Adventures of a Travelling Historian

Welcome to my newly relaunched blog and website!

Almost exactly 10 years ago I packed my suitcase and got on a plane to Winnipeg, Canada (in the depths of winter I should add) to start a costume traineeship with The Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Since I was a teenager I had wanted to become a costume maker for ballet with a view to moving into costume and dance history.

This passion began when I was 15 years old and found an old exhibition catalogue in a second-hand bookshop. The catalogue was from The National Gallery of Australia’s 1999 exhibition, From Russia with Love, and contained a picture of this costume for a knight from the 1910 production of Firebird (see the costume and design below). I became obsessed with this wonderful costume which had been designed by Aleksandr Golovin for The Ballets Russes.

I loved the relative simplicity of it and the use of a white/cream ground. The double skirt or lampshade style also fascinated me. To me it was perfect! In my year 10 Textiles class (aged 16) everyone else was making cotton pj’s –  I on the other hand made and screen printed my own version of this costume! I wanted to know everything about the Firebird and then wanted to learn all I could about the Ballets Russes.

I knew in order to understand how historic costumes were made and designed that I would need to understand how they were made today. So, I wrote to just about every ballet company I could find that had a costume shop and asked if they would accept a trainee – I was willing to travel anywhere. After dozens of rejections the Head of Wardrobe, Anne Armit, at The Royal Winnipeg Ballet decided to give me a chance. After completing my training I returned to the UK and began an English and History BA (Hons), followed by an MA in World History and Cultures. I also continued to work in the costume world and even supported myself through my MA by working as a dresser at Sadler’s Wells Theatre.

10 years (and lots of suitcases, 2 degrees, several publications, exhibitions and many air-miles) later my suitcase and I have just arrived in Austin, Texas where I am undertaking a fellowship at the Harry Ransom Center as part of my PhD.

My dream really did come true and I now work as a costume and dance historian specialising in early C20th ballet and modern dance costume. I have worked with archives, ballet companies and collections in Canada, the UK, Australia and the USA. I love what I do!

On this blog I will write about my adventures past and present and what it is like to be a travelling historian.