Estonian National Ballet in Dores André's costumes for Tiit Helimets' Thread. Photo by Jack Devant, Courtesy Estonian National Ballet

SFB Principal Dores André Brings Her Dancer's Eye to Costume Design

San Francisco Ballet principal Dores André has long had an interest in fashion. In recent years she's become a costume designer in her own right, creating looks for Estonian National Ballet, Ballet Idaho and, most recently, Royal New Zealand Ballet's Sleeping Beauty. Designing for dancers while being one herself gives her a unique way of thinking about what works and what doesn't. Here are a few things she's learned:

Choose materials wisely: "I think of weight, materials, whether you can wash it or not and it will be durable, whether it's going to be worn by one person or multiple casts. For a lot of things, if you use certain materials, you're not going to be able to use them more than once. There are just so many factors when you design for ballet—we sweat and we move a lot, and you can ruin the costume."

The deciding question: "For Sleeping Beauty, the Bluebird had this tutu that looked kind of like a cage, so it was like the cage and the bird, but no one wants a tutu with a diamond-shaped cage. It's too crazy. Artistic director Patricia Barker was like, 'If you were dancing it, would you like to wear it?' "

Your taste won't work for every dancer: "There are some commonalities—everyone likes to look thin and with long legs, so you're going to accentuate those if you can, with shading or seams, or stuff like that. But I also know that what I find comfortable is not what other people find comfortable. I like my tutus and T-shirts baggy, to the point that my partners hate me for it. I don't trust my taste in that regard."

Imagination versus function: "I like crazy costumes—anything that will make you feel like it's not you, to a degree. You want something that will change the way you feel once you put it on, in the sense that you feel transformed, therefore your performance will be transformed. But what you don't want is to not be able to perform at your maximum because you're restricted by the costume. So it's a fine line between those two."

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Stark Photo Productions, Courtesy Harlequin

Why Your Barre Can Make or Break Your At-Home Dance Training

Throughout the pandemic, Shelby Williams, of Royal Ballet of Flanders (aka "Biscuit Ballerina"), has been sharing videos that capture the pitfalls of dancers working from home: slipping on linoleum, kicking over lamps and even taking windows apart at the "barre." "Dancers aren't known to be graceful all of the time," says Mandy Blackmon, PT, DPT, OSC, CMTPT, head physical therapist/medical director for Atlanta Ballet. "They tend to fall and trip."

Many dancers have tried to make their home spaces as safe as possible for class and rehearsal by setting up a piece of marley, like Harlequin's Dance Mat, to work on. But there's another element needed for taking thorough ballet classes at home: a portable barre.

"Using a barre is kinda Ballet 101," says 16-year-old Haley Dale, a student in her second year at American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. She'd bought a portable barre from Harlequin to use at her parents' home in Northern Virginia even before the pandemic hit. "Before I got it, honestly I would stay away from doing barre work at home. Now I'm able to do it all the time."

Blackmon bought her 15-year-old stepdaughter a freestanding Professional Series Ballet Barre from Harlequin early on in quarantine. "I was worried about her injuring herself without one," she admits.

What exactly makes Harlequin's barres an at-home must-have, and hanging on to a chair or countertop so risky? Here are five major differences dancers will notice right away.

December 2020