Studio to Stage: Degas’s Little Dancer/ Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon

September 23, 2015 to January 31, 2016

How did such famous works as Edgar Degas’s Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (1878–81) and George Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte–1884 (1884–86) come into being? The subject of art historical studies, these questions also inspired two musicals: Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Sunday in the Park with George (1884) and Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens’s Little Dancer (2014). Ann Hould-Ward’s costume designs for Sunday in the Park with George underscore the strength of Sondheim’s musical, its exploration of Seurat’s color theories. For the character Dot, Hould-Ward created a bustled dress with a silhouette recognizable from the painting. Using layers of different colors and patterns of fabrics, she suggested the simultaneous contrasts of colors Seurat sought in his “pointillist” paintings.

William Ivey Long shared Little Dancer director Susan Stroman’s fascination with the socio-economic realities of the struggling young performers at the Paris Opera. Inspired by Degas’s other paintings, Long created a fictionalized persona for Marie van Goethem. Like her mother, an alcoholic, and sister, a prostitute, Marie seemed destined to succumb to the enticements of male admirers who pursued members of the corps de ballet.

Represented in the exhibition by drawings and costumes as well as research materials and performance videos, these musicals raise provocative questions about art historical fact and fiction.