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Ilaria Martello

Published date
19 Jun 2018

Space, body, costume: a re-framing of costume as a spatial and temporal dynamic in contemporary ballet.

College: London College of Fashion
Supervisors: Donatella Barbieri, Professor Ian King, Professor Jane Harris


This research aims to investigate how ballet costume can be studied as a spatial dynamic, revealing its own ontological significance, beyond the limits of its own functionality and in relation to changing ideas of space and body.

Context and background

Drawing from my experience as a Costume Supervisor with the Royal Ballet for the last 12 years, I started thinking about ballet costume from a different perspective. I am particularly interested in the strong and intrinsic relationship that exists between the way in which we construct architectural spaces, how we build costumes and how the human body is built.

Space, body, costume and ballet are conceived on the basis of mathematical calculations and geometrical representations travelling through dimensions. Their journey starts from the zero dimension of numbers quantified by measurements of architectonic/performative spaces and body measurements; into the one dimension of lines, which is the first step of translating measurements into drawings; into the two dimensions of planes as drawn figures - blueprints, anatomical drawings, costume patterns; and into the third dimension as objects - buildings, bodies, costumes.

The imperceptibility of mathematical calculations in costumes as their fundamental starting point has led me to further investigation about qualitative rather than quantitative spatial relations that exist between the dancer's bodies and costumes. Topology is a branch of mathematics which studies the properties of objects that do not change under constant transformation, be it continuous stretching, bending or twisting. It is a discipline concerned with form rather than exact measurements. It is also a conceptual tool which offers a new model of enquiry for ballet costumes, which are objects dealing with topological ideas of connectedness, limit, boundary, interior, exterior, and neighbourhood.

Aims and objectives

  • To investigate the possibility of costume of being a topological space as a mean to open up new possibilities of studying costumes beyond technical manuals and scholarly writing around dance and ballet