Ryerson Fashion Research Collection

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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.