Kiran West, Courtesy Meiss

National Ballet of Canada's Chelsy Meiss wearing the personal "Dying Swan" tutu of Canadian ballet star Evelyn Hart. "Our costumes have the ability to transcend ballet lineage across countries and through the past, present and future," says Meiss.

Behind the Seams: Ballet Costumes Carry an Embodied History

Traditionally, ballet costumes are made to have a life of 20 to 30 years. But they sometimes remain in use for much longer, being worn and altered to fit dozens of dancers. Multiple rows of hooks and bars show this progression, but it's more apparent inside the costume, where numerous labels can be found bearing the names of all past wearers.


Barbara de Kat, a former wardrobe coordinator for the National Ballet of Canada, says that this makes for a fun tradition. "As we rent ballets from and to other companies, often the dancers check to see if they are wearing a friend's costume."

NBoC first soloist Chelsy Meiss recalls that, when the company's production of Onegin was returned by American Ballet Theatre, she saw that corps member Stephanie Williams had worn her costume. "We had both studied at The Australian Ballet School a few years apart; now I dance in Toronto and she dances in New York City," says Meiss. "Who knew that we would end up wearing the exact same costume shared by two different companies in the future?"

A grainy photograph of Julie Kent in a white swan tutu and headpiece, lounging on a striped chaise lounge with her hands on one hip and her feet crossed at the ankle.

Julie Kent's Swan Lake tutu continues to be worn by dancers of the next generation.

Courtesy The Washington Ballet

De Kat explains that some labels are left exposed, while others are covered to avoid confusion. The names that are visible are left "not because of their fame," says de Kat, "but as a size reference when refitting existing costumes."

For a younger dancer, wearing a costume worn by an idol can be a rite of passage.

Former ABT ballerina Julie Kent, now artistic director of The Washington Ballet, recalls being given a box of headdresses once worn by mentor Georgina Parkinson. "They're like little talismans," Kent explains. "They feel like they have the juju of the person who was wearing them before." How does it feel for her to now see younger dancers wearing her tutus? "I'm so proud and happy for the costume, that it lives on," Kent says. "It's kind of like a house that doesn't get lived in anymore—it needs to have a life, it needs to be on the stage and have a body in it and be sweated in."

Barkman stands backstage in a white swan tutu and headpiece with her hands on her hips.

Katherine Barkman gets ready for a performance in a Swan Lake tutu loaned to her by Julie Kent. It was also recently worn by Misty Copeland.

Courtesy Washington Ballet

Kent still owns several custom-made costumes, which she used for galas and other events outside ABT, and often loans them to other dancers. Her Odette tutu from Swan Lake was recently borrowed by Misty Copeland, and then Washington Ballet's Katherine Barkman, who confesses that she was "super-nervous to even wear it." As for whether it affected her performance, Barkman says, "I'm not one for magical superstitions. However, I feel that what the costume itself represents inspires you to be a better dancer. I really felt a difference wearing and stepping into the costume of a great ballerina."

For Meiss, the Snow Queen costume from Nutcracker stands out in her memory. "It was made for Greta Hodgkinson, a principal dancer in the company who created this role in 1995. By wearing her original costume, I felt like I was a part of the history of this production. I would love to wear one of Karen Kain's costumes one day."

Francine Labelle, Courtesy Meiss

Meiss' Myrtha costume also bears the names of NBoC principal Heather Ogden and first soloist Hannah Fischer.

Meiss recently wore Canadian prima ballerina Evelyn Hart's personal "Dying Swan" tutu. The costume was designed by Hart herself and is based on the one worn by Anna Pavlova. "Imagining the magical performances that Evelyn had given around the world wearing that same tutu made me feel connected to a special heritage in my art form," says Meiss. "It then becomes so much more than a costume."

For some dancers, it is not just who wore the costume but also what it symbolizes for the role. "When that lineage is continued through the costume," says Meiss, "it's the finishing touch that completes the character for your own performance—the final transformation."

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Eighteen-year-old Sarah Patterson (foreground), with her classmates at New Ballet School. She's decided to stay home this summer to take advantage of outdoor, in-person classes. Courtesy New Ballet School.

Why Planning Summer Study This Year Is More Complicated Than Ever

When it comes to navigating summer intensives, 2021 may be more complicated for ballet students than last year. On the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic's spring spike in 2020, summer programs went all-virtual or had very limited capacity. This year is more of a mixed bag, with regulations and restrictions varying widely across state and county lines and changing week by week.

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Chris Hardy, Courtesy LINES

Check Out These 2021 Summer Intensives Especially for Adults

After a year of shuttered studios, virtual-only classes, and waving to ballet buddies over Zoom, summer intensives are back. For adult students, packing up for a few days of intensive training might seem like a pipe dream, as many of us spent the last year trying to fit in ballet classes while juggling work and, for those of us with kids, remote learning. With the country opening up again, let's start planning (safely!) for workshops that allow us to jump into technique, conditioning and, of course, high-elbowing some new friends.

For in-person intensives, please check the studio's website for detailed health and safety guidelines, including policies on masks, cleaning/hygiene, social distancing, and the policy on having to cancel in-person programs due to COVID-19 restrictions.

CALIFORNIA

Alonzo King LINES Ballet Adult Dance Intensive (virtual only, via Zoom)

May 28–31, San Francisco

Immerse yourself in the celebrated home of Alonzo King, the artistic visionary who created LINES 39 years ago. Now in its second year as a virtual offering, this four-day workshop includes ballet, yoga, Pilates, choreography and contemporary. Students also have the option to drop in to class if they can't commit to all four days.

KENTUCKY

Lexington Ballet Adult Ballet Intensive

July 12–16, Lexington

Why should thoroughbreds have all the fun of training in the horse capital of the world? Reach new heights in your training at Lexington Ballet's Adult Ballet Intensive. Join school directors Luis and Nancy Dominguez and principal instructor Ayoko Lloyd for a five-day workshop that includes conditioning, Pilates, technique and repertoire. All classes are held in the evenings, and the program welcomes beginning through advanced students.

A group of eight smiling adult ballet students\u2014seven women and one man in the middle\u2014pose in a line and stand on their right leg in tendu crois\u00e9 devant.

A group of dancers pose at a past Lexington Ballet Adult Dance Intensive.

Ayoko Lloyd, Courtesy Lexington Ballet

Louisville Ballet Adult Summer Intensive

May 31–June 4, Louisville

Polish off a glass of sweet tea (or two), and then work up a sweet sweat at Louisville Ballet's Adult Summer Intensive. Geared towards beginning through advanced levels, students ages 18+ can take part in half- or full days of training. Classes offered include technique, pointe and jump strengthening, modern, Pilates and yoga. Students will also perform in a livestreamed performance on the final day.

MASSACHUSETTS

Brookline Ballet School Adult Summer Ballet Intensive

June 23–27, Brookline

The Red Sox and New England Patriots may get a bulk of the glory in Beantown, but the city is also a mecca for ballet. At Brookline Ballet School's Adult Summer Ballet Intensive, students (beginner or intermediate level) will spend three weeknights and two weekend mornings in technique and repertoire classes, wrapping up with an informal performance on Sunday afternoon.

NEW YORK

Kat Wildish Presents (virtual, via Zoom)

June 14–25 and July 12–23

Join master ballet teacher Kat Wildish in a virtual intensive that aims to take your training to the next level. Each day, in one-hour classes, Kat will lead students of all levels from basic to advanced in various ballet exercises. The group will be limited to 20 dancers, so each person will get personal attention.

A group of older adult ballet students in leotards, tights or leggings, stand in two lines with their left foot in B+ position and holding hands, as if rehearsing a ballet.

Kat Wildish (far left) working with adult students at Peridance Capezio Center

Matthew Venanzi, Courtesy Kat Wildish

OHIO

artÉmotion Adult Ballet Summer Workshop

June 14–19, Cleveland

Head to the Buckeye State for a week of training under the tutelage of Ballet West first soloist Allison DeBona and principal Rex Tilton. In this Adult Ballet Summer Workshop, beginner and intermediate/advanced students will fine-tune their skills in two classes every morning: a 90-minute technique class followed by a one-hour class in one of the following disciplines: pointe/pre-pointe, acting, men's and women's variations, conditioning.

PENNSYLVANIA

Amy Novinski

May 24–28 and June 28–July 2, Philadelphia

Those interested in the Vaganova technique may want to check out Amy Novinski's Adult Workshops. For the five-day May workshop, newbie dancers can look forward to classes devoted to ballet, jazz and yoga. For those more advanced, the June workshop offers more rigorous technique, contemporary ballet, pre-pointe/beginner pointe and jazz.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Ballet Academy of Charleston Adult Summer Intensive

July 26–30 and August 2–6, Charleston

Embrace the low-country charm in historic Charleston, where a weeklong Adult Summer Intensive at the Ballet Academy of Charleston invites beginning through advanced students to take classes in technique, stretching/Pilates/yoga, pre-pointe or pointe (for advanced students), variations, jazz, modern, contemporary and choreography. You may choose the half-day or full-day program.

TEXAS

Houston Ballet Adult Intensive

June 1–5, Houston

For intermediate/advanced students with at least three years of ballet training, Houston Ballet's Adult Intensive might be the perfect place to hone your skills. The school has two-, three- or five-day options, and includes ballet technique, variations, yoga and Zumba.

UTAH

May 31–June 5, Salt Lake City

Ballet West welcomes students of all levels to artÉmotion's one-week Adult Ballet Summer Intensive. Classes include ballet, contemporary, pointe, jazz, modern, acting, and men and women's variations. Available in full-day or half-day options, those dancing only in the morning will take two 90-minute technique classes. The full-day experience offers the opportunity to be choreographed on for an in-studio performance on Saturday, June 5. All students will also have a professional dance photo shoot with Logan Sorenson.

A group of four men in dance practicewear face the right corner of the room and raise their arm as if beckoning someone. Three of the men stand in parallel, which the man in the middle sits in a wheelchair.

A men's class at artÉmotion Adult Summer Ballet Intensive

Logan Sorenson, Courtesy artÉmotion

INTERNATIONAL

The August Ballet Retreat in Leeds

August 28–30, Leeds, UK

The three-day August Ballet Retreat in Leeds offers classes for students of all abilities. The mornings are devoted to technique, and in the afternoon, students will focus on repertoire. In the past, The Ballet Retreat has taught solos from Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet and Giselle. One detail is still tentative: If the retreat is unable to take place in person due to the pandemic, it will be offered virtually over Zoom.

Morlaix International Adult Ballet Camp

July 2–10, Morlaix, France

The Morlaix International Adult Ballet Camp is in the heart of France's Brittany region. In this full-day intensive, intermediate through advanced-level students will be led by an international faculty. Dancers can look forward to morning ballet classes and rehearsals in the afternoon. The week of training wraps up with a performance of Bournonville's Napoli at a nearby theater. Please contact the school for information about room and board.

Still shot by cinematographer Benjamin Tarquin, Courtesy Post:ballet

10 Online Ballet Performances to Catch in April

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