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