Arlecchino crossing the Channel: Danced Interrelations between the Fairground Players of Paris and London

The London Stage of the early 18th century was packed with Harlequins, Scaramouches, and other well-known commedia all’improvviso characters. ‘Italian mimick scenes’ or ‘night scenes after the Italian manner’ – usually short afterpieces – may have influenced the development of the typical English theatrical pantomime, such as the Lun pantomimes by John Rich at Lincoln’s Inn Fields or John Weaver’s first ‘imitations of the Roman pantomime’ at Drury Lane. Despite the link to the Italian tradition of pantomime and grotesque dancing implied by their names, these scenes were often performed by Parisian Forains at London Fairs or public theatres.

Using the case of Francisque Moylin, uncle of the famous dancer Marie Sallé and manager of a troupe of fairground players, I will analyse the relation between the Parisian Foire, London public theatres and London Fairs. How did the dance culture(s) in the public and fairground theatres of both cities influence one another? Could the Parisian Forains use the same repertoire in both cities or did they change it according to the need of the different audiences? Despite the lack of choreographic notations, music scores or text books, I will try to depict this cultural link between two of the most vivid European capitals of that time by putting together a variety of sources like police reports, descriptions of foreign travellers, legal documents, and account books.

Jelena Rothermel
Author affiliation
Department of Theatre Studies, University of Leipzig