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Pecour, Guillaume-Louis

Source:
The International Encyclopedia of Dance
Author(s):

Régine Astier

Pecour, Guillaume-Louis 

(also spelled Pecoor, Pécour, Pécourt; born c. 1653, died 12 April 1729 in Paris), French dancer and choreographer.

According to the baptismal certificate of his younger brother Louis-Alexandre, Pecour was the son of Jacques Pecour, a royal courier, and his wife Marie Voisin or Raisin (both names appear in family documents), who lived in the rue des Petits Champs.

The Parfaict brothers, in their history of the Royal Academy of Music, state that Pecour studied under Pierre Beauchamps and succeeded him in 1687 as choreographer of French court ballets and those of the Paris Opera. They add that “he was handsome, well-built, and danced with the noblest air possible.” Apparently, he ended his dance career around 1703 but continued to compose ballets at the Opera until his death. With Beauchamps, Pecour shared a second career, as choreographer at the Jesuit college Louis le Grand from 1690 to 1711. For these lavish productions, often attended by Louis XIV and his court, he employed a full cast of dancers and musicians from the Paris Opera (Astier, 1983).

Late seventeenth-century ballet programs indicate that Pecour was already dancing in 1673, but in 1674 he made his debut at the Académie Royale de Musique in Jean-Baptiste Lully's Cadmus et Hermione. His name begins to fade from the programs around 1704, and he was given a pension in 1705. He was listed, however, in the casts for Sémélé and Méléâgre (both 1709) and Hésione (1710).

Many testimonies to Pecour's popularity and talent can be found in the gazettes and correspondence of the period. For example, in a letter on the Ballet des Saisons (26 October 1695):

The first and second boxes were redoubled, one could have perished in the pit, and people were on each other's laps in the Paradis, all because of Pécour, who danced a Spanish sarabande. … [H]e dances like a master.

In 1704, Le Cerf de la Viéville mentioned the beautiful arms and the majestic steps of the dancer who “even in his decline is almost without peer.”

On 28 November 1692, Pecour resigned from his appointment as dance master to the pages of the king's chamber. From 1699 to 1712, he was dance master to Madame la Duchesse de Bourgogne. In 1695, he was listed among the members of the Académie Royale de Danse, then directed by Beauchamps, and again in 1719 when Claude Ballon was director.

Pecour's choreographic output was considerable, and more than one hundred of his dances remain chronicled for study. For several decades, he composed the dances in fashion for the annual winter balls. Recorded in Feuillet notation, many of his dances found their way abroad for performance in foreign courts. He was most likely the first choreographer to have such a wide exposure, the result of which was the promotion of a French dancing style throughout Europe. His transformation of the minuet pattern from an S to the more pleasing Z shape was universally adopted. [See Minuet.]

Pecour's stage choreography is known by two collections, one recorded in 1704 by Raoul-Auger Feuillet, the other in 1712 by Michel Gaudrau. From these we can tell that Pecour's outstanding knowledge of kinetic impulses, his mastery of body energy, and his exhilarating use of the body's suspension all mark him as a great master.

Little is known at this point of Pecour's private life beyond the countless little satirical poems that point to amorous affairs with both sexes.

His burial certificate in the Archives de la Seine gives the date of his death as 12 April 1729. He was buried the next day in the church of Saint Roch. The following obituary ran in the Mercure de France:

The famous Pécourt, one of the greatest dancers of his time, who had so brightly shone in all the late King's court-ballets, and on the stage of the Opéra, died in Paris on 11 April, 1729, at seventy-eight years of age. He had succeeded the late Monsieur Beauchamps for the composition of ballets which he produced for a very long time and with an admirable and versatile genius. He stopped dancing over thirty years ago.

Bibliography

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                                        Régine Astier