By Patricia Boccadoro
PARIS, 20 April 2006‚ÄĒLa
Bayad√®re, Rudolf Nureyev's last production at the Paris Op√©ra,
which delights and draws in the crowds, is a classical ballet set in
India but full of Russian colour, excess and emotion. The superb
production, premiered in 1992, contains one of the most beautiful "white acts" in the
history of dance and a story-line that still hangs true
today: a man in love with two women who stop at nothing
to keep him. It's about love, jealousy, weakness and betrayal.
However, the work is not only rich in story and in
dance, but has been made unique by its decor and costumes. For Rudolf
Nureyev staged what he called, "real productions", putting together all
aspects of the theatre as did Diaghilev, Lifar, and Roland
Petit before him. And although he chose Ezio Frigerio to create the decor
and Franca Squarciapino to design his costumes, his own flamboyant taste
is evident in each rustle, swish and swirl on stage, illustrating his belief that
every spectator who came to a performance sees with his
eyes but needs to eat too. "If he doesn't eat, he's hungry
when he leaves the theatre", he was wont to say.
Above all, Nureyev had access to the Paris
Op√©ra's costume workroom, which was given what appeared to be a seemingly unlimited
budget. This was the Russian giant's last work; people knew it
and no expense was spared although the scenery department at first argued that they
had run out of money for his large, extremely life-like,
richly decorated elephant which trundles on bearing Solor to his engagement celebrations.
It was one of the last things he fought for.
Letestu, Jos√© Martinez in La Bayad√®re
Squarciapino was inspired by Indian/Persian
paintings as well as by what she termed the "oriental inflences" of
the nineteenth century, and the fabrics used for her costumes,
chosen in collaboration with Nureyev, echo Frigerio's "dream of the Orient" inspired by
the Taj Mahal. Nureyev himself had memories of the "realistic", but
heavy traditional costume he wore when he first danced Solor in 1959 which he
subsequently simplified, and both he and his designer were fully
aware of the difficulty of keeping a unity of style throughout the
ballet particularly where tutus were worn in the third act.
While dancers wear exquisite dresses made from
richly embroidered saris with pointe shoes in Act I, much of the
choreography is performed on demi-pointe
if boleros, saris, exotic drapes and veils make their appearance in
the mimed, "action parts", then they are worn with low-heeled shoes. Tutus belong to
the purely classical third act and to the formal appearance
of Gamzatti with her handmaidens. "Traditional" costumes, weighed down with decorative materials
are worn by the many "extras" who have walk-on parts.
Fourteen years later, many of these costumes have had to be renewed
and repaired. At the time, most of the fabrics came
from Bali, and one of the problems of the costume workshop was
in finding similar materials to those used at the creation.
"Most of the costumes are
made from saris which come from India", Etienne Bretel, the person
responsible for the production in the workshop told me. "Sometimes it has proved impossible
to find exactly the same fabric used at the creation,
but we manage to find something more or less the same, and
often dye things to get the exact shade we need."
Letestu in La Bayad√®re
¬© Photo: S√©bastien Math√©
"We work with several Indian boutiques in
Paris as well as with a supplier in Germany who imports directly from India",
he continued, "and we use the embroidered borders of all
the saris. Many of the costumes are so fragile, being made of
pure silk, that they cannot be dry-cleaned too often. "
Bretel showed me the
sparkling new costume that had been made to measure for √©toile
Nicolas Le Riche, pointing out that the delicate white material, shot through with metallic
threads was particularly vulnerable to oxidation from perspiration which caused
it to darken to an unsightly moss green and that new outfits
frequently had to be made for each of the √©toiles.
"At a creation, all the costumes are made
to measure for each interpreter", he said, "and when new dancers take on the
roles we first try to rework each costume and tutu
on them. There's a massive trying on session where we nip in
a bodice here and let out a few stitches there."
"The simple tutu worn by the corps de ballet, with
its bodice in white satin and lam√©, made in its entirety by one
seamstress, takes three days to make, while those worn by the soloists, which are covered in gold
and silver embroidery, take five. We sew on some of the braid by
machine when we can, but all of the heavy embroidery has
to be stitched on by hand. The bodices of the temple dancers in act
three are so heavily encrusted that we then have to
cover our handiwork by placing soft white organza under the arms so
that the girls don't hurt themselves on the metallic decorations."
Photo: Yves Boccadoro
A tutu, he told me, which was made out of
approximately a dozen meters of tulle from suppliers in France, Germany
and England, was approximately forty to forty-two centimetres in dimension and contained eleven or
twelve flounces. Each layer was basted, each flounce being loosely hand stitched to
the one below separately, and starched, before being turned upside down
to dry and stiffen. The √©toiles however, were free to reduce the number of
flounces if they preferred to carry less weight, and also
to choose their own headdress and personalise their outfit as they pleased.
They could also choose their own ear-rings, bracelets and necklaces.
"I chose two of the
smaller diadems for Gamzatti', soloist Emilie Cozette told me. "They had so many
jewels in them and seemed to suit me best", she said,
commenting that none of them were heavy and that it had been particularly exciting
to try things on. She spoke of her joy in
wearing the scintillating costumes, particularly of the delicate purple trousers, bolero, sari
and diamond-encrusted veil for the mime scene of act I.
Cozette and the Ballet de l'Op√©ra National de Paris
In Act II, the costumes
become even more extravagant, with Gamzatti's four hand-maidens wearing blue tutus decorated with
large motives of golden flowers painted on by hand by the
department's gifted 'atelier de decoration'. Likewise, the men who arrive carrying Gamzatti, and who
are not even mentioned in the programme are all wearing
trousers which have been hand-painted, costumes which have to be re-painted before
each series of productions as the paint disappears with dry-cleaning.
Among the countless colourful outfits and dresses, the
appearance of the Golden Idol is outstanding. The very costume, inspired by
the Hindu gods, is a work of art in itself.
"It's made entirely
by hand", said Etienne Bretel. "Squarciapino worked from Hindu documents, and the whole
affair is excessively complicated, with a great collar, arm bracelets, and
gold metallic skirt. It's absolutely magnificent, and Emmanuel Thibault, who came into our department
to add some finishing touches to his headdress, is unbelievable
in the role, and that's even before he begins to dance. His
golden make-up is extraordinary; you think he's made of gold".
Thibault and the Ballet de l'Op√©ra National de Paris
¬© Photo: Anne
Thibault himself told me that he spends three and a
half hours to dress and make-up for
the part which lasts just two minutes. He added that all the elaborate
jewellery he wears had been created by the department's "atelier de
decoration", as have all the diadems, necklaces, bracelets and earrings worn by the women.
Stones and other elements from Hindu jewellers, which have directly
been imported from India, have been used to create a collection that
Cartier, Boucheron, Chaumet and Fred would be proud to possess!
The atelier de decoration is also
responsible for the extraordinary headdresses and hats which appear in the
production. All are hand-made, and each one is made to measure for each dancer. The golden head-dresses worn
by the ten high priests who do not even dance are magnificent, while
the Rajah's costume of billowing blue trousers threaded through with gold,
a blue and gold tunic trimmed with red and gold, silken cape and a
mind-boggling turban shimmering with jewels with such intricately fashioned details
is worthy of a place in any costume museum. Everything has been
carefully studied with all kinds of fabulous, exquisitely worked details.
Atelier de decoration of the Ballet de l'Op√©ra
National de Paris
Photo: Yves Boccadoro
It's not only on stage at the Palais Garnier where
there is a whole world of enchantment. Behind, there is another
world of magic, more secret, created by a talented and creative group of
35 people who have come from differing backgrounds. Many have studied at
the Paris School of Fine Arts, some have come from the top fashion
houses, while yet others are experienced and gifted seamstresses in
their own right. But one thing they share in common is their passion and
dedication for the work they are doing. The results onstage, be it in the
exotic silken drifts of La Bayadere, the rich velvets and
chiffons of Swan Lake , or the delicate black and cream
lace gowns ofLa Dame aux camellias
, patiently hand-painted, illustrate that the Palais Garnier more than merits
its place among the Maisons of haute couture in France!
Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe and is the dance
editor for Culturekiosque.com.