The perception and reception of early English pantomime gives valuable insight into the position of dance on the English stage in the early 18th century. These pantomimes contained a large amount of dance; together with entr’acte entertainments, they were the main medium for the display of dance on the London stage at the time, and they included dance of all kinds, heroic, noble, comic and grotesque. Their reception however was astoundingly varied. On the one hand, they were the most popular kind of performance on the London stage, appealing to all classes of society from the King and Queen down to the numerous London apprentices. On the other hand, they were not only considered by some to be “monstrous medleys” that threatened to subvert the very moral fabric of the nation, but also, according to others, they were leading to the complete annihilation of serious drama on the English stage. They were likewise very threatening to ballet choreographers who were trying to establish dance as a high art, devoid of meaningless virtuosity and vulgar comedy. The paper will give a short overview of London pantomimes, and present reasons to account for their very varied perception and reception.
Barbara Segal is a performer, teacher and historian of dance from the 15th-19th centuries. She is director of Chalemie, a group specialising in early dance and music theatre, particularly the 18th century. She has performed and taught throughout Europe, the Baltic States, Russia, the USA and Australia. She has toured for the Early Music Network and the British Council, and has taught early dance to degree students at The Royal Academy of Dance in London. She organises and teaches at the Chalemie Easter School at Oxford each year; she also teaches each summer in Krakow at their long-running Festival of Court Dance. Barbara gives lectures on early dance and allied topics for both academic institutions and other interested groups, and she has trained singers in baroque gesture. In 2018 the Early Dance Circle presented Barbara with the Peggy Dixon Award for Outstanding Services to Early Dance. She holds a PhD from London University (LSE).