Not a single step of our ordinary dance was employed’:
Dolivet, Beauchamps, and Lully entertaining the King back from his victories
Isis, first performed – and published – in 1677, is the most spectacular of all Quinault and Lully's operas. Its 29 movements for instruments alone (7 of them repeated to make 36 in all) include many dances which are integrated into the divertissements where the same musical ideas are often shared by dancers and singers. Choreographed by Beauchamps and d’Olivet, Isis contains, as well as genre dances, some of the most celebrated character dances of the period. Dubos tells us: ‘It was d’Olivet who made the ballet of the old men in Thésée, of the songes funestes (deathly visions) in Atys, and of the Trembleurs in Isis. The last-mentioned was composed entirely of gestures and movements of people seized with cold. It employed not a single step of our ordinary dance.’ The Trembleurs was the inspiration for the Frost scene in Purcell’s King Arthur and other works. Such character dances remained an ingredient in French opera and may be linked to the later additions of pantomime in such works of the 1730s and 1740s. The recent publication of the first modern edition of Isis provides the opportunity for a re-evaluation of this tradition.