Mademoiselle Mercandotti, Hughes Balls Hughes, and the (scandalous) uses of a Green Room

On 8 March 1823, the Spanish dancer, Mademoiselle Mercandotti was due to dance for a packed house in a performance of Daniel Auber’s ballet, Alfred. The audience were expectant: Mercandotti, who had arrived for the 1822-1823 season, had been dubbed ‘The Andalusian Venus’, and the manager of the King’s Theatre, John Ebers (c. 1785-c. 1830), ‘was pestered from morning to night by young men of fashion anxious to obtain an introduction.’ But when the moment came she failed to appear, and manager Ebers came on stage to announce her indisposition.

But it was later revealed that she had in fact eloped with a ‘young man of large fortune’, revealed to be the immensely wealthy Hughes Ball Hughes (1799-1863), nicknamed the ‘Golden Ball.’ As Walter Scott later commented: ‘few events in the fashionable world… excited more attention’, and it became one of the great scandals of the age. How the whole thing was accomplished remains obscure, although it is clear from his presence as a witness at the wedding that Ebers must have been involved.

This paper for Dancing Lives returns to these events, examining the circumstances of the elopement and its place in Mercandotti’s career, its position in the history of the King’s theatre and its troupe, and the building of the theatre’s first Green Room for the dancers. It will focus on the work of the caricaturists, to whom this (biographical) event offered a ‘golden’ opportunity to the satirists.

Michael Burden is Fellow in Music at New College, Oxford, and Professor in Opera Studies in the University. He did his undergraduate and graduate work at the University of Adelaide in South Australia, and his PhD at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He has served on the Council of the Royal Musical Association, is a patron member of the American Society for Eighteenth-century Studies, a trustee of Répertoire International des Sources Musicales (RISM), and is currently the Past President of the British Society for 18th-century Studies. He is Dean of the College, and also holds the offices of Chattels Fellow and Portraits Fellow. He served for some years on the University of Oxford Committee for the Museums and Scientific Collections, and is currently a Visitor of the Ashmolean Museum.

seabass creatives


Berto Pasuka: a dancing life of colonialism and diasporic culture

This paper for Dancing Lives looks at the way Berto Pasuka’s dancing embodies his life experiences. Pasuka was born in Jamaica in 1910 or 1911 and moved to London in 1939, founding his company Les Ballets Nègres there in 1946. The performances he gave in his ballets with this company exemplify an opposition to colonialism through re-encountering and restaging of Afro-Caribbean traditions of dance and drumming. This paper explores the ways in which an account of the physicality of Pasuka’s dancing and choreography can be used to show how this embodies his life experiences.

Ramsay Burt is Professor of Dance History at De Montfort University, UK. His publications include The Male Dancer (1995, revised 2007), Alien Bodies (1997), Judson Dance Theater (2006), Writing Dancing Together (2009) with Valerie Briginshaw, Ungoverning Dance (2016) and British dance: Black routes (2016) with Christy Adair. With Susan Foster, he is founder editor of Discourses in Dance. In 1999 he was Visiting Professor at the Department of Performance Studies, New York University. In 2010 he was Professeur Invité at l’Université de Nice Sophia-Antipolis, and he is a visiting teacher at PARTS in Brussels.

Tim Gouw

Dancing all night with Aphra Behn: Jeffrey Boys’s Almanack for 1667

Mike Webb (Bodleian Libraries) and Jennifer Thorp (New College Oxford) contribute to Dancing Lives.

The Bodleian Library has recently acquired a Gallen’s Almanack for 1667 which belonged to Jeffery Boyes of Grays Inn, who has been suggested by Janet Todd as a candidate for the ‘Amyntas’ of Aphra Behn’s poems. In the diary section of the volume Boys records aspects of his social life, including attendance at plays at the theatre and at all-night dance parties with Aphra Behn and other acquaintances whose names throw light on the social and political circles in which he moved.

Aphra Behn by Mary Beale.

At the back of the volume he has written down the titles and figures of nineteen English country dances, seemingly as an aide-memoire from the perspective of the first man in the set which suggests that he himself danced them. Some of them are variant in form from the better-known versions published by Playford between 1651 and 1670, and another may be unique to Boys’s diary. They represent the dances popular with Boys’s circle of friends and at Grays Inn, which as one of the Inns of Court continued a long tradition of dancing at its own masques, revels and other feasts.

R1 – An Exploration of Content from the Choreographic Wastebasket

Choreographer Liam Francis is an advocate for rehabilitating discarded creative offerings.

Consequently, R1 is a performance piece composed entirely of rejected choreography banished to the choreographic wastebaskets of creative processes.

In particular, R1 draws from the wastebaskets of five creative processes that Francis was creatively involved in.

R1 is the first in a range of experiments that investigate the recovery of choreography that has been discarded.

The recycled choreography in R1 finds its texture, rhythm and dynamic from research into the idiosyncrasies of human communication.

Simone Damberg Würtz, Liam Francis, and Hannah Rudd will perform R1 at Dancing Lives.

Hailey Kean

Lydia Lopokova – A 20th Century Life

At the peak of her dancing years – between 1916 and 1926 – Lydia Lopokova was one of the world’s most popular ballerinas, stamping the signature of her quick, bright technique and irrepressible stage personality onto the repertories of Massine, Fokine and the young Frederick Ashton. She was also closely connected to some of the key personalities in early 20th century ballet, moving as she did from the Imperial Ballet in St Petersburg to Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and eventually to London where she become a leading figure in the newly emergent ballet culture.

Theatre Magazine: Volume 15 – 1912

The fact that Lopokova is now far less well known than many of her contemporaries has something to do with her refusal to insist on her dancing fame once she retired, but also to do with the willingness with which she embraced her subsequent role as wife, muse, travelling companion and eventually nurse to the great economist John Maynard Keynes.

John Maynard Keynes, 1st Baron Keynes of Tilton; Lydia Lopokova, source

This talk at Dancing Lives is essentially about the pleasures and obstacles of writing Lopokova’s biography, the challenge of piecing her life together from footnotes, anecdotal gossip and fragments of ballet history. It focuses on the difficulties of evoking her singular qualities as a dancer when all that survives of her performances are the erratic impressions of contemporary reviewers, a limited archive of photos and a very tantalising few minutes of film. It also considers the issue of how a biographer should weight the narrative of Lopokova’s life – not only in setting the story of her professional career against the dramatic events through which she lived (the Russian Revolution, the First and Second World Wars) but also in balancing the inevitably sketchy chapters of her dancing years against the far better documented chapters of her marriage to Maynard, which took her from the drawing rooms of the Bloomsbury Group, to the common rooms of Cambridge, to the inner circles of power in Washington and London.

Judith Mackrell studied English and Philosophy at the universities of York and Oxford, and became dance critic of The Independent in 1986, moving to The Guardian in 1995. She has broadcast widely on radio and television and written several books on dance including Out of Line and Reading Dance. Her works of biography and social history include: Bloomsbury Ballerina: Lydia Lopokova – Imperial Dancer and Mrs John Maynard Keynes (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2008); Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation (Macmillan, 2013); and The Unfinished Palazzo: Life Love and Art in Venice (Thames and Hudson, 2017). She has just started work on a group biography of women correspondents writing and photographing during the Second World War, to be published by Macmillan.

Dancing Lives

The lives of dancers are among the most elusive subjects for life-writing. Not only is the art form itself ephemeral, notoriously difficult to capture in notation and on film as an accurate record. Dancers are often reluctant to talk about themselves – “we are what we do” – is the familiar refrain. Historically, the life of the dancer gets lost in the account of the processes of choreography. Sources and records are often difficult to find, especially in the case of pre-twentieth-century subjects, and frequently testimonies left by dancers themselves may be focussed on a particular aspect of self-presentation rather than an emphasis on historical accuracy. Nevertheless, there have been many vibrant, searching accounts written (or ghost written) by dancers themselves, such as Tamara Karsavina’s Theatre Street (1930), which provide insights into the mysterious back-stage daily rigours, emotional highs and lows of the profession.


This conference brings together a host of experts, dancers, scholars, and critics who have intimate knowledge of the lives of dancers in many different forms, and a host of questions will be discussed, centred on the issue of how do people write about the lives of dancers and choreographers? What distinctions are there in writing about a twentieth-century dancer (as Judith Mackrell has done for Lydia Lopokova), and those who must rely on the archive to piece together accounts of pre-twentieth-century dancers’ lives, or those (like Jane Pritchard) who have unearthed the importance of dancers who are largely unknown and who have gone unrecognised in the historical record.

The question of life-writing also implies the problem of how does dance as a silent form itself represent life stories? In addition to uncovering the sources and methods of scholarship and various genres relating to dancers’ lives, we shall hear from Jennifer Homans, whose work currently focuses on the life of choreographer, George Balanchine, an artist who frequently questioned narrative form.

Dutch National Archives, The Hague, Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau (ANeFo), 1945-1989

We will hear from our keynote speaker, Dame Monica Mason, an account of the impact of travel on the lives of dancers, and from other scholars about the diasporic conditions bearing on the lives of dancers from outside Europe.

And we get an opportunity to watch and listen to current dancers from Rambert Dance Company who have collaborated on choreography and considered the “life” of the choreography itself. A combination of practical demonstration, film, biographers, practitioners, discussion and speakers promise to make this a stimulating and enlightening day.


Presence and Absence: Kurt Jooss

My paper for Dancing Lives 2017 considers the dancer/choreographer Kurt Jooss (1901-1979). He is probably best known for his iconic role as ‘Death’ in his 1932 dance drama The Green Table. During his exile from Nazi Germany, in England, between 1933 and 1949, Jooss embodied his complex life in both dancing and choreography.

Kurt Jooss
Nationaal Archief and Spaarnestad Photo, donated in the context of a partnership program.

His dominating presence as a performer in these troubled times is juxtaposed with his absences from the stage and his company, Ballets Jooss. During these enforced estrangements he continued to live in the company’s repertoire. It was here that he made the transformation from choreographer drawing on his German background to that of someone rooted in English soil.

He became a British citizen in 1947, four years after premiering Company at the Manor, a dance he described as ‘so utterly English’. I consider Jooss in terms of presence and absence in his work to examine his life in England. I draw on archival materials and interviews I conducted with Jooss in 1978 to look at his dancing life historically.

Michael Huxley, Reader in Dance in the School of Visual and Performing Arts at De Montfort University, teaches and researches in dance history.  His specialist areas include early modern dancers 1900-1945; the work of the choreographer Kurt Jooss; dance, the natural and wellbeing in the 1930s.  His interests include the pedagogy of dance history, the idea of the modern dancer as choreographer in the 1930s and history of the Alexander Technique.  His teaching of dance history includes the early modern period, the emergence of new dance in the UK in the 1970s, and contemporary dance of the 21st century, especially the work of Akram Khan.

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