• In addition to being an innovator in dance techniques, modern dance pioneer Martha Graham was a pioneer in costuming. In ballet, costumes reveal the legs; however, during Ms. Graham’s period of long woolens, she wore long woolen dresses that she would manipulate with her legs and body to stretch and create dramatic shapes. She took pains with her costumes, and if they weren’t right, she would tear them apart and work with them until they were right. Sometimes, her dancers would use safety pins to hold their costumes together because no time was left to sew them together again in a new pattern after Ms. Graham had ripped them to pieces.
• Ballet companies, not dancers, usually own the ballet costumes — although the dancers do supply their own leotards. This means that more than one dancer wears the costumes. Alicia Markova insisted that her costumes be cleaned each time she was to wear them. At a performance of Romeo and Juliet, Nora Kaye came backstage to change into her next costume — but she discovered that that costume and the others had been taken to the cleaners by an overeager dresser who was following Ms. Markova’s orders. No costume changes took place in that performance of Romeo and Juliet.
• Modern dance pioneer Isadora Duncan was also a pioneer in dance costuming. She often wore little more than a short, filmy tunic and left her legs and arms bare. In fact, many women of the time wore more clothing while swimming than Ms. Duncan danced in. Early in her career, she danced for upper-class ladies at teas and garden parties. At least once, some ladies left during her performances because they were scandalized by her lack of clothing. Late in her career, evangelist Billy Sunday complained, “That Bolshevik hussy doesn’t wear enough clothes to pad a crutch!”
• Early in her dancing career, Martha Graham appeared in the Greenwich Village Follies, where she represented artistic dancing in a production otherwise filled with dancing chorus girls. Each day, a police officer arrived to look over the dancers’ costumes to make sure that they didn’t violate any public decency laws. One day, a dancer pointed to Ms. Graham and asked, “What about her?” Although Ms. Graham’s costume was the skimpiest one there, the police officer shrugged and said, “She’s all right — she’s art.”
• Choreographer Bronislava Nijinska danced the part of the hostess in her ballet Les Biches. As she was blocking out the pattern of the dance onstage, she held a cigarette holder as she always did, despite the regulations against smoking backstage. Sergei Diaghilev saw her with the cigarette holder, then insisted that it become part of the costume for her character. Often, Ms. Nijinska drank a glass of champagne just before going onstage because it helped put her in the mood of the character.
• In the musical One Touch of Venus, an ancient statue of the goddess of love comes to life. Nymphs are dancers in the play, and the costumer designed costumes that shocked choreographer Agnes de Mille, who pointed out, “There seem to be breasts under her arms and on her back, too.” The costumer replied, “You wouldn’t want ordinary anatomy on nymphs, surely!” (Fortunately, Ms. de Mille did want ordinary anatomy on the nymphs.)
• Costumes need not be expensive. Ted Shawn and Ruth St. Denis once went into a Woolworth’s, where they shocked the clerks by putting colanders on their heads and saying such things as, “Look, dear, this strainer fits perfectly.” After they had purchased a colander, they painted it gold and silver, added fake jewels and other gewgaws, and suddenly the colander had turned into an exotic Oriental headdress.
• Dance and dancers change over time. Alvin Ailey, Jr., has said that members of his original company would not have been able to dance his later works such as Streams or Choral Dances. In fact, one of his original dancers told him, “We couldn’t have got into these leotards, never mind cope with the technical challenges.”
• Ballerina Yvette Chauviré always took rehearsals seriously, regarding them as important as the actual performance. Once, at a rehearsal of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty at Covent Garden, she was the only dancer in costume.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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