PARIS — Christian Lacroix is writing a new chapter in his decades-long collaboration with the Paris Opera Ballet. For its current revival of George Balanchine’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” he has designed not only the costumes, but also — for the first time — the sets.
During a dress rehearsal for the ballet, which opened at Opera Bastille on Thursday and runs until March 29, Lacroix said his costumes were faithful to those originally designed by Barbara Karinska.
“With Balanchine, you have to respect the indications of the original production. I worked off Karinska’s sketches from 1962,” he said, noting that a representative from the George Balanchine Trust was on hand to approve every detail, down to hair length and the height of the dancers’ tiaras.
“I don’t find it frustrating at all, especially since I got to express myself with the scenery, which on the other hand has nothing to do with the original set,” he said, adding that his rendering of a forest at night was inspired by the 1967 film version of the ballet.
“I’ve always wanted to do a set design using painted canvas. It’s really a 19th-century technique whereby it’s cut out and stuck on a transparent net. You’re in a forest and it looks a Victorian pop-up book of children’s fairy tales,” he said.
Lacroix collaborated with Swarovski on 210 costumes and 90 tiaras and crowns, which required a team of 70 people and close to 10,000 hours of work. He had previously worked with the Austrian crystal goods and precision optical equipment giant on the Paris Opera Ballet’s production of “La Source” in 2011.
“We are very fortunate that Swarovski is on hand to provide a touch of fairy dust, like Tinkerbell in ‘Peter Pan,’” Lacroix said. Close to one million Swarovski crystals were used, with lace-encrusted bustiers and tutus hand-embroidered by the in-house workshops at the opera’s Palais Garnier location.
Nadja Swarovski, member of the executive board of Swarosvki, noted that it has also worked with London ballet companies including Ballet Black at the Barbican and Rambert at Sadler’s Wells, in addition to collaborating with Rodarte designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy on the costumes for the movie “Black Swan.”
“Stage costumes are a demanding art and Swarovski has a long history helping designers create incredibly lightweight and technical pieces that truly elevate productions,” she said.
Swarovski has also partnered with the Paris Opera’s online platform 3e Scène, which features original works by artists and creators that cast a fresh eye on the world of opera and dance.
Based on William Shakespeare’s comedy and set to a score by Felix Mendelssohn, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” portrays a complex love story in two acts and six scenes. The first act opens with children dressed as butterflies and insects, their playful costumes embellished with metallic fabrics and sparkly details.
“For ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ we were able to create a custom crystal motif for Christian Lacroix, which was applied directly onto the delicate organza of the butterfly wings,” Swarovsi said.
For Titania, the queen of the fairies, Lacroix designed a pastel pink gown and for Oberon, her king, he opted for a mix of damask and lamé. The lovers — Hermia and Lysander, and Helena and Demetrius — wear red or blue outfits inspired by 19th-century pre-Raphaelite paintings.
For the second act, Lacroix conjured a Renaissance-inspired tableau with stiff Russian-style pink-and-white tutus and an opulent white-and-gold color scheme that references French ballets from the era of King Louis XIV, when costumes were typically inspired by ancient Greece and Rome.
Lacroix noted that each dancer’s costume is made to measure by the opera’s in-house workshops. “I have seen several generations go through the workshops since I started in 1986,” he said. “I know that they are truly capable of working like a couture house.”
The designer has several other productions scheduled between now and June. He is designing costumes and sets for “L’Hôtel du Libre échange” by Georges Feydeau at the Comédie-Française, and costumes for Richard Wagner’s opera “Tannhäuser” at the Saarland State Theater in Saarbrücken, Germany; Claude Debussy’s “Pelléas et Mélisande” at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, and an Alfred de Musset play at the Comédie-Francaise.