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Ballet Russe costumes

New Exhibit Highlights Butler’s Tradition of Ballet Excellence

In early 2015, Bethanie Danko, Sally Childs-Helton, and Shelly Rabideau formed the Butler University Art Committee. Building on the accomplishments of community members who had long stewarded Butler’s art collection, including James Cramer and Stephan Laurent-Faesi, the group’s self-guided mission was to take stock of all Butler-owned art and to restore, repair, and rehome any items of particular aesthetic character, monetary value, or historic importance.

Nearly two years into its work, the committee has now completed the University’s first art appraisal in over two decades, repaired and rehomed a range of paintings including two T.C. Steele portraits, and created educational-signage templates with the goal of labeling all works of fine art on campus. In addition—in partnership with Michelle Jarvis—the group has restored four of the most important costumes in the history of American ballet. These costumes are now on display in the Schrott Center as a permanent exhibit, The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo Costume Collection at Butler University.

“Not only do these Butler-owned costumes meet all the criteria set forth by the committee as ‘priority items’ for restoration,” Danko said. “They highlight Butler’s tradition of ballet excellence.”

Through the exhibit, the group hopes students, visitors, and the public will better understand the importance of Butler’s dance program, which is widely recognized as one of the finest in the nation.

The costumes are part of Butler’s large Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo collection, which was donated to the University thanks to the savvy and diplomacy of Butler dance professor, and veteran Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo dancer, George Verdak (1923–1993). After the company folded in 1968, the company’s physical assets were owned by the Ballet Society. In the early 1970s, Verdak, affectionately called “Mr. V” by Butler students, arranged to have them donated to Butler University.

ballet russe costumeOn October 25, 2016, Jarvis and Cramer gave a “Conversations at Clowes” presentation during which they explained the particular significance of the four costumes in the exhibit. The white tutu was worn by Alexandra Danilova, while the black tutu was worn by Maria Tallchief. These two women stand among the most successful prima ballerinas in dance history.

The long dresses were designed by Academy-Award winner Barbara Karinska, and all the ballets for which the costumes were used were choreographed by the inimitable George Balanchine. The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo toured extensively throughout the US after World War II, effectively introducing classical ballet to the masses. 

This exhibit—and all the Art Committee’s work to date—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. The next project for the group will be the creation of exhibits for select African and pre-Columbian art and artifacts. It also hopes to restore and display more Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo costumes in the near future.

In the meantime, be sure to stop by the Schrott Center to view the exhibit.