In spring 1796 Parisot continued to attract interest, not only for her own comely person, but for her relationships with others. James Gillray’s print as shown above depicts (from left to right) Madame Rose Didelot, Charles-Louis Didelot, and Parisot in the finale to the King’s Theatre’s May 1796 production of Alonso e Cora (chor. Giacomo Onorati).
This print is a caricature on several levels; first, let’s consider the movement style of the dancers. Rose Didelot, described in one source as the ‘last of the old school, la belle ecole de VESTRIS’ (1), is depicted in a relatively upright pose reminiscent of the noble style. Parisot – described as offering ‘less formal graces’ (2) – is seen in a more extended attitude. But it is the dynamic between the dancers that is the actual focus of the caricature. Mme Didelot’s husband is orientated completely towards the younger dancer, with his hand and foot forming a suggestive frame that points to Parisot’s genital region. Parisot’s head is inclined flirtatiously towards Didelot while Mme Didelot looks on in evident disapproval. The exposure of one of Parisot’s breasts was a comment on her scanty costumes, which weren’t necessarily of her choice. The perhaps too acute Gillray adroitly portrays a dynamic.
Despite the very public nature of this pictorial comment, no crisis was reported regarding the Didelots’ marriage, and all three dancers returned to the King’s Theatre in autumn 1796. In May 1797 the King’s Theatre staged a new ballet, Sappho and Phaon, that can in retrospect be considered another document in the story of this ‘love triangle’. Didelot is advertised as the choreographer, and is clearly credited as the creator in the published scenario (3). In this publication, Didelot himself describes the mythical story of Sappho:
The celebrated Sappho left nothing to posterity but a few pieces of poetry … We only learn that she loved Phaon, and that he was ungrateful; left her for one of her pupils; returned to her more through pride than love, and abandoned her once more– that she followed him even to Sicily, and that, unable to gain his heart, she threw herself into the deep from the rock of Leucate (4).
Didelot saw fit to cast his wife as the unloved Sappho, and himself as the ‘ungrateful’ Phaon. He used the Advertisement of the ballet scenario to point out that he decided to make the mythically beautiful Sappho ugly, in order to highlight the moral allegory in his imagined denouement, and to render Sappho ‘more interesting [and] to show the goodness of her heart’ (4). Quite.
In another flash of gifted casting, Parisot featured as the goddess of love Venus; her character was moved to tutor the famously beautiful Phaon in the arts of love in the opening scene. Indeed, the scenario afforded the character of Phaon the opportunity to make love to each of three female leads (the third was one of the Hilligsbergs) during the course of the ballet – hence its title-page designation as a ‘ballet érotique’. And while Sappho is offered the chance of revenge under Venus’s protection in Didelot’s dénouement, we might wish to note that she explicitly rejects the possibility of Phaon’s death, or even the milder punishment that he be rendered ugly. One can appreciate the appeal of a ballet where a philandering lover meets no consequences for Monsieur Didelot. And who can blame a man who would stray from an ugly partner? This piece of art was mirroring life all too closely, for by August both the Courier (8 August) and Observer (13 August) breathlessly reported:
There has been a fracas between some of the dancers at the Haymarket, on account of an illicit pas de deux. The enchantress was none other than the divine Parisot; and of the forsaken one it may be said, in the phrase of Shakespeare:
Against the blown Rose
They do stop their nose,
That kneel’d unto the buds.
Within days, Parisot is reported as returning to the continent (Morning Chronicle 16 August 1797). When the non-renewal of her contract was announced, the True Briton (18 November 1797) declared that the ‘gratification of the public’ was not taken into account, revealing that Parisot, ‘the greatest attraction of last year’, had offered ‘her services’ for the coming season. The choice of language here (gratification, services) is suggestive, although not as overtly so as this grotesque anticipation of Parisot’s marriage that was published during the performance run of Didelot’s ‘ballet érotique’:
Madame PARISOT is going to enter into the holy state of Matrimony before next winter. She will be able to exhibit some new motions and attitudes (5).
The reception of this young dancer in words and images during her first stint in London reveals some troubling trends in then-current attitudes towards young, nubile female dancers. Parisot was fodder for the press and the caricaturists, an objectified body for elderly peers of the realm to covet, and a pliant conquest for an older, married colleague. And it was she who took the rap for their affair, being obliged to leave a position upon which she and her family were financially dependent. #MeToo. #Parisot. To be continued.
- ‘London’, St. James’s Chronicle or the British Evening Post 4-6 May 1797. Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Burney Newspapers Collection. Gale.
- True Briton 29 May 1797. Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Burney Newspapers Collection. Gale.
- True Briton 5 May 1797. Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Burney Newspapers Collection. Gale. See also C.L. Didelot. 1797. Sapho & Phaon: grand ballet erotique, en quatre actes. Composé par M. Didelot. Et donné pour la Iere fois sur le Théâtre du Roi, Hay-Market, le 6 avril 1797. La musique composée par M. Mazzinghi. Les décorations par M. Greenwood. Les habits par M. Sestini. De l’imprimerie de Baylis , 15, Greville Street, Holborn. Se trouve chez A. Dulau and Co. Wardour – Street. Soho. Eighteenth Century Collections Online.
- Didelot, ‘Advertisement.’
- Morning Post (London), 16 May 1797. Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Burney Newspapers Collection. Gale.
Modern grace, or the operatical finale to the ballet of Alonzo e Caro [sic]; [London], H. Humphrey, 1796 / J[ames] G[illra]y d[elineavit] et f[ecit. Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library. (1796 – 1840). Irina Baronova collection of dance prints Retrieved from https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/81e29940-b1a1-0133-dea2-00505686a51c. Accessed 23 October 2021.
The first of a pair of posts on the dancer Hester Santlow, by Moira Goff, will appear on 10th November.