Russian Tutu Design-Who Invented It?

Classical tutus and Russian-style classical tutus are for the most part very similar. The only difference between the two of them is the Russian tutu design style of adding a metal hoop inside the layers of tulle to make the tutu skirt stand out as stiffly as possible.

This Russian inspired design feature also adds to the extra flat look that is desired. Somewhere back in ballet costume history, a decision was made to create a tutu skirt that was super stiff and flat in appearance. This of course made me very curious to know the reason behind this tutu design idea.

Linette Willis-Ballerina with the Australian Ballet
Linette Willis of the Australian Ballet

Researching the who, what, when, and why of any topic takes a bit of time, but I decided to see what I could find out about the origins of this hoop insertion idea. I want to know why a tutu skirt has to be even flatter and stiffer than it already is. Not only are Russian-style tutus flatter and stiffer, they are also larger in circumference than a regular classical tutu.

After spending some time hunting around for information I came away with very little. I did manage to gather a few facts about ballet costume design history:

  • In the 1920’s, Diaghilev of the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo was known to experiment with tutu design by changing the materials used in construction
  • Russian-born Varia Karinska became famous for her design of the powder puff tutu to suit choreography by Balanchine. George Balanchine and Karinska collaborated together on many costume ideas
  • Hoops were not added to classical tutus until the 1940’s
  • Hoops were added to increase the stability of the tutu skirt during movement to prevent distraction of  the audience away from the dancer. They were also fashioned to “frame” the dancer’s body in a dramatic way

Diaghilev had already passed away when hoops were added to tutus in the 1940’s. Balanchine didn’t like hooped tutu’s and that’s why he requested a new design. So who put those hoops into the classical tutus in Russia? Unfortunately, I still don’t know. I can’t say with 100% certainty that  Karinska thought of this idea, so for now, I will just have to keep admiring photos of them until I can find more information.

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2 comments

  1. Gosh you have researched very thoroughly – it is very interesting to see how ballet costume has evolved since the days of Louis 14th. I hope that Classical Tradition remains mainly the same. I think the Maryinsky and the Bolshoi achieve this in the best way, while still taking advantage of newer fabrics etc.

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