Tuesday, March 16, 2004

not as well known as Erte, but influential nonetheless

A teacher I work for occasionally turned me on to Leon Bakst last year. Bakst (nee Rosenberg) was a Russian Jew from Belarus who is known for pretty much two things: one, he designed things for Les Ballets Russes that they'd never seen the likes of before and two, he taught Marc Chagall. He was part of the Art Deco movement, and my source feels that Bakst's designs were much warmer, and perhaps more generous, than Erte's. Now I like Erte, but once I looked at the book I understood; there is a certain sterility to Erte's drawings, a coolness that comes through in the quality of his line. Meanwhile Bakst's lines--and people--are wavy, exhilarated, airborne.

Once a term this teacher takes a group of students to the Legion of Honor to draw from models who are dressed in themed costume. I think the models stand on boxes or something so they look like sculptures. We had talked about my doing this job for him, and I got the call today from the Guild's booking agent that I had been requested. This term the theme is the Art Deco period. I will be posing with one of two gentlemen; either the Greek-Nordic ballet dancer in top hat and tails (and stuff in between, this is a fully clothed job!) or the incredibly stately African-American gent with whom I had the pleasure of sharing the short poses stand at the model marathon last weekend, dressed this time in Beduoin garb.

The problem is that I've been asked to bring my belly dance outfit. Putting aside for the moment that I don't have it yet--I don't even have the coins to sew onto my bra, let alone the bra, the covering fabric, the special pants, the jewelry, anything--it wouldn't work for this job. For one thing, the ensemble is way too modern. For another, I don't think my teacher would be cool with it being used this way; I believe the contract I signed when I joined the troupe said something to that effect.

The solution's obvious to a girl with a fancy sewing machine and some spare time. I'll build a costume for the event. It doesn't need to be danceworthy, as I will be standing still; so no re-engineering derring-do on hapless bra straps. This instructor likes Bakst, sees Bakstian images when he looks at me, okay, I'll give him Bakst. I got the call as I was headed out to a theater, so I drew some ideas on the back of a program while I waited for the curtain to rise. Hmm, Art Deco. Hmm, what were beledi dancers wearing in those days. Scratch scratch. Bits of mirror, I think; stripes, saturated colors. Did Bakst like tassels? Erte sure did. I'll nail a few on, at the points of the fabric. Scratch scratch. Something like a long Ghawazee coat cut out under the breasts? Sheer printed fabrics? A veil?

And then when I was back online I did a Web search on Bakst and got the following, which is amazing because it is very close to my drawing in some of the details, particularly in the tassels and the pants. But even more so because the drawings I'd seen before of his designs were for Afternoon of a Faun and so forth; they weren't remotely "Oriental." And then this was the first image I found. My Kabbalah mentor tells me that this sort of resonance is to be expected once one begins to study; he's joking, but not really.

courtesy of www.rollins.edu

There's some other beautiful stuff of his online, if you like this sort of thing.