure: the dancer exhibits him in a succession of attitudes, and, instead of painting with the brush, paints, surely more to the life, with his own person. A dance in action, is not only a moving picture, but an animated one: while to the eloquence of the tongue, it substitutes that of the whole body.
The art, viewed in this light, shows how comparatively little the merely mechanical part of it, the agility of the legs and body, contributes to the accomplishment of the dancer; however necessary that also is. We might soon form a dancer, if the art consisted only in his being taught to shake his legs in cadence, to ballance his body, or to move his arms unmeaningly. But if he has not a genius, susceptible of cultivation, and which is itself far the most essential gift, he will make no progress towards the desirable distinction: he is a body without a soul: his performance will have more of the poppet moved by wires, than of the actor giving that life to the character, which himself receives from the sensibility of genius.
There are many young beginners, who, looking on this art as a good way of livelihood, enter on the rudiments of it, with great ardor. But this ardor soon abates, in proportion, as they advance, and find there is more study and pains required from them than they expected to find, towards their arrival at any tolerable degree of perfection. Having considered this art as purely a mechanical one, they are surprised at the discovery of its exacting thought and reflection, for which their ideas of it had not prepared them. A man who has not sufficient share of genius to attempt the vanquishing these difficulties, of which, in his false conception of things, he has formed to himself no notion; either treats these great essentials of the art, as innovations, and such as he is not bound to admit, or in the despair of acquiring them, sits down contented with his mediocrity. It is well if he does not rail at, or attempt to turn into ridicule, perfections which are beyond his reach. And to say the truth, the art has not greater enemies than those professors of it, who stick at the surface, and want the spirit necessary to go to the bottom of it. In vain does the public refuse its applause to their indifferent, ordinary, uninteresting performance: rather than allow the fault to be in themselves, their vanity will lay it on the public: they never refuse themselves that approbation which others can see no reason for bestowing on them. They are perfectly satisfied with having executed in their little manner, the little they know or are capable of; they have no idea of any thing beyond their short reach.
Certainly the best season of life, for the study of this art, is, as for that of most others, for obvious reasons, the time of one's youth. It is the best time of laying the foundation both of theory and practice.
But the theory should especially be attended to, without however neglecting the practice. For though a dancer, by an assiduous practice, may, at the first unexamining glance, appear as well in the eyes of the public, as he who possesses the rules; the illusion will not be lasting; it will soon be dissipated, especially where there is present an object of comparison. He whose motions are dirrected only by rote and custom, will soon be discovered essentially inferior to him whose practice is governed by a knowledge of the principles of his art.
A master does not do his duty by his pupil, in this art, if he fails of strongly inculcating to him the necessity of studying those principles; and of kindling in him that ardor for attaining to excellence, which if it is not itself genius, it is certain that no genius will do much without it.
Invention is also as much a requisite in our art as in any other. But to save the pains of study, we often borrow and copy from one another. Indolence is the bane of our art. The trouble of thinking necessary to the invention and composition of dances, appears to many too great a fatigue: this engages them to appropriate to themselves the fruits of other peoples invention; and they appear to themselves well provided at a small expence, when they have made free with the productions of others. Some again, instead of cultivating their talent, chuse indolently to follow the great torrent of the fashion, and stick to the old tracks, without daring to strike out any thing new, so that their prejudices are, in fact, the principles by which they are governed, and which sometimes serves them for their excuse; since they know better, but do not care to give themselves the trouble of acting up to their knowledge. Thus they plod in the safe, and broad road of mediocrity, but without any reputation or name. They are neither envied nor applauded.
As for those who borrow from others, content with being copies, when they ought to strive to be originals; nothing can more obstruct their progress in the discoveries of the depths of their art, than this scheme of subsisting on the merit of others.
Many, besides those who are incapable of invention, are tempted at once by their indolence, and by the hope of not being discovered or minded in their borrowing from others, to give stale or hackneyed compositions, which having seen in one country, they flatter themselves they may palm for new and original upon the public in another. Thence it is that the audience is cloyed with repetitions of pantomime dances; perhaps some of them very pretty at their first appearance, but which cannot fail of tiring when too often repeated; or when the same grounds or subject of action is only superficially or slightly diversified.
It is this barrenness of invention that the ingenious Goldoni has so well exposed in one of his plays, in the following speech, addressed to a young man.
"[*] For example, you, as the female dancer will come upon the stage, with a distaff, twirling it, or with a pail to draw water; or with a spade for digging. Your companion will come next perhaps driving a wheel-barrow, or with a sickle to mow corn, or with a pipe a-smoaking; and though the scene should be a saloon, no matter, it will come soon to be filled with rustics or sailors. Your companion to be sure will not have seen you, at first; that is the rule; upon which you will make up to him, and he will send you a packing. You will tap him on the shoulder with one hand, and he will give a spring from you to the other side of the stage. You will run after him; he, on his part will scamper away from you, and you will take pet at it. When he sees you angry, he will take it into his head to make peace; he will sue to you, and you in your turn will send him about his business. You will run from him, and he after you. He will be down on his knees to you; peace will be made; then, shaking your footsies, you will invite him to dance. He also will answer you with his feet, as much as to say, come, let us dance."
"Then handing you backwards to the top of the stage, you will begin gaily a Pas-de-deux, or Duet dance. The first part will be lively, the second grave; the third a jig. You will have taken care to procure six or seven of the best airs for a dance, put together, that can be imagined. You will execute all the steps that you are mistress of; and let your character in the Pas-de-deux, be that of a country wench, a gardener's servant, a granadier's trull, or a statue; the steps will be always the same; and the same actions for ever repeated; such as running after one another, dodging, crying, falling in a passion, making peace again, bringing the arms over the head, jumping in and out of time, shaking legs and arms, the head, the body, the shoulders, and especially smirking and ogling round you; not forgetting gentle inflexions of the neck, as you pass close under the lights, nor to make pretty faces to the audience, and then, hey for a fine curtesy at the end of the dance!"
[Footnote *: Per esempio vendra fora la ballerina, colla rocca, filando, o con un secchio a trar l'acqua, o con una zappa a zappar. El vostro compagno vendra fora o colla cariola a portar qualche cosa, o colla falce a tagliar il grano, o colla pipa a fumar, e si ben, che la scena fosse una sala, tanto e tanto, se vien a far da contadini o da marinari. El vostro compagno non vi vedra: voi andarete a cercarlo, e el vi scacciera via. Gli batterete una man su la spalla, ed el con un salto andera dall'altra banda. Voi gli correrete dietro, lui se scampera, e voi anderete in collera. Quando voi sarete in collera, a lui le vendra la voglia di far pace, e lui vi preghera, voi lo scacciarete. Scamparete via, e lui vi correra dietro. El se inginocchiera, farete pace, voi, menando I pedini, l'invitarete a ballar: anche ello, menando I piedi, a segni dira, "balliamo," e tirandovi indietro allegramente cominciarete el Pas-de-deux. La prima parte allegra, la segonda grave, la terza una giga. Procurarete di cacciargli dentro sei o sette delle migliori arie di ballo che s'abbiano sentito; farete tutti i passi che sapete fare, e che sia il Pas-de-deux o da paesana, o da giardinera, o da Granatiera, o da statue, i passi saranno sempre gli istessi, correrse dietro, scampar, pianger, andar in collera, far pace, tirar i bracci sopra la testa, saltar in tempo e fora di tempo, menar gli bracci, e le gambe, e la testa, e la vita, e le spalle, e sopra tutto rider sempre col popolo, e storcer un pochetto il collo quando si passa prossimo i lumi, e fare delle belle smorfie all udienza, e una bella riverenza in ultima.]
Nothing however would more obstruct the progress of this art, than thus contenting one self with adopting the productions of others. It even would, in the disgust which repetition occasions, bring on the decline of this entertainment, in the opinion of a public which is always fond of novelty.
And of novelty, the beauties of nature furnish an inexhaustible fund, in their infinite variety. Among these it is the business of the artist to chuse such as can be brought upon the scene, and theatrically adapted to the execution of his art. But for this he must be possessed of taste, which is a qualification as necessary to him, as a composer, as that of the graces are to him as a performer. Both are gifts. But if a due exercise of the art can add to the natural graces, taste does not stand less in need of cultivation: it refines itself by a judicious observation of the beauties and delicacies of nature. These he must incessantly study, in order to transplant into his art such as are capable of producing the most pleasing effect. He must particularly consult the fitness of time, place and manners; otherwise what would please in one dance might displease in another. Propriety is the great rule of this art, as of all others. A discordance in music hurts a nice ear; a false attitude or motion in dancing equally offends the judicious eye.
The looks of the dancer are far from insignificant to the character he is representing. Their expression should be strictly conformable to his subject. The eye especially should speak. Thence it is that the Italian custom of dancing with uncovered faces, cannot but be more advantageous than that of dancing masked, as is commonly done in France; when the passions can never be so well represented as by the changes of expression, which the dancer should throw into his countenance.
And it is by these changes of countenance, as well as of attitude and gesture, that the dancer can express the gradations of the passions; whereas the painter is confined intirely to one passion, that of the particular moment in which he will have chosen to draw a character. For example, a painter, who means to represent a country-maid, under the influence of the passion of love, can only aim at expressing some particular degree of that passion, suitable to the circumstances of the rest of his picture, or to the situation in which he shall have placed her. But a dancer may successively represent all the gradations of love; such as surprize at first sight, admiration, timidity, perplexity, agitation, languor, desire, ardor, eagerness, impatience, tumultous transports, with all the external simptoms of that passion. All these may be executed in the most lively manner, in time and cadence, to a correspondent music or simphany. And so of all the other passions, whether of fear, revenge, joy, hatred, which have all their subdivisions expressible, by the quick shift and succession of steps, gestures, attitudes, and looks, respectively adapted to each gradation.
A mask then cannot but hide a great part of the necessary expression, or justness of action. It can only be favorable to those who have contracted ill habits of grimacing or of contortions of the face while they perform.
There are however some characters in which a mask is even necessary: but then great care should be taken to model and fit it as exactly as possible to the face, as well as to have it perfectly natural to the character represented. The French are particularly, and not without reason, curious in this point.
The female dancers have naturally a greater ease of expression than the men. More pliable in their limbs, with more sensibility in the delicacy of their frame; all their motions and actions are more tenderly pathetic, more interesting than in our sex. We are besides prepossessed in their favor, and less disposed to remark or cavil at their faults. While on the other hand, that so natural desire they have of pleasing, independently of their profession, makes them studiously avoid any motion or gesture that might be disagreeable, and consequently any contortion of the face. They, instinctively then, one may say, make a point of the most graceful expression.
A woman, who should only depend on the exertion of strength in her legs or limbs, without attention to expression, would possess but a very defective talent. Such an one might surprize the public, by the masculine vigor of her springs; but should she attempt to execute a dance, where tender expressions are requisite, she would certainly fail of pleasing.
The female dancers have also an advantage over the men, in that the petticoat can conceal many defects in their execution; even, if the indulgence due to that amiable sex, did not only make great allowances, but give to the least agreeable steps in them, the power of obtaining applause.
At the Italian theatres at Rome, in the Carnaval, where the female dancers are not suffered to perform the dances, and where the parts of the women are perform'd by men in the dresses of women, it appears plainly, how much the execution suffers by this expedient. However well they may be disguised, there is an inherent clumsiness in them, which it is impossible for them to shake off, so as to represent with justness the sprightly graces and delicacy of the female sex. The very idea of seeing men effeminated by such a dress, invincibly disgusts. An effeminate man appears even worse than a masculine woman.
But however the consulting a looking-glass gives to men, in general, the air of fops or coxcombs; it is to those who would make a figure in dancing a point of necessity. A glass is to them, what reflexion is to a thinking person; it serves to make them acquainted with their defects, and to correct them. To practice then before it is even recommendable, that practice will give the advantage of expertness, and expertness will give the grace of ease, which is invaluable; nothing being such an enemy to the graces as stiffness or affectation. This is a general rule both for composition and performance.
Education has doubtless a great share in giving early to the body a command of graceful positions, especially for the grand and serious dances, which, as I have before observed, are the principal grounds of the art. And once more, the great point is not to stick at mediocrity; but to aim at an excellence in the art, that may give at least the best chance for not being confounded with the croud. If it is true, that, among the talents, those which are calculated for pleasing, are not those that are the least sure of encouragement; it is also equally true, that for any dependence to be had on them, it is something more than an ordinary degree of merit in them that is required.
In support of this admonition, I am here tempted to enliven this essay with the narrative of an adventure in real life, that may serve to break the too long a line of an attempt at instruction.
A celebrated female dancer in Italy, designing to perform at a certain capital, wrote to her correspondent there to provide her an apartment suitable to the genteel figure which she had always made in life. On her arrival, her acquaintance seeing she had brought nothing with her, but her own person and two servants, asked her when she expected her baggage. She answered, with a smile, "If you will come to-morrow morning and breakfast with me, you, and whoever you will bring with you, shall see it, and I promise you it is worth your while seeing, being a sort of merchandize that is very much in fashion."
Curiosity carried a number early to the rendezvous, where, after an elegant breakfast, she got up, and danced before them in a most surprizingly charming manner.
"These, said she, (pointing at her legs,) are all the baggage I have left; the Alps have swallowed up all the rest." The truth was, she had been really robbed of her baggage in her journey, and the merchandize on which she now depended, was her talent at dancing. Nor was she deceived, for her inimitable performance, joined to the vivacity with which she bore her misfortunes, in the spirit of the old Philosopher, who valued himself upon carrying his all about him, made her many friends, whose generous compassion soon enabled her to appear in her former state.
As to the composition of dances, it is impossible for a professor of this art, to make any figure without a competent stock of original ideas, reducible into practice. A dance should be a kind of regular dramatic poem to be executed by dancing, in a manner so clear, as to give to the understanding of the spectator no trouble in making out the meaning of the whole, or of any part of it. All ambiguity being as great a fault of stile in such compositions, as in writing. It is even harder to be repaired; for a false expression in the motions, gestures, or looks, may confuse and bewilder the spectator so as that he will not easily recover the clue or thread of the fable intended to be represented.
Clearness then is one of the principal points of merit which the composer should have in view; if the effect, resulting from the choice and disposition of the ground-work of his drama, does honor to his inventiveness or taste; the justness, with which every character is to be performed, is not less essential to the success of his production, when carried into execution.
To be well assured of this, it cannot but be necessary that the composer of the dance or ballet-master, should be himself a good performer, or at least understand the grounds of his art.
He must also, in his composition, be pre-assured of all the necessaries for their complete execution. Otherwise decorations either deficient or not well adapted; an insufficient number of performers, or their being bad ones; or, in short, the fault of a manager, who, through a misplaced economy, would not allow the requisite expences; all these, or any of these, might ruin the composition, and the composer might, after taking all imaginable pains to please, find his labor abortive, and himself condemned for what he could not help. There is no exhibiting with success any entertainment of this sort without having all the necessary performers and accompaniments. It will be in a great measure perfect or imperfect in proportion as they are supplied or withheld.
A good ballet-master must especially have regard to both poetical and picturesque invention; his aim being to unite both those arts under one exhibition. The poetical part of the composition being necessary to furnish a well-composed piece that shall begin with a clear exposition, and proceed unfolding itself to the conclusion, in situations well chosen, and well expressed. The picturesque part is also highly essential for the formation of the steps, attitudes, gestures, looks, grouping the performers, and planning their evolutions; all for the greatest and justest effect.
He should himself be thoroughly struck with his initial idea, which will lead him to the second, and so on methodically until the whole is concluded, without having recourse to a method justly exploded by the best masters, that of choregraphy or noting dances, which only serves to obstruct and infrigidate the fire of composition. When he shall have finished his composition, he may then coolly review it, and make what disposition and arrangement of the parts shall appear the best to him. Every interruption is to be avoided, in those moments, when the imagination is at its highest pitch of inventing and projecting. There are few artists who have not, at times, experienced in themselves a more than ordinary disposition or aptitude, for this operation of the mind; and it is these critical moments, which may otherwise be irretrievable, they ought particularly to improve, with as little diversion from them as possible. They should pursue a thought, or a hint of a thought, from its first crudity to its utmost maturity.
A man of true genius in any of the imitative arts, and there is not one that has a juster claim to that title than the art of dancing, sensible that nature is the varied and abundant spring of all objects of imitation, considers her and all her effects with a far different eye from those who have no intention of availing themselves of the matter she furnishes for observation. He will discover essential differences between objects, where a superficial beholder sees nothing but sameness; and in his imitation he will so well know how to render those differences discernible, that in the composition of his dance, the most trite subject will assume the air of novelty with the grace of variety.
There is nothing disgusts so much as repetitions of the same thing; and a composer of dances will avoid them as studiously as painters do in their pieces, or writers tautology.
The public complains, with great reason, that dances are frequently void of action, which is the fault of the performers not giving themselves the trouble to study just ones: satisfied with the more mechanical part of dancing, they never think of connecting the part of the actor with it, which however is indispensably necessary to give to their performance, spirit, and animation.
A dance without meaning is a very insipid botch. The subject of the composition should always be strictly connected to the dances, so as that they should be in equal correspondence to one another. And, where a dance is expletively introduced in the intervals of the acts, the subject of it should have, at least, some affinity to the piece. A long custom has made the want of this attention pass unnoticed. It is surely an absurd and an unnatural patchwork, between the acts of a deep tragedy, to bring on, abruptly by way of diversion, a comic dance. By this contrast both entertainments are hurt; the abruptness of the transition is intolerable to the audience; and the thread, especially of the tragic fable, is unpleasingly broken. The spectators cannot bear to be so suddenly tossed from the serious to the mirthful, and from the mirthful to the serious. In short, such an heterogeneous adulteration has all the absurdity reproached to the motley mixture in tragi-comedy, without any thing of that connection which is preserved in that kind of justly exploded dramatic composition. How easy too to avoid this defect, by adapting the subjects of the dances to the different exigences of the different dramas, whether serious, comic, or farcical!
One great source of this disorder, is probably the managers considering dances in nothing better than in the light of merely a mechanical execution for the amusement of the eye, and incapable of speaking to the mind. And in this mistake they are certainly justifiable by the great degeneracy of this art, from the pitch of perfection to which it was antiently carried, and to which the encouragement of the public could not fail to restore it. The managers would then see their interest too clearly in consulting the greater pleasure of the public, not to afford to this art, the requisite cultivation and means of improvement.
The composer, who must even have something of the poet in him; the musician, the painter, the mechanic, are essentially necessary to the contribution of their respective arts, towards the harmony and perfection of composition, in a fine dramatic dance; even the dresses are no inconsiderable part of the entertainment. The costume, or in a more general term, propriety, should have the direction of them. It is not magnificence, that is the great point, but their being well assorted to character and circumstances. The French are notoriously faulty in over-dressing their characters, and in making them fine and showy, where their simplicity would be their greatest ornament. I do not mean a simplicity that should have any thing mean, low or indifferent in it; but, for example, in rural characters, the simplicity of nature, if I may use the expression, in her holy-day-cloaths.
As to the decorations and machines especially, I know of no place where there is less excuse for their being deficient in them than in London, where they are too manifestly, to bear any suspicion of flattery in the attributing it to them, executed to a perfection that is not known in any other part of Europe. The quickness with which the shifts and deceptions in the pantomime entertainments are performed here, have been attempted in many other parts; but the persons there employed, not having the same skill and depth in mechanics as the artists here, cannot come up to them in this point. And it is in this point precisely that a composer of dances may be furnished with great assistence in the effects from the theatrical illusion. And in an entertainment, where by an established tacit agreement between the audience and performers, there is such a latitude of introducing superhuman personages, either of the heathen deities, or of fairy-hood, inchanters, and the like, those transformations and deceptions of the sight are even in the order of natural consequences, from the pre-supposed and allowed power of such characters to operate them. At the same time the rules of probability must even there be observed. Nor is it amiss to be very sparing and reserved in the composition of those dances, grounded on the introduction of purely imaginary beings, such as the allegorical impersonation of the moral Beings, whether the Virtues or the Vices. Unless the invention is very interesting indeed, the characters distinctly marked, and the application very just and obvious; their effect is rarely answerable to expectation, especially on the audiences of this country. The taste here for those airy ideal characters is not very high, and perhaps not the worse for not being so.
Among the many losses which this art has sustained, one surely, not the least regrettable, even for our theatres, was that of the dances in armour, practised by the Greeks, which they used by way of diversion and of exercise for invigorating their bodies. Sometimes they had only bucklers and javelins in their hands: but, on certain occasions they performed in panoply, or complete suits of armour. Strengthened by their daily and various manly exercises, they were enabled to execute these dances, with a surprising exactness and dexterity. The martial simphony that accompanied them, was performed by a numerous band of music; for the clash of their arms being so loud, would else have drowned the tune or airs of the musicians. It is impossible to imagine a more sublime, splendid and picturesque sight than what these dances afforded, in the brilliancy of their arms, and the variety of their evolutions; while the delight they took in it, inspired them with as much martial fire, as if they had been actually going to meet the enemy. And indeed this diversion was so much of the nature of the military exercise, that none could be admitted who were not thoroughly expert in all martial training. In time of peace, this kind of dance was considered as even necessary to keep up that suppleness and athletic disposition of body, to bear action and fatigue, essential to the military profession. If the practice had been neglected, but for a few days, they observed a numbness insensibly diffuse itself over the whole body. They were persuaded then that the best way of preserving their health, and fitness for action, and consequently to qualify them for the most heroic enterprizes, was to keep up this kind of exercise, in the form of diversion.
These martial dances, have, in some operas of Italy, been attempted to be imitated, with some degree of success: but as the performers had not been trained up to such an exercise, like the Greeks, it was not to be expected that the representation should have the same perfection, or color of life.
The composition of the music, and the suiting the airs to the intended execution of a dance, is a point of which it is scarce needful to insist on the importance, from its being so obvious and so well known. Nothing can produce a more disagreeable discordance than a performer's dancing out of time. And here it may be observed, how much lies upon a dancer, in his being at once obliged to adapt his motions exactly to the music and to the character: which forms a double incumbence, neither point of which he can neglect, without falling into unpardonable errors.
Where dances are well composed, they may give a picture, to the life, of the manners and genius of each nation and each age, in conformity to the subject respectively chosen. But then the truth of the costume, and of natural and historical representation must be strictly preserved. Objects must be neither exagerated beyond probability, nor diminished so as not to please or affect. A real genius will not be affraid of striking out of the common paths, and, sensible that inventiveness is a merit, he will create new theatrical subjects, or produce varied combinations of old ones. And where the decorations, or requisite accompaniments are not supplied as he could wish, he must endeavour to make the most of what he can get, towards the exhibition of his production; if not with all the advantage of which it is susceptible, at least with all those he can procure for it. Where the best cannot be obtained, he must be content with the least bad. But especially a composer of dances should never lose sight of his duty in preserving to his art its power of competition, as well as its affinity with the other imitative arts, in the expression of nature; all the passions and sentiments being manifestly to be marked by motion, gestures, and attitudes, to the time of a correspondent and well adapted music. While all this aided and set off, by the accompaniments of proper decorations of painting, and, where necessary, of machinery, makes that, a well composed dance, may very justly be deemed a small poem, thrown into the most lively action imaginable; into an action so expressive as not to need the aid of words, for conveying its meaning; but to make the want of them rather a pleasure than matter of regret; from its exercising, without fatiguing, the mind of the spectator, to which it can never be but an agreeable entertainment, to have something left for its own making out, always provided that there be no perplexing difficulty or ambiguity. Nothing of which is impossible to an artist who has the talent of making a right choice among the most pleasing objects of nature; of sufficiently feeling what he aims at expressing; of knowing how far it is allowable for his art, to proceed towards the embellishing nature, and where it should stop to avoid its becoming an impertinence; and especially of agreeably disposing his subject, in the most neat and intelligible manner that can be desired.