Inside the Fantastical Costume World of Marc Chagall

New York City Ballet in Marc Chagall's costume designs for Balanchine's "Firebird."

I am a self-confessed costume nerd who really needs little persuasion to travel nearly 3,000 miles to see a costume exhibition—which is what I did when I set off for California for the new exhibition at Los Angeles County Museum of Art: Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage. I knew Marc Chagall primarily for his sumptuous blue swirling paintings featuring violin-playing goats, his incredible ceiling at the Paris Opéra's Palais Garnier, and murals at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, so I was intrigued to see his work with ballet.

Marc Chagall (1887–1985), was born Moishe Zakharovich Shagal in Belarus. He later moved to St. Petersburg, Russia, to study art, apprenticing under famed Ballets Russes designer Leon Bakst. Chagall's work in ballet and opera, however, did not begin until he and his wife Bella arrived in the U.S. as World War II refugees in 1941.

Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage, adapted from an earlier exhibition at the Montreal Music of Art and curated by Yuval Sharon and Jason H. Thompson, is an exciting opportunity to see 41 costumes and nearly 100 designs. But it is the costumes that really steal the show. You won't see any tutus here, but instead amazing, almost cartoon-like realizations of Chagall's artwork. LACMA's exhibition runs through January 7, 2018. For those of you who can't make the trip like I did, here's a rundown of highlights.


The original costumes from Leonid Massine's 1942 ballet "Aleko." Photo by Fredrik Nilsen, Courtesy LACMA.

Aleko

This first ballet was created in 1942 for Ballet Theatre (now American Ballet Theatre). Based on the poem The Gypsies by Alexander Pushkin, Aleko was choreographed by Leonide Massine, with music by Tchaikovsky. The ballet told the story of Aleko, a young man who falls in love with the gypsy girl Zymphira, yet eventually kills her. Production was moved to Mexico City as New York City union regulations wouldn't allow Chagall to paint his own sets. In Mexico, Chagall tackled the backdrops while his wife worked on the costumes, which he finished with hand-painting. Of the four productions displayed, the costumes for Aleko are the only originals. The costume for the Fish is my favorite!


This 1945 watercolor costume design for the yellow monster in "Firebird" is a work of art in itself. Photo © 2017 Archives Marc et Ida Chagall, Paris, Courtesy LACMA.

Firebird

The 1945 production of Stravinsky's Firebird was also created for Ballet Theatre. This was the first work Chagall undertook after the sudden death of his wife and marked his re-engagement with the art world. The ballet was sold to NYCB in 1949 where Balanchine recreated the choreography. It was revived in 1970 with costumes remade by the incomparable Barbara Karinska. NYCB still performs this production.


The monster with donkey's head from Balanchine's "Firebird." Photo © 2017 Museum Associates/LACMA

The costumes for the sorcerer Koschei and a selection of his monsters are displayed – these are truly incredible, spectacular and grotesque – and must be a huge challenge to dance in!


Teresa Reichlen and dancers of NYCB in "Firebird." Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

Chagall's Shepherdesses costumes for George Skibine's "Daphnis and Chloe." Photo © 2017 Museum Associates/LACMA

Daphnis and Chloe

Created in 1948 for the Paris Opéra Ballet, Daphnis and Chloe, set to the music of Ravel and choreographed by George Skibine, was Chagall's third and final ballet. The costumes are softer and lighter showing Chagall's evolving style. He must have had fun—Pan (in foreground below) is particularly imposing!


Pan and other costumes from "Daphnis and Chloe." Photo by Fredrik Nilsen, Courtesy LACMA.


Costumes from "The Magic Flute." Photo by Fredrik Nilsen, Courtesy LACMA.

The Magic Flute

The last work is Chagall's only opera. These designs took Chagall three years to create. The production premiered at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1967 as part of the Lincoln Center's inaugural season. The costumes are created collage-style with layer upon layer of fabric and no hand-painting. My favorite piece is the Lion costume - viewed from one side it appears to be giving a slightly befuddled smile, but on the other a menacing grimace!


Photo by Fredrik Nilson, Courtesy LACMA.

The exhibition has been designed in a very theatrical way – one enters under a swag of crimson and gold fringed curtain. The productions have been laid out chronologically with simulated backdrops behind each tableau, film footage and excerpts of the score playing. The exhibition does, however, feel somewhat disjointed—it would have been great to see production photos alongside the physical costumes, and descriptions do not state who originally wore them. (It was only after some searching that I realized I was looking at Alicia Markova's costume from Aleko!) While elements of the exhibition could have been better designed, it is a wonderful opportunity to see these works of art and dance up close. And definitely worth my trip to the West Coast!

One of the backdrops from "Aleko." Digital image © 2017 The Museum of Modern Art/licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY. Courtesy LACMA.

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Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'The Nutcracker.' Photo by Rich Sofranko

Catching a performance of The Nutcracker has long been a holiday tradition for many families. And now, more and more companies are adding sensory-friendly elements to specific shows in an effort to make the classic ballet inclusive to children and adults with special needs.

While the accommodations vary depending on the company, many are presenting shorter versions of the ballet with more relaxed theater rules. Additionally, lower sound and stage light levels during the performance, as well as trained staff on hand, make The Nutcracker more accessible for those on the autism spectrum and others with special needs.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's performance will take place on Tuesday, December 26th, and they are one of the pioneer companies in presenting sensory-friendly performances of The Nutcracker (their first production was in 2013). PBT also offers sensory-friendly versions of Jorden Morris' Peter Pan and Lew Christensen's Beauty and the Beast throughout the year.

See our list of sensory-friendly performances, and check out each site for all of the details regarding their offerings.

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Your Best Body
Pilates hundred intermediate set-up, modeled by Jordan Miller. Photo by Emily Giacalone.

The Pilates hundred is a popular exercise used by many dancers for conditioning and warming up, but it's also one of the most misunderstood. Pumping your arms for 100 counts sounds simple enough, but it requires coordinated breathwork, a leg position that suits your abilities and proper alignment. Marimba Gold-Watts, who works with New York City Ballet dancers at her Pilates studio, Articulating Body, breaks down this surprisingly hard exercise. When done correctly, the benefits are threefold: "If you're doing it before class," she says, "the hundred is a great way to get your blood flowing and work on breath control and abdominal support all at once."

To Start

Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Nod your chin toward the front of your throat, and reach your fingertips long.

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Pointe Stars

At just 16 years old, the Bolshoi Ballet's Maria Alexandrova already had the makings of a great artist. In this variation from Coppélia, she portrays the carefree Swanilda with blithe, youthful ease.

When she bounds on stage in her perky pink tutu, you immediately notice her legs–they just go on forever. In the first sequence of steps she keeps her jetés and développés low, but then the phrase repeats and she lets her gorgeous extensions fly. She sails through Italian fouettés and whirls around in piqués en manège that get faster and faster. While she nails all the virtuosic movement, Alexandrova also pays beautiful attention to detail throughout the variation. Even the simplest steps become something exciting, like her precise pas de bourrées beginning at 1:03 that sing with musicality.

Swanilda has been one of Alexandrova's signature roles throughout her career. For a fun side by side, watch her perform the same variation almost 20 years later in this video. Although Alexandrova formally retired from the Bolshoi in February, she still performs frequently in Moscow and internationally as a guest artist. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!


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Ingrid Silva and her dog, Frida Kahlo. Photo by Nathan Sayers for Pointe.

You're probably already following your favorite dancers on Instagram, but did you know that you can follow many of their dogs, too? We rounded up some of our favorite dog-centered accounts and hashtags to keep you pawsitively entertained (sorry, we can't help ourselves).

Cora and Maya (American Ballet Theatre's Sarah Lane and Luis Ribagorda)

Sarah Lane and Luis Ribagorda's pups Cora and Maya update their profile pretty frequently. Often accompanying Lane to the ABT studios, they can also be seen using tutus or piles of pink tights as dog beds.

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Pointe Stars
Vladislav Lantritov and Ekaterina Krysanova in "Taming of the Shrew." Photo by Alice Blangero, Courtesy Bolshoi Ballet.

If you haven't checked your local movie listings yet for this weekend, hop to it. The Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema series and Fathom Events is broadcasting a performance of Jean-Christophe Maillot's The Taming of the Shrew to theaters nationwide on Sunday, November 19. (To see if it's playing near you and to purchase tickets, click here.) While the rest of the Bolshoi's cinema season features 19th- and 20th-century classics, The Taming of the Shrew gives audiences a chance to see the revered Moscow company in a thoroughly modern, 21st-century take on Shakespeare's famous play.

Aside from a limited run in New York City this July, American audiences have had little exposure to Maillot's 2014 production. To learn more, check out these two exclusive, behind-the-scenes webisodes below. Principal dancer Ekaterina Krysanova, who stars as the hotheaded Katharina, gives an intimate play-by-play of two major scenes in Act I. The first is her fiery rejection of three potential suitors (who all would prefer to marry Katharina's younger sister Bianca).

The second scene breaks down Katharina's first encounter with Petruchio (danced by the larger-than-life Vladislav Lantritov), the only man who seems to be able to challenge her. Here, too, we see the shrew's heart start to soften. (Don't miss her time-stopping attitude turn at 4:27.)

The Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Series continues through June; for more details on upcoming screenings, click here.

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Smuin Ballet dancers Erica Felsch, Rex Wheeler, Mengjun Chen and Tessa Barbour in "White Christmas," choreographed by dancers Ben Needham-Wood and Michael Smuin. Photo by Keith Sutter, Courtesy Smuin Ballet.

Nutcracker-ed out? Or just can't get enough holiday ballets? These unique Nutcracker interpretations and non-Nutcracker productions will make your season bright.


The Hip Hop Nutcracker

Through December 30

Tchaikovsky's masterful Nutcracker score isn't just for classical ballet…

Hip Hop + a live DJ + an electric violinist unite in The Hip Hop Nutcracker, currently touring the U.S.

Familiar characters such Drosselmeyer, the Nutcracker, Mouse King and Marie (here called Maria-Clara) dance through an updated New York City storyline with choreography by Jennifer Weber, artistic director of the Brooklyn-based theatrical hip hop company Decadancetheatre.

Premiered in 2014, The Hip Hop Nutcracker is produced by New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

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