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.

Show Comments ()
Ballet Training
Anna Greenberg of ABT's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, photographed by Jayme Thornton for Pointe.

All dancers have their go-to tension area: shoulders that creep up towards the ears, a hand that becomes a claw, or feet and ankles that grip. Yet "Just relax" can be the hardest correction to apply. We spoke with four teachers for their tips on releasing tension throughout the body—and how it's all connected.

The Face

A dancer's face is a frequent tension trouble spot, as eyebrows lift or furrow, jaws clench and tongues peek out. Hilary Cartwright, international guest teacher and creator of Yoga Narada, notices that, for many students, "all the tension goes into the face in their effort to achieve and please their teacher." Similarly, Seattle-based ballet instructor Stephanie Saland observes that dancers "demonstrate" their focus with their face instead of actually being attentive. "Does 'focus' mean bug your eyes and shove your chin forward to show interest, enthusiasm, volition?" she asks. "Or can you just be present and take the information in?"

Cartwright recommends taking a moment to "turn it around" and find your inner smile. "When you're feeling tense, think of something—a smiley face, your dog or cat—that brings back reality a little bit. Remember the good things in the rest of your life." If your inner smile turns into an outward one, even better. Smiling is a simple way to alleviate tension in your face and convey your joy of dancing.

Saland suggests visualizing a mask that's painted onto your face dripping off "almost in puddles down the front of your body." This relaxes facial tension and sends your focus inward. Remember that in class, sometimes, you can just make the effort without feeling that you have to project out.

News
Ballet Austin's Aara Krumpe in The Firebird. After 20 years, this is Krumpe's final season with the company. Photo by Tony Spielberg, Courtesy Ballet Austin.

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.

Keep reading... Show less
Trending
Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe.

Over the past year, the #MeToo movement has helped spotlight sexual harassment, as well as verbal and emotional abuse, in the ballet industry. Most recently, a lawsuit filed by Alexandra Waterbury against New York City Ballet and principal dancer Chase Finlay, who has since resigned, revealed particularly chilling behavior. Earlier this week, we posted an article that struck a nerve with our audience. We've received some heated responses about the story's prompt and tone. We hear you, and we want to take this opportunity to give you a voice to address concerns and ask questions about recent claims of abuse in the ballet world.

Dancers, students and dance parents: how have these revelations shaped your view of the dance industry, and what worries you most? What changes do you want to see from leadership to address them? Professional dancers, what advice or insight would you give students and those in their early career about what to expect in the professional world?

We want to hear from you. Please feel free to comment or to send your thoughts to abrandt@dancemedia.com.

News
Ramasar and Catazaro, via Instagram

New York City Ballet fired principal dancers Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro on Saturday. Both had initially been suspended until 2019 for engaging in "inappropriate communications," while principal Chase Finlay, who was the instigator of those communications, resigned. (Although, in a statement on Saturday, NYCB made it clear they had decided to terminate Finlay prior to his resignation.)

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Careers
Nevada Ballet Theatre. Still Courtesy Lee.

Earlier this summer, we followed master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based The Pointe Shop as she made her on a pointe shoe fitting tour around the West Coast and California. Now she's back, this time on a 45-day tour from California to Chicago, educating students on all things pointe shoes and helping them to find their perfect fit. Lee's making stops at top ballet companies and academies across the country, interviewing school directors and chatting with professional ballerinas to find out how they customize and break in their pointe shoes. Below, check out Lee's first stop: Nevada Ballet Theatre. She touches base with company dancer Caroline MacDonald, and academy director Anna Lantz. Stay tuned for more!

Keep reading... Show less
Editors' List: The Goods

Longer ballet skirts are having a major moment. We've seen them popping up in the Instagram studio clips of dance fashionistas around the world—from American Ballet Theatre's Isabella Boylston to The Royal Ballet's Beatriz Stix-Brunell to Berlin State Ballet's Iana Salenko. And with cooler weather on the way, we have a feeling we'll be seeing even more calf-length skirts.

Beyond being trendy, long ballet skirts give any studio ensemble a sophisticated prima ballerina vibe (hi, Natalia Makarova). Try out one of these long skirt options.

Keep reading... Show less
Viral Videos
Tricia Albertson kisses Didier Bramaz after finding the perfect hat in The Concert. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet.

Tricia Albertson, as told to Gavin Larsen.

I like to make people laugh, so I was excited to be cast as the Mad Ballerina in Jerome Robbins' The Concert. But the character herself didn't feel like me. She's so bubbly and excited, and I'm a bit more pensive (when it comes to ballet, at least). I didn't want her to come across as stupid—she's still thoughtful. I guess you could say she's flighty, but it's just that she's so excited about the music at the concert that everything else is a blur to her.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
A portrait of Fanny Elssler, Courtesy Olga Smoak.

This Thursday, we're throwing it all the way back to Fanny Elssler, one of the most famous ballerinas of the Romantic period. Elssler may have graced stages far before the age of reality TV and Instagram, but her story is anything but dry. Last week, the Historic New Orleans Collection put on a symposium on the history of dance in New Orleans, of which Elssler played a pivotal role. We spoke with dance historian Olga Smoak to find out more about why this ballerina is still so exciting... nearly 200 years later.

But first, watch a recreation of Elssler's famous "La Cachucha," which she performed in New Orleans in 1841, danced by Rebecca Allen at the HNOC last week. Note the extreme tilts of the torso; they're part of what made Elssler such a captivating dancer in her day.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Training
Thinkstock

I've noticed that my progress has plateaued. Class starts out pretty well, but once we get to center, it seems like I am not improving whatsoever. Help! —Sade

Keep reading... Show less
Yuli looks like the ballet biopic of our dreams. Screenshot via YouTube

We admit it. We're picky about dance movies. They don't always represent our beloved art form accurately, or use real dancers to play the main roles.

But we just watched the first trailer for the new Carlos Acosta biopic, Yuli, and we're kinda speechless:

Keep reading... Show less
Trending
Katherine Williams as Myrtha. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe.

With a large exhale, Katherine Williams steps into a series of arabesque chugs, as if the force of her breath is propelling her forward. "Big step out, big," coaxes ballet mistress Irina Kolpakova, watching from the front of a small studio at American Ballet Theatre in May. It's a big step indeed for Williams—after 10 years in the corps de ballet, the 29-year-old is preparing for her debut as Myrtha in ABT's production of Giselle, her very first principal role. One month after the premiere, Williams was promoted to soloist.

"Myrtha is the hardest thing I've ever done," Williams admits. "By the end you feel like you're going to throw up. I was using my breath as much as I could to help me get through it."

While Williams is tall and a natural jumper, she was surprised when artistic director Kevin McKenzie cast her in such a fierce and powerful role. "Generally they give me the happy peasant girl, something softer," she says. "I think it was a leap of faith for Kevin to allow me to embrace a totally different side of myself."

Keep reading... Show less
Trending
Misty Copeland models her fall collection for Under Armour. Photo courtesy of Under Armour.

Fall is fast approaching, and American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland has your back-to-dance wardrobe (and beyond) covered. The Under Armour spokesmodel debuted her Fall 2018 Misty Copeland Signature Collection earlier this week, playing off her first collection with another set of looks that work just as well in the studio as they do hanging out with friends.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Viral Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Win It!