Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage

Chagall: Fantasies for the Stagea whimsical look at the costumes and sets Marc Chagall created for four theatrical productions, is on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art until January 7th. This exhibition examines the three ballets and one opera that Chagall designed. Beginning in 1941 with the ballet Aleko and ending in 1967 with the opera The Magic Flute the exhibition showcases Chagall’s artistic process in designing for the stage.

Using 41 costumes, 100 sketches, reproductions of the original backgrounds, and footage from both the 1942 production of Aleko and a contemporary production of The Firebird that continues to use Chagall’s designs, this exhibition guides the viewer through and examines the evolution of Chagall’s career in the theatre. The exhibition is divided into four sections each focusing on one show. Moving chronologically, the show begins with Aleko, then moves to The Firebird, then Daphnis and Chloe, and finally ends with Chagall’s only opera, The Magic Flute. 

In each section the original costumes, many of which were hand painted by Chagall, are juxtaposed with the sketches he created in the design stages. Seeing the costumes in both the design conception and realization phases is an invaluable look into not only Chagall’s process, but he way he translated his painting and drawing style into clothing as well. Take for example the design for The Firebird of the Sorcerer Koschei. The drawing has all the hallmarks of Chagall’s typical style – lyrical movement, folkloric subject material, and a masterful use of color. The costume takes these elements and plays with them in different ways. The fluid lines are found in draping folds of cloth and intricate embroidery, the folksy subject is found in the inspiration from Yiddish lore he used to create the firey sorcerer, and the mastery of color is found in the rich, bold fabrics.

In the final cycle of costumes for The Magic Flute Chagall has clearly become more comfortable with dressmaking. In his early costumes for Aleko he stayed in his comfort zone by relying mostly on hand painting plain fabrics, and occasionally adding in embellishments such as netting or beading. By the time he was designing for The Magic Flute in the 1960’s Chagall is using fur trim, feathers, and appliqué. The anthropomorphized lion costume he created consisted of hand painted cotton, chiffon, silk appliqué, and feathers. Even his preparatory sketches were more intricate than those he created for his previous costumes. In the paper designs for The Magic Flute he used bits of shimmering gold paper and fabric. He worked for three years on the costumes and sets for The Magic Flute and the intricacy and care shown in both the preparatory sketches and the clothes themselves shows how confident and successful Chagall had become in costume design.

There has always existed a tension between art and fashion. Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage demonstrates just one of the many ways that clothing and fine art can come together.

Olivia Chuba

All photos by the author.