hunterman0953

Costumes behaving badly

21 posts in this topic

Was it Nureyev who said something on the lines of 'the fall of a skirt can complete a phrase'? I'm fascinated by the behaviour of costumes in performance. Some seem to behave beautifully, while others draw attention to themselves by just 'doing their own thing', ie not being at all sympathetic to a dancer's movements. It can be quite irritating when this happens, and impossible to ignore at times. Act Two of Giselle seems to be particularly vulnerable to costume failure, in my view anyway. I'd love a stitch by stitch analysis of the world of costuming, but I'll settle for comments which might share my view that costumes are at times appallingly badly behaved, with maybe a little technical insight into how good behaviour is achieved. I've no doubt misquoted Nureyev, but I've seen enough, both good and bad, to validate the essence of what was said.

Share this post


Link to post

Was it Nureyev who said something on the lines of 'the fall of a skirt can complete a phrase'? I'm fascinated by the behaviour of costumes in performance. Some seem to behave beautifully, while others draw attention to themselves by just 'doing their own thing', ie not being at all sympathetic to a dancer's movements. It can be quite irritating when this happens, and impossible to ignore at times. Act Two of Giselle seems to be particularly vulnerable to costume failure, in my view anyway. I'd love a stitch by stitch analysis of the world of costuming, but I'll settle for comments which might share my view that costumes are at times appallingly badly behaved, with maybe a little technical insight into how good behaviour is achieved. I've no doubt misquoted Nureyev, but I've seen enough, both good and bad, to validate the essence of what was said.

Hunterman the issue and art of costume design in dance is a massive one and often the whole purpose of design in a great deal of contemporary ballet and dance is specifically to distort or abstract the line of the body, to set up conflicts that classical ballet's costume designs specifically don't.

Here's a couple of examples. The tutus designed by Stephen Galloway for William Forsythe's "The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude:

Leigh Bowery's designs for "Hail The New Puritan" for The Michael Clark Company, a modern dance company trained in and using the ballet lexicon:

There's an awful lot more out there of interest such as Rei Kawakuba's designs for Merce Cunningham's "Scenario" for his own company where the costumes were intended to make the bodies of the dancers as lumpen, misshapen as possible.

Or look at the designs for Lyon Ballet's version of Cendrillon.

Share this post


Link to post

I am glad to see someone bring up this subject, but I didn’t get the impression that Nureyev’s comment was concerning modern dance costumes. It seemed to me to apply to costumes in classical ballet that were not moving with the dancer as they should.

It is a great distraction for me to see a dancer pirouette or leap with a bunch of underskirt clinging between her legs. I imagine that it is distracting to her as well. One of the beauties of a longer full skirt is the twirl of it. Every woman who puts one on tries it out, so surely the dancers and wardrobe must be aware of the problem. After all, they do have dress rehearsals as well.

In Danilova’s book, Choura, she mentions that the costume maker, Karinska inserted horsehair in the hems of her costumes to prevent them from clinging. Surely there is something in this technical age to easily and cheaply remedy this problem. Sometimes it appears that the skirt has not been gathered evenly and there is more on one hip than the other. Or perhaps the material is wrong and it sticks to their tights. Whatever the cause, it could be fixed easily by the wardrobe people.

I have noticed this on my DVD’s from the 80’s to the latest ones in almost every ballet where long skirts are worn, regardless of the expense of the production. It happens to the corps members and the soloists alike. I would much rather look at what the dancer is doing with her legs than what her costume is doing to them.

Share this post


Link to post

If you're talking about the romantic tutu as Hunterman was, which is only seen in the second act of Giselle, Les Sylphides and on the Sylph in La Sylphide it's a very specific type of skirt and tutu. The majority of tutus are made of tulle, or durable fabrics which will last, can be shared amongst numerous ballerinas and dancers and are durable enough to last season after season.

Companies can't afford silk especially expensive silk which has unique properties of movement, Nureyev got what he wanted for his dancers because he was Nureyev, though in several cases such as when he worked with the National Ballet of Canada his design demands almost bankrupted the company, indeed one of the board had to remortgage his house to cover the costs. Gelsey Kirkland commissioned her own second act Giselle costume which cost her $1000 because she didn't want to wear the starched tulle that was given to ballerinas, she wanted a costume to mirror her specific line and interpretation, and that cost money.

When dancers dance they sweat, they put their costumes through a hell of a lot and long skirts bunch up and twist around working limbs, it's the nature of the beast. Martha Graham invented her own design for a supported long skirt to counter this very problem.

The thing is the examples of dance I posted aren't modern dance, but modern ballet. William Forsythe was working directly with the ballet form but he wanted a tutu which is the antithesis of the norm and Michael Clark and his company are all ballet dancers reconstructing ballet or deconstructing ballet and with it what costumes in ballet are expected to do.

Geordias' designs for Macmillan's historical ballets, Romeo & Juliet, Manon, Mayerling are all worth a look for what Geordias did with historical designs and how he retained the accuracy of historical detail for dance purposes.

Share this post


Link to post

The billowing long silk skirts in Nureyev's production of "Swan Lake" that POB brought to NYC in the '80's was the most memorable thing about that production. The costumes were stunning.

Share this post


Link to post

Simon, I especially appreciate your comment that ....

... often the whole purpose of design in a great deal of contemporary ballet and dance is specifically to distort or abstract the line of the body, to set up conflicts that classical ballet's costume designs specifically don't.
This is especially noticeable in the video you posted. At times the lines of the skirt actually compete with the lines of arms and legs. The fast tempo has something to do with this. There is, somewhere in that ballet, a slower section in which the tutus are much tamer.

Two other points: it's interesting to contrast the girls' tutus with the body-conforming leotards of the men. Also -- my impression was that in live performance the tutus were rather less distracting than on video, though others may remember this differently.

Share this post


Link to post

I hadn't actually considered contemporary ballet,but I take the point about modern costumes, and will pay more attention to this aspect of costuming, as I have recently made an effort to introduce contemporary ballet into my collection.I'm grateful for the pointer. It is however in classical ballet where the real problems are. It's such a crying shame when a superb performance is marred by the distraction of a skirt which refuses to rise and fall as it should. I've just gone off to compare three of the Giselles I have (RB,POB & La Scala among others) and I just can't get past the annoying behaviour of the Royal Ballet's Act II skirts,much as I love the overall performance.Maybe the fabrics are too lightweight, could that be it? The POB do seem to fare better in the costume department. My wife, who is not a huge fan of ballet, commented on the lovely rise and fall of the skirts in the POB La Dame aux camelias. I thereafter became acutely aware of the special talent which some costumiers have and others definitely not. It took me long enough to get past my objection to skirts of any type, especially for major solos, but I can live with it if they don't unnecessarily interfere with what's going on within them. While I often despair at the lack of anything at all to look as in those tedious mass character dances,it is in the sublime moments of such jewels as Giselle Act II when this aspect of ballet is at its most critical, in my view. I appreciate that it is only my view, but I do think it rather sad that a great performance, especially when preserved on disc, is diminished by less than sublime costuming. I won't veer off into tutus, which can be similarly damaging to a performance (in my view) - maybe others might care to have a go at that?

Share this post


Link to post

I hadn't actually considered contemporary ballet,but I take the point about modern costumes, and will pay more attention to this aspect of costuming, as I have recently made an effort to introduce contemporary ballet into my collection.I'm grateful for the pointer. It is however in classical ballet where the real problems are. It's such a crying shame when a superb performance is marred by the distraction of a skirt which refuses to rise and fall as it should. I've just gone off to compare three of the Giselles I have (RB,POB & La Scala among others) and I just can't get past the annoying behaviour of the Royal Ballet's Act II skirts,much as I love the overall performance.Maybe the fabrics are too lightweight, could that be it? The POB do seem to fare better in the costume department. My wife, who is not a huge fan of ballet, commented on the lovely rise and fall of the skirts in the POB La Dame aux camelias. I thereafter became acutely aware of the special talent which some costumiers have and others definitely not. It took me long enough to get past my objection to skirts of any type, especially for major solos, but I can live with it if they don't unnecessarily interfere with what's going on within them. While I often despair at the lack of anything at all to look as in those tedious mass character dances,it is in the sublime moments of such jewels as Giselle Act II when this aspect of ballet is at its most critical, in my view. I appreciate that it is only my view, but I do think it rather sad that a great performance, especially when preserved on disc, is diminished by less than sublime costuming. I won't veer off into tutus, which can be similarly damaging to a performance (in my view) - maybe others might care to have a go at that?

The long skirts in Camille interfere with the execution of the lifts.

Share this post


Link to post

Thanks, Simon, for posting the Michael Clark Company clips. That was a brilliant period for him. In choreographic architecture and counterpoint he's the best of bunch after Balanchine, more complex than Mark Morris and more playful than Wheeldon, and hardly ever gets a mention here in the States.

Regarding Karinska's horsehair, there used to be all sorts of beautiful and clever tricks seamstresses used in order to make dresses behave and drape beautifully. Someone I met at a party in the California foothills of all places was wearing an old Chanel jacket she had found at a thrift shop and showed me the little chain that ran along the bottom hem and helped make it sit in its signature way.

Share this post


Link to post

Gelsey Kirkland commissioned her own second act Giselle costume which cost her $1000...

...which she ordered of the same fabric she found Carla Fracci's skirt to be made of via sneaking on the Italian's dressing room in the middle of the night and cutting a piece from the underskirt... Oh Gelsey, Gelsey...too much Gelsey..:D

Share this post


Link to post

I hadn't actually considered contemporary ballet,but I take the point about modern costumes, and will pay more attention to this aspect of costuming, as I have recently made an effort to introduce contemporary ballet into my collection.I'm grateful for the pointer. It is however in classical ballet where the real problems are. It's such a crying shame when a superb performance is marred by the distraction of a skirt which refuses to rise and fall as it should. I've just gone off to compare three of the Giselles I have (RB,POB & La Scala among others) and I just can't get past the annoying behaviour of the Royal Ballet's Act II skirts,much as I love the overall performance.Maybe the fabrics are too lightweight, could that be it? The POB do seem to fare better in the costume department. My wife, who is not a huge fan of ballet, commented on the lovely rise and fall of the skirts in the POB La Dame aux camelias. I thereafter became acutely aware of the special talent which some costumiers have and others definitely not. It took me long enough to get past my objection to skirts of any type, especially for major solos, but I can live with it if they don't unnecessarily interfere with what's going on within them. While I often despair at the lack of anything at all to look as in those tedious mass character dances,it is in the sublime moments of such jewels as Giselle Act II when this aspect of ballet is at its most critical, in my view. I appreciate that it is only my view, but I do think it rather sad that a great performance, especially when preserved on disc, is diminished by less than sublime costuming. I won't veer off into tutus, which can be similarly damaging to a performance (in my view) - maybe others might care to have a go at that?

Hunterman

In terms of how fabric moves it's simply a question of economics. The more expensive the material the better the quality of movement, the pinnacle is silk, nothing moves, breathes, falls or mirrors a dancer's body like silk - the act 2 tutu of Giselle is a specific kind of tutu from the Romantic era of ballet, those ballets, with the exception of Giselle are rarely if ever performed (with honorable mentions to La Sylphide & Les Sylphides, which I know is not Romantic era, but the costumes are) in an ideal world all those tutus would be made of silk. Except silk is horrendously expensive, doesn't travel well, is easily soiled and spoiled, is not durable, rots with moisture & sweat and needs a huge amount of upkeep, in a ballet like Giselle where there are thirty or so Romantic tutus per performance and several casts, all of whom will need tutus specifically fitted to their requirements it's simply not economically feasible - so more durable fabrics are used which can travel and last and be repaired and take a huge amount of wear and tear season in season out before being replaced.

The Paris Opera Ballet has a huge amount of subsidy compared to any other ballet company in the world and can afford better quality of materials for their costumes, it's that simple, the better the fabric the better the movement quality. Tutus, even common-or-garden ones can cost up to a few thousand pounds each, every female dancer goes through at least a pair of pointe shoes a day at £30 each, supplied by the company, at the end of the day whatever may be lost in substituting tulle & net for silk in terms of the way the fabric falls with the body it's tough, the bottom line is money.

Share this post


Link to post

Gelsey Kirkland commissioned her own second act Giselle costume which cost her $1000...

...which she ordered of the same fabric she found Carla Fracci's skirt to be made of via sneaking on the Italian's dressing room in the middle of the night and cutting a piece from the underskirt... Oh Gelsey, Gelsey...too much Gelsey..:D

Maybe she was high at the time?

Share this post


Link to post

PNB plumped up the wilis tutus that they rented from Houston Ballet. They moved quite well. I wish they hadn't covered up the green wings so much, though.

Share this post


Link to post

Thanks, Simon, for posting the Michael Clark Company clips. That was a brilliant period for him. In choreographic architecture and counterpoint he's the best of bunch after Balanchine, more complex than Mark Morris and more playful than Wheeldon, and hardly ever gets a mention here in the States.

Regarding Karinska's horsehair, there used to be all sorts of beautiful and clever tricks seamstresses used in order to make dresses behave and drape beautifully. Someone I met at a party in the California foothills of all places was wearing an old Chanel jacket she had found at a thrift shop and showed me the little chain that ran along the bottom hem and helped make it sit in its signature way.

He was pretty special at that time, it must be said. Also in terms of Karinska she truly was a genius, one of the greatest theatrical costumiers of all time.

Share this post


Link to post

Gelsey Kirkland commissioned her own second act Giselle costume which cost her $1000...

...which she ordered of the same fabric she found Carla Fracci's skirt to be made of via sneaking on the Italian's dressing room in the middle of the night and cutting a piece from the underskirt... Oh Gelsey, Gelsey...too much Gelsey..:D

Maybe she was high at the time?

Who knows, poor thing. Great that she's alive and well and teaching in the city as per today though... Brava Gelsey ! :clapping:

Anyway...going back to Fracci's tutu's fabric, it seems as if she kept making her skirt of that silk tulle that almost looks as if having a life of its own-(instead of those awful stiffy nylon made ones... :pinch: )

Share this post


Link to post

Hunterman

Here's another interesting use of costume and how it can dictate or work with a ballet or choreographer it's the Lyon Ballet's version of Cinderella by Maguy Marin from 1989. Lyon is a classically trained company, but they take a contemporary approach to the classics and ballet:

Share this post


Link to post

The Paris Opera Ballet has a huge amount of subsidy compared to any other ballet company in the world and can afford better quality of materials for their costumes, it's that simple, the better the fabric the better the movement quality. Tutus, even common-or-garden ones can cost up to a few thousand pounds each, every female dancer goes through at least a pair of pointe shoes a day at £30 each, supplied by the company, at the end of the day whatever may be lost in substituting tulle & net for silk in terms of the way the fabric falls with the body it's tough, the bottom line is money.

When Paris did Jewels, they got Cristian Lacroix. I suspect that he works for a lot more than Mme. Karinska did for the original NYCB production. And it shows. Those were by far the finest Jewels costumes -- rich but understated, beautiful when moving -- I've seen.

Here's another interesting use of costume and how it can dictate or work with a ballet or choreographer it's the Lyon Ballet's version of Cinderella by Maguy Marin from 1989. Lyon is a classically trained company, but they take a contemporary approach to the classics and ballet:

Lyons brought this to the City Center in New York about the same time that Nureyev brought the Paris company with his own Cinderella, which had an equally novel (but strikingly different) vision of the story.

The Lyons production was beautifully thought out and consistent -- an eery world of dolls and other toys. It's lovely to see that this is on video; I've never forgotten it.

The costumes for the Paris version (by Hanae Mori) were based on Hollywood in the 30s. It never worked for me. They were not particularly glamourous; in fact, they were rather drab. The exception: Nureyev's own costume, which you can see briefly in the clip linked below. It was MADE for character dancing.

The pas de deux starts at about 2:00 minutes. Check out Guillem's floppy feather and overall frowsy look. And what's with Charles Jude's jodhpurs?. They make him look like Elvis in Las Vegas, and create a cluttered, unflattering line as he dances.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X01mhQXXDus

Share this post


Link to post

And what's with Charles Jude's jodhpurs?. They make him look like Elvis in Las Vegas, and create a cluttered, unflattering line as he dances.

This was the 80s Bart, a real man wouldn't be seen dead in anything other than baggy pants, shoulder pads and thigh highs. Either that or you were totally Emo.

Share this post


Link to post

Gelsey Kirkland commissioned her own second act Giselle costume which cost her $1000...

...which she ordered of the same fabric she found Carla Fracci's skirt to be made of via sneaking on the Italian's dressing room in the middle of the night and cutting a piece from the underskirt... Oh Gelsey, Gelsey...too much Gelsey..:D

Maybe she was high at the time?

I understand it's a joke--you have made jokes about Kirkland and drugs before--but I believe the drug problem kicked in later and Kirkland did not need drugs to be an obsessive perfectionist. And...uh...the results were more than apparent in her performances which were extraordinary and seemed as if they were utterly spontaneous. Indeed from performance to performance she was different. I'm sure there are some people out there who were/are not fans, but almost everyone lucky enough to have seen her Giselle when she was at the height of her powers remembers her as one of the all time great ballerinas--no joke!

Share this post


Link to post

Gelsey Kirkland commissioned her own second act Giselle costume which cost her $1000...

...which she ordered of the same fabric she found Carla Fracci's skirt to be made of via sneaking on the Italian's dressing room in the middle of the night and cutting a piece from the underskirt... Oh Gelsey, Gelsey...too much Gelsey..:D

Maybe she was high at the time?

Unlikely.

Share this post


Link to post

Thanks, Simon, for posting the Michael Clark Company clips. That was a brilliant period for him. In choreographic architecture and counterpoint he's the best of bunch after Balanchine, more complex than Mark Morris and more playful than Wheeldon, and hardly ever gets a mention here in the States.

Adding my thanks as well -- it's been awhile since I've seen his work. And that's part of the reason he just doesn't seem to come into the conversation here -- we hardly ever saw him, except on public television.

Share this post


Link to post