THE DEGAS BALLET GIRLS







The little ballet rats of the Corps de Ballet is dressed up in a tutu and bodice seen on Degas' famous statue "Little dancer, aged 14". His statue was modeled after the young dancer Marie van Goethem, who trained and worked at the Palais Garnier in Paris. It was made between 1878-1881, and exhibited shortly after. And it caused a scandal. Reviewers wrote that "She presents herself halfnaked, in her work clothes, weary and fatigued" and that she looked like "a puny specimen". Ballet dancers was usually presented and portraited as distant nymphs, small flirting creatures gliding across stage. But van Goethem, posing in a casual fourth position, with an upraised chin and low shoulders, came off as sexual creature, not showing the modesty they found proper. It has since been one of Dégas' most praised works, though he never exhibited it again in his lifetime. To read more about Degas and ballet, I'd strongly recommend the book "Degas and the Dance".

The statue's outfit shows a short front buttoned bodice, with sloaping shoulders. The neck opening has a small lace as decoration. Today, the bodice seems almost too big for the statue, but that is first and foremost due to the tutu skirt being narrower and less stiff compared to when the statue was new. The skirt is made of real silk tulle, and though not as long as the ones from the early 19.th century, it is also far from the plate shaped tutus of today. The statue also has a real silk bow in the back of her hair. The bodice, ballet slippers and hair is also real, but covered with layers of wax. This gave a realistic structure.

This is not an actual stage costume - more an everyday dance outfit used during rehearsals and class. In several pictures and drawings from the time, one can see similar outfits being used in class, but with bloomers/drawers underneath... The skirt are made of 12 metres of tarlatan, a kind of stiffened muslin, as were the original tutus of the Degas period. The layers of skirt are edged using pinking scissors. The bodice is made of linen. And of curious info: each ballet girl in the show is using around 12 pairs of pointe shoes per month.

Note: I'm not really sure if the costume sketches displayed are reflecting the costumes used on stage. They come from a series of unused ideas; one being all white, another one being the Hannibal slavegirl bodice with a tutu. And when studying the design above, it looks like it's a bodice design to COVER the Hannibal one rather than replace it (remember that the whole rope skirt originally was removeable - it still is in European costumes). I think this was the original idea, and that they later turned to the ballet sculpture by Degas for more specific design. But either way it gives an idea of Bjørnson's thought about the ballet costumes.



THE BALLET RATS









MEG in "DON JUAN REHEARSAL"



Meg Giry is present in the "Don Juan Rehearsal" scene in this costume, next to Christine. Here she wears an additional cream shawl, most often in a knitted structure and with fringes. In European productions she also tend to bend up the back of her tutu when sitting. European versions uses a "crisper" tulle in the skirt than for example American versions, and so this is done to avoid damaging and flattening the tutu.