Broken Ballerina

The following is an excerpt of an interview with famed costume designer, Igor Vasiliev.

IV: I remember that performance very well. She was dressed in a light shade of blue from head to toe: barrette, dress, tights, pointe shoes.  I made that dress for her. Stitched every stitch with my own two hands. Haute couture, darling. It took hours and hours, but every costume does.

Watching her was magic. She spun and spun and spun, effortlessly. His hands around her tiny waist, right below her protruding ribs. It’s amazing to watch her move so confidently despite being constrained. Or maybe it was because of his hands that she is able to move so fearlessly. I don’t know. But in that moment, she looked like butter, churning. Smooth, creamy, practically weightless.

It’s amazing to watch her, not only because of her precision, but also her ability to be powerful and to give power to others.

LC: What do you mean by that, about being powerful and giving power?

IV: If you ever watch a ballet dancer, a good ballet dancer, perform a pirouette or a fouette, the entire world seems to be spinning under them. The control and precision, the balance and focus it takes to do that – that is power. Giving power to someone else is just as hard. But she made it look so easy. He would hold her by the small of her back and she would pour over like milk from a jug. It was almost as if she had no bones in her body. [Laughs]. She trusted him and in doing so gave him power and he of course did not betray her.

At the end of the show, there was so much applause. It was delightful. The floor shook a little – it was very exciting. To share that moment with all the audience and the dancers.

LC: You’ve mentioned that the Baroque show is your favorite – how come? She performed in so many others.

IV: But Baroque was her best one and also her last. So many exquisite details in the performance, as the title suggests. And her costume was probably my best work. Over the years I had almost come to memorize her body but it was not sexual. It was never sexual. After countless fittings you start to remember details of a person’s body, whether you want to or not. There were stories written in her feet. You could tell how hard she worked just by looking at her feet. They were often bruised, her toenails chipped, sometimes they’d be bleeding and they almost always looked sore. Yet, she was beautiful in every way that someone could be beautiful and still be real. I created her costume for the Baroque show with her in mind, more so than ever before. I knew her likes and her dislikes. I embroidered an entire tapestry onto her dress – so many details – I recreated Rubens’s The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus into the dress. It was magnificent. These were details that most of the audience did not even know were there, but she did. From a distance they could see sparkles as she moved; the light would hit the tiny gemstones as she moved and she would shimmer in flashes. From far away her dress might have looked like it was covered in a layer of lace, but there was history sewn into that dress. Like her, the closer you looked, the more you saw. Thread after thread after thread, heartbreak, fear, hope, anger, happiness, it was all there. So much to see, so much to take in. Anyway, that dress was my magnum opus and her dancing in it made it even more magnificent. It was made for her.

LC: You mentioned earlier that, even though you no longer talk, you still think of her fondly. If you don’t mind my asking, what happened?

IV: She gave as much of her body and spirit to ballet as she could. Her bones couldn’t handle much more; she loved the art but it’s a harsh art to love well. She had a small frame, which I think contributed to her, uh, lack of regular menses. That bothered her. Her body was telling her to stop and I think, in that way, she broke her own heart. And then she broke mine. She retired, and a retired ballerina is not a ballerina anymore.

© Leila Chammas, November 4, 2016

Inspiration: Ekaterina Osmolkina