Pantomime and dance in the late eighteenth century: evidence from the Ferrère manuscript

In 1782 French manuscript notated by the dancing master Auguste Ferrère provides much useful information about the relationship between pantomime and “abstract” dance. The choreographies, all intended for the theatre rather than the ballroom, include a variety of dance styles, ranging from formal ensembles (six to twelve dancers) to pantomimic solos, duets, and trios, in which the narrative component overshadows the balletic content. The choreographies sometimes move freely from one style to another, suggesting that late eighteenth-century French choreographies may have been more fluid than is often assumed; furthermore, these changes are not always accompanied by a change in musical style. The dance notations in the manuscript include many small drawings and verbal instructions showing how actions and gestures are coordinated with the dance steps. Musical procedures—melodic gestures, affective devices, and dynamic contrasts—provide information about the timing of the performer’s gestures and reinforce the affective content of the scene. The manuscript thus serves as a model for the reconstruction of pantomime ballets for which no notation exists.


Carol Marsh
Symposium Title: 
French and English Pantomime -2007
Author affiliation: 
University of North Carolina, Greensboro