Two centuries later, the tutu is still the star of ballet
The Opera National de Paris is displaying until the end of the summer - at the Palais Garnier - some rare ballet costumes, honouring the most famous tutus. We have the opportunity to re-discover this legendary costume born more than two centuries ago.
When we say ballet dancers, we think about tutus. The legendary costume of all classical dancers is a constant element in the world of ballet, despite its age. The tutu made its first appearance in 1832, for the premiere of La Sylphide. Ballet dancer Marie Taglioni arrived on stage wearing a long tulle skirt revealing her ankles. Over the years, the skirt was shortened, for a number of reasons. Gaëlle Piton, ballet expert, cited several reasons for this decision to shorten it: the scarcity of tulle, the dangers of wearing a long skirt on stage, and also the practical side, for ease of movement.
If today we can still see long tutus, that is simply because they are used in the context of the romantic ballet. Giselle, for example, will always dance in the Romantic long tutu, but Clara in The Nutcracker will use a short tutu. This costume is largely linked with the public perception of dance and dancers. Léonore Baulac is a dancer at the Opera National de Paris, and since she was a child, to her the tutu has always represented the magic of dance.
In addition to the aesthetic and magical aspect, the tutu is also a practical element for dancers. It defines the space in which they can dance freely. It also allows their male partners to take it as a point of reference for the portés (dance movements), as explained by Léonore:
“For everything that includes a pirouette, our partner must lift us from the hips, because they are more solid than the waist. And the hips are where the tutu ends, therefore he should put his hands as close to the tulle as possible”
Each dancer at the Paris Opera is entitled to made-to-measure costumes. And the making of a tutu is achieved thanks to dressmakers, who do a thorough job: from the draft phase to its completion. A few steps away from the Palais Garnier, at the first floor of Repetto, Marie-Victoire Monachon works behind her sewing machine. She is in charge of ballet costumes and explains the various stages of the creation of a classical tutu:
“It is made of several layers of tulle: we call it stiff tulle, which is stronger, therefore it can hold itself up. Using this tulle, we usually put 8 to 14 layers one above the other”.
In order to fix the layers, Marie-Victoire does a “bailliage”: “With a few stitches by hand, we use a special cotton yarn securing all the layers to each other”, explains the dressmaker.
It takes about 30 hours to make a classical tutu, but when Marie-Victoire has to work on a complex costume to which she can add feathers, silk or other materials, it may take up to 200 hours for just one tutu.