Continuing Mysteries

Theatre and Performance
January 14, 2011


The cover of the 1915 souvenir programme, note the women’s Kokoshnik headdresses

The Nijinsky, Poiret and Matisse cases were de-installed today so many of our star objects have been put away. As all the costumes are packed it is an opportunity to check details – sometimes because of questions received during the exhibition – sometimes because other questions spring to mind. It is fascinating, for example, to look closely at the Snow Maiden’s headscarf for Soleil de nuit spread flat out to appreciate its appliqué. The solo, originally danced by Lydia Lopokova, was added by Massine to his ballet created in 1915 when it was first performed in London in 1918. The headscarf was much lighter and allowed more freedom of movement that the large traditional Kokoshniks that the other female dancers wore.


We displayed it as shown in photographs quite high on the head so that the Snow Maiden would blend in with the other dancers in the ballet. Although, I can’t prove it, I suspect Lopokova insisted on the change to enable her to perform. Kokoshniks, are those large Russian headdresses tied at the back which became popular with the revived interest in traditional Russian dress at the court of the last Tsar. Wikipedia shows a good selection and Pavlova can be seen wearing one in my blog ‘Where’s Pavlova?’ 11/11/2010.

Male and female corps de ballet as the gigolos and poules in Le Train bleu

I also took the opportunity to look again closely at the navy bathing costume worn by a gigolo in Le Train bleu. This has been repeatedly claimed to be a costume worn by Ninette de Valois. Apparently the stitched in label has her name on it. Well the label is now indecipherable to the naked eye. I know it was sold at Sotheby’s in 1967 as de Valois’ costume – indeed it was shown in the 1954 Buckle exhibition as such (object 594), but it is a man’s costume. It is clear from cartoons and photographs the male corps de ballet were in the plain, sleeveless navy costumes.


Karsavina’s make-up

One of the few cases still installed is Tamara Karsavina’s make up. We know it belonged to Karsavina as it came from her – but at what period was it used? Several interns spent a long time researching make up to try to discover from its packaging just when this was produced. We never discovered and no one during the exhibition has told us it was quite wrong – but it would be nice to get more information about objects such as these. The end of the exhibition leave questions still unanswered and investigation to continue.

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