Saturday, 17 October 2015

Harlequin and Mother Goose

In 1816, Thomas Wilson the London Dancing Master who had associations with the King's Theatre Opera House published 'The Treasures of Terpsichore; or, A Companion For The Ball-Room Being A Collection Of All The Most Popular English Country Dances, Arranged Alphabetically, with proper Figures to each Dance,"

One of the dances he includes illustrates further the links between theatrical dance and social dance. The dance was called Grimaldi's Dance In Mother Goose with the following figures and instructions:


Single Figure.

Hands across and hack again, down the middle, up again, and rig'ht and left.

Or thus:

Whole figure at top, down the middle, up again, and pousset.

Joseph Grimaldi (18 December 1778 – 31 May 1837) was an English actor, comedian and dancer, who became the most popular English entertainer of the Regency era. In the early 1800s, he expanded the role of Clown in the harlequinade that formed part of British pantomimes, notably at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and the Sadler's Wells and Covent Garden theatres. He became so dominant on the London comic stage that the harlequinade role of Clown became known as "Joey", and both the nickname and Grimaldi's whiteface make-up design were, and still are, used by other types of clowns. Grimaldi originated catchphrases such as "Here we are again!", which continue to feature in modern pantomimes.

Born in London to an entertainer father, Grimaldi began to perform as a child, making his stage debut at Drury Lane in 1780. He became successful at the Sadler's Wells Theatre the following year; his first major role was as Little Clown in the pantomime The Triumph of Mirth; or, Harlequin's Wedding in 1781, in which he starred alongside his father. After a brief schooling, he appeared in various low-budget productions and became a sought-after child performer. He took leading parts in Valentine and Orson (1794) and The Talisman; or, Harlequin Made Happy (1796), the latter of which brought him wider recognition.

Towards the end of the 1790s, Grimaldi starred in a pantomime version of Robinson Crusoe, which confirmed his credentials as a key pantomime performer. Many productions followed, but his career at Drury Lane was becoming turbulent, and he left the theatre in 1806.

Grimaldi’s most famous role was as Clown in the pantomime of Harlequin and Mother Goose, first played at Covent Garden in London in 1806. It was set up at short notice, and, therefore, could not feature the elaborate machinery and scenes then typical of pantomimes. Perhaps because of this the performers’ skills, their ‘whim, humour and agility’ were more evident. When it opened on Boxing Day, European Magazine said, " was received with the most deafening shouts of applause, and played for ninety-two nights, being the whole remainder of the season." Despite its success, and despite his role in it, Grimaldi did not hold it in high esteem. In fact, he declared it to be one of the worst pantomimes he had ever played.

Grimaldi's association with Sadler's Wells came to an end in 1820, chiefly as a result of his deteriorating relationship with the theatre's management. After numerous injuries over the years from his energetic clowning, his health was also declining rapidly, and he retired in 1823. He appeared occasionally on stage for a few years thereafter, but his performances were restricted by his worsening physical disabilities. In his last years, Grimaldi lived in relative obscurity and became a depressed, impoverished alcoholic. He outlived both his wife and his actor son, Joseph Samuel, dying at home in Islington in 1837, aged 58

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