David Bruce: The Coolest People in the Arts — Clothing and Costumes

Clothing and Costumes

• Early in Rudolf Nureyev’s career, before he had been accepted into the Leningrad Ballet School, he danced in a sailor’s costume in his folk-dance troupe. Because the trousers of his costume weren’t ready, he borrowed trousers from another member of the troupe, and as he was dancing, the trousers fell down. By the way, near the end of his career, Mr. Nureyev was often asked the vexing question, “When do you plan to stop dancing?” In answering, he often used the same reply that Margot Fonteyn had used near the end of her career, “I’ll stop when the audience no longer wants to see me.”

• Copenhagen’s Royal Theater has a hole in the floor. The hole, which can be plugged up as necessary, is called a “hand-hole,” and it is used to help with a quick costume change on stage. For example, a water nymph may need to be transformed back into an Italian woman before the audience’s eyes. Smoke is made to swirl around the water nymph, a hand reaches up from the hand-hole, and the nymph costume is whisked away, revealing the Italian costume underneath.

• Young ballet student Natalia Makarova saw the world-class ballerina Galina Ulanova dance the part of Juliet in Romeo and Julietat the Kirov in the 1950s. Ms. Makarova remembers that at the curtain call Ms. Ulanova wore Juliet’s cloak—and in stark contrast to the ethereal quality of Juliet, Ms. Ulanova was also wearing a pair of high-topped winter boots. Because Ms. Ulanova had to catch a train, she had put on her boots in the wings of the theater.

• Rudolph Nureyev wanted to learn dancing at the Kirov. At his audition, the woman ballet teacher Costravitskaya watched him closely, then told him, “Young man, you’ll either become a brilliant dancer—or a total failure. And most likely you’ll be a failure!” By the way, when Mr. Nureyev danced the part of Albrecht in Giselle, he wore a wig that was so blond and curly that he called it his Marilyn Monroe wig.

• Madame Manya was a costumer of genius. She made many costumes for ballerina Alicia Markova, and whenever she decorated a costume with pearls and jewels, she covered the costume with a very fine, almost unnoticeable net, so that no pearls or jewels ever fell to the floor during a Markova performance. Today, Madame Manya’s costumes can be seen at the Theatre Museum in London—the inside of each costume is as finely made as the outside.

• Vicky Tiel’s granddaughter, Lucie Belle, may have inherited Vicky’s love of fashion. When Lucie Belle got a baby brother, she announced that she was going to marry him and therefore needed a red dress that would match her red shoes. Lucie Belle’s favorite shoes, of course, are red patent-leather Mary Janes. When the shoe salesman showed her a pair of brown Oxfords, she told him, politely, “I don’t think so.”

• Ballet dancers go through ballet shoes quickly. In the 1980s, Briar Brownson, the “shoe lady” of the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet, used to keep on hand 30 pairs of pointe shoes for each woman and six pairs of black and six pairs of white ballet slippers for each man in the company. Whenever her stock of shoes got any lower than that, she grew worried about running out.

• As a young ballerina, Illaria Obidenna Ladré wore the very short tunics that her teacher, Ms. Vaganova, wanted the students to wear. Later, as a dancer for Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev, her short tunic shocked the wardrobe mistress, who remarked, “Any shorter, and you’d need lipstick!” (At the time, early in the 20thcentury, lipstick was worn mostly by prostitutes.)

• James Abbott McNeill Whistler dressed eccentrically to attract attention. A fellow painter, Edgar Degas, once told him, “If you were not a genius, you would be the most ridiculous man in Paris.”

• Costumes in dance can be shocking. In 1907, Maude Allan danced her Vision of Salomein a costume consisting only of strings of pearls that formed a loincloth and bra.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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THE COOLEST PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

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