Costumes at Jacob’s Pillow

Over the last week the Pillow has burst into life, tells our travelling dance historian Caroline Hamilton:

22 ballet students from 9 countries arrived on Monday, a huge tent sprang up on the great lawn, and on Saturday 600 guests arrived for the 85th Season Gala.

This last week I worked on remounting a costume from the Pillow archives, I also did some research into it’s making and design. And I moved into one of the new cabins on site – it is wonderful to wake up at the Pillow each day.

Working (playing!) with historic costumes is one of my favourite things – there is so much they are can tell us as primary sources. This costume belonged to dancer Barton Mumaw, who worked with both the Denishawn Company and Ted Shawn’s Men Dancers, and was worn for the solo Pierrot in the Dead City.


Pierrot in the Dead City 

Choreography: Ted Shawn, 1931

Music: Erich Korngold, “Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen” from Die Tote Stadt

Costume Design: Ted Shawn

Première: 5 October 1935; Clark School, Goshen, NY.


The story….

The solo told the story of ‘the legendary Pierrot [who] returns by moonlight to the city where, in his youth, he loved and lost Pierrette … he is now a wraith and the city is deserted.’

Ted Shawn designed a traditional Pierrot style costume for the solo and wanted to find a ‘material that would suggest a figure moving through mist’.

Mumaw recalled in his memoir that ‘the search for the right fabric began long before the dance was created … while on tour, Ted and I prowled the aisles of yard-goods sections of department stores, big and little, whenever we had a free hour.’

It wasn’t until on tour in the Middle West that the exact ‘hue of ghostly material’ was found. ‘Immediately unwinding yards and yards of cloth’ Mumaw writes, ‘we waved them through the air to test the drift and drape.’

The costume was designed and made at the Pillow, Shawn himself ombre dyed the edges of the costume. Although now faded you can still see the ghostly purple shade.

When I was working on the costume, I saw that Shawn’s sewing machine had a habit of skipping a number of stitches every few inches!

Costumes are a fantastic and underrated resource – they are often the only tangible thing to survive from what is essentially an ephemeral artform. This costume is in pretty good condition for its age and is a really lovely piece.

I padded the new mannequin so the costume would be supported. I was also able reunite the trousers and top, which had not been displayed together for some time.

Mounting dance costumes is tricky because they are not designed to be static garments. In displaying this piece, I tried to suggest movement and at least give an idea of how the costume would have looked when worn.

I also made a reproduction of the small skull cap that Mumaw wore with the costume. I am pretty pleased with who it all turned out!

Costume  donated to Jacob’s Pillow archive by Stephan Driscoll.