Death knell for the tutu? Top ballerinas say they’re keen to ditch the traditional skirt, claiming it’s physically and artistically ‘restrictive’ – as gender neutral costumes arrive on stages

  • Ballerinas around the world are reportedly turning their back on traditional tutu
  • Australian-born ballerina Leanne Benjamin said she fell out of love with the tutu
  • David Hallberg of Australian Ballet not programmed any classic ‘tutu ballets’

The tutu, a staple for prima ballerinas, may well be about to pirouette into the history books, as several dancers and artistic directors have said they’re keen to move away from the traditional skirt. 

Judged too restrictive, both for the body and for the art form, The Observer has reported that an increasing number of ballet stars are shunning the tutu, once the symbol of classical dance. 

Among them, the Australian-born former ballerina Leanne Benjamin, who in her autobiography Built for Ballet, revealed she did not like wearing the garment. 

The tutu, first worn in 1832 by the ballerina Marie Taglioni, is still an object of fascination among fans of ballet and dancers, but artistic director of the Australian Ballet. David Hallberg, said that his dancers are now equally happy to step away from the tulle skirts to try ‘something new.’

Retired Australian ballerina Leanne Benjamin said she fell out of love with the tutu during her career and told the Observer that some dancers and directors around the world were turning their backs on the traditional ballet garment (pictured in Les Biches at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden)

Benjamin, pictured in front of her autobiography Built for Ballet, admitted that she did not like wearing a tutu on stage, but tempered that many of her contemporaries did

Retired dancer Benjamin said: ‘In my book I discuss that personally I didn’t like wearing a tutu, but most of my contemporaries love wearing them.’

She said she does not pretend to speak for everyone, but added because tutus were a style of costume, they could be swayed by society’s conversation on gender, and that traditional ballet heroines could get new, modern attire to fit changes in society. 

‘I think we all expect and enjoy evolution and so will welcome what comes next,’ she said. 

Director Hallberg, who has not staged a ‘traditional’ ballet with tutus for the Australian Ballet, echoed this sentiment, telling the Guardian: ‘I believe ballet audiences in Australia are very open to the new.’ 

Leanne Benjamin and Edward Watson in the Royal Ballet production “Qualia” at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden

Classic role, classic attire: Benjamin wearing a tutu As The Sugar Plum Fairy during a representation of the Ballet ‘the Nutcracker’

Could gender neutral outfits on stage soon be the norm? Benjamin dancing in a loose garment as Anna Anderson in the Royal Opera House 2004 version of Anastasia

He added his dancers were open to trying new things and were not confined to the same views as very traditional ballets such as Russia’s Bolshoi or French ballet. 

Meanwhile, Jo Meredith, the creative director of the UK’s National Youth Ballet, also preferred gender neutral outfits to tutus for her production of Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins. 

She said forgoing the tutu works for her production, because the ballet is set in the 1930s and that the cast would be in tuxedos. 

She added that young ballet dancers are usually very up-to-date with gender issues and that influenced their artistic choices.  

Leanne sporting modern outfits in Children of Adam in 2007, left, and in Anastasia in  2004, right performed by The Royal Ballet

She gave the example of the Spanish ballerina and director Tamara Rojo, who is artistic director of the English National Ballet at the Coliseum in London.

Rojo didn’t use tutus is her modern adaptation of Raymonda by Alexander Glazunov and Marius Petipa.

Meredith added that the concept of the ballerina is developing all the time and that while tutus like the ones donned by romantic ballet figures like Giselle and the Sugar Plum Fairy are still ballet staples, gender neutral outfits for ballerinas are a way of ‘keeping ballet looking fresh and exciting.’ 

Benjamin agreed that tutus are not always relevant to modern productions of classic ballet works 

But she tempered that she was not campaigning for the tutus to be abandoned forever, and said the attire could evolve with the times rather than disappear completely.   

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