Thomas Hecht


The fact that our interest in a particular play or performance is not exhausted once the actual “intelligence given” has been acquired suggests that there are other informational levels on which theatre messages work.
Keir Elam, The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama1


Keir Elam's work initially inspired me to approach ballet costumes from a semiological perspective. The French philosopher Roland Barthes, strongly influenced by Saussure's concept of semiology, applied Saussure's linguistic model to fashion, costume, and clothing and, by delineating the “vestimentary code,” brought to light the signifying correlation between clothing and the world at large.2 Theatre semiotics have been explored by modern thinkers like Umberto Eco, Tadeusz Kowzan and Keir Elam, yet the theatrical costume as a sign has not been widely discussed.3 Kowzan, who affirms that “everything is a sign in a theatrical production,” provides a typology of thirteen sign systems; however, he admits that a much more detailed classification could be made and suggests that possible subjects for a semiotic investigation may include language, tone, facial mime, gesture, movement, make-up, hairstyle, costume, props, décor, lightening, music and sound effects.4 I suggest that ballet costumes can be similarly explored, using a constructionist, semiotic approach.5 My proposition is supported by Elam's affirmation that “of all recent developments in what used to be confidently called the humanities, no event has registered a more radical and widespread impact than the growth of semiotics.”6 Costume history, as an academic discipline, provides an opportunity for a study of signs within the world of performing arts, since costumes play an essential role in the creation and transmission of meaning.7 A costume is both a signifier (by means of its materiality) and a signified (functioning as a semiotic element within a sign system); thus, ballet costumes cannot be dissociated form the semiotic investigation of ballet.8 Narrative ballet productions, in particular, offer a vast field for such an exploration, by reason of the complexity of the theatre sign. The richness of the theatre sign has drawn the attention of many a scholar. “What exactly is a theatrical costume or a set that represents a house on stage?” Petr Bogatyrev asked. “When used in a play, both the theatrical costume and the house set are often signs that point to one of the signs of a sign and the sign of a material thing.”9

As artefacts, costumes represent fixed elements within the semiotic system of a ballet performance; however, they may be altered by lighting, movement, and narrative. As artefacts, they are not subject to temporal constraints and are visually accessible even after the performance; in this case, they can be considered as a visual record of the performance, being very often its only tangible remnants and offering a living imaginary picture of the scene. The physique (or materiality) of the costume does not usually change during the performance and therefore it also preserves to some extent its initial significations also when it is modified by lighting, movement, or narrative. In story ballet performances, the dancers usually do not change their costume within an act, therefore enabling the audience to receive “costume signs” of a specific character for at least the period of a complete act. Ronnie Mirkin suggests that an awareness of the costumed body as a unified, functioning entity, embedded in social life, can open new ways for studying cultural phenomena, but this reading of the costumed body as a part of the semiotic enterprise has already been explored by Foucault in his History of Sexuality (1978), as it is well known.10 Nevertheless, her study—which examines English Renaissance theatre-—can still assist us in drawing useful parallels between the costumed body of dancers in Romantic ballet productions and contemporary ones.

Following Elam's differentiation between cultural codes (vestimentary and cosmetic codes) and dramatic subcodes, I suggest defining costume as an active sign when it is worn by a performer and allows an interaction between wearers of costumes on stage.11 Such an interaction can be characterized by identical and/or similar costumes, which for example create a symbolic liaison between members of the same group. Likewise, a costume whose design can solely be identified when it is in motion can be considered as an active sign. Passive signs are transmitted by the costume itself when it is stored in the wardrobe, or when it is studied as a single object and not in relation to the other costumes of this particular production. I shall call this distinction an Active/Passive/Sign Dichotomy (A/P/S Dichotomy).12 The idea of an active and passive sign classification came to my mind when I started my primary research and took digital pictures of the costumes of the English National Ballet (ENB) Coppélia production at the ENB wardrobe storage. When I saw this particular production a couple of weeks later, performed on stage in full costume, the costumes appeared lively and emotional. On stage, the costume of a character can be more easily identified than a costume hanging in a wardrobe, because the story-line, or the narrative, supports the character. A costume on a person can be classified as an active sign, while a costume as an artefact is passive. The semiotic differentiation on which the Active/Passive/Sign Dichotomy is based has also been the yardstick by which many a costume designer has proceeded in her or hers work. So, for example, in an interview from1979, Patricia Zipprodt explained that “costume design is three-dimensional. . . . [The performers] are constantly in motion at any point of the stage. . . . I will watch what is happening to the form, the sculptural form that they are in – called a dress.”13 Active signs influenced Zipprodt's design and fitting process, as she considered the costume in motion.

The differentiation between active and passive signs is a useful tool for investigating the dynamic and ambivalent nature of the contemporary ballet costume, when applied, for example, to Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, first produced in 1995 in London at Sadler’s Wells. This production offers a good example of the many shifts in signification introduced not only by unconventional casting (male instead of female) but also by the costumes, designed by Lez Brotherston. No doubt, the swan as a phallic object of desire initiated this male version of this Romantic ballet, now invested with new and divergent significations.

In recent years, the gender and the gender(ed) costume has been analysed by numerous scholars of the fashion world.14 Shelly Foote affirms that the “intense” reaction to some changes in men's and women's appearance proves that there is a far-reaching symbolic significance attached to certain elements of appearance.15 Her theory is also valid and applicable to characters in contemporary ballet productions. While female cross-dressing in ballet was generally accepted and even welcome by the late nineteenth century, not so the presence of male dancers who, as Ramsay Burt maintains, “got in the way of erotic appreciation of feminine display.”16 Burt’s assertion implies that the Romantic male dancers may have provoked a homoerotic anxiety among male spectators and the pleasure of watching them hindered what was considered as the only legitimate pleasure—the pleasure derived from watching female dancers.

With the emergence of story ballet productions during the second half of the nineteenth century, the male ballet dancer became an important part of the ballet world, and his gender(ed) identity on stage was expressed by typical male roles, like the Prince in Swan Lake and the Fiancé in Coppélia. While in classical ballet the characters could easily be identified by their appearance as either male or female, after World War One avant-garde choreographers like George Balanchine and Martha Graham, and later on Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, Alvin Ailey and Pina Bausch, reformed and liberalised the traditional dance and its costumes. Dance moved away from traditional ballet techniques and modern dance techniques gave rise to a new era of costuming. Costumes and make-up took on a unisex look, as choreographers felt that it was less relevant to differentiate between female and male dancers. This development was the first step towards a gender-reversed ballet that emerged in the early 1990s.

Since the late 1990s, many contemporary ballet companies returned to a traditional repertoire, where gender-identity was adapted to allow an equal chance for talented dancers.17 These productions appear more frequently on the modern stage, such as The Swan Lake performed by the British ballet company Adventures in Motion Pictures or Les Ballets Trockadero. Not a few of recent ballet productions carry phallic connotations in their costumes, make-up and choreography. The concept of a phallic body has been discussed by Paul Jobling, who finds similar representations of gender and sexuality in fashion iconography where “men have been depicted unashamedly as narcissists, preening and showing off their well-honed bodies.”18 Such representations are present in ballet as well. One explanation of this cultural trend is offered by Freud’s fetishistic scenario, whereby the fetish replaces the imagined maternal phallus.19 Role playing and disguise are fundamental elements of transvestite representations. It is quite possible that gender-switched ballet productions emerged on the late-twentieth century ballet stage as an artistic form because it offered the “romantically-inspired” (male femaler) ballet dancers a venue for publicly performing their cross-dressing fetish. 20

Male dancers en pointe offer further evidence of newly constructed gender representation on the late twentieth-century stage. Susan Leigh Foster, who examines the sexual construction of the ballerina's phallic pointe, suggests that “the ballerina-as-phallus likewise problematises the male viewer's gaze: his point of identification on-stage is an effeminate, a man in tights, through whom he must pass on his way to the object of fascination, or on whom he can focus within a homosexual counter-reading of the performance.”21

The emphasis on the traditional role of the female in Romantic ballet productions, such as Swan Lake (first produced in Moscow in 1877) and The Dying Swan (originally choreographed by Mikhail Fokine in 1905) has now clearly shifted away from its traditional female gender casting, but not only because the female role is now danced by a male dancer en travesti. This shift occurred because the symbolic ballerina-as-phallus is now transformed into a biological male ballerina-with-phallus. The fact that a male dancer performs en pointe suggests a gendered identity.22 Paradoxical as it may seem, the mythology of pointe shoes is based on the fundamental belief that point shoes were invented to promote female dancers. Ballerinas en pointe achieved supremacy over the male dancer because dancing sur les pointes was and still is considered more graceful and ethereal. Pointe shoes transform a male dancer into a “gendered ballerina.” Thus, applications of a male-to-female code transform Romantic story ballets into contemporary gendered productions. Pointe shoes act now as a gendered sign and embody the dual representation of female features, which are now accessible to male identities. The bond between the ballerina en pointe and the ballerino en travesti and en pointe are an undeniable part of the semiotic enterprise, which is based on gendered stage costumes.

Considering the ethereality and gracefulness of body and movement aimed at in Romantic ballets, it is not surprising that the swan has come to symbolize the weightlessness of the dancing fairytale creatures on stage. The imitation of nature—the bird’s white body— plays a major part in the design process for a swan ballet. The swan of many a myth and legend was brought forward on the stage, and so were its connotations with death. Likewise, it is noticeable that gender-coded fairytales often feature swan creatures, like the swan princess in Swan Lake, and their narrative invariably carries a moral lesson. As Jack Tressider stated, “The swan has become a romantic and ambiguous symbol of masculine light and feminine beauty in Western ballet and music. . . . Through […] myths the swan evolved into a symbol of achieved passion and the ebbing or loss of love.”23 However, as Beryl Rowland remarks, “the feathers of a swan are white perfection, but their flesh is black, as are the hypocrites, appearing outwardly virtuous, and being inwardly very wicked.”24 From a semiological perspective, the meanings of the colour white have been discussed by numerous scholars, who point out that white is the symbol of purity and maidenhood, while Faber Birren suggests that white is bleak, emotionless, and sterile.25 Leatrice Eiseman, examining the sensorial effect of this colour, affirms that pure white is not a neutral colour, since it is dazzling and brilliant and therefore impossible to ignore.26

There has always been an intricate relationship between white swans and the design of white tutus, which draw immediately the attention to the dancer because they are so luminous. A white tutu itself is a passive sign. In the Swan Lake, white costumes signify white swans, thus acting as a human response to the swan, a bird in nature, a non-human. On the other hand, wearing white costumes can be interpreted as an act of hypocrisy. As Rowland brings forward, “medieval moralists regarded swans as symbols of hypocrisy because they have fine wings, and yet can scarce raise themselves from the earth, so that the wings are of no use to them.”27 If so, the dancer conveys the idea that she or he pretends to be a swan with a human soul on stage. But within the make-believe of the narrative ballet, the visualization of a human being dressed up as a swan and its functioning as a metaphor is part of the artistic convention. Moreover, the impersonation of a creature found in nature at large is a further requirement for performing the role in a highly artistic way and functioning as a metaphor. Feather-decorated, white tutus will thus enhance the illusion of a bird with a human soul on stage. The corps de ballet of Swan Lake, as a group of white-costumed dancers who interact on stage, can definitely be classified as an active sign.

Since its first production, the Swan Lake has been explored, choreographed and staged countless times. Customarily, it has been accepted as a fairytale with its pure maid transformed by the bad sorcerer into a swan during the day and into a woman during the night. Gender was clearly delineated and the bond between the Prince and Odette, the beautiful but cursed girl, was interpreted as heterosexual until Matthew Bourne changed this reading by using an all-male casting. Bourne's choreography and Brotherston's costume design for this contemporary production of the Swan Lake deal with the representation of masculinity and gender-related issues. Male ballet dance has often the connotation of homosexuality and Foster was quick to point out that the gay male figures were cast “in roles that probe the delights and difficulties of homoerotic relations.” 28 Nevertheless, the import of the ballet goes beyond this restrictive interpretation and it is significant to remember Bourne’s statement that the Swan is not a gay ballet.29

The costumes designed by Brotherston for this production discarded the traditional tutus, and included contemporary clothing for the human characters and special costumes for the swans. Within the limits of the present discussion, attention will be focused on the latter.

The swan costume was undoubtedly inspired by the visual aspect of the bird and so was the casting of male dancers instead of female dancers in the role of the swans. As a bird, a significant feature of the swan is its long and flexible neck; its head looks as if it is an elongation of the neck and ends in a long and pointed beak—a visual aspect with phallic connotations. Brotherston’s costume covered only in part the lower body of the dancer—from the waist down to the knees—with pants plastered with simulated white feathers. The torso was bare and unshaved. The make-up was white, with a black, thick triangle: its one edge at the hairline and its pointed tip at the base of the nose; a thin black line ran from the base to the tip of the nose. he hair was closely cut. The newly created figure, half human half bird, emphasizes the erectness of the body and its masculinity. The presence of the phallic body and its enhanced role in contemporary ballet productions is explained by Mikkel Borch-Jakobsen who suggests that the phallic body is a symbol form of the ego's optical erection, “which learns to hold itself straight, upright by spatially identifying with the specular image.”30 In Bourne's production, the replacing of the female swans by male swans signifies not only a new era of gender representation, but also a new era of male empowerment on stage. The phallic body of the swan becomes a cultural gender symbol of the turn-of-the-millennium ballet.

Joanne B. Eicher, who has commented on the public display of bare skin, believes that “expectations differ for men and women in public for covering their bodies for both formal ceremonial and everyday occasions.”31 Unlike the female dancer on stage, who covers completely her body with costumes, tights, pointe shoes and make-up in Romantic ballet, it is generally accepted for the male dancer to display skin, such as bare legs or chest. That is not to say, of course, that all dancers do show naked parts of their body on stage in Romantic productions. Burt contends that in order to represent masculinity a dancer should look powerful and hence his using of coverings.32 On the other hand, Johanna Boyce observes that
“being on display is a fearful thing for a man because it is a situation in which he doesn't have total control or empowerment,” that is, clothing serves as a protective shield.33 It follows, therefore, that the way Bourne uses the power of displaying skin to make the swan look masculine is essential for the display and affirmation of bold and masculinity on stage.

The design process represents a key element in understanding the use of visual signs in the swan’s appearance. Bourne notes that his vision of the Swan was different, because he saw the swan as more of an animal – even more than a bird, in some ways.34 He also wanted to do something more lyrical for men, without emasculating them in any way. Brotherston claims that “one of the most crucial factors to take into consideration was the study of the behaviour of swans, which appeared strong and powerful.” 35 No doubt, Brotherston's detailed observation of nature enabled him to experience and express the significance of masculinity in this ballet, for, as he explained, he focused on masculine features. Furthermore, Bourne never asked the dancers to shave their chests: “I felt that one of the things we were trying to show is a masculine image. We weren't pretending that they looked like swans. It was like creating a creature of our own that suggested swan in some way, but also very much suggest maleness.”36 Consequently, Bourne's and Brotherston's idea of a bare upper-body costume for the swan not only underscores masculinity and its connotations but also supports the newly created story-line of the ballet. While in traditional productions, feathered tutus extrapolate the half-human half-swan characteristics, Bourne focuses upon the importance of masculine features and the maintenance of the natural male body.37

Foster‘s comment on Bourne’s production points out that the swans’ costume, with its stiff corset-like waistband, “highlights the musculature of the torso, the softly rippling sequentiality of movement across arms, shoulders, and back. Their shaggy pants, enhancing the dynamism of their weight changes, the height of their jumps, appear comic one moment, noble the next.”38 Taking into account Foster’s comment that the swan costumes looked “comic one moment, noble the next”, the idealised notion of masculinity as expressed by the costume can be read as a sign in a code, a liberalized display of skin. Foster' comments also imply that application of the Active/Passive/Sign Dichotomy as a key to the signification of the costume alters according to narrative and story-line. Active signifiers allow the costume on stage to have different meanings at different moments.

Another piece of costume is the shoe—the pointe shoe and the slipper. From a historical perspective, pointe dancing exists as an art form since the beginning of the nineteenth century. The pointe shoe represents not only an essential part of the costume itself, but visually constructs bodily signs.39 Pointe shoes typify a generic persona with an ethereal character, and it is no wonder that traditional Swan Lake productions are characterized by the ballerina as a fragile magic bird en pointe.40 In modern dance, the dancer's body is freed of female conventions of the Romantic period, which require a performance en pointe or ballet slippers. Although Bourne's Swan Lake does not pretend to be an exact reproduction of the original, the absence of pointe shoes in his production is an important point to take into consideration.41 The issue of Bourne's barefooted dancers in Swan Lake, has therefore important consequences in the analysis of masculine semiotics. One significant way of decoding masculinity in the production is the semi-naked, barefooted dancer himself, who idealises the natural body without pointe shoes. The male swans are not in a need of masking their masculine identity en pointe to appear more supernatural and their male body can be read as a phallic silhouette created by the dancing body. This phallic identity demonstrates the ascendancy of the male over the traditional female lead in Romantic production, achieving a new and pleasing configuration of masculinity. Bourne's Swan Lake can therefore be viewed as a positive, empowering portrayal of masculinity on stage, a portrayal that is symbolically distancing itself from prescribed gender roles and costume (ballet shoes) conventions. In addition, the absence of pointe shoes emphasizes the gender-related aspect of the ballet, for if dancing en pointe is categorised as female ballet it follows that dancing bare foot can be classified as masculine ballet.

Make-up is another component of the dancer’s costume. In traditional Swan Lake productions, the female dancer's make-up is enhanced by feather headdresses surrounding the face of the ballerina, in order to give her a more supernatural appearance. According to Ruth Barnes and Joanne Eicher, “Throughout the history of the human race, people have wanted to change the appearance of their bodies. … Decorative ornaments that are added to the body or markings imposed show a person's position within the society.”42 These markings can be expressed through make-up which, as Patrice Pavis has observed, “adorns the soul as much as the body of the wearer.”43 Theatrical make-up is crucial for Bourne's version of Swan Lake. Considering Brotherston's and Bourne's inspiration from nature, I venture to say that the black-necked swan, whose contrasting white and black body plumage is unmistakable, could well be the main inspiration for the Swan Lake make-up. The water-based pancake make-up for the face and the upper body and the triangular beak-shaped dark line, from the hairline down to the tip of the nose, brought forward the masculine character of the swans.44 In this context, I have taken the social behavior of real swans in nature into account—a detail reflected by Bourne's choreography.

The white body painting for the upper body and the black strip on the forehead have a particularly effective masculine connotation. This make-up acts with persuasive power as the imaginary space of an aggressive, thus masculine animal. Bourne states that “the Swan Lake make-up had to be very simple, because [he] did not want it to be in any way comic: no beaks, not too much make-up. It ended up with a half-man, half-creature look.”45 Although the make-up displays its artifice and marks itself off from ordinary stage make-up, it prevents any confusion with female dancer swans, hence making it possible for the audience to identify the swans as masculine. The masculine animal power is constituted by the display of skin as well as by the combination of white and black body paint on the forehead. As Pavis has affirmed, “[make-up] is more of a filter, a film, a fine membrane attached to the face; nothing is closer to the actor's body and nothing serves or betrays an actor more than this paper-thin coating.”46 It is precisely Bourne's unconventional but visually prominent theatrical make-up of Swan Lake that calls attention to the elaboration of meaning through signs. Bourne's Swan Lake draws its inspiration from nature in order to create the illusion of powerful masculinity. The closely related shapes of costume and make-up bear out Williams’ finding concerning the visual delineation of a character on stage: “The colour and design of the costume,” he notes, “are . . . frequent guides to the type of make-up required.”47

Bourne's choice of a male casting for the flock of swans sets new imaginative standards. This is how he justifies his approach: “I could see an opportunity to create a human story, with the potential for great dramatic power and range, indulge my more satirical and humorous leanings as well as create whole suites of abstract movement to some of the best dance music ever written. Irresistible!”48 The choreographer expanded the import of the traditional Swan Lake while his production represents a successful attempt to address the power of masculinity within the framework of Romantic ballet.49 Bourne’s production of the Swan Lake” represents a vehicle for a male vision of a masculinised world, underscored by movement and costume. Eventually, it is a phallic response to an originally female-dominated narrative. The integration of gender-reversed representations demonstrates the potential to render a traditional Romantic ballet into a phallic performance, in which the dancer's body is used as a phallic showcase enhanced by the costume as a signifier of masculinity. A phallic identity is ultimately produced and a restricted, masculine code structure is employed, venturing beyond limitations of traditional gender ideology. Ultimately, Bourne's Swan Lake represents a reflection on gender identity in contemporary European theatre dance. Masculine semiotics are indicative of a new era of liberalised eroticism in ballet productions. Casting is not subject to gender convention but to gender freedom. The cultural Swan Lake phallus is the contemporary response to the world of classical ballet which has been dominated by ballerinas en pointe for the last two centuries.

Finally, it is the juxtaposition of the original Swan Lake and Bourne's contemporary version that helps to decode the central leitmotif of gendered and phallic representation. Thus, traditional Romantic ballet productions should not be undervalued, for contemporary ballet is rooted in the original Romantic productions. The two perspectives are not mutually exclusive and evidence supports the premise of successful contemporary productions of Romantic story ballets.




Active/Passive/Sign Dichotomy: An Advanced System of Representation

A/P/S Dichotomy Theatrical Locations Representation
Step 1

Passive Signs

    • Wardrobes of Theatre and Ballet Companies

  • Theatre and Performing Arts Museums
Object Analysis
    • Analysis of the Costume

    • Visual Signs (connotation)

  • Physical Signs (fabric, construction)
Step 2

Active Signs

On Stage
    • Live Performances

  • Recorded Performances
Performance Analysis
    • Analysis of the Performance as theatrical event

    • Visual Signs (connotation)

    • The Costumed Body in Motion

  • Costumed Interaction


N o t e s

  1. Keir Elam, The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), 36.[back]
  2. Roland Barthes suggests a “breakdown of the systems” in a “real vestimentary code” (clothing, fashion), a “written vestimentary code” (sentence, proposition), a “connotation of fashion” (notation, fashion) and a “rhetorical system” (phraseology of the magazine, representation of the world). Roland Barthes, The Fashion System, trans. Matthew Ward and Richard Howard (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990), 37.[back]
  3. See Umberto Eco, The Open Work, trans. Anna Cancogni. London: Hutchinson Radius, 1962; Umberto Eco, A Theory of Semiotics. Bloomington,: Indiana University Press, 1976; Umberto Eco, Lector in Fabula: La Cooperazione Interpretative Nei Testi Narrativi. Milan: Bompiani, 1979; Tadeusz Kowzan, The Sign in the Theatre. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1968; Elam, The Semiotics of Theatre and DramaI. London and New York: Routledge, 2002. See also Georges Mounin, Introduction à la Sémiologie. Paris: Ed. de Minuit, 1969; Franco Ruffini, Semiotica del Testo: l’esempio teatro. Roma: Bulzoni, 1978; and Marco de Marinis, The Semiotics of Performance. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.[back]
  4. Kowzan, 57.[back]
  5. According to Stuart Hall, the term “semiotic” can equally be defined as “constructionist” (or constructivist). Stuart Hall, Representations: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices (London: Sage, 1997), 24.[back]
  6. Elam, 1.[back]
  7. Although the system of labanotation which, according to Mary Alice Brennan, is based on elaborate conceptual frameworks using words, signs or symbols to designate aspects of human movement, dance, and especially ballet, it is neglected in terms of being identified as a sign system where costume and scenery signs play an essential role. See Mary Alice Brennan, “Every Little Movement Has a Meaning on its Own,” in Researching Dance: Evolving Modes of Inquiry, ed. by Sondra Horton Fraleigh and Penelope Hanstein (London: Dance Books, 1999), 283.[back]
  8. Semiotics of dance have been investigated by Stephanie Jordan and Helen Thomas, who suggest that the movement itself cannot be studied without any reference to meaning or in isolation from the whole work. See Stephanie Jordan and Helen Thomas, “Dance and Gender: Formalism and Semiotics reconsidered,“ in The Routledge Dance Studies reader, ed. Alexandra Carter (London and New York: Routledge, 1998), 243. Jacob Zelinger suggests that “semiotics has a part to play in filling out dance theory. A theory of dance semiotics must be capable of explaining how a dance signifies (signs); and how a spectator can ´read` a dance.” Zelinger limits his research to the semiotics of dance theatre. Jacob Zelinger, “Semiotics and Theatre Dance,“ in New Directions in Dance, ed. Diana Theodores Taplin (Toronto and New York: Pergamon Press, 1979), 40.[back]
  9. Petr Bogatyrev, “Semiotics in Folk Theatre“(1938), in Semiotics of Art: Prague School Contributions, ed. Ladislav Matejka and Irwin R. Titunik (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1976), 33.[back]
  10. Ronnie Mirkin, “Performing Selfhood: The Costumed Body as a Site of Mediation between Life, Art, and the Theatre in English Renaissance,“ in Body Dressing, ed. Joanne Entwistle and Elisabeth Wilson (Oxford and New York: Berg Publishers, 2001), 144.[back]
  11. Elam, 51.[back]
  12. See Appendix. Another semiological approach is the vectorization of stage costumes, suggested by Patrice Pavis in his Analyzing Performance: Theater, Dance, and Film (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996), 178.[back]
  13. Patricia, Zipprodt, “Interview with Patricia Zipprodt. Tollgate Farm, Bucks County. 10/11 November, 1979.” New York: Special Collections Library, Oral History Project of the Fashion Industries, Fashion Institute of Technology, 1979.[back]
  14. See Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. London and New York, Routledge, 1990; Entwistle and Wilson, Body Dressing; Paul Jobling, Fashion Spreads: Word and Image in Fashion Photography since 1980. Oxford and New York, Berg Publishers, 1978; Shaun Cole, Don We Now Our Gay Apparel: Gay Men’s Dress in the Twentieth Century. Oxford: Berg Publishers, 2000; and Mirkin, “Performing Selfhood.”[back]
  15. Shelly Foote, Challenging Gender Symbols,“ in Men and Women: Dressing the Part, ed. Claudia Brush Kidwell and Valerie Steele (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989), 144.[back]
  16. Ramsay Burt, The Male Dancer: Bodies, Spectacle, Sexualities (London and New York: Routledge, 1995), 27.[back]
  17. shall consider a nineteenth century ballet repertoire, like Swan Lake, Nutcracker, La Bayadère, Romeo and Juliet, Raymonda, Cinderella or Coppélia, as traditional. Although not all of these mentioned ballets have been performed with a gender-switched casting, I venture to say that contemporary choreographers will pick up this idea.This is mainly because of the success encountered by ballet productions en travesti, such as Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.[back]
  18. Jobling, 144.[back]
  19. Freud, Fetishism (no place of publication, SE 21, 1927), 152.[back]
  20. The career-path of the male femaler has been investigated by such scholars as Roger Baker (1968, p.34) and Richard Ekins and Dave King. (1996, p.41). See Roger Baker, Drag: A History of Female Impersonation on the Stage (London: triton Books, 1968), 34; Richard Ekins and Dave King, eds. Blending Genders: Social Aspects of Cross-Dressing and Sex-Changing (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), 34.[back]
  21. Susan Leigh Foster suspects that the ballet performance functions similarly “in that the gay viewer ignores the obvious heterosexual thrust of the narrative, and differently, in that neither male or female dancer serves as the exclusive focus of his attention. Rather it is the generalized climate of physical and sensual grace which the ballet offers that makes it so popular among gay men.” Susan Leigh Foster, “The Ballerina’s Phallic Pointe,” in Susan Leigh Foster, Corporealities: Dancing Knowledge, Culture, and Power (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), 2.[back]
  22. The male dancers of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo perform Swan Lake and The Dying Swan in pointe shoes.[back]
  23. Jack Tressider, Symbols and Their Meanings (London: Friedman/Fairfax Publishers, 2000), 72. See also Beryl Rowland, Birds with Human Souls: A Guide to Bird Symbolism (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1978), 170-171; and Boria Sax, The Mythical Zoo: An Encyclopedia of Animals in World Myth, Legend, and Literature (Santa Barbara, Denver, and Oxford: ABC Clio Inc., 2001), 249.[back]
  24. Rowland, 171.[back]
  25. Faber Birren, Color and Human Response (New York, Victoria, and Berkshire: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1978), 125.[back]
  26. Leatrice Eiseman, Alive with Color (Washington, DC: Acropolis Books, 1983), 57.[back]
  27. Rowland, 171.[back]
  28. Foster, “The Ballerina’s Phallic Pointe,” 188.[back]
  29. Marc Shugold, “Matthew Bourne’s Vision Comes to Denver.“ Rocky Mountain News, February 13, 2006.[back]
  30. Mikkel Borch-Jakobsen, Lacan: The Absolute Master (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991), 65.[back]
  31. Joanne B. Eicher, “Dress, Gender, and the Public Display of Skin,“ in Body Dressing, 233-234.[back]
  32. Burt, 51.[back]
  33. Johanna Boyce, Ann Daly, Bill T. Jones, and Carol Martin, “Movement and Gender. A Roundtable Discussion,“ The Drama Review, 32, 4(1988), 09.[back]
  34. Bourne was asked if Philippe Giraudeau's The Swan (and later, Jonathan Lunn), who danced in Siobhan Davie's Carnival, had influenced him. Quoted in Alastair Macaulay, Matthew Bourne and His Adventures in Motion Pictures (London and New York: Faber and Faber, 1999), 207.[back]
  35. My primary research involved a face-to-face interview with Lez Brotherston in May 2003.[back]
  36. Quoted in Macaulay, 240.[back]
  37. From a historical point of view, the bare upper body of the Bourne's dancers has its roots in modern ballet production, which emerged after the end of World War I. Considering modern ballet design, I would suggest that Brotherston's design strengthens the fusion of modern semi-nudity inspiration with classical (feather)-costumes inspiration.[back]
  38. Foster, 190.[back]
  39. Foster considers the ballerina's pointe shoe as “a single pointe on which she balances, the legs lift higher and higher.” Foster, 1. Foster's statement supports my view that the pointe shoe is an extension of the leg. It follows that the pointe shoe can be considered as part of the body.[back]
  40. Sally Banes, Dancing Women: Female Bodies on Stage (London and New York: Routledge, 1998), 1; Cynthia Novack, “Ballet, gender, and Cultural Power,” in Dance, Gender, and Culture, ed. Helen Thomas (London: Macmillan, 1995), 39.[back]
  41. For the neo-classical ballet choreographer George Balanchine, pointe work was absolutely necessary to perform a successful ballet. For Balanchine, “ballet is artificial. It is like poetry, it is invented. Where words fail, poetry can succeed and the same is true of ballet: something you cannot explain can be expressed en pointe. You can't tell a story on pointe but it can, when imaginatively used, give you an extra feeling similar to modulations in music or colour intensities in light. In this sense, the pointe, even if it cannot tell a story, communicates drama. A ballerina on pointe is the maximum in dance.” Quoted in Walter Terry, On Pointe (New York: Dodd Mead, 1962), 21. Balanchine's opinion demonstrates the importance of dancing en pointe, which is not only absolutely crucial for a classical ballet (re)production, but is also performed in modern ballet.[back]
  42. Ruth Barnes and Joanne B. Eicher, Dress and Gender: Making and Meaning (Providence and Oxford: Berg Publishers, 1992), 1.[back]
  43. Pavis, 181.[back]
  44. Bourne discloses that they also had decided very early that the hair should be “very, very short. The point was to get long, swan-like necks with smooth lines of the head, neck, and shoulders.” Quoted in Macaulay, 239.[back]
  45. Ibid.[back]
  46. Pavis, 181.[back]
  47. Peter Williams, Masterpieces of Ballet Design (Oxford: Phaidon Press, 1981), 544.[back]
  48. Quoted in Shelagh Hughes, Swan Lake [DVD]. London: BBC, 1996.[back]
  49. It has to be acknowledged that Matthew Bourne's choreography tends to take over the elements of the original ballet, which emphasize the swans as a community.[back]


Thom Hecht is a Teaching Fellow at Texas Woman’s University, Denton, where he is pursuing his PhD in Dance with a double-minor in Women’s Studies and Higher Education. He has taught extensively in higher education institutions in the UK, the US, Germany, and Switzerland. His advanced graduate degrees include: MPhil in Contemporary Dance from London Contemporary Dance School; MA Performance Practice and Research from Central School of Speech and Drama; MA in Fashion History and Theory from London College of Fashion. Thom held a fellowship as a Visiting Assistant in Research in the Emotional Intelligence Laboratory at Yale University. He is the author of Emotionally Intelligent Ballet Training (2007) and has published numerous articles on education, dance, and costume research.


Editor’s Note

Scenes and costumes from Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake can be viewed at its official website http://www.swanlaketour.com, as on http://www.sadlerswells.com or http://www.youtube.com.