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The dancer at work: The aesthetic and politics of practice clothes and leotard costumes in ballet performance

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This article focuses on the aesthetic implications innate to the introduction of tight-fitting rehearsal-style costume, a leotard, to the dance studio and stage. In ballet, the pared-down and subtle design of such costumes is found in many dance works from the twentieth century until today, including the ‘black and white ballets’ by George Balanchine, or ‘ballet-ballets’ by William Forsythe. These works are also considered plotless and seem to deter the viewer from the theatrical conventions of plot lines, characters and narratives. This article is concerned with that which is highlighted in such works: the dancer’s moving body and the leotard as a costume that particularly refers to the performer at work and in own cultural setting. The look into the relationship between the dancers and leotard as a costume type communicates important information about the performer’s work and their development of roles in such repertoire. The closer consideration of this relationship in reference to the aesthetic of practice-clothes ballet also discloses plenty about the artistic potentials in such choreography and performance, revealing how the use of leotard as a stage costume has both furthered and challenged some of ballet’s traditions and cultural conventions.
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Keywords: Balanchine; Forsythe; ballet; black and white ballet; dance; leotard; leotard ballet; practice-clothes ballet

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Roehampton

Publication date: October 1, 2014

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  • Scene is dedicated to a critical examination of space and scenic production. The journal provides an opportunity for dynamic debate, reflection and criticism. With a strong interdisciplinary focus, we welcome articles, interviews, visual essays, reports from conferences and festivals. We want to explore new critical frameworks for the scholarship of creating a scene.
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