Why did Weaver Create His Ballet?

As a dancer and a dancing master, John Weaver had deep concerns about the status of dancing. In An Essay Towards an History of Dancing, published in 1712, he tried to address these. His ‘Prefatory Introduction’ set out Weaver’s underlying aim:

weaver-essay-4
Weaver, An Essay towards an History of Dancing, p. 4 (detail)

His strategy for establishing dancing as an ‘Art’ was to link not only its past but also its current practice to classical antiquity. Appealing to ancient authors, he wrote:

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Weaver, An Essay towards an History of Dancing, p. 160 (detail)

Weaver’s concept of the mute art of dancing was one in which the body provided a means of expression as powerful as the spoken word. The underlying reason for his dissatisfaction with what he saw around him must surely have been that all the dancing was merely decorative. It embellished the arts of music and drama, but fell short of being an art itself.

Weaver’s appeal to the ‘Pantomimes of the Ancient Greeks and Romans’ who (in his Preface to the published scenario for The Loves of Mars and Venus) he characterised as ‘Dancers that represented a Story or Fable in Motion or Measure; Imitators of all things, as the Name of Pantomime imports’ offered a way forward. He had an example close to hand in the commedia dell’arte, whose exponents were once again finding their way into London’s theatres in the early 1700s. He could not help admiring their expressive abilities, depending on actions not words. He admired (grudgingly) the French dancing of his own time, too, but wanted it to be as expressive as the ancient dancing. He looked for some way to unite these various strands.

John Weaver worked in theatres where drama and dance were juxtaposed and intertwined at almost every performance. He was that rarest of combinations, a scholar as well as a dancer. His ambitions for dancing, and the means by which he chose to pursue them, sprang out of both his theoretical reading and his practical experience.

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