6. Dancing masters and the theatre (2 of 2)

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Gun Lane ran from Chapelfield Lane to the S door of St Peter Mancroft, so he was encroaching on Noverre, but not very seriously for we hear no more of him as a dancing master but much more about his career as choreographer and dancer at the Theatre Royal with his tribe of Infant Phenomena.

On 27 March 1802 their benefit night included: ‘A New Grotesque Ballet by Mr Lassells’ performed by the family ‘in a manner peculiar to themselves’ (supply your own translation), and As You Like It ‘with a New Grand Ballet’. In January 1803 Holcroft’s A Tale of Mystery was presented with Lassells additions: ‘a pas seul – Master Lassells, a pas tambourine – Miss Lassells, a pas de trois – Messrs Lassells’. On 27 April 1803 they performed ‘A grand Serio Heroic Pantomime Ballet – Blackbeard – with a Broadsword Battle.’

They are Dickens’ Crummles troupe to the life if 40 years early and evoke The Indian Savage and the Maiden as performed by the Infant Phenomenon and Mr Folair. Dickens ridiculed the performance but described Romantic Ballet style and classical mime with great accuracy.

Mr Lassells intruded into the genteel world of the dancing master – without raising more than a smirk, probably – much as his ‘ballets’ took any play of any genre by surprise.

One might have expected Francis Noverre to have some connection with the neighbouring Theatre Royal. His father, Augustin, danced at Drury Lane, but left the theatre to become a dancing master. Francis is said to have had tuition by his uncle, the ballet-master Jean-Georges Noverre, ‘the Father of Modern dance’, who once claimed ‘I am sick of Minuets.’ I think it is more likely that Francis was trained by his father with additional polish by his uncle, as explained in Marsh (2005). Francis does not seem to have had any theatrical leanings apart from marrying Harriet Brunton, daughter of the manager of the Theatre Royal. She had no theatrical aspirations either. Dancing at the Theatre Royal was the preserve of Mr Lassells, and I wish I knew what Francis Noverre thought of him.

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