bart

Costume disasters

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I grew up with Balanchine's stipped-down leotard ballets, so I may be prejudiced. But sometimes it seems like the purpose of costume design is to distract from the movement and create shapes and "looks" that no dancer can compete with.

My nomination for Biggest Costume Disaster isn't an original one, but it's very grand:

Kurt Seligman's original designs for the 1946 premiere of Balanchine's The Four Temperaments.

In vintage photos we see Todd Bolender's Phlegmatic looking rather like Marcel Marceau in motley dress, clown makeup, and what looks like a felt top hat that has been through an old-fashioned clothes wringer. :blink: There's a photo of Melancholic, I believe, with what I remember as a black ball perched off angle on his head. :huh: There's a photo of Maria Tallchief in what I think is the Sanguinic section, with arm and torso wrapped in what look like thin, white bandages. She wears a tulle air-bag on her left arm. :devil:

This is based on photos of individuals. I can't imagine a group of these people on stage at the same time. :o

What are your own favorite costume disasters? You must have seen -- or heard of -- at least a few over the years!

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I grew up with Balanchine's stripped-down leotard ballets, so I may be prejudiced. But sometimes it seems like the purpose of costume design is to distract from the movement and create shapes and "looks" that no dancer can compete with.

My nomination for Biggest Costume Disaster isn't an original one, but it's very grand:

Kurt Seligman's original designs for the 1946 premiere of Balanchine's The Four Temperaments.

In vintage photos we see Todd Bolender's Phlegmatic looking rather like Marcel Marceau in motley dress, clown makeup, and what looks like a felt top hat that has been through an old-fashioned clothes wringer. :blink: There's a photo of Melancholic, I believe, with what I remember as a black ball perched off angle on his head. :huh: There's a photo of Maria Tallchief in what I think is the Sanguinic section, with arm and torso wrapped in what look like thin, white bandages. She wears a tulle air-bag on her left arm. :devil:

This is based on photos of individuals. I can't imagine a group of these people on stage at the same time. :o

What are your own favorite costume disasters? You must have seen -- or heard of -- at least a few over the years!

Oh, bart...how did I skip this thread...? Well, even being two years old, I want to add my two cents.

From the very top of my head, I have to nominate Tharp's "Nightspot" as the best example of the worst costumes I've ever seen in a ballet performance...

I mean, I couldn't locate a better picture, but Isaac Mizrahi's designs were beyond the "bizarre" terms...there were plainly ABOMINATIONS!

http://danceviewtimes.typepad.com/photos/uncategorized/2008/04/08/mcb_nightspotjkcg_4.jpg

When during the premiere I spotted the main male character coming onstage-(danced by Carlos Guerra)-I felt truly embarrassed for him. All I'm thinking is..."is she serious...are they trying to make him look like a freakin' clown?!?!"

And then, there's the review by Melinda Guttmann from The New York Theatre Wire dot com who dares to say...

"The color of this passionate work is hot red! The costumes an admixture of purple with hot in red balletic tutus, red jumpsuits, hip-street attire, glittering club costumes, vaudeville hats and canes, work-out clothes, and eastern martial arts outfits. Even the lighting by John Hall proves, to be a spectacle of red, continually reforming a dance of spotlights in new constellations".

http://www.nytheatre-wire.com/mg08041t.htm

Believe me...it was-(again)- an abomination. :yucky:

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Bart:

My nomination for Biggest Costume Disaster isn't an original one, but it's very grand:

Kurt Seligman's original designs for the 1946 premiere of Balanchine's The Four Temperaments.

The Seligmann costumes might be interesting things in themselves. His works have a flavor of Salvador Dali and Paul Klee figures (Seligman was Swiss and a friend of Giacometti). These images may give a hint of what Kirstein and Balanchine were thinking at the time.

A Journey Round My Skull (halfway down)

[seligman] was known for his fantastic imagery of medieval troubadors and knights engaged in macabre rituals and inspired in part by the Carnival held annually in his native Basel.
*

Interesting that Seligman's paintings and graphics were based on Carnival figures - which would make them a little like Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo's, and Watteau's. Maybe the Four Temperament characters could be thought of in this context, as motley Pierrots and Gilleses.

*From short bio at Wikipedia:

Kurt Seligmann

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Peter Martins Romeo and Juliet- very difficult to see the dancing- the colors of the costumes are a bit too bright, I found it difficult to focus on anything.

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It's not from a specific ballet but I consider those flat pancake tutus to be costume disasters. They make the dancers look like fishing lure bobbers bouncing around a lake. Very distracting.

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The Seligmann costumes might be interesting things in themselves. His works have a flavor of Salvador Dali and Paul Klee figures (Seligman was Swiss and a friend of Giacometti). These images may give a hint of what Kirstein and Balanchine were thinking at the time.

Whatever Balanchine may have been thinking, when the costumes arrived he was unpleasantly surprised according to Mary Ellen Moylan, the original Sanguinic. (Balanchine: “Where is Mary Ellen? No one can see Mary Ellen!” Seligmann: “Where is Seligmann?”) And Balanchine went snip, snip, snip. I think the costumes look striking in still photographs, but it is hard to see the dancers' bodies.

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Very nice photo, PeggyR. Nancy Reynold's book has one in similar pose, but with everyone facing in the opposite direction. That photo is attributed to "Schulmann" and is not of the quality of the Lynes photo.

The oddity of the man's costume (with a strange, non-functional, scroll-like athletic supporter attached to the front) is evident in Walter E. Owen's photo, also in Rep. in Review.

The costumes certainly fit one of the dictionary definitions of "baroque" -- "characterized by grotesqueness, extravagance, complexity, and flamboyance." One would hate to be speared by those little sharp points on the corps ladies' headdresses. For some reason, Kaiser Wilhelm came to mind.

http://www.google.co...=1t:429,r:2,s:0

and

http://www.google.co...biw=922&bih=508

By 1951, the women had shifted to simple black tunics, and, by the early 60s, to the white that is worn today..

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I'm probably by myself on this, but truly...I adore ballet costumes. I enjoy tremendously "tutus ballets", and to be honest, I really haven't got to that level of abstraction to say, for example, that I could enjoy "Les Sylphides" the same even without the romantic tutus, for which it would be just as great due to the beautiful choreography. But again, I don't have the Balanchinean background you all have, so I'm sort of outdated on this matters.

In my humble, amateurish point of view, the dramatic effect of many ballets diminishes in a great deal when stripped down of costumes...(I'm fine with the "non-props" segment). If I could watch Symphony in C in its original tri-colored structure, or Ballet Imperial with tutus, or even Concerto Barocco the way it was according to those great pics Peggy posted, I would definitely be more attracted to them.

I tend to agree! I've only seen it this way on video but I much prefer the way that Symphony in C looks with the tri-color Mariinsky tutus, for example.

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Peter Martins's Swan Lake, too numerous to even know where to start.

It's funny, how little succes Kirkeby's costume and set design for Peter Martin's Swan Lake have had in the states. In Copenhagen, where it was first produced, it has been very much loved, by myself included, and it is being repremiered this season in order to drag a reluctant audience into the theatre.

Apart from the misch-masch of colours in the first act (with blue and orange colours crashed together that it hurts one's eyes) and some unhappy costumes in the national dances of the third act, I think that both the costumes and the gloomy sets are interesting to look at. I love the discreet, spraylike colourpattern which spreads over the black or white costumes and which corresponds with the patterns of the sets. Maybe we are so used to black and grey colours in Scandinavia, that we only need small colour nuances to make us happy :wink:

Costumes which have embarassed me are the ones for NYCB's Mozartiana, which in my eyes look both outdated and cheap. It looks like their look and shape hasn't been changed since the seventies.

A bit off topic: Some costumes for modern dance puzzle me, because in my eyes they shorten the dancer's arms and legs and make them all look chunky and very much alike: baggy trousers and loose shirts blur the difference of man and woman, of tall and short, of long and short legs. I have difficulties seing the point in that, as the limbs of the dancers are what it is all about. Probably I'm just old-fashioned, but as I generally like modern dance, I simply get annoyed by costumes which go between my eyes and the dancer's movements.

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Some costumes for modern dance puzzle me, because in my eyes they shorten the dancer's arms and legs and make them all look chunky and very much alike: baggy trousers and loose shirts blur the difference of man and woman, of tall and short, of long and short legs. I have difficulties seing the point in that, as the limbs of the dancers are what it is all about.

I had never been quite conscious that I felt this myself. Very good point.

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dirac:

I think the costumes look striking in still photographs, but it is hard to see the dancers' bodies.

Yes, the costumes are gone but they are to some degree written into the bodies and into the movements of the bodies – as are the stylish deco ones for Concerto Barocco that PeggyR posted. Remember the Claudia Roth Pierpont comment that at some point Balanchine "becomes his own Kochno, his own Bérard" and "suffuses all the props and the tricks into the surface of the ballet itself."

The problem with Modernism is that as it abstracts and "snip snips", it tosses out its sources, and erases its bibliography as well. It says it's about nothing and from nowhere in particular - but it isn't. Mondrian's pure modernist grids are water surfaces and forests in his earlier sketches.

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I hate, hate, hate ballet costumes with men in those wide, elephant-pant-like skirts. The first I saw was I think (and forgive me if I'm wrong) a production of Les Noces by Les Grands Ballets Canadienne de Montreal back in the 80's. Peter Martin used a similar design for (I think -- it's 5 a.m.) Chichester Psalms. Come on!!

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I think of those as hakama, the traditional Japanese pants worn in kendo. They can be effective if your ballet is set in Asia, or has a Asian design concept, but even there, they don't always work.

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dirac:

I think the costumes look striking in still photographs, but it is hard to see the dancers' bodies.

Yes, the costumes are gone but they are to some degree written into the bodies and into the movements of the bodies – as are the stylish deco ones for Concerto Barocco that PeggyR posted. Remember the Claudia Roth Pierpont comment that at some point Balanchine "becomes his own Kochno, his own Bérard" and "suffuses all the props and the tricks into the surface of the ballet itself."

The problem with Modernism is that as it abstracts and "snip snips", it tosses out its sources, and erases its bibliography as well. It says it's about nothing and from nowhere in particular - but it isn't. Mondrian's pure modernist grids are water surfaces and forests in his earlier sketches.

I like the old Concerto Barocco costumes by Berman, although those headdresses look like a major potential distraction in that choreography. But I don't see the Seligmann outfits as being part of the ballet in the sense you describe, although I follow you in priniciple. The costumes are striking in a sense, but they look awful for ballet, especially in a ballet, and contemporary reports do indicate that they hid the steps - you really couldn't see Mary Ellen or Todd for the bunchy clots of material and strips of whatnot.

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The problem with Modernism is that as it abstracts and "snip snips", it tosses out its sources, and erases its bibliography as well. It says it's about nothing and from nowhere in particular - but it isn't. Mondrian's pure modernist grids are water surfaces and forests in his earlier sketches.

Quiggan, I thank you for that insight. I've always been partial to the stripped down Modernist look, for Balanchine anyway. You make me see the need to ask myself some questions about that long-time (and often UN-questioned) preference. And to think more about what has sacrificed when certain works are performed in simple practice dress. I'm thinking especially of works like Barocco, which are tributes to an older classical tradition.

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You make me see the need to ask myself some questions about that long-time (and often UN-questioned) preference. And to think more about what has sacrificed when certain works are performed in simple practice dress. I'm thinking especially of works like Barocco, which are tributes to an older classical tradition.

I'm convinced that the un-questioned issue-(in Balanchines' ballets at least)- happens simply because of the source where the substitutions/eliminations come from. "Don't ask don't tell" seems to fit in. "If he did so, so it should be fine". I wonder if the world-(aside from the legalities from The Powers That Be)- would react the same to see, let's say, Peter Martins stripping down Theme and Variations to practise clothes...

I can hear it... "Oh, blasphemy!!"

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I'm thinking especially of works like Barocco, which are tributes to an older classical tradition.

The choreography in Barocco doesn't much resemble the steps I learned in my Baroque dance classes, so I don't see why its costuming would have to reflect the period. Theme and Variations is different. It is an evocation of Petipa, so using classical tutus is entirely logical.

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I think of Barocco as a tribute to the Ancient Greek classic tradition, so the white tunics fit that perfectly. Then again, the audience who saw Barocco with the original costumes may have seen Barocco in a completely different way.

I haven't seen that many Balanchine leotard ballets, but I certainly prefer the simplicity of black leotards and pale tights (in Four Ts, for example) to some of the multicoloured unitards / tunics one often sees in 'modern' ballets.

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I'm thinking especially of works like Barocco, which are tributes to an older classical tradition.

The choreography in Barocco doesn't much resemble the steps I learned in my Baroque dance classes, so I don't see why its costuming would have to reflect the period. Theme and Variations is different. It is an evocation of Petipa, so using classical tutus is entirely logical.

Good point...so let me rephrase my question with "Ballet Imperial" vs. TPC#2.

"Set in the grandeur of a palace and with a scenic backdrop suggesting the splendors of the Imperial capital of Russia, this ballet is a tribute to St. Petersburg, Petipa, and Tschaikovsky".

http://balanchine.com/ballet_images/imperial%5B1%5D.jpg

What I'm basically trying to express is that many times I, personally, don't see the end result-(the stripping off of beautiful costumes/tutus)- as a winning situation, but rather quite the opposite...that of a total loss; not even if the idea came from Balanchine himself.

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cubanmiamiboy:

not even it the idea came from Balanchine himself.

But Balanchine has only stripped down - or essentialized - his own ballets (of which the intact Theme and Variations is one, despite Octavio Roca's existential doubts). Many of them - Western Symphony, Scotch Symphony, Somnabula, Stars and Stripes - are heavily costumed. Others were bare boned from the get go, such Agon and Violin Concerto. Concerto Barocco and Apollo costumes were slimmed down, but so was the choreography. My point about Four Temperaments is that the original costumes were a part of the "original draft" and may have shared the same sources as the choreography and may throw some light on its origins. They were at another point - shortly after the first performances - felt to be no longer needed and as dirac suggests only muddled the lines of the movements.

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...of which the intact Theme and Variations is one,...

Thank God!! :smilie_mondieu:

I wish I could had seen Ballet Imperial, instead of TPC#2... :(

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...of which the intact Theme and Variations is one,...

Thank God!! :smilie_mondieu:

I wish I could had seen Ballet Imperial, instead of TPC#2... :(

Up until a few years ago, ABT was still doing Ballet Imperial with the classical tutus and the "Imperial" backdrop. I don't recall if they included the mime though. I saw it a few times, once with Gillian Murphy (sensational) and then a bit later with Vishneva and a rather shaky Malakhov.

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