A Philadelphia Collaboration: The Pinto Brothers' Designs for Catherine Littlefield’s Philadelphia Ballet Company

By Danielle Castronovo
February 26, 2014
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Guest blog post by Sharon Skeel, curator of the exhibit.

This exhibit ran from February 2014-July 2014.

A Philadelphia Collaboration: The Pinto Brothers’ Designs for Catherine Littlefield’s Philadelphia Ballet Company, a newly installed exhibit in Jerome Robbins Dance Division, features a variety of drawings, costume sketches and set designs by Salvatore (1905-66) and Angelo (1908-94) Pinto commissioned by Catherine Littlefield (1905-51) for the Philadelphia Ballet Company’s productions of Barn Dance and Terminal. Most of the items have been drawn from the Pinto Brothers Designs and Drawings Collection [*MGZGV 12-2309], which was recently made available to the public as part of a two-year project cataloguing dance-related artwork generously funded by the Friends of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, co-chaired by Anne Bass and Caroline Cronson. 

Image of exhibit cases with dance designs.

Catherine Littlefield’s Barn Dance and Terminal (both from 1937) were not the first ballets to be made by and about Americans, but they were the first ones to be seen in Europe. And the Europeans loved them. Fernand de Geneffe described them as “parody and fantasy unleashed…a breath of fresh air!” [THEATRA (Brussels) 12 June 1937, translated from the French]. A writer for G.K.’s Weekly [24 June 1937] asserted that “Barn Dance and Terminal have no competitors in England for invention, design, tempo and timing.” British critic Arnold Haskell also found much to praise, including the ballets’ designers, Salvatore and Angelo Pinto, calling them “new decorative artists of great talent” [The Daily Telegraph, 16 June 1937].

In the late 1920s, the Pinto brothers were young art students who rented an inexpensive studio in Philadelphia’s Fuller Building, a few floors above Littlefield’s ballet school. Occasionally, they would wander downstairs to sketch Littlefield’s classes. The trio met up later in Paris, at the studio of Russian émigré ballerina Lubov Egorova. Littlefield was there to study ballet and the Pintos, on travel scholarships from the Barnes Foundation, were there to sketch the dancers. 

While Littlefield and the Pintos went abroad to study, they nevertheless found creative inspiration at home. They believed in making art reflecting America that average people would enjoy. The vibrancy and wit of both Barn Dance and Terminal were expressed not only through Littlefield’s choreography and her Philadelphia Ballet Company, but also through the bold colors and sinuous lines of the Pintos’sets and costumes, a sample of which is now on view in this new exhibit.