Symbiosis in Costume: Two Bodies Make One
In her introduction to The Actor in Costume, Aoife Monks acknowledges a paradox that is implicit to stage costume, noting that ‘costume is that which is perceptually indistinct from the actor’s body, and yet something that can be removed. Costume is a body that can be taken off’ (2010, p. 11). This observation is even more apt with dance costume, for dancers begin professional training at the age of ten or eleven years and immediately put on those garments that are the trademark of the art form, leotard, tights, and pointe shoes, with hair drawn back into a tight bun at the nape of the neck.
This paper explores the use of costume in the training of a professional dancer, examining the types of garments used, their colours, materials and composition. There are two primary uses of garments employed in training, the uniform worn in daily class and the costumes prepared for rehearsal and stage performance in the senior years. This paper argues that the combination of uniform and costume in ballet school prepare the dancer for a professional career because costume is incorporated from the first day of training, rendering it what Canadian ballerina
Evelyn Hart has termed, ‘a partner in the dance’ with agency of its own. The paper contributes to critical conversations in costume for the stage, locating ballet costume as integral to its art form along with other performance elements, amplifying the gesture of the ballerina. This research emphasises that ballet costume constructs the dancer’s body each day in the studio by the way it adjusts posture and deportment, and amplifies gesture in the space; ballet costume is carefully planned for movement – nothing is left to chance.
Caroline O’Brien is Associate Professor in Costume Design at Ryerson University in Toronto and was appointed Chair of the School of Performance in 2019. Caroline has worked in costuming as well as large-scale sculpture incorporating industrial metal textiles with fashion fabrics. Her award-winning work has been exhibited and performed across Canada and internationally, and her designs were curated into the inaugural World Stage Design, 2005. She curated Sixty Years of Designing the Ballet, for The National Ballet of Canada, awarded the Richard Martin citation for excellence in costume curation by the Costume Society of America. Caroline’s research interests include material and visual culture in the study of costume for ballet. She has contributed to Luce Irigaray’s Building a New World (Palgrave 2015) and The Oxford Handbook to Contemporary Ballet (pending 2020).
Year 1 students at Canada’s National Ballet School at the barre
Senior students at Canada’s National Ballet School in repertoire class