Mario Cito was born in 1938 in Berlin and began dance lessons at the age of ten under Tatjana Gsovsky, who invited her to join her ensemble six years later. Gsovsky is seen as having helped revive post-war German ballet with her delight in experiment; in her native Russia, she received a solid training in classical ballet, but also studied at the Isadora Duncan Studio in Petrograd and at Hellerau, near Dresden, one of the cradles of German Ausdruckstanz or expressive dance. Thus open to contemporary influences, Gsovsky then developed her classically-based choreographic style. Following appointments in Leipzig and Dresden, from 1945-52 she was first ballet director at the Staatsoper in East Berlin, then, from 1954-66, at the Städtische Oper in West Berlin (in 1961 renamed the Deutsche Oper). During this period Marion Cito became the first soloist to appear in both Gsovsky's performances and also in guest choreographies by George Balanchine, Kenneth McMillan, Serge Lifar, John Cranko and Antony Tudor. Her strong-point was character roles. Alongside this she was receptive to new ideas and danced in the first pieces choreographed by her dancer colleague Gerhard Bohner, who achieved his breakthrough in 1971 with Die Folterungen der Beatrice Cenci (The Tortures of Beatrice Cenci).
From Classic to Modern
The 1968 student protests altered the social climate, and the urge for change spread through the dance world too; a younger generation of dancers began to fight for more independence. When Bohner became head of the Darmstadt ballet, Marion Cito went with him; his approach sounded exciting. Yet Bohner's demands exceeded both the artistic parameters and the budget restrictions imposed by the Darmstadt theatre executive. After only three years this innovative project was ended. Marion Cito returned to Berlin for a year before she was then invited to Wuppertal. She had wanted to stop dancing for health reasons but had followed Pina Bausch's sensational work from its beginnings and was a great admirer. Alongside Bremen, where Johann Kresnik had already begun to revolutionise dance in 1968, Wuppertal was one of the few islands where a new dance language had the freedom to develop. Bausch and Cito hit it off from the start and, respecting her wish not to dance any more, Bausch initially took Cito on as her assistant. In the early years, however, it was not only audiences and critics who found the Tanztheater Wuppertal's work controversial; within the company itself there was a high turnover of dissatisfied dancers. Pina Bausch was forced to rely on a core group of dancers who believed in what she was doing and in 1977 she persuaded Cito to return to the stage for Bluebeard. While listening to a tape recording of Béla Bartók's opera "Duke Bluebeard's Castle". While continuing to work as Bausch's assistant, she was also to appear in Come Dance With Me, Renate wandert aus (Renate Emigrates) and Arien.
Alongside dancing, Marion Cito had been interested in costume ever since her days at the Deutschen Oper. She accompanied Pina Bausch's set and costume designer Rolf Borzik when he bought fabric for the ensemble, and discovered that they shared similar tastes. Despite this, she never envisaged a career for herself in stage design, and was surprised when Pina Bausch asked her to take on costume design for the ensemble following the early death of Borzik in January 1980. She was unable to imagine herself in the job, but agreed to try it.
From dancer to the costume designer
It was a leap in the dark, because Bausch had developed working methods which reversed theatre's normal planning schedules. While a production normally begins with the development of sets and costumes, in Pina Bausch's work costumes are designed and created gradually, parallel to the development of the piece. It is only much later that the individual scenes are pieced together and it becomes clear exactly which costumes are needed. This demands a great deal of trust on both sides. The choreographer needs to know that her colleagues understand the artistic process and can become part of it; the costume designer needs to be able to plan for all eventualities and execute designs under extreme time pressure. Marion Cito learned how to produce costumes 'speculatively', as she put it, because at the start of rehearsals, nothing was certain. Each piece is a new beginning: a journey into the unknown.
The first production in which she was responsible for costumes opened only four months after Borzik's death: 1980 – A Piece by Pina Bausch. Marion Cito worked closely with Pina Bausch; they looked through books of photographs to decide what they liked. Over time they built up a stockpile of rehearsal costumes from which the dancers could help themselves. Alongside this there were also 'vaults' where particularly fine clothes were locked away, to be worn only sparingly. Thanks to the ground Borzik had broken however, there was a framework structuring the quest for costumes. Dance theatre does not present its performers primarily as dancers (in leotards and ballet shoes for instance); it presents them as normal people. They wear simple dresses and suits, high heels or everyday shoes. They also appear time and again dressed to the nines, in glitzy, elegant evening wear. This beauty is not, of course an end in itself, but the expression of a desire. It is important that the costumes have a function; that they show how men and women engage with each other in their social skins, hiding or revealing themselves in the process. Clothes make the man; they are part of the role play between the sexes and hint at social environments. They often turn out to be restrictive shells we want to free ourselves from, when, in the early pieces for instance, the women are dressed as if they were projections of male fantasies. Sometimes a childish pleasure in dressing up creates strange, disturbing figures: a muscular man in a short lurex mini-skirt with a bow and arrow plays the god of love; another man can become a surly old codger or a romantic ballerina in a long tutu; men often appear in women's clothes in the pieces. The aim is not a superficial drag effect, but to question conventional gender roles.
Between Dream and Reality
In line with dance theatre's working methods, which rely heavily on the personalities of the dancers, Cito creates different costumes for each individual. During the ensemble's extensive tours in other countries she buys fabric and later considers which colours and patterns fit which types of dancers. As a dancer herself she is also aware what kind of clothes are good to dance in; that for Bausch's work the arms generally need to be free and the dresses long. She is spurred on by the challenge of bringing a personal and continually innovative finesse to her tailoring. As, with time, ever more co-productions with ever more countries were created, another challenge was added: how to allow delicate echoes of other cultures to resound while avoiding crass allusions. Spain cannot be referenced with spotted flamenco fabric, but translucent fabrics with etched-out patterns can for instance evoke a sense of the orient. Hinting, leaving things open, is an important element of Pina Bausch's poetic dance theatre. Explicit statements would ruin the delicate interplay between dream and reality. Reality, with its fears and desires, is always referred to, but it must also always be possible to step beyond it, into a fantasy world in which everything is still possible. The costumes must also be able to execute this difficult balancing act.
To pull this off, Marion Cito has to rely on her own intuition. Before rehearsals begin she has to be able to sense what directions a piece may take and plan accordingly, otherwise she and her workshops could not keep pace with the piece's development. Because the pieces are fitted together relatively late, the practical problems emerge only towards the end; insufficient time for costume changes, new colour combinations due to new onstage constellations not originally planned. A high level of flexibility is required, and swift reactions. The extensive repertoire maintenance is also highly demanding, caused by the inevitable recasting of roles. Her work is like a game with countless exceptions to the rules and unlimited unknown factors - and yet over the years she has adopted a masterful composure resulting from a deep love of the pieces and their world view.
Marion Cito has belonged to the Tanztheater Wuppertal since 1976: initially as assistant to Pina Bausch and as a dancer; from 1980 as costume designer. Even if, as she said, she could never have imagined doing this work, she has made a substantial contribution to the fact that however close to reality it remains, dance theatre always appears colourful and rich in sensations.
She died on December 2nd 2023 at the age of 85 in Wuppertal. With her goes another part of an important and formative era.
Text: Norbert Servos
Translation: Steph Morris