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Royal Opera House Nureyev costumes on tour to San Francisco

De Young Museum exhibition on the dancer starts this week.

By Francesca Franchi (Former Head of ROH Collections)

8 October 2012 at 10.38am | 4 Comments

ROH Collections have lent a selection of costumes to a major exhibition in San Francisco, marking the first time Royal Opera House costumes have been exhibited on the West Coast of America. The exhibition, Rudolf Nureyev: A Life in Dance, is dedicated to the life and work of Nureyev (1938–1993), the most magnificent and charismatic dancer of his generation. Find out more about Nureyev and his role with The Royal Ballet.

In 2009, ROH Collections lent the costumes to an exhibition on Nureyev held at the Centre National du Costume de Scene (CNCS) in Moulins, France. We were subsequently delighted to be approached by the De Young Museum, who are recreating this Nureyev exhibition in the States.

The first step in the process was to confirm with our textile conservator that the costumes were robust enough not only to travel, but also to be on display for five months. Collections staff then worked at the historic costume store, overseeing the costumes and mannequins as they were packed into purpose-built crates. Staff couriered the crates to the De Young, where the costumes were unpacked and their condition carefully checked. Only then could work begin on dressing the mannequins and preparing the costumes for display.

The costumes we have loaned are from Nureyev's early performances with The Royal Ballet, during which he established his partnership with Margot Fonteyn. They include his jacket from Giselle, Act II, the first ballet he danced with Fonteyn in 1962. The very first item you see on entering the exhibition are two pairs of autographed ballet shoes from ROH Collections – those worn by the celebrated partnership. In 1963 Frederick Ashton created Marguerite and Armand for them, and one Nureyev costume and three Fonteyn dresses, all designed by Cecil Beaton, are also on display.

Fonteyn and Nureyev often appeared in The Royal Ballet's signature work, The Sleeping Beauty. There is a showcase dedicated to Nureyev’s appearances in this ballet, featuring Nureyev's Act III costumes from the 1946 production designed by Oliver Messel, his costume from the 1968 production designed by Lila de Nobili, and Fonteyn's Act III tutu from 1968.

There are a further 70 costumes on display from the collections of the CNCS, which show the range of productions Nureyev both appeared in and staged. They include La Bayadère, Raymonda, Cinderella, Romeo and Juliet, The Nutcracker, Don Quixote and Pierrot Lunaire. The exhibition opened on 6 October and runs until 17 February.

ROH Collections holds one of the most comprehensive collections of theatre costumes in the UK, containing over 5000 items. We curate regular exhibitions at the Royal Opera House and collaborate with other museums. Most recently, we lent Royal Opera House costumes designed by Cecil Beaton to the Imperial War Museum.

Nureyev's production of Raymonda Act III opens with The Royal Ballet on 22 December. Marguerite and Armand opens in the Spring Season on 12 February 2013. The exhibition runs from 6 October until 17 February.

By Francesca Franchi (Former Head of ROH Collections)

8 October 2012 at 10.38am

This article has been categorised Off stage and tagged Centre National du Costume de Scene, costumes, De Young, De Young Museum, exhibition, Nureyev, ROH Collections, Rudolf Nureyev

This article has 4 comments

  1. Jacki racke responded on 15 October 2012 at 2:43pm Reply

    I am a member of the ROH and visiting America. I have just seen the Nureyev exhibition "A life in dance", which was absolutely fabulous. Is the exhibition coming to London? I really hope so

    Kind regards

    Jacki Racke

    • Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media) responded on 15 October 2012 at 3:42pm

      Hi Jacki,

      Thanks for your comment and glad you enjoyed it. Unfortunately, this particular exhibition won't be on in London though we do have a number of exhibitions running throughout the year. It's worth keeping an eye on the News section or our Twitter and Facebook for information about them.


      Social Media Manager

  2. Hi,

    will it at least be possible to get hold of the catalogue anywhere in Europe (ROH would seem the right place for that). I tried to order from the de Young directly but shipping is a horrendous $45; and Amazon doesn't have it. It doesn't seem right that this book should be limited only to US readers :(

    • Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media) responded on 6 December 2012 at 1:59pm

      Hi Ela,

      The exhibition was seen at the Centre National du costume de scene (, in Moulins, France, first and they had a catalogue. There are slight differences from the US version, but postage might be cheaper.

      Also, the Heritage Publications series has an issue on Nureyev, published by Oberon, available in the ROH Shop.

      Online Content Producer

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