Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Scent and Discipline: The Prima Ballerina's Life

(Image: Maya Plisetskaya) Many of the world's most celebrated ballet dancers such as Isadora Duncan, Anna Pavlova, Carla Fracci and Mikhail Barishnikov have launched their own perfume at some point in their careers. The relationship between the Dancer and Perfume is even deeper than that. Did you know that in the Russian ballet, a prima ballerina was assigned one signature perfume?

A signature in this case means a perfume that was chosen for a prima by her teacher which she would wear on stage and off, throughout the rest of her life, so she may fully saturate herself in her given character as a dancer. For instance, if she were cast as Giselle, she wore a perfume that was perceived as being "Giselle-like". Perhaps if her character had been cast as a sweet and delicate type, she would be assigned a light Floral perfume to reflect that, and if she had been cast as evil, she would wear a devilish and intense one. If Dance was going to be the prima's life, her scent was going to be part of her discipline.

Bolshoi ballerina Maya Plisetskaya wore Robert Piguet Bandit, a powerful leathery Chypre that came in an angular black flacon. Balanchine assigned Maria Tallchief to Guerlain L'Heure Bleue, a Floral Oriental which is known for its ethereal yet complex beauty. La Sublimova wore Shalimar, described as being dark and exotic. A ballerina's perfume is a translation of the visual sensory impression to an olfactory one.

Would I personally give up my freedom to wear whatever perfume I wanted for the chance to live as a world renowned prima? I would think never because I don't like rigidity or being told what to do in general, but I do think it's an interesting part of history to learn about, and I can see how a person might find in such discipline, for better or for worse, a unique existence and perspective of life.