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A tutu is more than just a bodice connected to layers of tulle. It’s an extension of a ballerina’s being, capable of mesmerizing audiences of all ages. A dancer can be transformed into a swan, a ghost, and, of course, a princess. Dance Magazine asked eight ballerinas to share stories of the tutus they treasure.
Dancer, Joffrey Ballet
Interviewed by Lynn Colburn Shapiro
I love romantic long tutus because they’re so airy, the way they trail back. The white tutu Giselle wears in the second act almost feels like you’re in a cloud; it’s barely there. Last season was my first Giselle and I felt weightless, liquid. It brought out the feminine, delicate side of me. At the beginning of Act II, when Albrecht isn’t supposed to see you, the skirt lingers there before it goes with you, so the prince senses Giselle’s presence without being able to see her. It helped me create an illusion, like when you catch that balance in your first little solo in the second act, or when you come up in that fast hop, hop, hop, and chainé-chainé into the piqué. Whether or not you balance well, it doesn’t matter because your skirt creates this amazing illusion of your being there forever.
I danced Giselle with my husband the first time. We had such a blast onstage. He thought the costume made me softer, more delicate, and he liked that it didn’t get in his way at all. “Great,” he said, “the tutu is staying down!”
Principal, National Ballet of Canada
Interviewed by Wendy Perron
When you put on the tutu from Sleeping Beauty Act I, you feel like a princess. It’s gorgeous. It’s a peachy tone, the color of youth. It’s got embroidery on the front with gold thread. The bodice has a small cap sleeve that falls off the shoulder—just a little piece of peach lace. The design is like a droopy tutu, not real perky like some of the Russian tutus. The neckline is beautiful; I feel like I’m wearing a strapless gown. It’s a sweetheart style with the line across the chest. It feels very grand when you make your entrance into the birthday party. It’s not heavy or fitted to the point where you feel restricted. It’s ready to dance in. I put it on and I feel like Aurora.
We’ve had these designs since Rudolf Nureyev set it on the company in 1972. Our production was refurbished for the opening of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in 2006. This ballet has a special meaning for us because of Rudolf’s connection with the company. Sleeping Beauty was the ballet that put the company on the international map.
Prima Ballerina, Kirov Ballet (Maryinsky)
Interviewed and translated by Nina Alovert
My favorite tutu is the one I wear in the Pavlova and Cecchetti scene from Neumeier’s The Nutcracker. It’s a classical tutu, one that would have been worn by late 19th-century ballerinas in rehearsal. It was copied by Maryinsky tailors from Pavlova’s costume. It is light as air and it’s easy to move in. The classical steps come out better; all the positions line up logically and beautifully.
A costume should beautify the ballerina just like makeup and jewelry. When you feel beautiful and elegant it’s easier to dance. A costume can infuse a ballerina with energy even when it appears that she has no strength left. If you don’t feel your best in a costume, you need to make a bargain with it before the performance so that it becomes soft and pliable—a virtual second skin.
First Soloist, Houston Ballet
Interviewed by Carrie Schmelkin
The Serenade tutu is such a pure and classic design: simple, beautiful, and timeless. It’s particularly long, and I think that ballet is all about finding freedom and length with your movement. Feeling the movement in the skirt helps you feel the quality of the movement. There is this wonderful step in the corps where you fly off into the wings and feel your port de bras move through your tutu. All the girls are doing temps levés off the stage, and I think that’s a fun moment to use the skirt.
It’s such an iconic costume that you feel like you are a part of a tradition when you wear it. Serenade is a great American ballet—the first that Balanchine made in the U.S.—and it makes you really proud to be dancing it.
Balanchine has said, “Ballet is woman,” which has provoked a lot of debate between male and female dancers. But in that moment when you are standing onstage and you sense the audience react to all of you in those beautiful Karinska costumes, you have to agree with him.
Étoile, Paris Opéra Ballet
Interviewed and translated by Karyn Bauer
I like my own creations, particularly the first tutu I designed for myself in José Martinez’s choreography, Delibes Suite. With its variety of blues and multiple layers of pleated tulle trimmed with thick fishing line, it is playful and flighty. The bustier is a superimposition of dark blue velour and multicolored taffeta. The ballet, which is a gleeful conversation between two dancers expressing their changing moods, comes to life in this costume. At first my designs were disturbing for Martinez, whose ballet had more of a Boléro feel, but he adapted to my costume, making the movement more jazzy and light. I love Christian Lacroix’s work in fashion design, and I think this tutu has a touch of his type of eccentricity. The stage allows you to go beyond yourself, and this costume is a reflection of that freedom.
Principal, New York City Ballet
Interviewed by Wendy Perron
The Sugar Plum Fairy tutu is a quintessential Karinska tutu. I love the color—light green—and the decorative details. It puts me in the mindset to do a really classical pas de deux. I wear Wendy Whelan’s—it fits me perfectly—and she’s one of my favorite ballerinas. Sometimes she’ll wear it one day and then I’ll wear it the next day. The only problem is for the Cavalier because it’s so stiff and stands out. Our practice tutus are old and floppy, so we have to rehearse so that he can get used to it. You have to partner higher because you can’t get down on the hip. Sometimes his hands will get caught in the fabric. But when we’re onstage, I feel like a real ballerina.
Soloist, American Ballet Theatre
Interviewed by Khara Hanlon
My tutu as an Odalisque in Le Corsaire is a nice blue color. It’s very delicate with small beading and sequins around the top. It’s hard to get onstage and do these variations but the tutu helps to create the look. It has the whole slave girl thing happening. It’s suited to being an Odalisque slave about to be sold to the pasha. It’s also fairly broken in. New tutus are stiff and hard to move in. Rather than having boning in the middle, it has an open midriff so I can use my whole body. I feel a little bit sexy in it. And it makes me realize I have to do a lot of crunches beforehand.
It can smell sometimes. Maria Bystrova and I have worn it for a few years. Sandra Brown wore it. I think other companies have used it. The dressers have a Febreze type mixture that they spray on it to mask the smell. I’ve heard that if you use vodka it helps. I spray it with a little perfume.
Depending on their chest size, some of the girls like to be sewn into it at the top. I don’t have much going on in that area so I don’t have to worry about something going wrong.
Principal, Oregon Ballet Theatre
Interviewed by Martha Ullman West
In Yuri Possokhov’s new Raymonda, I wear two tutus: one white, in the opening pas de deux, and a blue one—my favorite—for the grand adagio. They were designed by Mark Zappone from Pacific Northwest Ballet and built in the OBT costume shop. They have beautiful sleevettes and the headpiece is trimmed with rhinestones. The blue one is stunning from the house. (I share the role of Raymonda with Alison Roper, so I got a chance to go out front and watch her.) For our first performance, my partner and I had no time to practice with the blue tutu, which made him a little nervous. But soon we didn’t have any problem dancing and it was very comfortable. The tutu completed me and I felt like the most beautiful ballerina in the world!
Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.