Beauty and the Tutus
Celebrate the 2009 revival of The Sleeping Beauty with a guided tour of the original Oliver Messel tutus in ROH Collections.
The Sleeping Beauty has a special place in The Royal Ballet’s repertory. It was the “statement ballet” chosen to inaugurate the Company’s new headquarters at the Royal Opera House at the end of World War II. The current production, which returned to the stage last Friday, revisits this historical post-war classic and reproduces the lavish designs and beautiful costumes designed in 1946 by Oliver Messel, who re-imagined this Russian ballet classic with plenty of British flair.
With the grandeur and opulence of the Baroque reinterpreted through a pastel costume palette spread over 100 intricately designed tutus (more than any other ballet in the current repertory), The Sleeping Beauty is a must for ballet costume lovers. Synonymous with classical ballet, the tutu consists of a skirt that skims over the upper tight with multiple sewn in layers of tulle nets overlaid with sequins and other embellishments.
Every ballet company has their own costume design tradition and if you look closely at The Royal Ballet’s tutus you will notice how they differ from the Russian flatter, “pancake” tutus. You might also note that extra frills are added to cover the underneath of the costume whereas other companies might opt for a simpler, leotard-style, bottom finish. For extra support these tutus also contain an inner basque on which the base sits and which joins in with the outer basque (or bodice). All these details mean extra work, weeks of sewing and months of planning ahead.
When this production was first revived in 2006 for The Royal Ballet’s 75th anniversary, costume archives and records had to be carefully studied. Over the years the original 1946 Messel designs had undergone multiple alterations and customizing to accommodate new materials, different casts, none of which had been properly recorded. This meant long hours of labour putting tutus in chronological order and tracking design sources. Original costumes and patterns were brought from the ROH Collections store and used as a template for recreating some of the most iconic costumes (such as Aurora’s pastel pink tutu from Act I) or as a basis for redesigning those costumes which looked overly dated.
For a closer study of The Sleeping Beauty costume evolution you can take a tour of the ROH Collections Online. This sizeable collection includes over 200 tutus, headpieces or other costumes for the 1946 and 1968 productions. You can see some of our favourites here:
Words by The Ballet Bag