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This is not the first time that Yaiza Pinillos designs costumes for Ballet Nacional de España productions but there is no doubt that La Bella Otero has been the best chance to show her studies in History of Art in the fabrics she manipulates so artistically. Specialised in costumes for the performing arts, having also worked for the Centro Dramático Nacional or the Festival de Mérida, her search for references in works of art from each of the periods rather than opting for historical faithfulness, allows a greater freedom and visual support to her designs. This way, she has re-elaborated the iconic image of la Belle Otero as a Byzantine empress to enrichen the scene rather than just making a mere reproduction.

What was your inspiration when designing the costumes for La Bella Otero?

The inspiration for the look of the costumes is linked to the artistic manifestations of the period rather to a realistic reflection of the fashion of each historical context. In relying on the art of the period as the main source for my poetics I have greater freedom and vision for the staging than if I based it on the merely reprographic or documental.

To conceive the nearly 200 designs I have resorted to multiple sources, given the variety of situations in the show. For some scenes I have resorted to travellers from the late 19th century, like Ruth Matilda Anderson or the great José Ortiz- Echagüe. Another source was paintings by artists like Ignacio de Zuloaga, Ramón Casas, José Cardona, Boldini, Manet, who depicted a Europeanized type of Spanish woman, following the exotic attraction Europe felt for Spain, which was widely portrayed in the paintings of the time. There are also hints at certain historical fashion designers, remakes of models by Jacques Doucet -contemporary of Carolina Otero- and also Balenciaga, from a later period and even at designers of our time like Issey Miyake, Roberto Capucci or Alexander McQueen, whose vision seen from a Belle Epòque perspective give surprising results without losing an inch of the essence of the period we’re portraying.

We have clad Carolina Otero in red and black and used velvet as the colours and fabrics that identify and characterise her. For a show where the plot is so relevant and has so many scenes, we needed to see to both aesthetics and technical demands. The character of Otero features in all the scenes and she must dress differently in each of them and at the same time suit each context. This is achieved by costume changes that are timed minutely and that must suit the carefully arranged timing of the show, which is set by the music and the choreographies. So, we have made a great effort in generating an evolution in the character, making the functional coincide with the aesthetical and allowing both factors to benefit from one another.

What was the process of making the costumes like?

It was long and exceptional due to the social situation brought about by the pandemic. The lockdowns and the strict cautionary protocols slowed down the process of making the costumes as well as the fittings and rehearsals, especially in a company with so many performers like the BNE. However, thanks to the situation we had the chance to enjoy a slower and calmer process than usual in a production of this kind. This has led to thought-out results and being able to pay attention to detail when making decisions, taking great care in every piece. 

Which piece would you single out?

Actually, all the development of the character of Carolina Otero, from her first appearance in the village of Valga to becoming a star followed by her decline are all noteworthy as they manage to bring together the narrative and the visual aspects in a very rich, varied aesthetic that supports the plot. But a special piece is the one used for the Byzantine empress la Bella Otero appears in at certain moments of the show. It is complex in many different ways because the image of la Otero as a Byzantine empress is very well-known as it was photographed by Reutlinger around 1900. For this look I always had in mind the paintings of Gustave Moreau, especially his portrayals of Salome. I’m particularly proud of this design because it is a remake of a very well-known image of la Otero, and I believe we have managed to enrichen it through an evocative rather than an emulative approach, adding effects that enhance the staging and which reflect the symbolist aesthetics that subtly refer us to the essence of a period. 

There are other important pieces in the show like the convertible dress dancer Inmaculada Salomón wears in the role of courtesan Liane de Pougy, which is also quite complex and serves several purposes: apart from having a beautiful and original look thanks to the use of folds in an almost architectural fashion, very much like Issey Miyake or Roberto Capucci, it is also a tool that allows the audience to follow the character throughout the plot thus reinforcing the general story line of the show.

Other important pieces are the Manolas, who appear during the performance of the show Carmen and again in the role of dancers in a café-chantant. In both scenes the costumes are the same although they undergo a transformation. With these dresses I’ve tried to represent those women portrayed by Juan Cardona or Ignacio de Zuloaga from a stylised, elegant perspective and through their image boost the fascination for Spain and the flamenco bailaora that existed across Europe and fundamentally in Paris, which were characteristic of the atmosphere the story is set in.

What part was the most complicated?

Costumes must support the plot, so these are narrative costumes. Also, the general sets made up by the costumes in each scene and the range of colours used define each scene. The range of colours used in the scene of rural Galicia, dark and blurred in her memory, brings to mind Goya’s black paintings, which evolves gradually into another peak of chromatic intensity in the scene of the Folies Bergère, which in turn evolves to reach the fresh and elegant two-colour set in the day stroll of the bourgeoisie in the Bois de Boulogne.

All these factors bring the costumes of La Bella Otero, as it is a descriptive and narrative show, close to what would be costumes for a theatre play, but they have a further complication in that every design must meet high technical demands, like in all the costumes made for dance. Every design is adapted to be danced in as in addition to the narrative, this is a great ballet, so the priority is to dance, like in every ballet.

Another complex issue was the generalised use of great hats, headpieces and wigs, beards, and moustaches worn by several characters. Although it is true our aim was not to copy each historical figure, we did want to portray a period and all these elements help to give it its historical flavour. It has involved a huge effort in every sense, for dancers too as they must deal with very complex changes, both of costumes and characterization. The truth is the costumes have been both hugely complex and exciting. Passion and excitement drive the development of the arts and it’s quite clear this show is full of them; we’re looking forward to seeing it come to life on stage.