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Designer Sophie Fedorovitch was a mistress of understatement. Her costumes contained sufficient information to indicate character, period and style without being either over-detailed or indefinite. Thus, this costume for a poor flower seller in 1890's Paris from Frederick Ashton's ballet 'Nocturne', contains enough hints of period in the sleeves and swathed hips to satisfy the audience while not getting in the way of the dancer. The grey velvet too is subtly chosen to suggest hardwearing poverty, but at the same time it has a chic that suggests a balleticised destitution, in keeping with Ashton's nostalgic, romantic view of the subject.

Fonteyn's interpretation, however, conveyed all the sadness and confusion of the poor girl in love with a rich man. She danced the role for ten years until the ballet passed out of the repertory. The costume was later sold at an auction in aid of the Royal Academy of Dancing and was bought by ballet historian and Science Museum curator G B L Wilson. In 1970, Wilson lent the costume back to Fonteyn to wear when she danced a solo from Nocturne in the Gala marking Ashton's retirement as Director of The Royal Ballet. Suffice it to say that, after more than twenty years, the costume needed no alteration.

Museum no. S.308/a-1985

 

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