The costumes for Raymonda: splendour and refinement

An encounter with Susanne Dangel, production manager of the sewing studios

By Irina Flament 17 December 2019

© Christophe Pelé / OnP

Central costumes, Palais Garnier, 2019

The costumes for Raymonda: splendour and refinement

To mark the revival of Rudolf Nureyev’s emblematic ballet Raymonda, Octave met with Susanne Dangel, production manager at the Paris Opera’s costume department. At the “central” as it is calle the area at the Palais Garnier where all the costumes for a production are gathered together before the dress rehearsal—and a few days before the first rehearsals at the Opéra Bastille where the performances will take place (from December 3 to 31, 2019), Susanne Dangel looks back on the high points that have marked the restoration, decoration and fitting of the costumes for this glittering production.

A production of Raymonda is back on the bill after an eleven-year absence. What were the major steps involved in restoring and / or making the costumes for this production?

It was probably the tutus that required the most work. We had to rework the tulle base—the famous round flat “platter”—on all the original tutus. Since we can longer find stiff, coloured tulle, we first had to dye the tulle in beige and red. And it was an entire procedure finding the right colours… We then entrusted the manufacture of the tutus to an external contractor because it would have taken too long for them to have been done internally. We were able to save and use the old bustiers and the decorative plates and we adapted everything when we were doing the fittings with the dancers.

Is this production identical to the original?

We’ve remained faithful to Nureyev’s production, though I can say we wouldn’t make costumes like that today—especially the bustiers which are extremely rigid. During the fittings, some of the dancers would say “I can’t move” … They were a little concerned, but today we pay close attention to comfort while still achieving the same end-result.

© Christophe Pelé / OnP

Is that due to the technological development of materials and textiles or is it related to the evolution of dance and the silhouettes of the dancers?

It’s related to the evolution of silhouettes, to the style of the dancers which has changed over the last few generations. With the passage of time, there’s been a desire for more and more comfort. But that’s not what the fabrics lend themselves to especially since we work with the same materials: toiles on the interior, superimposed lamé, then lace and tulle… Georgiadis was truly brilliant, it’s ingenious what he did. These are not particularly expensive fabrics, it’s the way he layered them which gives such a fabulous result.

What other fabrics or materials were used to make the costumes?

Tulle is still used for the base, for the juponage—that’s the name given to the layer that gives the volume and the structure of the skirt. Organza is used too. There’s also a lot of muslin which is almost a base. The main leitmotiv of this production are the little golden buttons on the sleeves. Many of them have been re-worked too. There are also mancherons for the men. It’s a capless sleeve, attached to the armhole of the doublet with elastic. We use them on the costumes for the Golden Waltz, the Six Spaniards and in a more elaborate version for Bernard and Béranger’s doublets. It’s very practical, since it’s important for the dancer to be comfortable and retain freedom of movement.

Chenille is used as a decorative element for the costumes of the Spaniards and the Saracens.

Sometimes, when we need to alter or remake a costume, we don’t recognise what type of fabric was used so it requires an almost surgical process to identify it which involves opening up the seams with a pair of scissors.

© Christophe Pelé / OnP

The “platter” tutus are characteristic of productions from the Nureyev period. What else identifies them?

First of all, there’s the panty. It’s elastic and worn high on the waist. We then mount eleven tulle flounces on the panty. For a tutu, you need 12 metres of tulle on 1.40 metres. For this production, there are at least 60 tutus. In the old days we would make them with thirteen flounces but now we stop at eleven in order to make the platter lighter. Once the flounces are mounted, we add a yoke about 10-cm-long which rises to the waist. We then end up with a big chaotic ball in which nothing is held together! To regain control of all that, the costumiers make little stitches—we call it “basting”—which are generally tightly spaced. It all depends on the final effect you want to achieve, namely, a tutu that’s more billowing or one that’s flatter. All this takes an incredible amount of time. Almost a week of work is required to make a single platter. The edge is then “ruched” to give an airier lighter effect.

The platter is very stiff at first and it’s not always easy for the partner. But fortunately, it quickly becomes more supple.

What decorative work needs to be done on the costumes and the accessories?

We receive them as they are and we restore what we can. Given the deadlines, we can’t redo everything. The sequins are hand-sewn by the seamstresses. The Saracen’s headdress that you see there is extremely heavy. During the opera, it can crack here or there so it needs to be repaired between performances.

How are the fittings going with a new generation of dancers, some of whom are performing the ballet for the first time?

The fittings are generally relaxed and fast. The dancers are always rushing between the rehearsals and evening performances. They more or less voice their concerns and their specific requests, which is usually the case! One Étoile will prefer elastic lacing on the bustier rather than fasteners to make it more flexible. Another Étoile will ask to have two pairs of tights of different sizes depending on the costume he’s wearing…

© Christophe Pelé / OnP

How many costumes are in this production?

Altogether, from the soloists to the extras (who number around thirty), there’s a total of 258. And on stage, 181. The soloists’ costumes were made in the Opera’s workshops. The others were tendered to out-of-house contractors because we had a lot of work at the moment with Le Parc, as well as Onegin which is going on tour in Japan, not to forget the world premiere of Crystal Pite’s new work.

How does that compare to other ballets in the repertoire and how long does it take for the costumes to be ready for the first costume rehearsals?

Without a doubt, Sleeping Beauty is more substantial, but Raymonda is already a major task. We began working on the tulles in July—printing, sending them to the factory, then receiving them back in the autumn. We already knew the names of the soloists which meant we were able to move forward. Now, the fitting marathon begins: 4 or 5 costumes per dancer—many are worn by two performers. There’ll be around twenty dressers on stage.

The distinctive feature of Raymonda is that it’s also a ballet of shoes! The boots for the Hungarian soldiers for example, they are made to measure in Italy, and the ones for the Czardas are really beautifully made! Still, with each passing performance the shoes wear quickly due to all the sliding and the friction. The leather is quite thin. They need to be remade for each production. And we also work on the accessories when it involves pieces made of fabric—the soldier’s standards for example.

Mayerling will soon be entering the Paris Opera Ballet’s repertoire in a production from the Royal Opera House. What will your work consist of?

We’re going to remake all the soloists’ costumes. It’s a huge production, very much in Georgiadis’s style: the colour tones, the work on the materials… It’s going to be a major event.

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