One of the difficulties in reconstructing 19th century quadrilles lies in the frequent inadequacy of the instructions for the figures. This might include the lack of information on the amount of music occupied by a particular figure, unspoken assumptions about what is included in a figure, completely omitting a necessary figure or instruction, and the use of unconventional figures or timing. One might simply ignore such dances, as there is hardly a shortage of quadrilles which lend themselves to straightforward reconstructions. But for the dance historian it is an intriguing mental challenge to wrestle with these quadrilles and come up with workable reconstructions, even if at times this involves some creativity in the interpretation of the instructions.
Among these reconstruction challenges is the quadrille described in the notable mid-19th century source, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Charles Dodgson, a.k.a. Lewis Carroll, 1865). Popularly known as the Lobster-Quadrille, it is notable both for its specific geographic requirements (it is impossible to perform the figures anywhere other than the seashore), its unusual partnering (every couple must include a lobster), and its unique figures, such as the swimming somersault.
Dodgson's description of the Lobster-Quadrille, which may be found here, unfortunately includes only a single figure. Since the figure is short, it is likely that it is part of a larger set of the standard five-figure length whose remaining parts have, alas, been lost to time. Though there are gaps in the source material, possibly a consequence of Dodgson's unusual style in employing imaginary creatures to describe the quadrille in a fictional context, it is possible through wide experience with the conventions of quadrilles to complete a reconstruction of the figure. I will quote the description here for reference with my analysis interspersed before summarizing the figure below.
“Why,” said the Gryphon, “you first form into a line along the sea-shore—”
“Two lines!” cried the Mock Turtle.
The form of the dance set appears to be the later Parisian formation of two longways lines of couples each facing another couple, rather than the more conventional square formation, as shown below:
L X L X L X L X
X L X L X L X L
where the "L" signifies a lobster and the "X" the lobster's partner. As the partner appears to take more of a leading role, the lobsters have been placed in the conventional position of the lady, to the right of their partners.
“Seals, turtles, salmon, and so on: then, when you’ve cleared all the jelly-fish out of the way—”
“That generally takes some time,” interrupted the Gryphon.
While no music accompanies this quadrille in the original source, it seems a reasonable base assumption that (like many first figures) this is a 32-bar figure with the conventional eight-bar introductory strain. Typically, this introductory music would be filled with honors. It is said, however, that creatures such as seals and salmon are sadly deficient in their ability to properly perform bows and courtesies, and that turtles in particular are not known for their deportment. Since the Gryphon states above that the clearing of jelly-fish is an integral part of the quadrille and occupies a certain amount of time at the beginning, I believe that this clearing of the jelly-fish replaces the initial honors and occupies the introductory music.
“—you advance twice—”
“Each with a lobster as a partner!” cried the Gryphon.
This part is relatively straightforward. "Advance" conventionally includes "retire", and an advance-and-retire figure takes four bars. Advancing and retiring twice would thus occupy the next eight bars of the dance.
“Of course,” the Mock Turtle said: “advance twice, set to partners—”
“—change lobsters, and retire in same order,” continued the Gryphon.
At this point it appears that an instruction has been omitted. The next four bars would be the setting to partners, followed by the change of lobsters, which at first glance suggests that the lobsters simply cross over to the opposite lobster's place in a standard four-bar traversez. However, the inclusion of "and retire in the same order" suggests that an unmentioned advance has taken place. It would be possible to interpret this figure as the two lobsters advancing and then turning to retire backward to the opposite place, but this seems both awkward and unlikely because the instructions in this quadrille are invariably directed to the lobsters' partners. A possible alternative would be for the two couples to approach each other, the lobsters to quickly switch over, and the newly paired couples to retire. I favor a slightly more elaborate version of this in which the two couples take ballroom position and galop forward at a slight diagonal. The couples then open up, with the lobster's right claw in the partner's left extremity, enabling each lobster to then take ballroom position with the opposite partner and galop back to that dancer's place "over elbows", to the extent that the dancers involved are possessed of elbows. The setting and changez des homards would together occupy eight bars of music.
At the halfway point of the figure, the uniqueness of this quadrille becomes fully apparent.
“Then, you know,” the Mock Turtle went on, “you throw the—”
“The lobsters!” shouted the Gryphon, with a bound into the air.
“—as far out to sea as you can—”
“Swim after them!” screamed the Gryphon.
“Turn a somersault in the sea!” cried the Mock Turtle, capering wildly about.
“Change lobsters again!” yelled the Gryphon at the top of its voice.
“Back to land again, and—that’s all the first figure,” said the Mock Turtle
Presumably, these actions must occupy the remaining sixteen bars of the figure. I would suggest a division as follows: four bars for throwing the lobsters and for the lines to then approach the ocean; four bars to swim after the lobsters, ending with a somersault (effectively a pas seul, intended to show off the prowess of the dancer to the lobster); four bars to retrieve one's original lobster and swim back to shore, and four bars to leave the ocean and reform the original lines for the typical second repetition of the figure. While this timing may be speculative, I believe that it makes the optimal use of the music and provides an enjoyable pace for the figures.
The final reconstruction would thus be:
The Lobster-Quadrille, figure 1; 8 bars + 32 bars x2
8b (intro) Clearing of the jelly-fish (not repeated)
8b All four advance and retire twice
4b Set to partners
4b All four advance à la galopade, exchange lobsters, and return à la galopade.
4b Throw lobsters into ocean; lines approach ocean
4b Swim after lobsters, ending with somersault
4b Take original lobster and swim together back to shore
4b Leave the ocean and reform original lines
32b Repeat figure
As I have not yet had an opportunity to test this reconstruction, I am eager to hear feedback from any dancers who may attempt it.