Monday, 22 April 2013

V&A study session: Ballet Russes and The Rite of Spring

A few weeks ago I went to a study session at Blythe House, an archive and outpost of the V&A located opposite Kensington Olympia, London. The purpose of the session was to celebrate the centenary of Stravinsky's opera The Rite of Spring by examining, first-hand, original costumes and accessories from the 1913 production. Curator Jane Pritchard told us that the costumes were mainly acquired by the museum in a sale which took place at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1967. The costumes were sold cheaply at auction and some people bought them to wear as clothes because the designs tied in with the late 1960s aesthetic. Tunics were sold for about £3!

The Rite of Spring was choreographed by Njinsky with design by Nicholas Roerich. Roerich drew upon influences from Russian folk art and the costumes are hand painted in a naive style. The long tunics were pulled up and gathered into a belt. Crinkled socks were made from non-stretch cotton and had a seam from centre front to centre back which must have been uncomfortable for the dancers. The costumes were roughly made and it is therefore surprising that they are still in such good condition. It was a fantastic opportunity to see the costumes, they intrinsically communicate a history of manufacture, the wear and tear of life and they leave you pondering the status of their current position as museum objects.

For a 2013 tour of the Theatre & Performance Galleries at Blythe House click

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