FLOWERS - A BALLET TRADTION
The first ballet headdress a little girl wears is almost always a row of pink or blue artificial flowers, stitched together by her mother or teacher.
When, and if, she becomes a ballerina, she will hold a bouquet of flowers as she takes her curtain call. For a dramatic flourish, she might pluck a flower to present to her partner.
As tokens, tributes or decoration, flowers mark the beginning and end of a dancer’s life just as they dress the stage, from the daisies outside Giselle’s cottage, to the petals stitched to the costume of Le Spectre de la Rose.
'Vaslav Nijinsky in Le Spectre de la Rose'
Long before the invention of the tutu, the leotard or tights, ballet costumes were scattered with flowers.
In the 18th century, Marie Camargo, the dancer acknowledged as the first to reveal her ankles on stage, wore dresses garlanded with flowers.
'Maria Carmargo by Nicolas Lancret'
However it wasn’t until the Romantic age of the early 19th century, that delicate pastel blooms became symbolic of ballet. The dancers of the day wore wreaths around their centre-parted hair and their white tulle dresses were embellished with roses or daisies. Almost all the costumes for today’s productions of La Sylphide and Giselle follow the tradition.
'Marie Taglioni as Flora in Didelot's Zéphire et Flore'
Giselle is an interesting example of floral symbolism in dance. The daisies of the first act indicate the heroine’s innocence (she plays the game of ‘he loves me, he loves me not’ as she plucks the petals) while the lilies her two-timing lover places on her grave represent his guilt and grief.
'Dimity Azoury in Giselle - Photo by Jeff Busby'
The sentimental attachment of dance with flowers reached a pinnacle with Le Corsaire whose centrepiece is the ravishing Le Jardin anime, in which the dancers, representing a rose garden, carry garlands, flower baskets and bouquets.
'Le Corsaire - Bolshoi Ballet'
The prettiness of the garden is in direct contrast with an evil scene in La Bayadère when the heroine, Nikiya, meets her death as she is handed a basket of flowers that hides a poisonous snake.
The Sleeping Beauty is a flowerbed of dancing, from the Garland Waltz to the Rose Adagio in which Aurora is presented with a rose from each of her four suitors.
'Garland Waltz - Royal Ballet'
Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score for The Sleeping Beauty was followed by his Nutcracker with its beautiful Waltz of the Flowers.
'Waltz of the Flowers - San Francisco Ballet's Human Flower'
Ballet buffs could play a quiz game of titles with flowers as titles.
Here’s a few: Flower Festival of Genzano, Red Poppy, (choreographed in 1927 with a Soviet revolutionary theme), Lilac Garden, La Dame aux Camélias and the much more recent ballet by Liam Scarlett, Sweet Violets.
Australian audiences will soon see dancers playing the roles of Oberon and Puck wearing floral or leafy headdresses as the Australian Ballet begins its season of Frederick Ashton’s The Dream late in April.
'Matthew Golding in The Dream - Photo by Tristram Kenton'
Today’s storytelling choreographers, among them Alexei Ratmansky, Christopher Wheeldon and Matthew Bourne still place a flower or more on the stage, but with more contemporary ballet and less narrative the petal is slowing fading away.
'Christopher Wheeldon's - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'
The flower, though, will never completely vanish from the dance stage. Just think of the end of year concerts of the local ballet school in which the youngest dancers appear as daffodils and sunflowers, their little faces circled with paper petals.
Author: Valerie Lawson
Valerie is an author and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. She is the former Arts Editor and Dance Writer for The Sydney Morning Herald (1990 to 2009). Valerie was also the Dance Critic for The Australian Financial Review (1994-2002). At Fairfax Media she was the Foundation Editor of The Good Weekend Magazine as well as the Times on Sunday. Today Valerie is a freelance writer and her articles are published in newspapers and magazines around the globe including the theatre programs of The Australian Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, Ballet National of Cuba, Hamburg Ballet, Bolshoi Ballet, English National Ballet, Nerderland Dans Theatre and Sydney Festival. In addition to her numerous journal articles, Valerie is the author of three non-fiction books Connie Sweetheart (1990), The Allens Affair (1995) and Mary Poppins She Wrote , a biography of Pamela Travers (1999). Valerie is currently writing a history of ballet in Australia and we at Amy Louise Dance are honoured that she agreed to be our first blog author.
Valerie trained at the Royal Academy of Dance schools in New Zealand. In addition to holding a Teaching Diploma from the Royal Academy of Dance, Valerie graduated with a B.Phil (Hons) in Ballet and Contextual Studies from the University of Durham, United Kingdom (2002). In 2010 she was awarded the Nancy Keesing Fellowship at he State Library of New South Wales where she researched the ballet and dance collections. Recently, she launched her own website www.dancelines.com.au in which she covers developments and events in the dance industry from around the globe. This is a wonderful resource not only for lovers of dance, but young budding professional dancers who need to have a sound knowledge of who's who and what is happening in the dance world. We encourage you to visit Valerie's website (click the image below) and subscribe.