‘The liveliest baggage on the modern stage’: Jane Poitier, French dancer and English singer

Jane Poitier, the daughter of the French dancer and choreographer Michael Poitier, was born London in June 1736, and as a child she danced both on the Continent and in London.  Jenny Poitier added singing to her accomplishments, and in spring 1754, when nearly 18, she sang in Arne’s Eliza.  David Garrick then brought her into the Drury Lane company to sing Helena in J.C. Smith’s opera The Fairies, after which she appeared regularly in London both as a dancer and singer for nearly 20 years.  Her Savoy Chapel marriage to the singer Joseph Vernon was used a test case for the new Marriage Act, and was declared invalid.  She danced the hornpipe in rivalry to Nancy Dawson in The Beggar’s Opera when London’s two theatres staged the piece at the same time.  It was when dancing her hornpipe as an entr’acte in a royal command performance of Love in a Village in December 1762 that she caused a scandal by her indecent dress and action.  She was on stage during the two most famous theatrical riots of the 18th century, the anti-French demonstrations during Noverre’s The Chinese Festival and the half-price riots in the second season of Arne’s Artaxerxes.  Although in the later stages of her career Jane Poitier was principally a singer, her entr’acte dancing continued to be featured and in Ireland in the late 1770s she was described as exceeding any female dancer imported from France or Italy.

Olive Baldwin
Thelma Wilson
Symposium Title: 
Living, dancing, travelling, dying... 2013