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Ballerina: Fashion's Modern Muse, an interview with Patricia Mears

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On your new exhibition. It is truly magical. It's supremely beautiful. Have to say and I learned a ton from its accompanying catalogue which is called Ballerina. Fashions Modern Muse for any of our listeners. Who WanNa pop on over to Amazon and pick up a copy so for any of our listeners. Who like me may not be ballet aficionados? I'm hoping I we can do a little bit of Bali history just a little bit. When do I see the emergence of ballet? And what distinguished? It from other types of dance which preceded it bally's quite an old art form the genesis of what you see today. The basic steps in the positions were already in place as early as the sixteen sixties. The first formal school was started in sixteen sixty one under the auspices of Louis. The fourteenth who himself was a very accomplished valeted Ella. It was clearly an aristocratic endeavor. And you see that carried over today. This would erect posture. This sort of very formal movement of the body so in some ways it is part of that French also regime aspect and we still see it today but ballet's also a very athletic endeavor so it's marrying these two extremes if you will sort of restraint kind of technical Bravura and again. That's why I think they call ballet dancers artists athletes. Yeah because they merged the two and then fast forward. The ballet went from being aristocratic very classical in its themes and male dominated to about the eighteen. Twenty eighteen thirties when women take over ballet's international. It's much more standardized and very importantly the romantic style. The sort of supernatural narrative takes over and it seems that women artists were better suited to express this new ballet form. What can you tell us about the life of a professional ballerina in the early years of the art forum in the Nineteenth Century? What was her place in society very different from today. The Ballerina really sat at the bottom of the socio economic scale. If you will. There were a few exceptions in. Even though there was a flourishing in the eighteen thirties and forties where there were certainly respectable stars By and large these women were very marginalized. They were paid very little and as a result they were often exploited. Many of them had to turn to prostitution To survive and we see these beautiful pictures by got today showing what seems like an idealized environment but in fact often in the back. You'll see men lurking. They were known as the abomination repower men of the Jockey Club and they regularly exploited these young women so many of them had very sad stories even though they were quite accomplished artists and speaking of data. I think there's even a little back story to his very famous sculpture of the fourteen year. Old Dancer Right. That's right that famous. Bronze sculpture is of a young girl She was part of a family where I think her sister was. Also a dancer but sadly she was likely a victim of the circumstances at the time where she hardly made any money to survive. Many of the dancers were hungry. They were physically exerting themselves and this young lady did fall into prostitution as well and probably died a very sad life so yeah it's horrible to think of and so different from the way we view dancers today right and it really is a fact that the majority of ballerinas then and now will never make it to star status. That's right or or you know prima which was a term. That's kind of more favorite in the past right. Today's top dancers are really generally called principal dancers. If I'm correct right why this shift and terminology from Ballerina to Principal Dancer. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that ballet culture came up in Great Britain and especially the United States and we view ourselves as a bit more democratic so the idea of the Ballerina which was a term given to very very few female dancers. You really had to be at the apex at one point in the late nineteenth century in Russia and said there were only six ballerinas in all of Russia was extraordinary So you can see how limited the term was bandied about then but today we view of the hierarchy of the principal soloist in the quarter ballet member but I think it erases the difference between male versus female and one that really I think asserts a sense of achieving it not so much through social connections or through whims but really through technical as well as artistic merit so. This is one of the reasons we see that change in France. They still use the word. A twelve or star to designate the very top rank. Oh Nice Yeah. I'd like to turn our attention to one of the all time greats who we were just talking about Before we started recording Marie Tahiliani And she really rose to international claim in the early nineteenth century. I'm hoping you could tell us a little bit about her. And also her innovations which helped to shape the future trajectory of ballet as an art form. That's right I think Marie Tagliani was important to very significant ways. One was the art form itself. He was not considered a beautiful woman and had certain physical flaws. Someone told me that. She was slightly hunchback and her father who was a brilliant choreographer was able to create dance. Movements that did not distract from that in fact Really enhanced her physical illness She was very hard working and she was a pioneer of the idea of going up on point sort of Now we think of it is absolutely essential in classical ballet for a female dancer but it was very rare when she started and I think the other thing that she did was to raise the respectability of the Ballerina. She was very careful in the way she cost him herself. She was discreet. Show is where pearls she had. A Floral Diadem And the other thing is that she acted very lady like off stage and she made sure her physical depictions whether in costume more in high fashion. We're always done in a very respectable way so she was able to do something. Many other ballerinas could not do which was Garner female audience. Even the young Princess Victoria was a huge fan of hers and so if members of the royal family could embrace. It was considered acceptable. So she was a breakaway star but unusual in that way and and correct me. If I'm wrong queen perhaps named one of her horses Tahiliani. He did tell Yoni was one of her race horses and also there was a stagecoach that ran between cities that was called the Tagliani fabrics after her famous role muscle feed many different types. Candies were named after her and the Russians were especially enamored. There were some bellum who made a soup out of her shoes needed hotel. Yoni mania swept through Europe and the eighteen thirties forties talk about being a mythic. Yes exactly Speaking of iconic elements of ballet. I would be very very surprised if there's a single one of our listeners out there who is not familiar with the garment which is of course. Queen essentially synonymous with ballet and I am of course talking about the two one thing that I was taken a bit backed by. When I was reading the exhibition catalogue was the somewhat body origins of this term. So how did this term to come about an aunt at its most basic? What is a two two while the two two is just the Ballerina skirt? It's costume and when it was invented in the eighteen thirties It was a word that came from. Rather if you will of course background it's a slang or play on the word. Kuku which itself is slang for the petite call. Which is your behind. Basically ballet audiences were different in the way they were positioned back in those days. The people who were members of the aristocracy or had money were always in what they called the box seats or the rings that were on the upper tiers of the Opera House and it was down in the orchestra seats where the more working class people sat and they could sometimes get a glimpse of the Valarie Yes that they were diaphanous garments and so sometimes depending on how she twirled or whatnot it you could get a look up them and they were also bit dangerous they were often starched ahead sizing in them which made them flammable and with the open gas lights. Some of the Ballerina skirts caught on fire and sadly a number of stars did die that

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