Dreaming of tragedies in tulle.

Can we all just acknowledge that at some point in our lives, most of us wanted to be a ballerina?

This phase may have been short-lived – perhaps it was a fleeting fancy resulting from a December Nutcracker overdose – or perhaps like me, it took form in painfully awkward ballet bunnies classes. For a special few however, this passion develops into a career in dance. To all ballerinas: I am feeling especially jealous lately!

Ballet, with its conjured images of grace, tutus and impossibly dainty (and painful!) pointe shoes, represents a sort of understated elegance that has often inspired the fashion world (like Degas’ “Dancer” paintings with creamy peach tones and appliqué flowers). This influence has been distilled into even the most mainstream of trends – ballet flats for example. Without dialogue, ballets rely on communicating characterization through costumes more strongly than in speaking mediums.

I was able to view this first hand when seeing The National Ballet of Canada’s Romeo and Juliet (the Prokofiev version).

This is the kind of grace I am talking about – look at Karen Kain’s leap! (She’s now the Artistic Director of the National Ballet of Canada.)

Flipping through the programme, I learned that the National Ballet “is one of only a few North American companies with its own in-house Wardrobe Department that builds its own costumes”. And fun fact: a basic tutu takes about three weeks to construct and uses up to 15 yards of fabric and 15 layers of tulle – costing between $1000-$2000! Whew, definitely not a DIY.

Despite a lack of said tutus, Romeo and Juliet was stunning. The dancing was captivating, the music was dramatic and the costumes were subtle and striking in all the right ways. If it hadn’t been for a couple shockingly childish ADULTS (my fifteen year old sister managed to keep it together) who giggled loudly during the “bedroom” scenes, I might have shed a tear.

Masque scene of the National Ballet dancers. I believe the fellow in the decorated brocade is Paris.

The visual contrast of the pale greens and browns of the Montagues and the light rusts and wheat hues of the Capulets help create dramatic tension for the audience, who were able to keep track the rival families without it being painfully obvious. And the costume designer, Susan Benson kept up the colour themes with billowing coral (my sister said “tangerine”) and red cloaks for the Capulets at the masque ball where Romeo and Juliet meet. Swoon. There was even an entire dance sequence for when Lady Capulet presents Juliet with a pale peach gown for the ball, which had an empire waist and was simply embellished around the neckline with tiny fabric rosettes.

A shot of the National Ballet’s current production of Romeo and Juliet’s final dance together after they are married.

All the costumes supported the mood, most notably when Romeo and Juliet dance together at the ball and the bright lights and flowing movements blended the pale coloured garments into a blinding white. The metaphors are obvious -– R and J’s love overcomes their differences, while Tybalt’s black tights and cape indicate his reluctance to make peace. It’s a dance based on Shakespeare for land sakes and the drama is all good. The styles were more Zeffirelli than Luhrmann, with more traditional renaissance garb: layered petticoats on the townsfolk, tunics on the gents and severe headdress on the Ladies and Juliet’s Nurse. The costumes ultimately highlight the grace of the dancers, and I think that grace is what fashion seeks to emulate.

Claire Danes in Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 modern adaption, Romeo+Juliet. This costume took Romeo’s line, “Oh speak again, bright angel!” line seriously.

All and all, Romeo and Juliet has got me thinking maybe it’s not too late to add some ballet to my life, if only to my closet!

– Esmé

P.S. Check out here for more information. The $20 youth Dance Break and $30 general rush tickets a worth looking into.

P.P.S. We found the lovely family photo above from marshmallowphantom.tumblr.com/, a Tumblr (we looove Tumblr!) that wornjournal.tumblr.com follows.

For their December 2008 issue, Vogue commissioned Annie Liebovitz to photograph a Romeo and Juliet story, featuring Coca Rocha and dancer Roberto Bolle.

2 thoughts on “Dreaming of tragedies in tulle.

  1. Really great post, Esme. I love seeing interpretations of Romeo and Juliet in pop culture – from the movie made in the 60′s (or was it 50′s? Can’t remember right now) to that Vogue spread to the Baz Lurhman movie.

  2. Hey Anna! Thanks, and Zeffirelli’s was made in 1968 methinks. Although until I actually researched it, I also thought it was earlier too!

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