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Ballet references in strange places


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#1 emilienne

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Posted 12 June 2012 - 09:06 AM

Letters of Note featured a letter from Gene Wilder today, dated to when he was filming Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Was surprised to read the following excerpt on the subject of Willy Wonka's costume:


I don't think of Willy as an eccentric who holds on to his 1912 Dandy's Sunday suit and wears it in 1970, but rather as just an eccentric — where there's no telling what he'll do or where he ever found his get-up — except that it strangely fits him: Part of this world, part of another. A vain man who knows colors that suit him, yet, with all the oddity, has strangely good taste. Something mysterious, yet undefined.

I'm not a ballet master who skips along with little mincy steps. So, as you see, I've suggested ditching the Robert Helpmann trousers. Jodhpurs to me belong more to the dancing master. But once elegant now almost baggy trousers — baggy through preoccupation with more important things — is character.

Slime green trousers are icky. But sand colored trousers are just as unobtrusive for your camera, but tasteful.


What on earth are Robert Helpmann trousers?

#2 California

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Posted 12 June 2012 - 09:11 AM

Just responding to the title of this topic: I've had a "google alert" for a long time on "Baryshnikov." I've been fascinated to see how his name has entered the general culture in ways I have not seen for other ballet superstars. E.g., I regularly see his name used by sports writers in comparing high leaps, spins, etc. by athletes in many different sports. I don't recall seeing the general culture say things like "He leaps like a veritable Nureyev (or Nijinsky)." Do others recall such things when they were in the prime of their careers? What's different now that Baryshnikov has so entered the mainstream of our language?

#3 Amy Reusch

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Posted 12 June 2012 - 09:57 AM

I think Nureyev, Nijinsky and Tharp have entered into the mainstream of our language... whether or not they'll remain is another guess... What will become of "Sonja Henie's Tutu!" now that the Car Guys are retiring?

#4 Ray

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Posted 12 June 2012 - 10:01 AM

The Helpmann Trousers?

#5 Quiggin

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Posted 12 June 2012 - 12:42 PM

sergelifars entered the mainstream for a while, but as innerwear or outerwear is the question:

Indeed so well known was [Lifar] to become that in France his name would eventually pass into the language as a lower-case noun. When a French paratrooper would put on his long underwear under his uniform, it would be his ‘sergelifars‘ he was setting into. Such is fame. / Bernard Taper, Balanchine


It is worth noting that French army parachutists called their coveralls ‘des Sergelifars’. / Clement Crisp Icare: Remembering Serge Lifar



#6 sandik

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Posted 12 June 2012 - 10:11 PM

What an interesting topic!

I'm not exactly sure what Wilder is referring to in his letter -- Robert Helpmann was known as something of a clothes horse, but it sounds like he's objecting to his stage costumes. Originally jodphurs were quite loose through the thighs (making it easier to ride astride) but they've become tight cut since the advent of stretch fabrics.

(and the frock coat that Wilder wore in the film was often paired with very tight trousers, so there's another element involved)

Interestingly, it's not easy to find a full-length photo of Wilder in the film but here he is in the beige trousers.

Googling around, I found a charming description of Helpmann from a 1970 issue of The Age, an Australian paper. He and Nureyev were there to stage Don Q for the Australian Ballet, and this comes from a press conference.

"Sir Robert Helpmann, dressed as only Sir Robert Helpmann can dress. A magenta shirt and matching scarf. A suede safari jacket and tight trousers tucked into a pair of twinkling python skin boots. Silver gray nail polish to match his carefully arranged silver gray hair."

The title of the article was "Enter: two stars in gay clothes." The author goes on to describe Nureyev, and transcribe a fairly silly Q/A. It's here if you want to look.

#7 sandik

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Posted 12 June 2012 - 10:29 PM

Forgot to add -- Isadora Duncan seems to have the same kind of universal recognition that Nureyev and Baryshinikov do -- I did some research on her public image a few years ago and found references in all kinds of unlikely places, from lingerie shops to garden art.

#8 Amy Reusch

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Posted 13 June 2012 - 05:46 AM

I used to enjoy the dance quotes on MST3K. Tried searching for some and I can't [quickly] seem to find the episode, but here's one:


Mystery Science Theater 3000
Servo as Announcer:
"Cindy Williams is Twyla Tharp as Isadora Duncan in The Meredith Monk Story: A One-Woman Show!"



#9 sandik

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Posted 13 June 2012 - 11:16 AM

"Cindy Williams is Twyla Tharp as Isadora Duncan in The Meredith Monk Story: A One-Woman Show!"


It's not fair to make me laugh when I'm drinking something!

#10 Amy Reusch

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Posted 13 June 2012 - 11:18 AM

Makes me wonder who was writing for MST3K!


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