Commanding Presences: dance for benefit performances and court celebrations in London 1700-1750

Command performances allowed members of the royal family to be seen to support specific performances or performers, either in private performances at court or in public performances in the patent theatres of London. From 1715 onwards the willingness of royalty to attend benefit nights in the theatre gave them additional opportunities to support specific performers or to influence the sort of programmes presented on stage. Dance formed an essential element in many of the programmes presented on such occasions.

A small but important group of about forty notated dances which have connections with the Londontheatres survive from the first half of the 18th century. Some of them were created for performance at court and subsequently transferred to the theatre; others were danced at specific benefit performances; others were made for leading dancers in particular theatres.

This paper considers the nature and form of these dances, which suggests that in England there was not always a clear distinction between dances created for the ballroom and dances seen stage, and that the interrelated nature of some types of ‘court’ , ‘ballroom’ and ‘stage’ dancing cannot be resolved simply by reference to the number of dancers or the level of sophistication and virtuosity displayed in performance. The paper also examines the apparent revival of interest during the 1740s and 1750s in ball dances first created in London or Paris much earlier in the century but now presented at Covent Garden by a new generation of dancers.

Jennifer Thorp
Symposium Title: 
Dance on the English Stage – 1999
Author affiliation: 
Regent’s Park College, Oxford