The evolution of the tutu: how the costumes of the dancers changed

One of the most recognizable symbols of ballet is, of course, an airy tulle skirt. We tell you how much time it takes to create a tutu, what dancers should not do during the fitting and why the first historical appearance of a ballerina in such a skirt caused shock, bewilderment and shock to the audience.

Эволюция балетной пачки: как менялись костюмы танцовщиц

Ulyana LopatkinaFotoJask Vartoogian/Getty Images

No matter how many-sided the wardrobe of modern dancers is, at the word “ballerina” we instantly imagine an elegant and fragile girl in a mandatory outfit – an airy tutu of tulle and pointe shoes. Now this particular set seems to us as familiar as possible, but, of course, it was not always so. The first ballerina who appeared in front of the public in an innovative and completely atypical attire, revolutionized ballet. And the audience, who were the first to witness such innovations, were, to put it mildly, shocked.

The first ballet costumes

The first ballet productions are considered to be court performances in France and Italy during the Renaissance, and evidence of costumes specially designed for ballet can be dated to the beginning of the XV century. Then the dancers dressed in outfits made of cotton, silk and linen, and skirts were sewn from gauze, which had to be pre-starched.

Эволюция балетной пачки: как менялись костюмы танцовщиц

The main costume for a male dancer was a tight-fitting, often brocaded cuirass resembling armor, a short draped skirt and feathered helmets. The dancers wore long silk tunics in several layers with fringe and embroidery. However, the shoes were noticeably different from the one we see now: the dancers wore tight-fitting shoes with high heels and wedges.

Since 1550, the design of ballet costumes has been influenced by fashion: the costumes practically duplicated the outfits that the ladies wore every day, although on stage the key details of the images were often exaggerated. Now such dresses may seem uncomfortable – the long hem of the dresses hid the dancers’ technique. And in general, it was impossible to make complicated steps in long skirts, which modern ballerinas are famous for.

In the XVII century, costumes became even more luxurious and impressive: silk and satin skirts, embroidered with gold and precious stones, added the desired effect to the performance. The standard costume for women was a court dress, while the costumes for male dancers turned into a kind of uniform. And to make it easier to distinguish between the characters, men used symbolic props to indicate the character of the hero or his occupation: for example, scissors said that a tailor was on stage.

Эволюция балетной пачки: как менялись костюмы танцовщиц

Maria Taglioni and her fashion revolution

A real revolution in dance costumes took place in 1832 at the Paris premiere of The Sylph. The main role in the production was played by the Swedish dancer Maria Taglioni. The audience of the performance watched in awe as Taglioni rose to the tips of her toes, as if defying gravity. The general shock from the technique of execution was enhanced by her costume with a flying skirt. That evening Taglioni presented two “inventions” at once – pointe shoes and a tutu, thereby setting new trends in ballet. She appeared in a loose skirt made of layers of transparent mesh-like material that literally floated in the air as she moved. The Parisian public was shocked, hypnotized and shocked. The skirt, which barely touched her ankles, was a tactical maneuver by Taglioni, designed to show her great work on stage, but this decision of the dancer immediately caused controversy and condemnation – many considered the costume obscene.

Эволюция балетной пачки: как менялись костюмы танцовщиц

Maria Taglioni and Charles Muller, 1856

Over time, the tutu became shorter and shorter, exposing the legs and showing the professionalism of the ballerinas. Over the next fifty years, the hem rose higher and higher, until it began to look more like today’s bell-shaped tutu just above the knee – this was first tried on by the Italian ballerina Virginia Zucchi in the 1880s. 

Over the years, the sleeves also disappeared, and the neckline became more pronounced. Until the 1870s, packs were shortened by ease of movement and maneuverability on stage, turning into a “classic pack” resembling a pancake. The most common models also have a rigid skirt with a hoop made of wire mesh – this helps the skirt to keep its shape and have the necessary rigidity.

Эволюция балетной пачки: как менялись костюмы танцовщиц

The master Sergei Diaghilev, the organizer of the “Russian Seasons” in Paris, also contributed to the history of ballet costumes. They experimented with different lines and appearance of costumes. In 1927, Russian constructivists Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner developed an ultra-modern tutu for the ballet La Chatte – the model had a transparent upper skirt made of a material similar to plastic.

Modern bundles

Technically, a tutu is just a skirt, but this name is also tied to a full ballet costume, which includes a skirt attached to the bodice. Most often there are two main types of packs: romantic and classic. The romantic tutu (which is often referred to as chopin) is made of several layers of tulle and sometimes has an additional top layer of fabric imitating a simple dress. The length of the skirt ends between the knee and the ankle. This type of tutu is most often worn on stage by peasant women and ordinary people.

Эволюция балетной пачки: как менялись костюмы танцовщиц

Paris, the annual dance Competition. Ballerinas watch other dancers

Эволюция балетной пачки: как менялись костюмы танцовщиц

Ballerina Alexandra Danilova

A shorter classical tutu appeared in the 1880s with the birth of iconic “classical” ballets, including Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker. The higher technical requirements for the dancers led to the fact that the skirts became shorter in order to show the more complex work of the ballerina. On stage, classic tutus are most often worn by noble characters – for example, princesses or magical creatures, as well as guests of weddings or balls. Classic tutus extend from twelve to eighteen inches, protruding horizontally from the hip. They are made of a dozen layers of very stiff, graduated tulle supported by a hoop sewn into the skirt. They say that in Paris, the standard classic tutu consists of 13 layers of tulle. Modern versions of the classic bundle are simpler and can have only 8-10 layers.

According to Jeanne Nolden, a pack creator who designs and manufactures costumes for the Inland Pacific Ballet Studio in Southern California, 25 to 30 yards of fabric are required for clothing. Nolden said that it takes about 60 hours to make a basic pack. “The process can be tedious, time-consuming, frustrating and difficult. You swear to yourself: “Never again!” – exactly until the next time,” says Nolden. –It’s really hard, but if the packs are taken care of properly, they can live up to 20 years.”

Эволюция балетной пачки: как менялись костюмы танцовщиц

Bundles can cost thousands of dollars, and the decorative layer can be decorated with sequins, beads and artificial gems. Such skirts need to be cleaned by hand, so dancers should be extremely careful. They are not allowed to wear jewelry or watches that can catch the tulle or tear the skirt. Meals in a suit, of course, are also prohibited. Often dancers are even forbidden to put their hands on their tutus, so as not to inadvertently stain a fragile outfit. The packs are stored either in a suspended “upside down”, or laying on the floor so that gravity does not cause them to sag. Dancers should also wear special tutus during rehearsals so that partners can adapt to them and understand what movements such a skirt can interfere with. And the choreographer sees the drawing of the performance at the same time. 

Эволюция балетной пачки: как менялись костюмы танцовщиц

Wearing a tutu, as a rule, marks a mature stage in the career of a ballet dancer – agree, no other costume reveals skill and technique, as does a short skirt with a tight bodice. After almost two hundred years, ornate skirts still help to transport the audience to the fantastic world of ballet, where everything is possible. And, despite the changeability of fashion, the tutu is one of those things that will definitely exist on the stage in a hundred years.

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