Smithsonian Displays Costumes From Prominent Ballerinas
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has opened “American Ballet,” a display showcasing costumes worn by prima ballerinas Violette Verdy, Marianna Tcherkassky and Misty Copeland. These dancers have brought unique stylistic and cultural influences that have contributed to the development of a distinctly American style of ballet.
Russian dancer George Balanchine founded the School of American Ballet in 1934 in New York City three months after he immigrated to the U.S. He crafted a distinctly new neo-classical style of ballet incorporating musical, emotional and individual elements.
Verdy (1933–2016), a native of France, joined the New York City Ballet, which was co-founded by Balanchine. Known for her musicality and eloquent footwork, the petite Verdy danced in more than a dozen ballets created by Balanchine to highlight her style and technique. Verdy retired from ballet in 1976 and was a distinguished professor of dance at Indiana University until her death last year. Her costume in the exhibit was created in 1976 by Barbara Balinska, a former costumer for Ballet Russes, for a White House state dinner.
Transitioning into the mid-20th century, many Soviet artists, authors and dancers fled the regime of the USSR to locations where they could create art more freely. Mikhail Baryshnikov was one of the first to defect and danced as a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre (ABT), later becoming its artistic director. One of his earliest dancers was Tcherkassky.
Tcherkassky (b. 1952) is of Russian and Japanese heritage; she was brought up in Kensington, Md., and attended the Washington School of Ballet. At 14, she moved to New York to study dance and joined the ABT at 17. Known for her delicate footwork, lyrical movements and classical styles, Tcherkassky made her debut at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 1980 with Baryshnikov, a frequent partner. In 1990, she retired from dance and is currently the ballet mistress at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Her costume was created in 1977 by May Ishimoto for her leading role in Giselle.
In 2015, Copeland (b. 1982) became the first African American woman to be named the principal dancer at the ABT. Raised in California, Copeland started dance classes, at her local Boys & Girls Club of America at the “old” age of 13. Through sheer perseverance and dedication to her craft, Copeland defied the odds and overcame preconceived notions of size and race. Despite her small but muscular stature and more significantly, her African American heritage, Copeland is the new face of American ballet and the role model for all children both white and of color. Created and donated by Foresight Theatrical, Copeland’s costume in the display is from her Broadway debut in On the Town.
Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. The museum helps people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. It is currently renovating its west exhibition wing, developing galleries on business, democracy and culture. For more information, visit https://americanhistory.si.edu. The museum is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free.
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