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Tulle & Tricot: Costumes for the Bournonville Ballets

by Kate Snedeker

May 13, 2005 -- National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen

A number of exhibitions about August Bournonville and his legacy have been arranged to coincide with the Bournonville Festival.  The largest of the these exhibitions, "Tulle & Tricot", a selection of costumes from the Royal Danish Ballet’s productions of Bournonville ballets, is brilliantly put together and a definite must see for any ballet fan in Copenhagen.

The gala opening of “Tulle and Tricot” took place on May 13th, with Queen Margrethe and Royal Danish Ballet artistic director Frank Andersen among those present.  After the speeches, the invited audience was treated to a performance of the pas de deux from “The Kermesse in Bruges” by Royal Danish Ballet corps members Yao Wei and Dawid Kupinski [now both soloists].

The exhibit is housed in one large, strikingly lit room, with the costumes on tailor's dummies (just torso and arms) suspended from the ceiling.  This ingenious display method allows the whole costumes to be visible as the dummies twist in the gentle breezes, and gives the exhibit a very spacious feeling.

In a neat touch, a series of sylphide costumes from "La Sylphide" are hung in a row, climbing from floor to ceiling.  Costumes for James, Effy and Madge are also displayed.  A placard next to the costume for the Sylphide explains how the wings are designed so they can fall off in the 2nd act, and a short video from the ballet allows the visitor to see the wings coming off in real-time.

Each costume is labeled with ballet, designer and the dancer(s) who wore it, and range from the 40s to the present day. I found it intriguing how many of the costumes had been worn by just one dancer because in companies like the New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, costumes are rebuilt for different dancers many times until they are worn out.

However, at the Royal Danish Ballet, the ballets have been in the repertory for so long, dancers stay in the company for so long and the roles are done by so few dancers, that costumes might well wear out or be replaced by a newer design before a dancer leaves.   This is probably especially true of the costumes in this exhibit, most of which were for solo or principal roles.

It was particularly interesting to view the older costumes, as I've seen most of the current ones up close many times, either on the dancers or on the costume racks.  To see costumes worn by the likes of Henning Kronstam, Kirsten Simone, Flemming Ryberg, Eva Kloborg, Lise la Cour is amazing.  The close proximity to the costumes also made it possible to examine the detailing and to see and compare the sizes of the costumes.

Lining the walls are photos from the Bournonville ballets and costumes sketches of various productions from the 20th and 21st centuries.  It's fascinating to see how the designs have evolved over the course of the century - it seems that the trend is towards more simplicity. Not that the costumes are any less intricate, but more modern materials.

One whole side of the room is given over to a movie screen with clips from four Bournonville ballets, including ‘Napoli’ and ‘La Sylphide’ (current casts) being played.  The clips are well edited and in parts slowed down so you can really see the steps.  Even when you aren’t looking at the screen, the music fills the room, providing perfect background for viewing the costumes. 

From the first floor of the museum, a balcony overlooks the exhibit, providing a wonderful view of the complete collection and the ballet clips.

There's an accompanying paperback guide in Danish and Enlighs for around $7/£4, which is well worth buying.

[The exhibition has been arranged by Viben Bech in close collaboration between the National Museum of Denmark and The Royal Danish Theatre.  Visit their websites to learn more about the exhibition and the National Museum of Denmark. -- ed.]

Edited by Staff.

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