National Ballet’s ‘Swan Lake’ used COVID delays to add dazzle to costumes and sets

Designer Gabriela Týlešová calls the National Ballet of Canada’s delayed production of “Swan Lake” an unexpected blessing.

Týlešová, an award-winning set and costume designer who has worked on shows around the world, says the COVID-19 hiatus has given her and the ballet’s artistic department more time to perfect their costume work. ornate and lush backdrops for the production. , which opened on June 10.

“It’s been two years and I still love costumes. It doesn’t seem dated to me. It always feels good,” Týlešová said in a video call from Australia.

“The costume department had more time to really finish their work. The costumes are really detailed and they look exactly as I wanted.

Týlešová started talking about the production in 2016 with Karen Kain, then artistic director of the ballet, and the person who directed and staged this new version of the classic. It was clear from the start that his vision would require a darker aesthetic while embracing the traditional romance between Prince Siegfried and the white swan Odette.

All of the elements in front of the audience – from the costumes to the set design – have thematic ties to Rothbart, the villain who manipulates the characters and drives the story, Týlešová said.

One of the centerpieces of the scenography is a pair of wings that span 20 meters and move across the stage to open and close the show.

“This whole world is Rothbart’s world, an environment he controls,” Týlešová said. “Rothbart himself is like a giant bird. So it has these big wings that we use to open and close the environment on stage. We want to give the audience a sense of scale, that he is this giant monster.

Týlešová’s signature style permeates every aspect of the show, literally imprinted on the sets and costumes in multiple layers. The ballet’s opening scenes gain depth through video projections of Týlešová’s own landscape paintings.

A similar technique was used with many costumes, creating three-dimensional images of his paintings that were printed directly onto fabric.

Týlešová worked closely with Bonnie Beecher on the lighting and Sean Nieuwenhuis on the projection designs to achieve the effect.

“We try to give everything a quality of life and create movement,” she said.

Another distinct feature of this production are the swan tutus themselves. Týlešová designed synthetic feathers for 30 tutus, spending over a year developing the first prototype. Each features over 120 feathers hand cut and pleated from digitally printed fabrics.

“Real feathers are nice, but they don’t have as much impact on stage and they don’t last very long,” she said. “So we started working on how to create these new feathers and came up with this idea of ​​pleated fabric, sewing it together and creating these faux feathers out of silk.”

Principal dancer Heather Ogden, one of the ballerinas playing the roles of Odette and Odile, said the innovative approach led to beautiful and distinct costumes that help bring her characters to life.

“I think a big part of being an artist and playing a character is everything that goes into it and makes you believe the story yourself,” she said. “These costumes are really beautiful… as soon as you put them on, you walk a little differently. They definitely inspire you and help you feel in your character.

“Swan Lake” has been adapted countless times and elements of the story may change depending on which artist is leading the production. The National Ballet has added its own touch to this staging with regard to the traditional ball scene in the third act.

In this show, a dark and mysterious masquerade ball serves as the setting for the scene where Prince Siegfried makes the crucial choice to unwittingly break his vow to Odette.

Týlešová said in this production, the confusion and mistaken identity that led to his decision is reinforced by the addition of many new masked figures to the masquerade, an artistic decision that also helps the audience understand why the monstrous Rothbart is able to blend in so easily. .

“Rothbart is usually that creature that walks into the ball and sometimes you think, ‘Well, why is he sitting next to the queen? ‘” she said. “But if you have a masquerade scene, he disappears, because he’s just another masked creature, like the others. So I think thematically it ties it all together.

Kain decided early on that she wanted to insert new non-dancing characters into the masquerade scene. This choice allowed costume designers to incorporate a bold color palette into the design to great effect, Týlešová said.

“It’s all this shimmering world behind a mask,” she said. “It is also quite dark. It’s going to be very seductive, sexy, beautiful… It’s a metaphor for what people hide behind masks.

“Swan Lake” is at the Four Seasons Center for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St. W., through June 26, but tickets were selling out quickly. See for more information.

Shawn Jeffords is a Toronto-based writer. He can be reached on Twitter at @Shawn_Jeffords


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