Ryerson Fashion Research Collection

Opening the closet door to a Canadian fashion archive


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Elite Syncopations Leotards: Part 3, Contextualizing the Ballet

Part Three will explore the context of Elite Syncopations and its role as part of the National Ballet’s repertoire.  I also analyse footage of a performance by the Royal Ballet in order to see the costumes as they were used onstage.

Elite Syncopations was first premiered by the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, October 7, 1974 and was choreographed by Sir Kenneth MacMillan.  The ballet has come to be known for its jaunty rag-time music and demanding virtuosic performances, but it had an uncertain debut.  As Crisp states though “widely thought, at its premiere, to be a lightweight novelty, the ballet has, in fact, been often revived at Covent Garden and mounted for Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet, the National Ballet of Canada, the Bavarian State Ballet and the Houston Ballet” (Note 1).

The National Ballet premiered Elite Syncopations on November 10th, 1978.  It is usually performed grouped with other short ballet pieces such as Song of a Wayfarer and Chroma such as in the 2012 season (Note 2).  The ballet is non-narrative and focuses on a series of characters showing off their dancing to each other as a live band performs the rag-time tunes.  The National Ballet describes it in their 2012 Ballet Note as “free-form fantasy on situations and social dances of the dance-halls in the early years of the 20th century; the dance contest, the cakewalk, the slow drag and the stop time” (Note 3).  By including this ballet in its repertoire, the National Ballet can show off the athleticism of their dancers with a crowd-pleasing ballet.  The bright colourful costumes and shorter run time along with cheerful subject matter may seem less intimidating to those unfamiliar with dance, and encourages new viewers to attend.

Elite Syncopations Dress

As mentioned in Part One, I watched recordings from the Royal Ballet as a visual aid to better understand the costumes within the context of the ballet.  Since they were made in order to replicate Ian Sperling’s designs, the video could give me a close approximation to how they would look in the National Ballet’s productions. I am choosing to focus on the Shy Girl costume for this analysis because I am most familiar with the design.  It is important to remember that each company would inherently have slightly different interpretations of the choreography and costuming.  It should also be noted that the recording was at a fair to low quality, so some details may have been missed.  While a good resource, a recording is not a perfect substitute for a live performance of the National Ballet performing Elite Syncopations.  

As seen in the video, the female dancers wear either leotards with long sleeves and full tights, or a variation on the Shy Girl costume silhouette.  Many of them are outfitted with various hats.  Like the Shy Girl, many of the corps dancers are wearing tights of different colours. One thing that all the female dancers have in common is that their pointe shoes have been dyed to match their tights. Having dyed-to-match pointe shoes makes the dancer’s legs even longer and lengthens their lines so that they are more visually appealing.  One new detail I noticed in the recording were the dark purple gloves that the Shy Girl was wearing.  They had been dyed to match the dark purple of the sleeves, and caused her hands to seemingly disappear into the black backdrop. (Note 4)

The Shy Girl can be seen in various dances with the corps and features in a pas de deux with her partner the Shy Boy.  As this part of the recording was focused on these two dancers, it was much easier to pick out small details on her costume.  The “shy girl” and “shy boy” enter stage right, swinging hands and gazing at each other.  Their dance features some comedic awkward partnering and eventually the culminates in a series of lifts.  In this version she is wearing a four pointed tiara-like hat, as well as dangling chandelier earrings.  By seeing the dancer dressed in her costume, we are now able to see how the personality of the dancer is enhanced and shown through her clothing. The two dancers seem quite smitten with each other, therefore hearts are an appropriate adornment for her tights.  She has a shy but flirtatious and fun personality, so the short circle skirt suits her perfectly.  To emphasize this warm personality even further, Spurling used circles and other curvilinear forms to decorate her costume.  Spurling’s costume design ultimately gives the audience an idea of who the Shy Girl is, even before she starts to dance.

Spurling’s designs for Elite Syncopations were not always favoured by critics, as they were deemed overly decorated and colourful, even likened to licorice allsorts candy (Note 5).  However, I argue that these costumes demonstrate a combination of function and pleasing aesthetics.  The costumes do not impede the dancer’s movements, and also convey personalities of each character immediately. A leotard is a paradoxical garment, as it conceals the dancer’s skin, but reveals the dancer’s body.  By choosing to paint the leotards as if they were clothing, Spurling subverts expectations and delivers quirky, playful costumes.    

Notes

Note 1: Clement Crisp, “Into the Labyrinth: Kenneth MacMillan and his Ballets,” The Journal of the Society for Dance Research 25, no. 2 (2017): 188, accessed August 2, 2017,http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/stable/40004138?pq-origsite=summon&seq=2#page_scan_tab_contents

Note 2: “Elite Syncopations & Song of a Wayfarer & Chroma Ballet Note” (2012) The National Ballet of Canada. Accessed July 17 2017,https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Archives/Ballet-Notes/elite-syncopations-ballet-notes-(2012).aspx

Note 3: Ilbd.

Note 4: Elite Syncopations ; the Judas Tree ; Concerto. Film, Directed by Acosta, Carlos, Leanne Benjamin, Yuhui Choe, et al. Opus Arte, 2010.

Note 5: “Ian Spurling; Obituary.” Times (London, England), Apr. 15, 1996, p. 21. AcademicOneFile,go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=rpu_main&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CA115106285&it=r&asid=5d8bbb8ec92dea1882c9c96030f75b2b. Accessed 17 July 2017.

Bibliography

Bell, K. (1993). “The Art of the Costumes (for the National Ballet’s Elite Syncopations)”. Performing Arts & Entertainment in Canada 28, no.1 (1993): 19. Accessed July 17, 2017.http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/224893640?accountid=13631.

Crisp, Clement. “Into the Labyrinth: Kenneth MacMillan and his Ballets.” The Journal of the Society for Dance Research 25, no. 2 (2007): 188-198. Accessed August 2, 2017.

“Alumni Where are They Now?,” The National Ballet of Canada. Accessed July 17 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Meet/Alumni/WATN

“Ian Spurling; Obituary.” Times (London, England), Apr. 15, 1996, p. 21. Academic OneFile,go.galegroup.com/ps/i.dop=AONE&sw=w&u=rpu_main&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CA115106285&it=r&asid=5d8bbb8ec92dea1882c9c96030f75b2b. Accessed 17 July 2017.

“Elite Syncopations & Song of a Wayfarer & Chroma Ballet Note” (2012) The National Ballet of Canada. Accessed July 17 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Archives

/Ballet-Notes/elite-syncopations-ballet-notes-(2012).aspx

Elite Syncopations ; the Judas Tree ; Concerto. Film. Opus Arte.

Mida, Ingrid and Alexandra Kim. (2015) The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-Based Research in Fashion. New York: Bloomsbury.


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Elite Syncopations Leotards: Part Two, The Mens Corps Costume

Part two focuses on two unfinished costumes which reveal more about the painting and construction methods of the Elite Syncopations outfits.

Initially I was going to focus only on the Shy Girl costume, however when dress historian and curator Ingrid Mida turned my attention to some other artifacts in the research collection, I found there was more to explore about these costumes.  The National Ballet also donated yardage of uncut fabric which had been prepared for the an Elite Syncopation Corps Man leotard, as well as the same leotard which appears to have been partially sewn.  These two artifacts allow us to see steps of the construction process, giving us a glimpse of behind-the-scenes methods used by the wardrobe department.

EliteSyncMens
Uncut yardage for corps man (2014.08.052).  Drawings by Teresa Adamo.

Beginning with the uncut yardage, faint pencil markings can be seen denoting the outline of the costume and around the checkered pattern.  There is a dotted line around its perimeter which is presumably the cut line.  Seam allowance is not marked, but would likely be ¼” as it was with the Shy Girl costumes.  As Bell states in her article The Art of the Costumes (for the National Ballet’s Elite Syncopations), “The designs are hand – painted onto the tights using pigment mixed with a glue binder” (Note 1).  The brushstrokes can clearly be seen occasionally going outside the lines in several places.  Seeing these individual markings, there is a strong impression left from the painter and reinforces the hand made aspect of costumes.

Bell summarizes how the garments are finished after the paint has been applied.

The painted tights are then carefully removed from the stretcher, wrapped in tissue and carefully folded so that no colour touches the unpainted portions, or no design touches another. The tights are put into a special basket and steamed in a huge steamer for several hours to set the paint. This process may have to be repeated several times when one colour goes over another. The costumes are gently washed in cold water to clean and set the dyes. Finally, the buttons and bows are sewn on as necessary. Each costume takes about 18 hours to complete.  (Note 2)

Compared to making a tutu,which takes at least 120 hours of skilled labour to complete, leotards are a much smaller time commitment for the wardrobe department (Note 3).  However, I think that to regard this number in isolation belittles the skill and confidence it would take to paint the designs considering the permanency of the paint magnified by the number of colours on each costume.  Similarly to the Shy Girl costumes, these incomplete artifacts present some questions of their own.  Could they have possibly just been test samples for the wardrobe department?  Or was there a mistake with the paint that simply could not be approved?  On the uncut yardage, some colour is bleeding out from around each coloured square, and the green checks also have a splotchy, uneven look to them, so it could be assumed that the colour fastness of the paint may have been a problem.

EliteSyncLayout
Right: Cut leotard for corps man (2014.08.053).  Drawings by Teresa Adamo

As for the pattern layout, the garment retains its center front and center back seams, but like the Shy Girl tights, the seams on the legs have been moved to the center back of the leg.  A zipper would have presumably been installed in the center back seam.  The front and back torso is attached as one piece from approximately the about the hip to the ankle, but has a side seam from under the arm to the hip area to account for some shaping around the torso.  It is also important to note that the pattern appears relatively small, but the material’s degree of stretch would have been taken into account when drafting the pattern.

At this point, we have a strong idea of what the Elite Syncopations costumes look like and how they were made.  Through the Shy Girl dresses and tights, we have discovered how we can get much more information about an artifact by looking at similar or even “identical” artifacts and comparing their minute differences.  By looking at the Corps Man costumes, we gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of hand craftsmanship.  When viewed together, these six artifacts reveal much more about the artistry and labour behind the Elite Syncopations costumes than we could hope to gain by looking at one in isolation.   

Notes

Note 1: Karen Bell, “The Art of the Costumes (for the National Ballet’s Elite Syncopations)”. Performing Arts & Entertainment in Canada 28, no.1 (1993): 19, accessed July 17, 2017,http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/224893640?accountid=13631.

Note 2: Ibid.

Note 3:  For more information about tutu construction, visit “The Composition of a Tutu,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed November 18, 2016, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/The-Tutu-Project/The-Composition-of-a-Tutux.aspx

Bibliography

Bell, K. (1993). “The Art of the Costumes (for the National Ballet’s Elite Syncopations)”. Performing Arts & Entertainment in Canada 28, no.1 (1993): 19. Accessed July 17, 2017.http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/224893640?accountid=13631.

“Alumni Where are They Now?,” The National Ballet of Canada. Accessed July 17 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Meet/Alumni/WATN

“Ian Spurling; Obituary.” Times (London, England), Apr. 15, 1996, p. 21. Academic OneFile,go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=rpu_main&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CA115106285&it=r&asid=5d8bbb8ec92dea1882c9c96030f75b2b. Accessed 17 July 2017.

“Elite Syncopations & Song of a Wayfarer & Chroma Ballet Note” (2012) The National Ballet of Canada. Accessed July 17 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Archives

/Ballet-Notes/elite-syncopations-ballet-notes-(2012).aspx

Elite Syncopations ; the Judas Tree ; Concerto. Film. Opus Arte.

Mida, Ingrid and Alexandra Kim. (2015) The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-Based Research in Fashion. New York: Bloomsbury.  

“The Composition of a Tutu,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed November 18, 2016, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/The-Tutu-Project/The-Composition-of-a-Tutux.aspx

 


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Elite Syncopations Leotards: Part One, The Shy Girl Costumes

Part One provides a detailed observations of two seemingly identical dresses with their accompanying tights.

Within the Ryerson Fashion Research collection, there is a group of quirky outfits that stand apart from the other classical and romantic ballet costumes.  The Elite Syncopation costumes donated by the National Ballet of Canada are colourful, spunky, and appealing.  These garments have a completely different visual language than the costumes from Symphony in C and Sleeping Beauty that I have previously studied, and so sparked my interest in this energetic ‘leotard ballet’.  I have carefully observed two identical dresses and their coordinating tights, as well as a corps men’s costume in various stages of the construction process.  While each of these artifacts are compelling on their own, it is only when viewed together that the artistry and labour behind the Elite Syncopations costumes can be fully appreciated.  Part One recounts observations and comparisons of two Shy Girl costumes and.

Elite Syncopations DressShy Girl Todd costume, front view (2014.08.041) Drawing by Teresa Adamo

The ballet costumes are based on the original designs by Australian designer Ian Spurling (1937-1996) who created them for the Royal Ballet’s premiere of Elite Syncopations in 1974.  The FRC received two of these Shy Girl costumes, and taking a close look at the similarities and subtle differences reveals another layer of their story.  I have confirmed that this design was referred to as the “Shy Girl” costume due to the handwritten label found sewn to the seam allowance on the center back inside the costume.  Furthermore, the dancers’ names found written in permanent marker on off white twill tape sewn on the inside next to the National Ballet label prompted me to refer to 2014.08.040 as the “Salas” costume and 2014.08.041 as the “Todd” costume.  Je-an Salas was a soloist with the company and as of 2014 is the resident dancer with the ballet from (Note 1).  I suspect that the “Todd” being referred to is dancer Deborah “Todd” Thompson, as she was with the company from 1978-1988 and so would fit in the timeline of this costume’s use (Note 2).  

EliteSyncBackShy Girl Salas costume, back view (2014.08.041) Drawing by Teresa Adamo

This design features a long sleeved leotard with a high collar, and short circle skirt with panties underneath.   The silhouette is reminiscent silhouette of a figure skating costume.  The skirt allows for lots of swinging flirtatious movement.  After the silhouette, the next most noticeable aspect of the costumes is the graphic quality of the lines and colors decorating the fabric.  Spurling used vivid magenta, purple, ocean blue, emerald, and even bright scarlet.  There is a beautiful ombre starting as off white at the shoulder and gradually darkening to pink, magenta and finally plum at the wrists.  The Salas costume has much brighter colours when compared to the Todd costume, and the shapes and lines are more crisp.

Another striking feature of the Elite Syncopations  costumes is that they are painted in a trompe l’oeil style.  Black outlines give the impression of the dancer wearing a dress with thin straps over a the long sleeved shirt.  To further the illusion, the “dress” was painted slightly more pink than the “shirt” which was left white.  The sharp graphic quality to the design is also seen in the repeating motif of circles and waves on the body and along the skirt.  The circles on the skirt are consistent and perfectly round, suggesting they may have been applied with a stamp.  The repetition of waves and circles create a rhythm around the body contributing to a sense of movement.

As for the construction of these garments, they are machine stitched with either small zig zag or small overlock stitch about ¼” wide for all seams with the exception of the National Ballet and name tag labels which were sewn by hand.  While on the Todd skirt, zig zag stitching attaching the skirt to the leotard is clearly visible on the outside, the Salas skirt has been set in the seam giving it a cleaner appearance.  The leotards are made with center front, center back, and side seams.  Having multiple seam lines means that the costume will contour to the body better.  They could also potentially be used for adjustability of fit, as each of the original designs were fit specifically for each dancer (Note 3 article).  The hem of the skirts is left unfinished on both dresses, as the knit will not unravel and avoid having a slightly bulkier seam which would weigh the skirt down and change its movement.  On both costumes there is a zipper at center back with a hook and eye set above it.  Salas uses a plastic zipper, whereas Todd has a metal one.  One interesting detail on the Todd costume is the appearance of a slit 3” into the skirt, possibly for a longer zipper to be installed but which was then closed at some point.  

As with many of the National Ballet costumes, these costume endured years of wear and tear during performances.  In general, there are minor tears and small fabric pulls on the costumes but both are in fair condition which suggests that the wardrobe team were knowledgeable and skilled at constructing the leotards.  Signs of wear on both of them are in similar places which is to be expected, as the dancers would be performing the same choreography.  There is pilling on the inside of the arms, and the underarm seams are pulling.  

EliteSyncTightsShy Girl Tights Front and Back, ‘Salas’ Pair (2014.08.040) Drawing by Teresa Adamo

While doing intermediate research about the costumes, I came across a video of the Royal Ballet performing Elite Syncopations recorded in 2010.  I immediately noticed that the Shy Girl costume would have been worn with green tights decorated with hearts. (Note 4)  Luckily, the FRC had both pairs of tights corresponding to the dresses.  Once again, the tights can be differentiated by their name tags.  The name Mawson appears beside Todd but has been crossed crossed off.  

The tights are decorated by rows of painted hearts down the center front and back.  There is a slight stylistic change between the costumes since the Salas tights have 8 hearts while the Todd tights have 9.  The colour and crispness is again different on each of the tights which is consistent with the corresponding leotard.  Though both are turquoise green with bright yellow-green hearts, the Todd tights have faded.  You can clearly see the brushstrokes outlining the faded and blotchy hearts.  They are both constructed with a crotch seam as well as seams along the back of each leg and ending under the toes.  The feet are fully enclosed meaning that they are worn inside the pointe shoes.  They both have elastic waistbands though Todd’s waistband is completely enclosed with a self fabric casing while Salas is simply attached with a zigzag stitch.  

As one would expect, it is easy to see how the tights have worn particularly on the feet and ankles.  The soles are quite dirty and discoloured and appear brown rather than green.  The center back seam on the ankle area appears to have been repaired at some point as one can clearly see this area was reinforced white thread.  Additionally, the Todd tights have some curious orange streaks all over them, which could have transferred from another costume during use or storage.  The elastic on the Salas waistband has lost its elasticity and seems quite loose, while the Todd costume seems quite taught.

In conclusion, having two sets of dresses and their accompanying tights to study allowed for a more complete understanding of the Elite Syncopations costumes.  Being able to study two duplicate costumes was an exercise in spotting small differences.  Even though they appear to be “the same” artifact, they are still individual, which speaks to the nature not just of hand painted costumes such as these, but of all hand made objects.  In turn, the differences between them also raises more questions about the objects.  Given the subtle changes in design and finishing, I speculate that wardrobe department looks critically at their work and adjusts accordingly to make better costumes when they were remade around the year 1998 (Note 6).  Perhaps they were not given complete details from Sperling and the Royal ballet about construction and had to come to their own conclusions, or they simply adapted them to their own particular methods.   

Part two focuses on two unfinished costumes which reveal more about the painting and construction methods of the Elite Syncopations outfits.

Notes

Note 1: “Alumni: Where are They Now?,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed 17 July 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Meet/Alumni/WATN.  

Note 2: Ibid.

Note 3: Karen Bell, “The Art of the Costumes (for the National Ballet’s Elite Syncopations)”. Performing Arts & Entertainment in Canada 28, no.1 (1993): 19, accessed July 17, 2017,http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-pr

oquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/224893640?accountid=13631.

Note 4: Elite Syncopations ; the Judas Tree ; Concerto. Film, Directed by Acosta, Carlos, Leanne Benjamin, Yuhui Choe, et al. Opus Arte, 2010.

Note 5: Note 3

Note 6: Ibid.

Bibliography

Bell, K. (1993). “The Art of the Costumes (for the National Ballet’s Elite Syncopations)”. Performing Arts & Entertainment in Canada 28, no.1 (1993): 19. Accessed July 17, 2017.http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/224893640?accountid=13631.

“Alumni Where are They Now?,” The National Ballet of Canada. Accessed July 17 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Meet/Alumni/WATN

“Ian Spurling; Obituary.” Times (London, England), Apr. 15, 1996, p. 21. Academic OneFile,go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=rpu_main&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CA115106285&it=r&asid=5d8bbb8ec92dea1882c9c96030f75b2b. Accessed 17 July 2017.

“Elite Syncopations & Song of a Wayfarer & Chroma Ballet Note” (2012) The National Ballet of Canada. Accessed July 17 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Archives

/Ballet-Notes/elite-syncopations-ballet-notes-(2012).aspx

Elite Syncopations ; the Judas Tree ; Concerto. Film. Opus Arte.

Mida, Ingrid and Alexandra Kim. (2015) The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-Based Research in Fashion. New York: Bloomsbury.


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Drawing as a Research Tool: Observing The Sleeping Beauty Bluebird Costume

bluebirdfront

Front view of the Bluebird costume. (FRC 2014.08.015A) Drawing by Teresa Adamo 2017.

Observing an historical artifact can be overwhelming at first, especially when presented with a garment that has a large amount of surface details and materials.  Creating observational drawings can be an excellent method for object-based research. As stated in The Dress Detective, “sketching is a method of helping the mind to slow down and, in the process of doing so, take notice of small details” (Note 1).  With this in mind, I attempted to put the technique to use when studying the men’s Bluebird costume from the National Ballet of Canada.

Before diving into the artifact itself, it is important to discuss preparation for drawing in a research setting.  I found it useful to have a few goals in mind before I began drawing.  The following three goals are general prompts that I used to guide my experience, but each individual researcher may have different goals in mind specific to the artifact they are studying.  

  1. The main goal of the observation stage according to Mida and Kim is to ensure that “factual evidence related to the object is retained and recorded” (Note 2). Drawing will help you capture details that could otherwise be missed.  
  2. You are creating a memory aid to help you remember and describe specific elements of the artifact.  Since fashion is a visual medium, visual aids are important to include in any research project.
  3. Drawing should be an engaging experience to help you during the reflection and interpretation stages of your research.  Your sensory and personal reactions will be heightened if you spend time dedicated to the careful observation of the object.  

The use of different materials will affect the outcome of the drawing.  Each medium has its benefits and drawbacks.  Ink creates harsh outlines and it may be more difficult to show three dimensional form, but it is the most useful for capturing small details.  It is the ideal medium when clarity is desirable, and it scans and photographs well.  Pencil is better for shading to show form and texture, but it can be messier and may smudge on the paper.  It can also be more difficult to photograph and scan since graphite becomes shiny as it is layered.  For this example I used acid-free India ink pens, but I would advise using whatever you feel most comfortable drawing with.  You do not necessarily need to purchase expensive equipment, especially if you are just drawing for your own notes.  As Mida and Kim state, “the goal is not to create a work of art, but simply to aid the process of observation.  The sketch might end up being a crude line drawing, but this is a valuable method of recording key information and embracing the Slow Approach to Seeing” (Note 3).

Case Study: Bluebird costume from the National Ballet of Canada

 

Left: Inside view showing hand stitching and finishing.  Right: Back view focusing on placement of applique trim. (FRC 2014.08.015A) Drawings by Teresa Adamo 2017

The Sleeping Beauty has been part of the classical ballet cannon ever since it premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1890 (Note 4).  Marius Petipa created the choreography, and commissioned Pyotr Ilyich-Tchaikovsky to compose an original score for the ballet.  Sleeping Beauty has been part of the National Ballet’s repertoire since its premier in the company on November 26th, 1953 (Note 5).  The performance has gone through several revisions throughout the NBC’s history, but this particular Bluebird costume was designed for the 1972 version, which first premiered September 1st with choreography by Rudolf Nureyev, after Marius Petipa (Note 6).  While the previous performances featured costumes by Kay Ambrose, the designer Nicholas Georgiadis was responsible for the set and costume design of the 1972 production.  This production was a resounding success and boosted the NBC to international fame.  The opening performance at the new Four Seasons Center In 2006 was The Sleeping Beauty, for which the original sets and costumes by Georgiadis were restored (Note 7).

This design features a streamlined silhouette which lies close to the body.  It has fitted set in sleeves and princess seams down the front and back, creating a symmetrical 8-paneled design.  The shell fabric is mauve jacquard with metallic rose gold filaments that create an organic wave pattern. The shell fabric is pilling, most notably on the sleeve and side panels where the fabric was under stress and friction.  The garment opens at center front with hook and bar tape, as well as 6 sew-on snaps.  There is an additional row of single hook and bars, each individually sewn on the front so that the garment has a small amount of adjustability depending on which dancer is wearing it.  Since the sleeves are fitted and only have a 7 ¾” wrist opening, there is a 5” slit which also features hook and bar closures.

bluebirdcuff

Detail of sleeve showing slit, trim and internal construction. (FRC 2014.08.015A) Drawing by Teresa Adamo 2017.

One of the most striking features of this artifact is its three distinct decorative elements: applique, silver trim, and ribbon loops.  Applique arabesques cover the front and back of the shirt.  They are made of yellow fabric with gold metallic thread, and are covered with black hexagonal net, the layers being held together by a dense black zig-zag stitch around the edge.  Some of the black net has ripped from the wear and tear of the costume over time, exposing the yellow fabric.  There is also silver trim in two styles, one with a foliage pattern and another with a fleur de lis pattern.  The thin trim is  ¾” wide.  The large trim is 1 ⅝” at its widest point.  The ribbons are applied as loops to the shoulders, wrists, and bottom hem in a pattern alternating the three colours.  

bluebirdsmalltrimbluebirdlargetrim

Detail of small “fleur de lis” and large “foliage” silver trim. (FRC 2014.08.015A) Drawing by Teresa Adamo 2017.

Switching focus to the inside of the garment, I observed that the visible seams have been finished with a three-thread serger, and the widths of the seam allowances range from 1” at center front to ¼” at the top of the center back.  The center front seam allowance on either side has a ¾” slash at the approximate waist, possible to allow the dancer more movement.  The front panels were also advantageously cut so that the center front is along the fabric selvedge so that it does not have to be finished and saves yardage.  The body has been sewn to a layer of fairly thick basket weave beige canvas, while the sleeves are lined with a lighter plain weave cotton in a similar color.  The lower panel has metallic blue lining which clean finishes the hem, and would look more aesthetically pleasing than the canvas if it were to show during a performance.    

bluebirdclippedseam

Detail of center front seam allowance showing slash and blanket stitch. (FRC 2014.08.015A) Drawing by Teresa Adamo 2017.

After I finished recording all of my observations in writing and drawing, I looked back at the goals of the exercise to judge whether or not they were accomplished.  I do feel that I captured more of the small details that I would not have seen from simply writing my observations.  For example, at first I did not know how to represent the silver trim, so in order to make detail drawings I had to closely look to see that they were made of metallic filaments very tightly wrapped together.  From there, I could find a way to draw them accurately.  I did find that while describing the garment, it was useful to have the memory aid with me to prompt descriptions, especially of the interior of the garment which could easily be overlooked because of the amount of surface detail on this costume.  Although this post will not cover the reflection and interpretation stages of researching an object-based design, it definitely aided in my understanding of the garment’s construction.  

Creating observational drawings can be a great start to object-based research.  Drawing gives you a comprehensive and in depth understanding of the physical properties of the artifact.  It also makes research more memorable and engaging.  Fashion is a visual and tactile industry, so fashion research benefits from an observational method which takes advantage of the same characteristics.

Notes

Note 1: For more information on object-based research and the Slow Approach to Seeing, refer to Ingrid Mida and Alexandra Kim, The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-Based Research in Fashion. (New York: Bloomsbury, 2015), 36.

Note 2: Ibid, 28.

Note 3: Ibid, 35.

Note 4: For more information about The Sleeping Beauty, please visit the National Ballet’s Virtual Museum,“The Sleeping Beauty,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed February 28, 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/The-Sleeping-Beauty

Note 5: Ibid.

Note 6: For more information about Nicholas Georgiadis, please visit the National Ballet’s Virtual Museum, “Nicolas Georgiadis,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed February 28, 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/Designers/Georgiadis

Note 7: Ibid.

Bibliography

Mida, Ingrid and Alexandra Kim. (2015) The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-Based Research in Fashion. New York: Bloomsbury.

“Nicolas Georgiadis,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed February 28, 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/Designers/Georgiadis
“The Sleeping Beauty,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed February 28, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/The-Sleeping-Beauty


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A Study of a Ballet Costume from Symphony in C: Part II

Part two contextualizes the artifact in dance history

symphony-in-c-tutu-sketches

 

In this post, I will be going beyond the aesthetic and technical aspects of the tutu and exploring the contextual relevance of this artifact. Costumes are ultimately designed to work harmoniously with the choreography and music of a production, so it is important to understand the background behind the production of the Symphony in C ballet.  

This ballet was created by Russian born choreographer George Balanchine and was first performed as Le Palais de Cristal in 1947, with the name later changing to Symphony in C as it is known now (Note 1). George Balanchine is one of the most influential choreographers of modern ballet.  He, along with Lincoln Kirsten, opened the School of American Ballet in 1934, the American Ballet in 1936, and finally the Ballet Caravan in 1941.  Balanchine was the Artistic Director of the New York City Ballet for over 35 years and was known for his fast, athletic and precise choreography. He also was said to have  demanded perfection and elegance from his dancers. ( Note 2). This particular ballet is based on French composer Georges Bizet’s Symphony in C Major which is often regarded as one of his best works along with the famous opera Carmen (Note 3).  

The original costumes for the ballet’s premiere in 1947 were designed by costume maven Barbara Karinska (1886-1983).  Madame Karinska as she was known to her peers, had a long relationship as a designer for Balanchine and worked with him into her late 70s.  She was a prolific designer who was known and respected for her technical inventiveness and attention to detail. (Note 5)

The National Ballet performed Symphony in C for the first time in 1984 – the year after Karinska died. Like the costumes worn at the New York City Ballet, these tutus would have been worn by multiple dancers over many years.  As New York City Ballet company dancer Deanna McBrearty states, “costumes like the Symphony in C tutus are worn so often, and by so many casts, that they eventually have to be retired…the tutu I originally wore was part of a set that was retired after more than 18 years” (Note 6).  Eventually, the National Ballet wardrobe department had to remake a set of these costumes which were debuted in November 2006 (Note 7).  Continuing to wear Karinska’s costumes pays homage to a great designer, and allows her work to be worn, seen, and appreciated by even more dancers and audiences.

symphony-in-c-tutu-kovaks

Drawing of name tag inside   tutu waistband by Teresa Adamo 2016

The ballet Symphony in C has no plot, so the tutu is non-representative.  The original costume also included a bodice and tutu plate which was taken off the skirt for reuse on other costumes by the Wardrobe Department at the National Ballet .  It does not have to conform to a character, time period, or symbol, hence the pared down design.  Instead, according to the National Ballet “each movement plays inventively with geometrical shapes—squares, diagonals, sculptural groupings —that illustrate the variety of effects possible using a very active and technically adept corps de ballet” (Note 8).  Therefore, Karinska’s design compliments Balanchine’s architectural choreography by letting the beauty of the dancers movement, and music shine. One detail that I immediately noticed upon inspecting the inside of the tutu was that the name of the dancer who wore the tutu has been written directly onto the material beside the garment opening.  This type of tagging is normal practice for ballet costumes and also serves as a record of the dedicated ballerinas who performed while wearing it.

For me, the significance of this tutu within the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection is in its temporal links to Canadian dance history. Symphony in C  first became part of the National Ballet’s repertoire in 1984 – the year after Karinska died – and was performed again in 2006 marking the first mixed program of company’s first season  in their celebrated new venue at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (Note 4).  It is in this way that the tutu can be seen to represent the beginning of a new era for the National Ballet Company.

Throughout the investigation of this seemingly plain tutu, I was frequently surprised by the tangents that the research took.  I learned a great amount about the construction of a tutu, but also much more about dance history than I was expecting.  The tutu has a layered history which is connected to choreographers, dancers, designers, and international ballet companies.

Notes:

Note 1:Note 1: For more information about the National Ballet’s 2006 production of Symphony in C, visit “Song of the Earth and Symphony in C Ballet Note,” The National Ballet of Canada, Accessed January 13 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Archives/Ballet-Notes

Note 2:  Barbara Walczak, and Una Kai, Balanchine the Teacher: Fundamentals That Shaped the First Generation of NewYork City Ballet Dancers (University Press of Florida, 2008) 230.

Note 3: 5. “Georges Bizet” in The Encyclopedia of World Biography,accessed January 12, 2017, http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&u=rpu_main&id=GALE|CX3404700688&v=2.1&it=r&sid=summon

Note 4: Ibid.

Note 5: Elizabeth McPerson, “Barbara Karinska,” Dance Teacher, no. 11 (2008): 104-106 accessed January 12, 2017, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/208476633?accountid=13631.

Note 6: 1. Deanna McBrearty, “Company Life: Tutu Symphony,” Pointe 4, no. 3 (2003): Page #, accessed January 12, 2017, http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=http://sEarch.proquest.com/docview/207949163?accountid=13631.

Note 7:  Correspondence with the National Ballet of Canada

Note 8: Ibid.

References:

“Biography.” The George Balanchine Foundation, Accessed January 12th 2017, http://www. balanchine.org/balanchine/01/bio2.html  

“Georges Bizet.” In Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed., 296-297. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale, 2004. Gale Virtual Reference Library (accessed January 13, 2017). http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=rpu_main&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX3404700688&sid=summon&asid=def20395719538750e09f56685f4f849.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=rpu_main&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX3404700688&sid=summon&asid=def203957198750e09f56685f4f849.

McBrearty, Deanna. “Company Life: Tutu Symphony.” Pointe 4, no. 3 (Jun, 2003): 70-71. http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/207949163?accountid=13631.

McPherson, Elizabeth. “Barbara Karinska.” Dance Teacher 30, no. 11 (11, 2008): 104-104,106. http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/208476633?accountid=13631.

Mida, Ingrid and Alexandra Kim. (2015) The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-Based Research in Fashion. New York: Bloomsbury.

Mida, Ingrid. (2016) “A Gala Performance Tutu,” Dress 42.1: 35-47.

“Song of the Earth and Symphony in C Ballet Note” (2006) The National Ballet of Canada, Accessed January 13 2017, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Archives/Ballet-Notes/song-of-the-earth-ballet-note-(2006).aspx

“The Composition of a Tutu,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed November 18, 2016, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/The-Tutu-Project/The-Composition-of-a-Tutux.aspx

Walczak, Barbara and Una Kai. Balanchine the Teacher: Fundamentals That Shaped the First Generation of New York City Ballet Dancers. University Press of Florida, 2008.

 


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A Study of a Ballet Costume from Symphony in C: Part 1

How a plain white tutu donated by the National Ballet of Canada reveals more than meets the eye.

Part one explores the artifact in detail in order to learn how a classical tutu was made by the wardrobe department at the National Ballet of Canada.

symphony-in-c-tutu-sketchesDrawing by Teresa Adamo 2016
Top and underside views of the Symphony in C tutu.

At first glance, there does not seem to be anything particularly interesting about the classical white tutu laying on the table in the Fashion Research Collection. It is one of several costumes donated to Ryerson by the National Ballet of Canada in 2014. This tutu was worn by a member of the corps de ballet for a production of the Balanchine ballet Symphony in C in 1984. It is of course both delicate and pretty as all tutus are, but nonetheless appears rather plain since the decoration was removed from the skirt for reuse on other costumes by the Wardrobe Department at the National Ballet . Even so, it is compelling to study in order to learn about how classical tutus are made. My research revealed that there is much more history behind this plain white ballet costume after all. This artifact provided me with a learning experience about construction methods which will be discussed in this blog post. A subsequent post will discuss the nature of design aesthetics for dancewear, the dance history surrounding two national dance companies, as well as insight into the influential work of costume maven Madame Karinska.

In general, tutus are made of three main parts, the skirt, the basque, and the bodice. The skirt can be separated further into three pieces; the panty, tulle base, and decorative plate (note 1). This particular artifact (FRC2014.08.033) contains the tulle base and panty. The first thing that one notices is obviously the wide, flat skirt. Interestingly, the skirt is not a perfect circle, but slightly oval in shape. At its widest, the skirt is 30 inches in diameter. The skirt has a hip measurement of 28 inches, but since the foundation is made of stretch material it could fit several sizes.

The fluffy layers of the tulle skirt are perhaps the most iconic aspect of classical ballet costumes. The tulle base for the Symphony in C costume is made up of 12 total layers of fabric. The layers increase in length from the bottom to the top layer, the shortest being one-inch long, and the longest being approximately 8 inches long. The 5 innermost layers are made of soft flexible netting, the next 5 layers are stiff and the netting is slightly coarser (the second layer from the inside being the stiffest tulle used in this tutu). The final 2 layers on top are once again quite fine and soft. In order to hold the layers together there are basting stitches made vertically through all the layers. These stitches having been made with a doubled length of thread. The tacking is applied in order to help control the volume of the tulle and maintain its shape (Note 2).

symphony-in-c-tutu-panty-rufflesDrawing by Teresa Adamo 2016
Detail of innermost tulle layers next to the leg openings on the underside of the tutu.

The volume in the skirt of the tutu is created with a meticulous process of layering tulle. The layers of tulle have been very finely pleated rather than gathered. Each pleat is only ¼ inch wide with a ⅛ inch overlap. These tiny pleats give the impression of gathering or shirring which in actuality would be bulky and difficult to control, and could not give the classical tutu it’s smooth, flat appearance. The seams connecting the panels of tulle to each other are machine stitched and have a seam allowance only ⅛ inch wide. In order to hold a plate-like shape while on a dancer, a wire hoop has been inserted into a channel made by stitching 2 layers of tulle together (Note 3).

The layers of the skirt are attached to a panty which serves as a  foundation. This costume has a panty made of stretchy open mesh; this has discoloured over time from an off white cream colour to a dull beige hue. There is a 6 inch opening at the back of the tutu where the tulle is not sewn shut along the seam allowance so that the dancer is able to step into the skirt. It can then be fastened with 3 sets of hooks and eyes. Raw edges on the inside of the panty are hand finished using a catch-stitch. There is also extra elastic catch-stitched into the panties which are attached at the front of the crotch seam and extend to the back of the panty.  These extra elastics were sewn into the panties when they had stretched out excessively (Note 4). Elastic has also been sewn into channels around the leg openings in order to keep the fit close to the dancer’s body.

symphony-in-c-tutu-panty-cross-section
Drawing by Teresa Adamo 2016
Diagram of extra elastic placement in the panty.

Clearly, this costume is deceptive in its simplicity. The techniques used to make this skirt and plate show an immense attention to detail. Not only is the costume structurally impressive, but certain design features also show concern for the comfort of the dancer. The softest tulle is closest to the legs so the sharp edges of the netting is less abrasive. The extra elastic around the legs makes wardrobe malfunction less likely and would make the dancer feel more confident. The skirt is easy to slip on and fasten quickly which would cut down pre-performance prep time and make quick changes easier. The opportunity to closely study these artifacts provided me with an incomparable learning experience about the construction methods and reasons behind them.

Notes:

Note 1: For more information about tutu construction, visit “The Composition of a Tutu,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed November 18, 2016, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/The-Tutu-Project/The-Composition-of-a-Tutux.aspx
Note 2: Ibid.
Note 3: Ibid.

Note 4: Email correspondence with the National Ballet of Canada

References:

Mida, Ingrid and Alexandra Kim. (2015) The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-Based Research in Fashion. New York: Bloomsbury.
Mida, Ingrid. (2016) “A Gala Performance Tutu,” Dress 42.1: 35-47.
“The Composition of a Tutu,” The National Ballet of Canada, accessed November 18, 2016, https://national.ballet.ca/Tickets/Virtual-Museum/The-Tutu-Project/The-Composition-of-a-Tutux.aspx