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Pecour, Guillaume-Louis

The International Encyclopedia of Dance

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.


Astier, Régine. Pierre Beauchamps and the Ballets de Collège. Dance Chronicle 6.2 (1983): 154–155.Find this resource:

    Astier, Régine. The Influence of Greek Rhetoric on the Composition and Interpretation of Baroque Stage Dances: Lully's Chaconne de Phaéton. In Proceedings of the 5th International Conference, Dance and Ancient Greece. Athens, 1991.Find this resource:

      Dangeau, Philippe de Courcillon. Journal du marquis de Dangeau. 19 vols. Edited by Eudoxe Soulié. Paris, 1854–1860.Find this resource:

        Feuillet, Raoul-Auger. Chorégraphie, ou L'art de décrire la dance, par caractères, figures et signes démonstratifs, avec lesquels on apprend facilement de soy-même toutes sortes de dances. Paris, 1700. Translated by John Weaver as Orchesography, or, The Art of Dancing (London, 1706).Find this resource:

          Daniels, Margaret. Passacaille d'Armide. In Proceedings of the Sixth Annual Conference, Society of Dance History Scholars, the Ohio State University, 11–13 February 1983, compiled by Christena L. Schlundt. Milwaukee, 1983.Find this resource:

            Feves, Angene, and Sandra Noll Hammond. La Bacchante: Alternate Performance Styles. In Proceedings of the Sixth Annual Conference, Society of Dance History Scholars, the Ohio State University, 11–13 February 1983, compiled by Christena L. Schlundt. Milwaukee, 1983.Find this resource:

              Gaudrau, Michel. Nouveau recueil de dances de bal et celle de ballet, contenant un très grand nombres des meillieures entrées de ballet de la composition de Mr. Pécour. Paris, 1713.Find this resource:

                Harris-Warrick, Rebecca. La mariée: The History of a French Court Dance. In Jean-Baptiste Lully and the Music of the French Baroque, edited by John Heyer. New York, 1989.Find this resource:

                  Jal, Auguste. Dictionnaire critique de biographie et d'histoire. Paris, 1867.Find this resource:

                    Ladvocat, Louis. Lettres sur L'opera à l'abbé Dubos (annotated by Jerome de La Gorce). Paris, 1993.Find this resource:

                      La Gorce, Jérôme de. Guillaume-Louis Pecour: A Biographical Essay. Dance Research 8 (Autumn 1990): 3–26.Find this resource:

                        Le Cerf de la Viéville, Jean-Laurent, seigneur de Freneuse. Comparaison de la musique italienne et de la musique françoise. 3 vols. Paris, 1704–1706.Find this resource:

                          Maurepas, Jean. Recueil de chansons. N.p., 1696. Manuscript located in Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, fr.12621 (p. 25), fr.12619 (p. 179).Find this resource:

                            Mélèze. Repertoire analytique des documents contemporains d'information concernant le théâtre à Paris sous Louis XIV. Paris, 1934.Find this resource:

                              Mullins, Margaret. Dance and Society in Seventeenth-Century France. In Musicological Society of Australia, Fourth National Symposium: Music and Dance. Perth, 1982.Find this resource:

                                Parfaict, François, and Claude Parfaict, Histoire de l'Académie Royale de Musique. N.p., 1741. Manuscript located in Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, nouv. acq. fr.6532.Find this resource:

                                  Sévigné, Marie de. Lettres de madame de Sévigné, de sa famille et de ses amis. Edited by Louis Monmerqué and Paul Mesnard. Paris, 1866. See the letter of 24 June 1683.Find this resource:

                                    Taubert, Karl Heinz. Barock-Tänze. Zurich, 1986.Find this resource:

                                      Witherell, Anne L. Louis Pécour's 1700 Recueil des dances. Ann Arbor, Mich., 1983.Find this resource:

                                        Régine Astier