Let's continue the shoe thread that started with yesterday's post, taking the first image from that post - Moira Shearer's ballet slippers - as a main inspiration. Around a month ago, to celebrate its 75th anniversary, the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) asked US Vogue’s European editor-at-large Hamish Bowles to curate a show for its Diamond Jubilee. The event, organised on three levels of the Metropolitan Opera House, featured a series of pieces and costumes from the ABT archives.
The pieces were chosen by Bowles and ABT’s wardrobe supervisor Bruce Horowitz, and included some rare garments such as the Princess Mother costume worn by Lucia Chase in the 1967 production of "Swan Lake"; Léon Bakst’s design for Patricia Bowman in 1940’s "Carnaval"; an ivory doublet worn by Mikhail Baryshnikov and Galina Solovyeva's costume for Natalia Osipova in Alexei Ratmasnky's 2012 "Firebird".
There were also some new additions dedicated to fashionistas, among them costumes by Ralph Rucci, Christian Lacroix, and Isaac Mizrahi (displayed on mannequins on loans from the Fashion Institute of Technology) and a special collaboration renewing the fashion and ballet connection we have explored in previous posts.
Bowles asked indeed a group of designers - Christian Louboutin, Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, Marchesa, Manolo Blahnik, Stephen Jones, Christian Siriano, Dolce & Gabbana, Narciso Rodriguez, and Peter Copping for Oscar de la Renta - to reinterpret a pointe slipper.
Though all the shoes created for the occasion had a mesmerising beauty about them, the results varied, but most designers opted for couture fantasy and fairy-tale grandeur channelled through a heavily embroidered or embellished style, meaning that these are not shoes made for dancing, but for dreaming.
Dolce & Gabbana's slipper looks for example as if it were a part of a Baroque music box; Siriano's crystal beaded flowers would probably cause multiple accidents on stage, Burton's slipper seems to be covered in thousands of impractical pin-like beads, not to mention Louboutin's fetish ballet slipper.
The American Ballet Theatre's first performance took place in 1940 at Rockefeller Center; since then it launched over 460 works by over 150 choreographers, including Marius Petipa and George Balanchine.
Talking about Petipa (and bearing in mind the embellished pointe shoes we have just seen), it is worth remembering that, if you happen to be in New York, there is still the chance (until tomorrow) to see Alexei Ratmansky’s ABS production of "The Sleeping Beauty".
Drawing from Marius Petipa’s 1890 premiere in St. Petersburg, this production features rich costumes by Richard Hudson (well-known for his designs for the stage production of "The Lion King").
The costumes take inspiration from the ones created by Léon Bakst's for Serge Diaghilev’s 1921 London production of the "Sleeping Princess".
For that occasion, Bakst studied different fashions, mixing the costumes from the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV together, looking at historical engravings and theatrically and dramatically exaggerating certain details.
Ballet fans may remember how Bakst drained the budget, creating six elaborate sets inspired by the Baroque work of the 17th century theatre designer Ferdinando Galli Bibiena (1656–1743) and the 18th century work of Bérain and Boquet, and lavish costumes made with expensive materials (silk, velvet, gold and silver embroideries, brocades, feathers, and flowers...) and couture-like construction, with details personally overseen and approved by Diaghilev.
He also added a touch of decadence in some of the costumes with low-cut bodices (that in his sketches even exposed the breasts of the wearers...).
Hudson opted for very decorative and embellished pieces, knee-length tutus for women and tights and knee-length breeches for men.
His costumes (over 400 of them made in New York with fabrics sourced in the local garment district and in Indian fabric stores) are at times decorated with tassels, braiding and appliqued elements, feature voluminous, wide skirts with panniers, and are accessorised with huge wigs and feathers (many headdresses were made in Italy, at Rome's Laboratorio Pieroni).
Though Hudson's costumes feature slightly less vibrant colours, Bakst's original clashes of shades (that had Cecil Beaton enthusing "The apotheosis of tangerine...orange zig-zags...parma violet..emerald green") are still clearly visible.
A detailed and at times extremely Baroque tapestry, the ballet features an impressive amount of details with hundred of characters in Act I and a fairy-tale divertissement in Act III in which several special guests - Puss-in-Boots, Bluebird, Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Hop-o’-My-Thumb, his brother and the ogre of seven-league boots fame - re-enact their adventures.
Though extremely expensive (around $6 million; a quick look at the Costume Fund site will reveal you can make a donation for Aurora's Tutu with $5,000 or for Bluebird's Doublet for $2,000), the Teatro alla Scala in Milan made the Neoclassical props and scenery in Italy, sharing the costs of the ballet (that will move to Milan in September).
Will this over-embellished trend and focus on extremely detailed pieces that ballet borrowed from couture be reintroduced in ready-to-wear? We'll see, but if this is not your style, don't despair.
If you're looking for something more modern and minimalist, you just have to wait till (28th-31st) October when Hussein Chalayan's collaboration with Sadler's Wells in London will finally be revealed. The fashion designer is currently working on a piece entitled "Gravity Fatigue" with choreographer Damien Jalet (Babel) that will focus on the themes of identity, displacement and invisibility.
Chalayan won't be just designing the costumes for this production that, promising to restrict or enhance the dancers' movements, will maybe be slightly reminiscent of the iconic tube jersey dress in Martha Graham's "Lamentation". He will also act as a sort of artistic director, conveying his ideas (that, he announces, will mainly revolve around a minimalist choreography) through sketches, taking in this way the current obsession for innovatively dynamic body movements to another level.
Image credits for this post
All images of American Ballet pointe shoes (1 - 5) Courtesy of Hamish Bowles via the American Ballet Theatre Press Office.
6. - 7. Bakst's sketches for "The Sleeping Princess".
8. - 11. Richard Hudson's sketches for "The Sleeping Beauty" costumes.
12. The cast in Alexei Ratmansky’s "The Sleeping Beauty". © Gene Schiavone.
13. Gillian Murphy in Alexei Ratmansky’s "The Sleeping Beauty". © Gene Schiavone.
14. Lauren Post, Melanie Hamrick and Stephanie Williams as Silver, Sapphire and Gold fairies in Alexei Ratmansky’s "The Sleeping Beauty". © Gene Schiavone.
15. Craig Salstein as Carabosse in Alexei Ratmansky’s "The Sleeping Beauty". © Gene Schiavone.
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