Love for Detail: Ballet Through the Eyes of Costume Designer Emma Ryott

Love for Detail: Ballet Through the Eyes of Costume Designer Emma Ryott

The costume designer from Great Britain created images for the characters of two high-profile performances - the ballets Orlando and The Seagull - premiering at the Bolshoi Theater this year. Let's get to know her and her principles of work better.

A universal artist

Emma Ryott, a BA in Theatre Design, graduated from Nottingham Trent University, one of the largest universities in the UK, where she studied set and costume design. She has been in demand as a stage artist not only in the theaters of Britain, but also abroad for quite a while. She has designed costumes for opera, ballet and drama productions for the English National Opera, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the Royal National Theatre in London, the Theater an der Wien, the Dresden State Opera, the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Metropolitan Opera in New York and Broadway. 

Viewers of the annual New Year’s Concert by The Vienna Philharmonic know the name of Emma Ryott as well. In 2016 and 2020, she created costumes for the ballet program. 

However, she goes beyond creating costumes for artists and often acts as a set designer as was the case of the ballet Cinderella staged by the English choreographer David Bintley for the Finnish National Ballet in 2018. 

Several prestigious awards confirm Ryott's status in the field of stage design. In 2014, she received the Elliot Norton Award by the Boston Theater for the Outstanding Design at the Bolshoi Theater (the Robin Hood production), as well as the Austrian Musical Theater Golden Schikaneder Award for the Best Production (Mathis der Maler). 

In 2020, she was nominated for the Danish Reumert Prize for the Best New Opera Production, and the Copenhagen Cultural Prize for Best New Opera Production (La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini). 

Ryott worked with Christian Spuck on the ballet Orlando, which premiered at the Bolshoi in March this year. Her collaboration with the "Spuck team" lasts for several years: Emma has taken part in many productions in the USA and Canada. The Seagull is a new joint project by the German choreographer and the British artist. 

In her interview with the TV channel “Russia. Culture”, Emma spoke about her method of working with choreographers using her collaborations with Spuck as an example: 

"We discuss the nature of costumes before the rehearsals, and then, as the work progresses, we change our solutions."

Principles of work and success

Ryott's fundamental artistic principle is that details are essential. She dresses the characters in such a way that a separate costume element becomes a reflection of the era, a carrier of meaning. The artist used this method when working on the ballet Orlando, adding a ruffle collar or a trouser suit to the character's image. Emma Ryott expertly mixes up historical details with modern ones. According to her, "in bygone eras, people looked quite pretentious."

She works with classics skillfully: Russian viewers had a chance to see that in 2016 when the ballet production of Anna Karenina premiered on stage of the Stanislavsky Musical Theater. This production is another fruit of her collaboration with Christian Spuck. 

Ryott subtly builds the visual balance of the performance: 

“Ballet is the art of movement. If both the costumes and the scenery are too vivid, variegated, it will cause unbearable flashing. The overall picture will be overwhelmed.”

Talking to the creator and editor of Balletloversblog.com, Evi Hock, about the production of Verdi's Requiem for the Zurich Ballet, the costume designer formulated another crucial principle of working on the images for ballet dancers:

“The key task is to make sure that the dancers can move freely... It was a case of working fluidly with the music and the choreographer. It was important to be adaptable.”

Emma Ryott divides the process of costume designing into several stages: 

  • agree the design with the choreographer
  • choose the fabrics
  • discuss the design with the team
  • make the costumes and their variations
  • test the costumes on stage and see how they fit with the choreography
  • adapt the costumes to the production, making changes (this stage can last until the ideal is achieved)

Working on The Seagull ballet

Chekhov's play that served as the primary source for the new ballet The Seagull takes place at the end of the 19th century. We will see very soon how the characters of the production will look on stage of the Bolshoi. Obviously, the process of creating these images captured the artist, because answering the question about her favorite character, whom she ever had a chance to "dress", Emma Ryott said: 

"Every time you are doing a new job, you do it with such enthusiasm that nothing seems more important."  

On her Instagram account, Emma shares Moscow landscapes and her impressions of Russia, as well as shows the theatrical backstage and details of the creative process. The artist is fascinated by Russian architecture and majestic beauty of the Bolshoi Theater. We are sure these emotions will certainly be reflected in the visual images of the upcoming premiere.