The Ballet Russe Costume Collection

The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo was created in 1937 and toured throughout the United States after World War II, effectively introducing classical ballet to America. Its members went on to found schools and companies throughout the United States and Europe, infusing both with the Russian classical ballet traditions that are still embraced today. Among the company’s most prominent choreographers was George Balanchine, considered one of the greatest artistic masters of the 20th century. Balanchine’s long-time collaborator, Barbara Karinska, created hundreds of Ballet Russe costumes, including many of those in Butler’s collection. Karinska, one of the most celebrated costume designers in the worlds of both ballet and Hollywood, invented the “powder puff” tutu and earned the 1948 Academy Award for Costume Design.

Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo Garden Party Costume

Designed by Barbara Karinska for Night Shadow
Circa 1946

The yellow bodice of the tutu and the skirt are draped with a white collar around the shoulders and blue bows. The pleated collar is composed of a bias-cut nylon “horsehair” foundation covered with a semi-sheer white plain weave fabric. The long skirt is composed of two overskirt layers—the top being of yellow semi-sheer plain weave fabric, and the second, the same semi-sheer white fabric that covers the collar. Two layers of crinoline support the overskirts; the top crinoline layer has a gathered tulle hem flounce attached. At the center front waist is a greenish-blue grosgrain ribbon sash with a bow and long tie ends.

Former Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo dancer George Verdak began his professorial tenure at Butler University in 1959. After the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo closed in 1968, the company’s physical assets were owned by the Ballet Society. In the early 1970s, Verdak arranged to have these assets—including costumes—donated to Butler University. Associate Provost Michelle Jarvis was a Butler ballet student when they arrived on campus and she helped unload them. She guided the committee in choosing six costumes for the new exhibit. These costumes—now beautifully conserved—are among the world’s finest representations of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and their provenance places them at the center of the history of classical ballet. Butler’s exhibit includes a tutu worn by Maria Tallchief, who was America’s first major prima ballerina. Also featured is a tutu worn by Alexandra Danilova, widely recognized as one of the most talented ballerinas of all time. The new exhibit is located in the Schrott Center for the Arts, and has been funded by the generosity of donors Gary Butkus ’88 and Jason Range; Patricia ’82 and Frank ’78 Owings; and Kimberly ’69 and Robert ’68 Myers.

For more information on the Ballet Russe Scenery Collection of the Butler Ballet, please visit the Department of Dance website.