Old chook re­turns to the stage

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS - EL­IZ­A­BETH FORTESCUE

IN the data­base of The Aus­tralian Bal­let wardrobe de­part­ment, it’s the Swan Cloak. But the dancers who wear it in The Merry Widow af­fec­tion­ately call it “the chook”.

The tulle-and-satin cape is one of the cos­tum­ing mar­vels that help make The Merry Widow a clas­sic of the com­pany’s reper­toire. A new sea­son of Franz Le­har’s bal­let opens at the Opera House on Satur­day.

The cape was worn by the great Dame Mar­got Fonteyn when she guest starred with The Aus­tralian Bal­let on its 1976 US tour, and was used by Mar­i­lyn Rowe when the Robert Help­mann-di­rected pro­duc­tion premiered in 1975. This sea­son all dancers who share the role of the widow will wear “the chook”.

Des­mond Hee­ley de­signed the ex­trav­a­gant cloak, which has been care­fully main­tained. But Musette Molyneaux, the bal­let com­pany’s head of cos­tume work­shops, fears the cape’s re­tire­ment is im­mi­nent be­cause the fab­ric is weak­en­ing.

“As of 2014 it had been worn 403 times,” Molyneaux said. “If some­one trod on it, it might tear.”

Strips of tulle were used to re­sem­ble feath­ers. Real feath­ers would have made the cape too heavy — even for a merry widow.

Pic­ture: Toby Zerna

Robyn Hen­dricks wears ‘ the chook’, the orig­i­nal Swan Cloak made in 1975 for The Merry Widow (in­set) and still used.

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