Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Mlle Roland Bath Teacher of Dance - the Italian Connection

Nicholas Roland was the leading dancer at the Court of the Duke of Mantua. His eldest Daughter Catherine seems to have been born in Venice about 1714 or 15. The Duchy of Mantua had been annexed by Austria in 1708.

The Duke of Mantua,
attributed to Jacob Denys (1706)


Catherine and her father seem to have first danced together in Lyon in 1729 or 1730 and Catherine made her solo debut at the Theatre Italien in Paris in 1732.

She left Paris in 1734 to dance with her father in London. By October of that year, she was dancing with the french dancer and choreographer Michael Poitier among others. Sometime around this time, Catherine and Poiter seem to have become lovers.

Poitier and Catherine had gained such a loyal following that their failure to appear as advertised caused major disturbances in theatres.

On the 18th November 1735, Catherine was joined on stage by her sister Ann who had just arrived from Paris.

In 1736 the Grub Street Journal provide the following description of Mlle Roland's, probably Catherine's, style of dance.

"at the end of each dance, she is lifted by Poitier, that she may cut the higher, and represent to the whole house as immodest a sight as the most abandoned women in Drury Lane can shew. Her whole behavior is of a stamp with this; during the whole dance, her only endeavour is to shew above her knees as often as she can."

From 1736 to 1739 Catherine seems to have performed at Drury Lane while Ann was attached to the company at Lincolns Inn Fields. Both sisters seemed to have joined the company at Covent Garden and both partnered Poitier. Catherine seems to have left the company for the 1740 - 1741 season.

Catherine renewed her Drury Lane performance for the 1741 - 42 season before she and Poitier left England. Ann continued to perform as a singer, dancer in London throughout this time and may have performed in Ireland between 1743 and 1745.

Sometime around 1746 Ann married the violinist Francis Fleming and moved to Bath where he was earning his living playing for the company in the main public rooms.

In Bath, Anne began a new career as a dance teacher providing lessons to the pupils of local girls' schools at which classes she was supported by her new husband probably in the role of accompanist.

Together the couple initiated annual benefit concerts and balls at the assembly rooms - which included display pieces, for instance in 1747 Mrs Fleming is reported as having performed a French peasant dance. After a dozen or so active years as the principal dancing teacher in the city, Fleming's wife died from a lingering illness at the Hotwells in 1759.

She left three children, two of them 13-year-old Anna Teresa and the 10-year-old Kitty would go on to feature prominently in the expanding dance teaching industry in Bath.

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