Continuing on with our love of tutus for Tutu month, we wanted to share some incredible details around the different styles of tutus you will see in most classic or traditional ballets.
The tutu can come in many colours and shapes to properly match the story of the ballet, but there are a few staple shapes of tutu, so let’s dive in!
There are two main styles of tutu, the Romantic and the Classic, which has four styles that can be used to evoke certain feelings within the ballet.
The Romantic tutu boasts a long flowing skirt that comes down to the calf or ankle. One of the places you will see this tutu is in traditional performances of Giselle, worn by the Wilis. The shape of this tutu helps the dancer portray a much more ethereal and mystical quality, in fitting with the character and choreography! This skirt can have different characteristics, including coming from the hip or the waist, or being made with straight or jagged edges, but all are made with five or six layers of tulle.
The Classic Tutu is used in most ballets, and comes in four different styles! Let’s take a look at those styles:
The Platter tutu is one of the most common styles of tutu. This style is flat and wide, with ornate designs on the top layer. One example of these ornate designs can be seen in The Sleeping Beauty. Tutus with different designs or colours can help the audience understand who is a main character vs. a supporting character. In ballets with many non-human characters (like The Nutcracker with its many flowers and animals), it can also help distinguish what character the dancer has become.
The Pancake tutu is very similar to the Platter tutu, in that it is made of wide, stiff layers of tulle that come straight out from the dancer's hips. The main difference is that this tutu does not have the ornate designs on the top layer, but uses other methods to connect to the story. Think of the tutus in Swan Lake, worn by Odette, the White Swan, and other members of the corps de ballet, which has a fluffy, white top layer that makes you think of swan feathers! These tutus can be made with more or less stiff layers of tulle depending on the size of the dancer or the character. There are many sewing tricks used to keep it sticking straight out from the dancer’s hips, including a hoop sewn into the fabric, and having it attached to a “basque,” the part of the costume that sits on the dancer’s waist.
The Bell tutu is made of layers that curve downwards, which gives a fun, light feel. In the National Ballet of Canada’s The Dream, we see this beautiful skirt on the main character! Unlike the pancake tutu, Bell tutus do not have a hoop in them, giving them a more characteristic slope downward with a softer look and more floaty appearance. Its bell-like shape gives it its name: The Bell! These tutus can also be seen in the French painter Edgar Dega’s paintings of ballerinas, which are some of his most well known art pieces.
The Powder-Puff tutu, which is often used in American styles of ballet and was originated by Balanchine, is similar to the Bell tutu but with shorter and softer netting and tulle. This tutu also does not use a hoop, which allows for it to have its characteristic “puff” shape. Typically, this skirt is shorter and fuller than other tutu styles to help really show off the dancer’s legs.
We love all of these different styles of tutus and how every ballet uses the tutu to tell a different story! Do you have a favourite style of tutu? Tell us in the comments!
Photos of the Romantic, Platter, Pancake, and Bell courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada.
Photo of the Powder Puff by Alexander Iziliaev.
Painting by Edgar Degas.
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