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  • ROH Collections Item of the Month: The historic costumes for MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet

ROH Collections Item of the Month: The historic costumes for MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet

Fifty years after the ballet had its premiere, we take a look at the beautiful costumes for MacMillan’s iconic ballet.

By Laura Brown (Former Archivist, ROH Collections)

25 September 2015 at 11.47am | 5 Comments

Kenneth MacMillan’s iconic ballet Romeo and Juliet, first performed on 9 February 1965 at the Royal Opera House, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. ROH Collections holds 57 items from this much-loved production, now newly housed in the state-of-the-art Bob and Tamar Manoukian Costume Centre in Thurrock. The items include not just clothes but jewellery, headdresses, wigs and shoes. Together they offer a fascinating insight into the way original designs by MacMillan’s regular collaborator Nicholas Georgiadis have been interpreted by the Costume Department, the evolution of costume construction and an evocative, visual history of this classic ballet and the dancers who created it.

MacMillan choreographed the lead roles on Lynn Seymour and Christopher Gable, who each played a crucial role in developing the personalities of Juliet and Romeo, and how their feelings could be expressed through steps and body language. Controversially, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev performed the title roles on the hugely successful opening night, while Seymour and Gable danced in the second cast. Fonteyn and Nureyev went on to perform the roles in The Royal Ballet’s 1965 American tour. Here we look at four items of costume from these two important couples:

This dress was worn by Seymour as Juliet in Act III. It is a pale green ruched chiffon dress, with a boned bodice, and is decorated with gold braid and faux pearls. There is an integral tan net leotard, and the dress has very little weight to it. Seymour wears the dress in this photograph, taken by Donald Southern in 1965.

This shirt, worn by Gable as Romeo in the Act I Balcony scene and in Act III, is made of cream silk. The long sleeves are decorated above the elbows and at the cuffs with bands of pink pleated raw silk. For the 1975 revival the shirt had changed colour to pink and had a full sleeve – as evidenced by the shirt in our Costume Collection worn by Mikhail Baryshnikov in 1975.

The cream brocade and satin dress pictured at the top of the article was worn by Fonteyn as Juliet in Act I scene 4, the Ballroom scene where Romeo and Juliet first meet. It is decorated with gold coloured metallic ribbon and faux jewels, and has a skirt made of a layer of cream silk chiffon over a layer of cream and gold organza. The sleeve, which has a gold and cream organza puff at the elbow, goes into a long narrow cuff.

Nureyev as Romeo wore this tunic in the Ballroom scene. It is made from a patchwork of blue lurex and blue brocade squares with an appliquéd decorative chain of metallic thread and faux jewels around the shoulders. The sleeves are made of gathered pink silk with bands of fabric above the elbow and at the cuff.

Many of the pieces in the Collection have been conserved by a textile conservator. Conservation work on the Costume Collection can include removing old repairs and supporting damaged areas, removing creasing and reforming to original shape and removing corroding fastenings and supporting elastic where they have deteriorated.

The majority of the Costume Collection is deposited with ROH Collections by the Wardrobe Department. Seymour’s dress, Gable’s shirt and Nureyev’s tunic were all acquired this way. Other items were donated – Fonteyn’s dress was kindly donated to ROH Collections by Jean Bedells, who was a soloist with Sadler’s Wells Ballet and later a teacher at The Royal Ballet School.

If this glimpse of these wonderful costumes has called to mind any of your memories of The Royal Ballet’s 1965 production of Romeo and Juliet, we would love to hear them through the Comment section below.

Romeo and Juliet runs until 2 December 2015. Tickets are still available.

The production is supported by Boodles and is staged with generous philanthropic support from Peter Lloyd, Lindsay and Sarah Tomlinson and the Jean Sainsbury Royal Opera House Fund.

This article has 5 comments

  1. Nina Battleday responded on 25 September 2015 at 11:48pm Reply

    I remember many of the early performances, although sadly I missed Gable and Seymour. I found it very interesting to hear Donald McLeary speaking- he and Annette Page were, to my mind quite perfect. Far too many dancers who were in the early performances have sadly died, but it's good to have some of their work available on DVD. Sets and costumes have altered over the years, I think I liked some of the originals more, but that's a very minor niggle. Looking forward to seeing it this season and, I hope, for many more in the future.

    • Laura Brown (Former Archivist, ROH Collections) responded on 28 September 2015 at 3:13pm

      Dear Nina

      Thank you so much for your comment and sharing your memories of past performances - it sounds like you very much enjoy this production. I hope you found this article interesting.

      Many Thanks,
      Archivist, ROH Collections

  2. edelweiss responded on 26 September 2015 at 6:20pm Reply

    Amazing costumes!!! So classical!!!

    • Laura Brown (Former Archivist, ROH Collections) responded on 28 September 2015 at 3:15pm

      Hi edelweiss,

      Thank you for your comment and I'm glad to hear that you've enjoyed looking at the pictures of these costumes. If you would like to find out more about our Costume Collection and other collections please visit our website

      Many Thanks,
      Archivist, ROH Collections

  3. Liz Board responded on 4 October 2015 at 9:10am Reply

    Fascinating! I love seeing costume detail! What a wonderful way to preserve the history of these performances.

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