A Tribute to Rudolf Nureyev: Contemplating design

As Petrushka plucks at his jerkin, despairing at the costume the Charlatan has put him in, I am also left contemplating his hideous clothing. A sad clown outfit topped off with a wig and cap that would’ve made Richard III’s stylist proud.

For an art-form that is so dedicated to beauty, ballet has an exceptionally high tolerance for ugliness. Perhaps the doleful puppet’s sartorial influence being a man buried under a car-park can be forgiven, but the un-groomed ginger-tom that clings desperately onto the head of the Merchant cannot be absolved.

Things do not improve even when both set and costumes are stripped back for Songs of the Wayfarer. Dressed in unitards – a bizarre favourite of seventies designers – in delightful shades of sky-blue and maroon, Vadim Muntagirov and Esteban Berlanga manage to conjure up the image of an overgrown Smurf and his aged Papa, whose reddish stockings have crept up from the waistline and finally taken over. Not really the mental picture you need when contemplating Destiny’s hold on man.

Even the glamorous Raymonda is not free of fashion faux pas. As the candelabras rise up into the heady heights of the palace ceiling, a ream of Hungarian dancers strut onto the stage to the strains of Glazunov’s score, dressed in matching go-go boots. An item which was already heading towards being passe by the production’s 1969 première.

After that, it could only get better. A gathering of gilded meringues masquerading as dancers flood the stage. Tamara Rojo takes up the centre point in this circlet of pearls, her own skirt a series of fluffy layers that puff around her legs as she kicks up the fabric with each retiré. Not to be outdone, her partner, Yonah Acosta, has clearly been using Daz to get his tights that blinding shade of white, outshining even his golden epaulettes, and making his powerful jumps all the more magical.

With ballets like Petrushka being revived to the exact specifications of the original designers, it is perhaps inevitable that the costumes will fall out-of-step with current fashions. What would have looked starkly modern when Nureyev danced Bejart’s Songs of the Wayfarer, now looks like a couple of naff rejects from A Chorus Line. And while nothing can diminish the extreme beauty of Vadim’s exceptional fluidity, I can’t help but think that ballet’s unwillingness to update itself distracts more than any chance to these glass-cased museum pieces.

Maxine Smiles