Heritage Open Days – What’s In The Box?

Part 1: Costumes

The theme of this year’s Heritage Open Days Festival is ‘Creativity Unwrapped’ which provides us with the perfect excuse to take some time out and admire some of the beautiful items we have in our collections and share them more widely.

For the first of our ‘What’s In The Box?’ blogs we have selected two costumes from our extensive Natural Movement Archive. The Natural Movement material we hold dates from the early 1900s to 1990 and focuses on a method of barefoot dance founded by Madge Atkinson (1885-1970) called natural movement; drawing inspiration from the movement in nature and the body. The collection also includes family photographs and several items that belonged to her father, the actor James H Atkinson, which we will look at in more detail in our second blog for Heritage Open Days.

The first costume we are going to explore is Laideronette (Ref: NM/S/8), a character in the Mother Goose Ballet by Ravel. In the performance Mother Goose is the storyteller who recounts stories such as Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, and Laideronette.

Laideronette is a fairy story about an apparently ugly girl who was imprisoned by her parents in a castle; she manages to escape and then meets and falls in love with a green serpent. After many adventures together, the serpent magically becomes a handsome prince and Laideronette a beautiful young princess.

The costume dates from circa 1919 and comprises a hat, silk neckpiece, a flower and a dress. The hat is made from a calico fabric and is predominantly gold with blue, green and black, the pattern matches the black circle that is sewn onto the front and back of the dress.

The dress is it is predominantly orange with multi-coloured applique, the lower half of the dress is light pink with tie dye in the background and is decorated with colourful bird, possibly a peacock, with the tail at the back and the head at the front.

Laideronette dress (Ref: NM/S/8/3)

The neckpiece is made from green and blue dyed silk with thick black stitching and matches the colours on the bottom part of the dress. The flower has a green poseable stem and yellow petals, with splashes of orange dye.

Laideronette neckpiece (Ref: NM/S/8/2)

The costume has been carefully packaged in a costume box with layers of tissue paper placed between the items. Tissue paper rolls and puffs have also been used to pad the hat and dress to help maintain their shape and to reduce creasing of the fabric.

This time lapse video gives a glimpse of what’s in the box:

Perhaps one of the more surprising costume items we have in the collection is that of a moth headdress and dress (Ref: NM/S/9).

‘The Moth (Prelude)’ was danced to music by Debussy ‘Pour le piano’ and was a solo danced by Madge Atkinson from 1919 to 1922. The dress is made from silver and black pleated satin which gives the impression that the dancer has wings.

The moth headdress has antenna that are made from black velvet and can be moved to change their position. The two eyes are made from green and gold felt and netting and are appliqued either side of the headdress. The black satin headdress is shaped to cover the neck and shoulders.

In this second time lapse video the moth headdress can be seen in its box. The headdress has been padded with tissue paper to help maintain its shape:

If this glimpse has inspired you to find out more about our collections, or if you are interested in seeing any of the items we have featured in person do get in touch as we would be delighted to book you in to visit our research room, just email archives@surrey.ac.uk or have a look at the information on our website https://www.surrey.ac.uk/library/archives-and-special-collections or on    https://www.instagram.com/uniofsurreyarchives/

And don’t forget to check out our second blog post where we will be showing off more of the Natural Movement Archive.