Thursday, March 27, 2008

Lots of Activity in Wardrobe

Spring is always an exceptionally busy time of year for OBT's wardrobe department. The company is preparing the last two programs of the season, with a total of six ballets. At the same time, the School of Oregon Ballet Theatre is about to do its annual workshop performances, which is typically a very ambitious program involving every child in the school and, therefore, several ballets and/or excerpts of ballets. The wardrobe department and costume shop are charged with making sure that the dancers of both company and school have the right things to wear for all those performances--- and that doesn't mean just shaking out a tutu and hanging it on a rack. It means cleaning, fitting, altering, and adjusting a huge variety of costumes, and for a couple of the ballets this spring, designing and building them from scratch.

I spoke with Kathy Scoggins, our master-at-multitasking Head of Wardrobe, about all the activity down in the shop lately (all of OBT's costume activity happens in the never-quite-large-enough shop down in the basement of the building. Storage overflow goes to the warehouse a few blocks away). First I asked her about the costumes for the ballets that OBT is doing on the upcoming American program. We own the costumes for two of them, Through Eden's Gates and Just, because they were both world premieres created for OBT within the past couple of years. The costume designers for each piece worked closely with the choreographers as the ballets were made. (It's a fabulous experience to have a costume made just for you as a ballet is choreographed-- it always makes me feel really like a tool that brings the art to life...)

I asked Kathy about the process of getting those costumes for Eden and Just ready to be danced in again:

"For shows that we have done recently (since Christopher {Stowell} has been here), most of the cosutmes are either stored together and hanging in the warehouse or they are stored in boxes here in the costume shop. The costumes have hang tags that identify the pieces and who wore them last. Each also has a label with the same information. If it is an older show (meaning a ballet that hasn't been performed by OBT in several years), it often involves a real hunt through a lot of wardrobe boxes in the warehouse. I also have a wonderful record in the "show bibles" that have been kept by this department which are very helpful in knowing what to expect and how the show is supposed to run."

It can be hit or miss in terms of costuming when a ballet in OBT's rep comes around again and there are several new dancers going into various roles. It's great when limited alterations are needed, but usually there are at least a few changes that need to be made to make sure everyone's comfortable. Beyond merely refitting some costumes, sometimes the designer uses the opportunity to make some changes to certain costumes that they were never quite satisfied with the first time around:

"The only change we're making in Eden's Gate is a new shirt for the Tango man. Larae (Hascall), the designer, wasn't completely satisified with the shirt for Ronnie (Underwood) last year and wanted it a little glitzier, so she sent down some different fabric and I remade it with a little more structure to the collar and the front band. I am having to make a new pair of pants for one the men due to having two casts this time. The costumes for Just have always had some problems with comfort, so we decided that for the sake of the dancers, we would remake the costumes and make them more comfortable."

I can attest that not much makes a dancer happier than when wardrobe actually goes so far as to totally remake a costume just to make it more comfortable!

(Paul Destrooper and I in the costumes for Through Eden's Gates last season)

More interesting stories about the process of keeping us all fashionably clothed still to come!

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