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Costumes: the good, the bad, and the ugly

59 posts in this topic

I was watching the National Ballet of Canada’s “Giselle”on DVD this weekend (starring Karen Kain and Frank Augustyn). I found myself getting a trifle distracted by the Wilis’ costume, which seemed to me to be more fairylike than ghostlike. I am wondering how good or bad costuming affects (or does not affect) your enjoyment of a production. Does it make a large or small difference – are you seriously distracted by it, or can you enjoy the ballet anyway? And do feel free to give examples.

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Well I particularly disliked Christian Lacroix's designs for Gaite Parisienne, thought they were dreadful. And I love the ballet.

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I was distressed by Galina Ulanova's powder blue costume in Romeo and Juliet. I hated the puffy sleeves and the muumuu style. IMO it looked like a Kmart nightgown that made Ulanova look like she had fat arms and short legs.

I also don't like Giselle costumes that are too 'peasant.' An example is Lynn Seymour's chocolate brown dress in the film she made with Nureyev.

And pepto bismol pink always bothers me. The best example would be Irina Kolpokova's pepto tutu in her Sleeping Beauty film. (And I love wearing pink.) Puke yellow also bothers me. Viviana Durante's costume in *her* Sleeping Beauty was way too yellow.

The most bothersome though was the extremely sheer dresses in Balanchine's Midsummer's Night Dream film. Especially the fairies (including Suzanne Farrell). I saw this at the NYPL and kept staring at Suzanne Farrell's boobs and the fact that she's an outie. And that Arthur Mitchell was wearing the city's supply of bronze glitter.

For pretty dresses, I love Diana Vishneva's gorgeous red tutu in Firebird, Sylvie Guillem's stylish flapper dress in Act 2 of 'Cinderella', and Margot Fonteyn's "Marguerite" costume. There also IMO is nothing as gorgeous as seeing the lineup of any corps de ballet's white swans or wilis.

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[ADMIN BEANIE ON]

This discussion could go downhill as fast as saying "Ice Dance Costumes." Please keep the anatomical descriptions in the range of dignified.

[ADMIN BEANIE OFF]

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I have more trouble with costumes that obscure or conversely so underline the choreography that there is no longer any subtlety to the physical references... I can't (and won't) say how many times I've thought a work so fascinating in rehearsal and so dull costumed... Not that I want my story ballets done as leotard ballets, but... so often less is much much more.

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What bothers me are costumes (and scenery) that impose a theme that is at odds with the choreography. Prime examples of this are the Royal Ballet's current Swan Lake and its (mercifully) late production of Sleeping Beauty. The choreography of both productions carefully hewed to the historical record, but the scenic design was the product of a completely different imagination. It's been a while since I've seen the SL, but I recall it's being set in 19th century Germany and having Freudian overtones (I don't think Freud ever works in ballet, but that's another subject). The swan tutus, too, were not the traditional short stiff Classical tutus but droopy, wispy dresses that obscured the dancers' lines. As for the Maria Bjornsen costumes and sets for the late unlamented Beauty, all I can say is that they were so violently out of keeping with the ballet -- so unclassical -- that I could not see past them to the choreography. Not that I should have had to try, for the designs in any production of Beauty aren't mere decoration but one of its most important elements.

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The most irritating costumes that come to mind for me recenlty are from Kudelka's "Firebird" The princesses are heavily clothed from top to bottom, beginning with shiny gold wigs to pantaloons under dresses....you could not see a thing but feet and hands...... :o:)

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Alina Cojocaru's all-black-outside/red-underskirt, V-necked, long-sleeved tutu in the last act of Don Q. It manages to make this teenage-looking, delicate, petite beauty look like an overweight matron.

I saw Cojocaru in this tutu at the recent Mariinsky Festival, in St Petersburg. It was much commented on, negatively, in the Russian websites.

I wonder if this is the regular Don Q/final act tutu that is worn by all Royal Ballet ballerinas, in the current Royal production? Do *any* of the Royal's ballerinas look good in this?

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Bad: the fussy, cumbersome costumes worn by the variious Diaghelev troupes; anything with a feather sticking out of the forehead (Bluebird; Solor); and -- I'm not sure if this qualifies as a costume or an accessory -- those wierd snowballs on sticks carried by the snowflakes in some Nutcrackers.

Great: the costume shift from part one to part two of Liebeslieder Walzer. This relates beautifully to the music and creates a visual icon of Balanchine's aesthetic revolution.

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As for the Maria Bjornsen costumes and sets for the late unlamented Beauty, all I can say is that they were so violently out of keeping with the ballet . . . 

Couldn't agree more. Those off-kilter, vertigo inducing sets for that Beauty were an outright contradiction of the symmetry and order that are the heart of Beauty.

My pet peeve are those leggings that cut the dancers' leg lines. You really need Kowroski-like legs to dance in those and still look beautiful. They're even worse when worn with skirts, as was done in the Mark Morris piece ABT had during the Baryshnikov AD-ship, and in too many Martins ballets.

For some reason -- the nature of the choreography, perhaps -- the two-tone (or three-tone) tights guys wear in most of the Bournonville rep don't bother me.

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Speaking of costumes, there's a fabulously costumed production of Alice in Wonderland being mounted in Wisconsin, May 6 & 7th, funded by the NEA. I know nothing of the choreography or the quality of the dancers but I've seen the masks before they were shipped off (made locally here in CT by Joyce Ritz' Integrity Designworks) and photos of them united with the costumes. Incredible! Now... be warned... the dancers, many (most?) of them pre-professional students, are subsumed by the costumes; these are not costumes to reveal the beautiful lines of the dancers bodies... but instead this looks like a spectacular Alice In Wonderland come to life... I wish I could be in Wisconsin to see the house of cards collapse. I hope this tours the country. It could run the circuit of college theater "family" programming series just on the costume design alone.

Website: "Storybook Weekend" Annaluna Karkar'sWausau Dance Theatre

Unfortunately the website doesn't have images of the production yet, but I provided it in case we have some Wisconsinites who might attend and tell us about it. (please! I'm dying to hear how the flamenco inspired dancing lobster quadrille came off)

In joint collaboration with choreographer Derryl Yeager of Odyssey Dance Theatre, Lighting Director James Leitner, Jeanene Russell Perry of North Carolina Dance Theatre, and renowned puppet and mask designer Joyce Ritz of Integrity Designworks, Wausau Dance Theatre creates an incredible production that will transport audience members into a storybook they will never forget.

I suppose this should be listed in the "announcements" section, but since we were talking about costuming and this seems like costuming to the max... I don't know that I would want to see world class dancers hidden inside Tweedledum & Tweedledee costumes, but as far as seeing a vibrant story ballet for children-- on a small regional company -- that tempts new audiences into the theater... this production looks very promising.

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My biggest costume problem is with Spectre of the Rose. There is nothing enchanting or beautiful or resembling a rose on that costume. The tank top emphasises the muscles and the head cap most of the times looks like auntie's diving cap from the fifties. I realise that most people must not agree with me, since the costume is reproduced time and again but it almost ruins Spectre for me.

Ugliest production: Royal Ballet's Sleeping Beauty

Most enchanting costumes: the petal-like fairy costumes in PNB's Midsummer Night's Dream.

An off topic question (forgive my curiosity):

Prime examples of this are the Royal Ballet's current Swan Lake and its (mercifully) late production of Sleeping Beauty. The choreography of both productions carefully hewed to the historical record, but the scenic design was the product of a completely different imagination.

I'm confused. Was the Royal Ballet Sleeping Beauty supposed to be choreographically accurate? I remember some significant changes (compared to most other productions) For example the final pas de deux had a lot of lifts.

Is the RB's SB closer to Petipa than the versions usually done?

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An off topic question (forgive my curiosity):
Prime examples of this are the Royal Ballet's current Swan Lake and its (mercifully) late production of Sleeping Beauty. The choreography of both productions carefully hewed to the historical record, but the scenic design was the product of a completely different imagination.

I'm confused. Was the Royal Ballet Sleeping Beauty supposed to be choreographically accurate? I remember some significant changes (compared to most other productions) For example the final pas de deux had a lot of lifts.

Is the RB's SB closer to Petipa than the versions usually done?

Well...

The short answer is that, in general, the RB production is, in many parts, quite close to the version that Sergeyev set on them from the notation he smuggled out of Russia.

(notice all the qualifiers in that sentence) But the sets/costumes make no claim to authenticity -- there have been many different productions of the ballet at the Royal with quite varied sets, which is some cases have influenced the way the choreography is seen. The production that's referred to here had a very distinctive look, with a kind of skewed perspective that gave some people a bad case of vertigo. I think that the audience reaction was exacerbated by the fact that for many years the RB had what was thought of as a near-perfect set, by Oliver Messell (and since it was the one that many people saw as their first Sleeping Beauty it gained a kind of tangetial authenticity)

The bigger question you're asking, about the authenticity of the production as a whole (which I am assuming includes the choreography), is part of a huge discussion in the dance world, and although it may break out here as well, I wanted to answer your smaller question first.

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As for the Maria Bjornsen costumes and sets for the late unlamented Beauty, all I can say is that they were so violently out of keeping with the ballet . . . 

Couldn't agree more. Those off-kilter, vertigo inducing sets for that Beauty were an outright contradiction of the symmetry and order that are the heart of Beauty.

After first seeing this, I would have agreed with both opinions.

But after several more viewings, admittedly on video rather than on the stage, I find that I have come to like this production much more than the pastel, prettified earlier Royal Ballet version. The "symmetry and order" in the world of Sleeping Beauty is surrounded by a larger world that contains danger, malice, menace, and disorder. That world harbors Carabosse and her minions, as well as spirits (good and bad) with vastly greater power than the King's. They intrude on the court, dramatically and arbitrarily overthrowing the plans of humans and of each other.

The skewed angles of the set, which give the impression that it all might come crashing down, convey this dangerous side of things. They also provide a contrast to the elaborate formality and hierarchy of the court itself. Order and disorder coexist. To believe in the safety and permanence of the court world is to be deluded. The happy ending reestablishes "order" -- but you only have to look at the King, Queen and oddly assorted courtiers (some gentrified animals, too) perched awkwardly on a radically curved platform, to get the impression that the happy wedding celebration will not be the final act of this story.

The costumes (to return to the topic of this thread) are beautiful, gently but not palidly colorful, often bizarre, and , IMO, show the dancers well. Carabosse's outfit is classic. And, when she pulls of Catalabutte's balding wig-under-the-big-wig, there's both a surprise and the opportunity for Carabosse to do some truly wicked hair-plucking.

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To believe in the safety and permanence of the court world is to be deluded.  The happy ending reestablishes "order" -- but you only have to look at the King, Queen and oddly assorted courtiers (some gentrified animals, too) perched awkwardly on a radically curved platform, to get the impression that the happy wedding celebration will not be the final act of this story.

Well, that's the modern view, but it wasn't that of Petipa, Tchaikovsky, Vsevoljozhsky, and the others who created the ballet in 1890. They made a ballet that celebrated a highly stratified social order with autocracy at its head. Of course, we don't see that today (the ballet would hardly be popular if we did), but we do see an ideally ordered universe, and that is what Bjornsson failed to create.

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A even more modern view is Peter Martins', where the Prince grabs the crown from the King at the end and crowns himself, a bit like Napoleon.

Sorry, that was more in line with:

Props: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

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Whoa! The prince doesn't grab the crown from the king. :D A courtier (the French/Russian version of the Archbishop of Canterbury?) removes the crowns from both the king and queen and crowns Aurora and Desiré. An orderly progression of power from one generation to the next.

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We're a long way from costumes, but this is a ballet from the 1890s. The Tsar's father had been assaassinated by revolutionaries; secret societies, secret police, terrorist organizations (outside and inside the government) were in everyone's consciousness; the pogroms in the Ukraine were beginning. Even in liberal circles there was strong criticism of the isolation of the Tsar and his advisors (the "court") from the realities of Russian society. Upper class audiences may have wished to escape into an evening of fantasy (a la "everything is beautiful at the ballet"). But can sophisticated people like the creators of Sleeping Beauty have been unaware of the potential tensions and ironies in their story?

Fonteyn shines in the earlier Royal production, which may indeed have been conceived to escape the horrible memories of World War II. But its smug, pallid, designs and exaggerated (but low energy) courtly posturing don't do justice to the music or to the dramatic tension built into the libretto.

Related question: in Soviet Era ballets about various royals, what were those tight, curly white wigs worn by romantic leads all abouts? Why did state theaters sentimentalize the ruling class they had just wiped out a generation earlier?

Edited by bart

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I cant believe I forgot: Yuri Grigorivich's Nutcracker has some of the ugliest costumes I have ever seen in a ballet production. But the ugliest of the ugly has to be the "Mrs. Bates" wigs the snowflakes have to wear. I'm not exaggerating -- they're straight out of Psycho, it seems.

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Whoa!  The prince doesn't grab the crown from the king.    :D  A courtier (the French/Russian version of the Archbishop of Canterbury?) removes the crowns from both the king and queen and crowns Aurora and Desiré.  An orderly progression of power from one generation to the next.

When I saw it, the prince crowned himself. Perhaps it was toned down after the initial criticism that suggested this was a metaphor for the passing of the Company from Balanchine to Martins.

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Alina Cojocaru's all-black-outside/red-underskirt, V-necked, long-sleeved tutu in the last act of Don Q. It manages to make this teenage-looking, delicate, petite beauty look like an overweight matron.

I saw Cojocaru in this tutu at the recent Mariinsky Festival, in St Petersburg. It was much commented on, negatively,  in the Russian websites.

I wonder if this is the regular Don Q/final act tutu that is worn by all Royal Ballet ballerinas, in the current Royal production? Do *any* of the Royal's ballerinas look good in this?

I've actually never seen that costume! In the Don Q that was televised here a few years ago, the Act III costumes are white and red with a bit of gold. However, at the tsunami gala Tamara Rojo wore a gorgeous black and red camisole tutu....

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Whoa!  The prince doesn't grab the crown from the king.    :D  A courtier (the French/Russian version of the Archbishop of Canterbury?) removes the crowns from both the king and queen and crowns Aurora and Desiré.  An orderly progression of power from one generation to the next.

When I saw it, the prince crowned himself. Perhaps it was toned down after the initial criticism that suggested this was a metaphor for the passing of the Company from Balanchine to Martins.

Well, Napoleon crowned himself!

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My biggest costume problem is with Spectre of the Rose. There is nothing enchanting or beautiful or resembling a rose on that costume. /

The costume usually makes me feel uncomfortable, especially when I am with someone who is not normally a ballet-goer. I have yet to see it flatter any dancer.

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My biggest costume problem is with Spectre of the Rose. There is nothing enchanting or beautiful or resembling a rose on that costume. /
"The costume usually makes me feel uncomfortable, especially when I am with someone who is not normally a ballet-goer. I have yet to see it flatter any dancer."

Vladimir Malakhov.

He looked wonderful and danced exquisitely.

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My biggest costume problem is with Spectre of the Rose. There is nothing enchanting or beautiful or resembling a rose on that costume. /
"The costume usually makes me feel uncomfortable, especially when I am with someone who is not normally a ballet-goer. I have yet to see it flatter any dancer."

Vladimir Malakhov.

He looked wonderful and danced exquisitely.

I think Ivan Putrov looked fabulous in Spectre as well....

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