Recreating a Lost Ballet

Nothing survives of Weaver’s original ballet beyond the detailed scenario he wrote, published to accompany the first performances. Without music or choreography, this project posed unique challenges.

Title page of Weaver’s scenario

The project’s origins lie in Moira Goff’s work on her book The Incomparable Hester Santlow (published 2007) when she had the idea of a fresh approach to recreating The Loves of Mars and Venus as she analysed the scenario in detail. Work began in earnest in 2012, when Moira and Evelyn Nallen worked together to produce a new musical score using music that Weaver would have known, by Lully, Purcell, William Croft, John Eccles and others. It was first performed on 18 February 2012 at the Fitzwilliam College Auditorium in Cambridge by the recorder group Zero Gravity, under the direction of Evelyn with the musician and composer David Gordon at the harpsichord.

First recording of the newly created score (CD cover)

The project reached a new stage in 2016 when Evelyn invited the playwright Stephen Wyatt to write a short drama about Weaver’s ballet. Wyatt’s The Loves of Mars & Venus; or, Mr. Weaver’s Dramatick Entertainment is a one-act play which introduces us to the world of the 18th-century London stage and John Weaver’s frustrations with the limitations of dancing there. Weaver wants dance to take equal place as an art alongside music and drama. The action of the play follows Weaver as he tries to create his first ‘Dramatick Entertainment of Dancing’.

From the beginning, it was intended to use theatrical dances recorded in Beauchamp-Feuillet notation in the early 18th century as the basis for new choreography. These are dances that Weaver would have known, for he was himself a dance notator. The choreographer Gilles Poirier, a notable exponent of baroque dance, draws on them for the Weaver Dance Company’s project. The gestures are reconstructed from Weaver’s own descriptions in his scenario. The Loves of Mars & Venus; or, Mr. Weaver’s Dramatick Entertainment includes several key dances from the ballet, including the famous ‘Dance, being altogether of the Pantomimic kind’ which unites dance and gesture and is at the heart of Weaver’s ambition for new, expressive dancing.