Here, There and Almost Everywhere

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The Witch hazel rooting on an early spring. Photo: JH.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020. Yesterday in New York was like a beautiful early Spring day. Lots of bright Sun (there is such a thing as “dull” Sun in the city), temps touch 60 degrees, and in the neighborhood people getting out. My favorite observation was of a fatherly type, maybe grandpa, in wheelchair moving it along at a steady pace with a little one (maybe age two) sitting on his lap while three-wheel scootering of a three-year-old alongside. A sweet trio of life on another sobering, yet beautiful day.

Wheels and Wheels. The general news, i.e. the virus; is so confounding, not to mention scary and panicky in the morning news that we concluded the only solution for the moment-to-moment is to look for the brighter sides.

Walking the dogs in the morning about 11, in gorgeous weather we passed by the motorcycle. The Harley. It belongs to someone in the nabe because I see it parked frequently, and it’s always sparkling. And although I’ve never ever considered the use of one, or even riding on one, I can’t help admiring the sheer beauty of this machine. And it does look like a million bucks or whatever they cost!

But yesterday she was visited by a rather sleek, simpler, less hurtling machine: the bike. What mankind has also wrought. Yay! And uses everyday in thanks and gladness (not to mention the vagaries of the road).

Then back at the apartment, and on the terrace, I see the deliveries had begun unloading their cache on the roadway. I have several opinions about this phenomenon, none of which are glorious. It is a current phenomenon, just like the hundreds of empty retail and service establishment storefronts across the city and the country. It is a veritable shutting down of community. BUT. It does speak of some prosperity somewhere and all those guys and gals who work these routes always remind me of librarians delivering the books (goods) to the neighborhood. Nevertheless getting the goods delivered beats lugging them home …

And then, there was JH in the Park by that Reservoir in the park catching those happy ducks out dunking their heads in the glorious sunshine en duo. All good news all around; here there and almost everywhere.

Also something to shout about and rush to see:  The current exhibition at the FIT Museum of Fashion: Ballerina: Fashion’s Modern Muse  in the Special Exhibitions Gallery, running through April 18th.

George Balanchine, the legendary choreographer once said: “Ballet is woman.” Even those of us who have little knowledge of this dance form see that classical ballet is decidedly female. The ballerina is its supreme practitioner — highly trained, an accomplished artist, her performance embodies our modern ideals of beauty and grace, encased in a sleek and enviable toned physique. 

Anna Pavlova, costumed as “The Dying Swan,” from Swan Lake, 1905. Photograph by Herman Mishkin. Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Ballets Russes, founded by impresario Sergei Diaghilev, and led by a fellow Russian émigré, Anna Pavlova, reinvigorated classical dance in the West. It also ignited an enduring craze for ballet, or “balletomania.”

It also influenced many fields of creativity, one of the most important being fashion. With that the ballerina’s public image also blossomed into an aspirational figure of beauty and glamour. 

Her signature costume was the corseted tutu. That inspired many leading Paris fashion designers. From the 1930s through the 1970s, ballerinas were featured in leading high fashion magazines. Their performances were also covered, and many of of the most beautiful modeled the latest fashions also.

Many of the couture objects in this exhibition were designed and made in Paris. But the popularization of classical ballet itself owes much to the British and the Americans. Imperial Russian classical ballet became the most popular of the performing arts in the UK and the U.S. Paris and New York haute couture looked for the first time to classical ballets for inspiration — such as GiselleSwan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty. Sportswear designers took their cues from contemporary ballets in streamlined practice wear.

The Neo-Romantic Revival.

There are more than 90 objects on view such as a dazzling array of tutu-inspired couture gowns — boned bodices, voluminous skirts. There are American ready-to-wear separates based on leotards and tights and leg warmers. And footwear ranging from “ballerina” flat slippers to fetishistic “pointe”-style high heels.

Ballet-inspired materials such as the silk netting known as tulle became a standard material used to craft evening gowns. Knits were the preferred for sportswear separates. Colors emblematic of ballerinas, such as “ballet pink” tights, and pointe shoes, popularized by specific ballets such as “Sleeping” blue and lilac from the Sleeping Beauty found their way into couture collections, and ready-to-wear designers by the mid-century.

Ballet Style Footwear.

The show also presents the ballerina as a “woman of style.” More than a dozen ensembles by Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and Halston, worn by stars such as Margot Fonteyn, Alicia Markova, Maria Tallchief, and Virginia Johnson illustrate the important role fashion played in the ballerina’s career.

Ballet’s sway on fashion began to diminish by the early 1980s with the rise of youth culture, along with the decline of high fashion. Although ballerinas themselves benefited. Their art has been elevated. And they’ve maintained the emancipated position bequeathed to them by earlier generations of dancers.

L. to r.: Ballerina as Woman of Style; Ballerina as Bird.
Fom Costumier to Couturier.

Ballerina: Fashion’s Modern Muse
Special Exhibitions Gallery
February 11 – April 18, 2020
Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology
227 West 27th Street

Leotards and Tights as Fashion.

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