Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Mount Tutu

I'm focusing a lot on wardrobe and the costume shop right now because there is so much fascinating and ground-breaking work going on there at the moment. It's a department of the company that isn't often given too much consideration by audience members, who see only the finished products when they are being worn by dancers onstage. What most people don't realize is that an astounding number of hours are spent working on those costumes before they're deemed suitable for performance. People sometimes wonder why it takes so many hours of rehearsal before a dancer or ballet is ready to go onstage (and we can get into that later!), but it's similar to the number of hours it takes to get a costume ready for a relatively few moments of live performance. The wardrobe people work tirelessly (and crazy hours, when they're really busy) for the satisfaction of seeing their work in front of an audience and of knowing that the dancers are being supported in the style or characterization of their role by what they're wearing--- and are not being distracted by an uncomfortable costume, scratchy fabric, ill-fitting bodice... and we'll let them know if we are! The wardrobe master (Kathy Scoggins is ours here at OBT) has to have answers and solutions for seemingly everybody-- the costume designer, the artistic director, and the dancers. And on occasion, also for the lighting designer and production stage manager.

One major project being worked on right now is OBT's first-
ever tutu build for our upcoming prodution of Raymoda. Two designers and consultants from Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle are working with the OBT department, but this is the first time OBT has ever built a significant number of tutus in its own shop. Fitting and construction of the basic underlayers began a couple of months ago and has now progressed to the stage where they're actually recognizable as tutus.
Here is a photo of a tutu BEFORE it's recognizable. The skirt has many layers and this one has not been patched together yet:

Here, Kathy is holding a tutu that's been pieced together. These are being built "Russian style", which means that the tops (the bodices) will be attached to the tutu skirt. This is a tutu before it's been built to the bodice:

The two designers from Seattle were down last week to do some fittings and check on the progress so far. Kathy said it went very well and there were only a few minor tweaks to make. The basic underlayers of the tutu are crucial-- if that doesn't fit the dancer perfectly, the tutu itself will never sit quite right and the costume will need endless "band-aid" fixes to make it workable. Our first several fittings (back in January and February) were for what looked like a basic pair of underwear, which is the very first element in building an elaborate and gorgeous tutu. The underwear has to fit absolutely just right in every way-- the length, placement of the waistband, size of the leg openings, and overall "Hugginess". Then layers of ruffles are added, which are not just decor. They're really the very first layers of tutu, which the audience may hardly see but will make the tutu on top sit correctly. (I've often felt like a fuzzy duck with all my rear end feathers under that tutu).

Kathy also said that they're figuring out that "There is no substitute for actually putting the tutu on the dancer it is being made for. Putting it on the dress form gives you an idea of how it is sitting, but only on the actual dancer can you see how the skirt is going to sit. The stack of finished tutus on top of the tutu drums is turning into "Mount Tutu". We now have 5 skirts completely finished and ready for decorating with the others all in progress. All of the dancers seem very excited about this process and seem to be looking forward to the new tutus."

Here's "Mount Tutu":

Eventually there will be 11 or 12 completed tutus, one for each woman in Raymonda plus a couple of extras for other casts. This process is as exciting for the dancers as it is for the wardrobe department. As I mentioned before, one of the most remarkable parts of being a dancer is having a costume designed and built just for you. Having a classical tutu built for you is the ultimate experience of that process. It just feels so timeless and historic, like a real link to generations and generations of classical ballet dancers before and after us.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Gavin,

    I know this may sound like a stupid question to you, but if the costumes are essentially specially made for each dancer, does this mean that new costumes are always being made? How do they or can they get customized from year to year (or are they taken apart to be used for new costumes)? And, if they're made well in advance, is there a concern for weight gain/loss of the dancer (or is that even a consideration) - do you (and the other dancers) have a strict diet that you're to follow?

    Maybe these questions can't or are not supposed to be answered... just curious.

    thank you kindly and Happy Thursday Gavin.