What young girl hasn’t dreamt of becoming a ballerina? Whether she, like me, was captivated by seeing Swan Lake as a child, or today is inspired by the grace and talent of Misty Copeland, I believe many a girl has envisioned herself in tulle and slippers elegantly sweeping through the air.
Those ballerina dreams came rushing back to me the first time I saw Maria José Santos’ Odile and Odette at the Philadelphia show in 2006. I immediately placed orders for the dolls and began planning the Swan Lake vignette in my mind—all the while imagining myself en pointe. (Yes, I took dance lessons for many years and while it became painfully evident that The Royal Ballet, or any other troupe, wouldn’t be calling, it never lessened my love of the art form.)
I remember being entranced with the costumes and the swan-like movements of the ballet dancers. Emotion seemed to flow from their bodies and I see it today in Maria’s art. Her dolls are so fluid; there is poise and grace in every dance position and they are so exceptionally sculpted you can almost see blood coursing through veins beneath perfect porcelain skin. And their facial expressions are always unique to character, speaking volumes from their eyes. I see Maria, herself, in her dolls. She is a beautiful woman inside and out—one of the loveliest and most effervescent artisans I have met in this industry.
The IGMA artisan who lives in Spain actually worked in the legal profession before turning to dollmaking, saying it was one of the best decisions she has made in her life. Today, she is fulfilled by all aspects of her craft—from working with her hands to doing historical research regarding fashion and culture, noting she especially likes the period between 1877 and 1882 for its superb gowns. She has also created wonderful dolls from the Roaring Twenties, which are included in the collection along with several other period figures and a belly dancer of which I am quite fond. (I always wanted to learn to do that!). It is the ballerinas, however, that have the ability to move me to tears—just as Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake can.
Maria, who also loves dance, researched the ballet in her creation of the six dolls for the vignette, which included four ballerinas in national dress from the countries of Spain, Poland, Hungary, and Italy. If you recall from the story, they represent princesses at the ball from which Prince Siegfried is asked to choose a bride. Of course, Odile, Odette’s evil double, is the one who allures the prince by letting him think she is Odette, but in the end, good conquers evil.
Perhaps one of the reasons Maria’s ballerinas are so stunning is because she studied ballet for 10 years explaining, “I attended ballet classes for a decade since I was 19. It was very late for me to become a dancer, but it was really a great help to study the anatomy of the human body in order to achieve different classical ballet poses in my ballerina dolls. In fact, I work under the name of “Carabosse Dolls,” a name taken from the wicked fairy in the ballet The Sleeping Beauty by Tchaikovsky.”
In planning the Swan Lake display of Maria’s dolls, my intent was to portray the ballet by creating a stage floor and contemporary backdrop (painted by my daughter, Carey Seven). We originally were going to take the dancers off of their silk pedestals and pin them into the stage, but the platforms added such nice color to the black floor that we left them there. I added the crystal-imbued Christmas tree to also supplement color, but mostly because I saw this ballet with my mother when I was young and I forever associate it with that wonderful holiday memory.
I know my mother took me to Swan Lake to inspire me and while I never became a dancer, I remain inspired by her efforts and by the arts and the artists who give such a huge part of themselves to their creations. Maria José Santos is one of those people and I am privileged to know her and to have her pieces in the collection. Her work can also be seen at the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, Puppenhausmuseum in Basel (Switzerland), and the El Mundo de las Muñecas in Tenerife (Spain), as well as in temporary exhibitions throughout the world. Next year will mark 20 years of dollmaking for Maria. Please take a few moments to view her creations here and look for her new website Carabosse Dolls soon.