The Loves of Mars & Venus

Mars and Venus

The core artistic idea of this project is to recreate the first ever ballet. John Weaverís The Loves of Mars and Venus, first performed in London in 1717, is now recognised as the first ballet díaction (ballet with no spoken words) and one of the most significant works in the history of dancing. Although originally well-received, it has not been performed since 1724. Stage 1 of this project will produce music scored for a recorder band with harpsichord, baroque harp, solo recorder & percussion. After workshops and rehearsals, a public concert of the music will be held and the music recorded. [Subsequently in Stage 2 (a separate future project) the recording will be used for dance rehearsals and the same scored music will be performed by a band similar in composition to that found in Londonís theatres in the early 1700s, as the accompaniment to the fully choreographed dancing, ie the ballet recreated.] The recording, as a CD of the music will allow both practical reconstruction and research study of this seminal work in the history of theatrical dancing. Both areas will mark fresh departures with work that has not been undertaken before.

Over the past ten years the dance scholar Dr Moira Goff and I have discussed the possibility of a project such as this and have done much of the groundwork over the intervening years. For the last two years we have studied the existing incidental music from the late 17th and early 18th century London stage. From this considerable repertoire, we have chosen music to fit the detailed notes left by John Weaver. Using the works of London composers Clarke, Croft, Eccles, Finger, Paisible and Purcell, we have added two virtuoso pieces from the solo repertoire of baroque dance from France, one for Venus and one for Mars. Some 22 pieces now have to be arranged for the above instrumentation, to fit with Weaverís instructions and to enhance the drama.

It is important to recognize that although 40 years of academic research have contributed to our knowledge of Weaverís ballet, no music or choreography survive for this seminal work. However, careful analysis of Weaverís writings, and of musical and other works given on the London stage in the early 1700s, suggests that the music was probably a pastiche drawing on a variety of pieces written for the theatre. Our Stage 1 Project will create a new but authentic score, and will prepare the way for the future Stage 2 which will create a new authentic choreography too, based on original contemporaneous choreographies.

The joint expertise in the team we have assembled makes the successful achievements of our goals highly likely. Our harpsichordist, David Gordon, has performed with violinists Nigel Kennedy and Andrew Manze, including a BBC Prom performance, and our baroque harpist, Frances Kelly, a leading exponent of early harps, has recorded with Andreas Scholl for Decca. Both David and Frances have performed, broadcast and recorded with some of the most distinguished ensembles in the country. Dr Moira Goff is a leading baroque dance scholar and unusually, is also a highly accomplished baroque dancer. She is a curator of rare books at the British Library, London, where she is responsible for the collections of British material printed from 1501 to 1800, and has published The Incomparable Hester Santlow: A Dancer-Actress on the Georgian Stage. Hester Santlow was Venus in the original production of The Loves of Mars & Venus.

Evelyn Nallen