Tutu Transformations

The power of ballet’s classic costume
Published in the April/May 2014 issue.

Andrea Pelous adjusts Yuan Yuan Tan’s ethereal Giselle tutu. Photo by Erik Tomasson.

Few relationships are as intimate as the one between a ballerina and her tutu. “There’s such a mystical quality to a tutu,” says Marjory Fielding, wardrobe supervisor at National Ballet of Canada. “I’ve had dancers choose specific tutus because they want the one a particular ballerina wore earlier. There’s magic in that history.” Pointe talked to three dancers and their costume supervisors about three very different white tutus—Giselle’s Act II tutu, Odette’s tutu and Aurora’s wedding tutu. It turns out some of these lovely (and well-loved) costumes have fascinating, unexpected quirks.

 

 

Giselle, Act II, San Francisco Ballet
Yuan Yuan Tan, principal
Andrea Pelous, head of women’s wardrobe


Giselle is special to me because I first danced its second act when I was only 15. At that point I didn’t know much of the story—I was just trying to be as light as possible. The flowing shape of the romantic tutu helped me to feel like a ghost. What I love about this particular tutu is that there’s a top layer of very fragile silk that floats with you—it feels very fairy-like. At intermission, you’re already emotionally involved in the character of Giselle, but only the tutu can truly make you a Wili.” —Yuan Yuan Tan


“A detail unique to our production is that all the Wili tutus have vines of flowers down the front—except Giselle’s. Our interpretation is that, since Giselle is a new Wili, no flowers have had time to grow yet. If a dancer alternates Giselle and Myrtha, we’ll actually take the flowers on and off between performances.” —Andrea Pelous

 

 

Odette, National Ballet of Canada
Heather Ogden, principal

Marjory Fielding, wardrobe supervisor


“I don’t like this tutu fitted too tight—when you’re doing Odette, you want more range in your upper body, so you can fully open your chest and extend your arms to become a swan. I love that the skirt is a little fuller in the back than the front, so it feels like a wing.” —Heather Ogden


“This tutu was designed by Santo Loquasto, and it’s very elaborate. It has hundreds of ‘feathers’ made out of many different fabrics, to give the costume dimension and shine. Applying them all took an enormous amount of time. We actually asked our volunteer community to help us out, and had a special workshop day where they came in and cut out endless feathers. All of them signed the back of a feather or two—they’re still a part of the tutu.” —Marjory Fielding

 

 

Aurora, Act III, Pacific Northwest Ballet
Rachel Foster, principal

Larae Theige Hascall, costume shop manager


“I’m not a fan of restrictive costumes, just like I’m not a fan of restrictive street clothes. The way this tutu is constructed is wonderful—you can see your waist, and it makes you look very slim, but it doesn’t feel like a corset. The design helps you become the mature Aurora, too. The first-act tutu has sleeves and feels very young; this one, with its beautiful gemstones and embroidery, is all grown up. I especially love the necklace. How can you not maintain a beautiful open chest when you have all this great bling to show off?” —Rachel Foster


“This production was originally made for English National Ballet, so this is an English-style tutu. It’s a little larger and heavier than the tutus those of us in the Balanchine mode are used to—a big platter with a large radius. The jewelling is really spectacular, incredibly sparkly. Rather than being stitched on one at a time, all of the stones were applied to a single piece of netting, which was then attached to the bodice. I love that—I can take it all off and put it on another tutu if I need to.” —Larae Theige Hascall