PARIS, 7 April 2005— France's
star ballerina, Agnès Letestu, once said that one of the reasons she
wanted to join the Paris Opéra Ballet when she was small was because she
loved the beautiful dresses she saw there. What wasn't mentioned at the
time was that since she had begun taking part in international
competitions and galas, she had discovered a second passion for designing
"I used to experiment for hours
with pieces of material, pins and sewing needles", she told me in her
dressing-room at the Palais Garnier. "In 1989 I made my own tutu entirely
from old white sheets I found at home and pieces of lace from a Paris
market for the Eurovision contest. As I couldn't sew or draw very well, I
simply tacked my dress together, pinned yards of lace to the skirt of the
tutu, and carried the lot to a dressmaker who fitted it on me
and sewed it up properly. "
Then the following year, to go to
Varna to dance Esmeralda, she pulled an old tutu of hers to
pieces and remade it in black with lots of cream lace.
always wanted to design costumes", she said, "and usually I make one to
match for my partner. When I'm invited to galas it's the occasion to
create something new as it is fun to wear something original, but it's
mainly because I enjoy doing it so much, so when José Martinez started to
choreograph ballets, he asked me to create the costumes for them. Although
he trusts my judgement, he was a bit taken aback when I announced that the
costumes for Mi Favorita, the ballet he created in 2002 would be
in a sort of violet plum shade. He was worried because such
a colour hadn't been used before and then made fun
of me saying I'd make one in plastic next. I took him
at his word...... and the resulting tutu was most effective!"
Costume by Agnès Letestu
The beauty as well as the inventiveness of the costumes attracted
the attention of several journalists, and as a follow-up to an article in
Maison Française, Letestu was invited to present her costumes
both for Mi Favorita and a second ballet, Delibes Suite
where the tutus were in blue, at a special evening at the Hotel Crillon in
Paris. Co-incidentally, the hotel had just been decorated in violet and
The ballerina herself had made
suggestions to the Crillon for the decor and lighting which were
"I was amazed at the way the tutus had been put on
stands and lit up from behind," she said. "Everything I'd asked for was so
beautifully done, from the pink satin ballet slippers that decorated the
great curved staircase to the incredible slipper chandelier hanging from
the ceiling. It looked so much more effective than when the idea first
arose; I'd gone to the sports shop, Go Sport, and bought three hula hoops
which I'd decorated with mauve satin ribbon".
realisation of what had been done far surpassed anything I imagined for
they'd even put special heaters on the terraces so we could look across
the Place de la Concorde to the Christmas lights shining in the trees on
the Champs d'Elysées with the Eiffel tower scintillating beyond; it
looked like fairyland".
Throughout the evening there was also an intermittent show of two
dancers, Dorothée Gilbert and Samuel Murez, wearing the costumes, but they
moved imperceptibly so it was hard to tell where the real dancers were and
which were the dummies. Guests had to look hard, but they got their own
back when the waiters came out with a couple of trays of pointe shoes
along with the petit fours. Instead of sharing the joke, people pounced on
the slippers and carried them off as trophies!
Now, the ballerina is putting the finishing touches to a set of
forty outfits for Scaramouche, the new work by José Martinez
which will be danced by the pupils of the Paris Opéra School in April. She
showed me fifteen or so beautifully drawn and painted little sketches
which she was still working on, each planned to bring out the personality
of the character portrayed in the ballet.
"The predominant colour here is blue", she
pointed out, "and I've combined many different shades of colour in
blue-jean material that I found at the market of Saint Pierre in the
bodice of this dress, while the skirt is in tulle. Some of my designs are
inspired by evening dresses, but in each case, I know exactly what I want
and the effect I want to give before I draw. The general ideas have been
turning around in my head for quite some time, and I'm extremely fortunate
to have the wardrobe department here working on them. I can't praise them
"They are so quick to
understand what I want, and when I've been unable to find the shade of
fabric needed, they dye it for me. I bring along samples, and they take it
Costume by Agnès Letestu
It all seemed so obvious and so logical, that a dancer who knows
what it's like to wear costumes and dance in them should now be designing.
Not only do her costumes fit and flatter the interpreters who wear them,
but they are also designed with movement in mind.
Patricia Boccadoro writes on
dance in Europe. She contributes to The Observer and Dancing Times and was
dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms.
Boccadoro is the dance editor for