Tutus on Tour, Tutus at Te Papa

It’s that time of year again, when the Royal New Zealand Ballet divides itself in two mini-companies, and hits the road with a wardrobe full of tutus and pointe shoes to travel the width and breadth of New Zealand, performing in community theatres, town halls and school gymnasiums.

I was lucky enough to see a sneak preview of the programme on Tuesday evening during a dress rehearsal. The first half of the programme is dedicated to the pas de deux – a dance especially choreographed for two dancers. Each female dancer naturally wore a variation of that ballet classic – the tutu, including the bell, the pancake and I think even the platter!

The performance got me wondering about what tutus we might have might in Te Papa’s collection. While we don’t have an example of the real thing, we have plenty of tutu inspired imagery. So while the Royal New Zealand take their Tutus on Tour, here is a visual tour of some of Te Papa’s Tutus.

First up is a pocket-sized pas de deux. Ballet imagery was particularly popular in the 1950s, as were red  hankies. Red handkerchiefs were known as lipstick hankies, as they didn’t show bright red lipstick marks post-blotting! Legend has it that Joan Crawford was responsible for the trend. 

Handkerchief featuring a pas de deux, 1950s. Gift of Duncan Matthews and Moray Guise on behalf of their aunt Miss Kate Joudain, 2008

This delightful tutu design is currently on show in Te Papa’s exhibition Mollie Rodie: Carnival Queen. Mollie designed the costume for a ballet solo during the Canadian section of the Pageant from Empire carnival.

Costume design for Pageant of Empire, ’Canada Ballet Solo’ by Mollie Rodie, 1940-1941. Gift of Marion F. Mackenzie (née Rodie), 2009

This moody etching of a ballet dancer is by the English artist Gerald Brockhurst, who went on to achieve fame as a society portrait painter.

The dancer by Gerald Brockhurst, 1925. Gift of Mrs Harold Wright, 1965

Te Papa’s large collection of glass plate negatives from the Berry & Co photography studio is rich with images of various performers, from juggling sailors to budding dancers, including Peggy Pike and Hazel Martin.

Peggy Pike on pointe at the Berry & Co photographic studio, circa 1920. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds

Miss Hazel Martin strikes a pose on pointe, circa 1920. Berry & Co. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds

Brian Brake captured this ballerina taking a modest bow in Moscow. She wears a classical romantic tutu.

Brian Brake, Moscow. Gift of Mr Raymond Wai-Man Lau, 2001

The Russian ballet also captured the imagination of artist Nigel Brown, who took up an artist residency at the New Zealand Embassy in Moscow in 2005. For his series of lithographs entitled After Russia, he turned attention from black singlets and farmers to ballerinas and tutus, although his dancers are not always the most elegant of dancers!

After Russian: Helsinki II by Nigel Brown, 2005. Purchased 2010

And of course, little girls world-wide love a ballerina in a tutu, including 10-year-old Nina Kluge who posed her delightful peg doll’s arms in fifth position. Her peg-leg feet make natural pointe shoes!

Peg Doll by Nina Kluge, 2011. Gift of Nina Kluge, 2011.

Nina’s little blue tulle tutu brings me back to the Royal New Zealand Ballet, and my favourite tutu from Tutus on Tour. Technically, perhaps it isn’t a tutu, its more duck’s bum. Made similarly, however, with layers upon layers of graduated yellow tulle, is was worn and ruffled to great effect by the feisty little Duck in Peter and the Wolf – the ballet which makes up the second half of the show. As to the cat, no tutu, just an oh-so-sassy tail.

Te Radar narrates as the duck and the cat face off in RNZB's Peter and the Wolf. Photo by: Evan Li

Te Radar narrates as the duck and the cat face off in RNZB’s Peter and the Wolf. Photo by: Evan Li

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