Dean Mogle holds the white and black swan design sketches for CCM's production of Swan Lake.

From Sketch to Stage: The Making of CCM’s ‘Swan Lake’ Costumes

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There is a shortage of tutu makers in the world, said CCM Professor and Head of the Costume Design and Technology Program Dean Mogle, who faced the daunting task of designing costumes for Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake ballet.

CCM is working to fix that shortage by training the next generation of costume designers and technicians, whose work will debut on stage in the conservatory’s first ballet production to have costumes designed and built in-house.

A timeless tale of love, magic and mystery, Swan Lake will grace the Corbett Auditorium stage from April 22-24, marking the second time in CCM’s nearly 150-year history that a full-length story ballet has been included in the Mainstage Series.

Costuming for CCM's 'Swan Lake.' Photo by Ryan Strand.

Staff and students within the Costume Design and Technology program have worked on the ‘Swan Lake’ costumes for the past 18 months.

Presented by CCM’s Department of Dance, the ballet uses three different casts and the principal roles are all double cast ­— which is challenging for the costume shop students and staff responsible for ensuring the pieces fit each dancer correctly.

“You have to understand what dancers go through—what they need,” Mogle said. “Balance becomes really important.”

Costume designers and technicians must consider the weight of the fabrics and headpieces so the dancer can retain their natural balance. There is also limited “real estate” on the costume for artistic expression or characterization, Mogle said. If a female dancer needs to be lifted, safety dictates the fabric around her waist can’t be too slick and can’t get caught on anything.

“The ballet world is a totally different beast.”

Costuming for CCM's 'Swan Lake.' Photo by Ryan Strand.

Newly designed costumes for the Hungarian Czardas in Act III of ‘Swan Lake,’ made by costume students and staff. To the far right is Prince Siegfried’s jacket, made by Jessica Barksdale.

Mogle, with a team of students and faculty within the Costume Design and Technology program, has worked on the Swan Lake costumes for the past 18 months. They’ve borrowed and modified some costumes from a previous CCM performance of Brigadoon and the Broadway production of Cyrano, The Musical. Costumes for the principal and specialty roles in the ballet are newly designed and made.

Iconic white tutus, bodices, vibrant dresses and rich fabrics have taken over their workshop. The costumes are designed in the traditional style typically associated with the classic ballet. CCM plans to reuse and rent out some of them after the performance.

Costuming for CCM's 'Swan Lake.' Photo by Ryan Strand.

Jessica Barksdale is building Mogle’s design for Prince Siegfried’s costume, which will be worn in Acts III and IV.

Mogle, who previously designed costumes for the Cincinnati Ballet’s The Nutcracker, watched five or six different productions of Swan Lake to prepare for his costume designs. The pieces are still evolving on a daily basis, he said.

“Since we are making the production to last about 30 or 40 years, we don’t ever want to get too wild and crazy with the concept because it is pretty traditional,” Mogle said. “The things that really change in a traditional ballet like this are going to be the specialty characters.”

Those include the newly designed and made pieces that will be worn at the ball in Act III, where the Queen invites potential wives from Poland, Hungary, Italy, Spain, Naples and Poland to match with her son, Prince Siegfried.

Costuming for CCM's 'Swan Lake.' Photo by Ryan Strand.

A sketch and sleeve of Von Rothbart’s Act III costume, made by Erin Winslow.

At the ball, Prince Siegfried will wear a newly designed black and gold jacket made by Jessica Barksdale, first-year costume technology graduate student. Rothbart, the evil sorcerer who cursed the prince’s love Odette, will wear an intricately detailed costume made by senior costume technology student, Erin Winslow, as part of her capstone project.

Barskdale and Winslow are also making the iconic white and black swan costumes for leading female characters Odette and Odile. Associate Professor of Costume Technology Regina Truhart is managing all costume production for the ballet.

Costuming for CCM's 'Swan Lake.' Photo by Ryan Strand.

The in-progress white and black swan costumes for characters Odette and Odile are being made by Jessica Barksdale and Erin Winslow, respectively.

After 27 years at CCM, Mogle is familiar with the 30,000 costume pieces the conservatory has in stock. Luckily, the costume department was able to pull pieces from past performances of Brigadoon and Cyrano to modify them for courtier and peasant costumes in Swan Lake.

The costume department dyed some of the costumes in bright jewel tones and added details such as sashes, sleeves, aprons and hats. Net petticoats were used to make the costumes lighter and easier to dance in.

Costuming for CCM's 'Swan Lake.' Photo by Ryan Strand.

Costumes from the CCM production of ‘Brigadoon’ are being modified for the female peasants in Act I of ‘Swan Lake.’

“Every time we do [Swan Lake], we’ll add more to it and rely less on our costume stock,” Mogle said, adding that when the ballet is performed again in 6 years they will likely build new peasant costumes.

“That’s how some companies do it anyway. They’ll use tutus from many kinds of shows. Pulling together a show like this from all of these different places is a great exercise.”

Acquiring materials is one hurdle but then, of course, the costumes must actually fit.

It helps that musical theatre bodies and dancer bodies are similar in stature, Mogle said. It would cost around $5,000 to reproduce one of the Cyrano costumes today.

Costuming for CCM's 'Swan Lake.' Photo by Ryan Strand.

Costume technicians included three clasp sizes on the ‘Swan Lake’ bodices so they can be adjusted for different dancers.

With three different casts, and double-cast principals, it was important to make the costumes interchangeable for different dancers. The technicians included three clasp sizes for the bodices to make them more adjustable and, in some cases, built extra costumes.

The process and pieces are evolving daily, with more adjustments expected after fittings and the dress rehearsals. A beautiful design can look perfect on a mannequin but flawed when put on a body that needs to breathe, dance and kick. That is why it’s important for the costuming students to learn each step in the creative process, said Mogle.

 “The whole focus of our program is teaching design and technology so designers know how to make stuff and makers know how to design stuff. So they all have the same sensibility as to how things should look and how they should be handled. If the knowledge base in those two roles isn’t strong then things fall apart.”

After the designs are sketched, the appropriate fabrics need to be found, Mogle said of the costuming process. Then there’s making the patterns and cutting them out of the cloth and stitching them together. There’s also fabric painting and dying and mask and jewelry making.

“Each one of those is a profession in itself,” Mogle said. “The more skills you have as a technician and the more kinds of plays and operas and ballets that you can design as a designer, your job market opens up. It’s a good part of training and real life experience.”

Co-directed by Dance Department Chair Jiang Qi and Associate Professor of Dance Deirdre Carberry, the Mainstage Series production features students from CCM’s BFA Ballet program. The lavishly staged spectacle features accompaniment by CCM’s lauded Concert Orchestra under the direction of Assistant Professor of Music Aik Khai Pung.

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Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake runs April. 22 – 24 in Corbett Auditorium. Tickets are $27-31 for adults, $17-20 for non-UC students and $15-18 UC students with a valid ID.

Tickets can be purchased in person at the CCM Box Office, over the telephone at 513-556-4183 or online at ccm.uc.edu/boxoffice/mainstage/swan-lake.

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CCM Season Presenting Sponsor and Musical Theatre Program Sponsor: The Otto M. Budig Family Foundation

Mainstage Season Production Sponsor: Macy’s

Community Partner: ArtsWave

Production Sponsors: Rosemary & Mark Schlachter, Teri Jory & Seth Geiger and Graeter’s
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Story by Rebecca Butts

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'The Merry Widow' photography by Mark Lyons.

Discussing ‘The Merry Widow’ Costumes with Student Designer Greta Stokes

The Merry Widow Costume Designer Greta Stokes recently sat down with CCM Public Information Assistant and DMA student Charlotte Kies to discuss the work that went into this delightful new production of Franz Lehár’s most popular operetta.

Charlotte Kies: Hi Greta! What can you tell me about your inspiration for these costumes?

Juliana Rucker draped and built this charming blue dress for Valencienne. Photography by Steve Shin.

Juliana Rucker draped and built this charming blue dress for Valencienne. Photo by Steve Shin.

Greta Stokes: Although the opera was written right around the turn of the 20th century, we knew we wanted to create a more modern silhouette for the women’s garments, like the same kind of idea behind Dior’s new look of the 1950s.

But when we began working with the text and thinking about how the actors are interacting we kind of let go of the design being so strict. It became more 50s, 60s, 90s, now. It became looser and less of a period piece, because it’s not a stiff opera. It doesn’t need to be historical.

When I first got assigned this show I watched an old production of it, I looked at old stills and I got a feel for what the opera used to be. At this point we had already decided on the 50’s. If you look at my Pinterest board it starts with these beautiful black and white photos. And then you can see how after every conversation I had with [Merry Widow director] Professor Emma Griffin the board gets crazier and crazier, and brighter, and begins to include things that aren’t from the 50’s at all, like these modern fashion collections and this weird art. It started out very demure, with lots of little black dresses. And then it just got wild, and the cast is really into it. It has been a great kind of build up to that and I think that the result is really interesting and different and fun.

Greta Stokes' design concept for Hanna's dress.

Greta Stokes’ design concept for Hanna’s dress.

CK: So the costumes are not specific to one decade?

GS: They’re mid-century flavored. There are a lot of brighter colors, and we took a lot of inspiration from more modern fashion houses. There’s a lot of Prada and Dolce & Gabbana resort lines right now that are very colorful. Our costumes are those two ideas [vintage and modern] married together.

When people come in for a fitting for a period piece and they’re putting high-fitted pleated pants on you, they look great if you’re doing a strictly 50’s show. Even though they look great on stage, you can tell the actors are uncomfortable in them. So to have a modern cut with a vintage feel, I know my performers will go on stage feeling comfortable and good about how they look, and you can really see that in their movements.

CK: Can you tell me about your design process?

GS: We started looking at research in the middle of last semester before it was cast. All of the designers got together to discuss concepts, colors schemes and how we would interact with each other. We built research collages and talked about what inspired us. From there I decided what pieces needed to be built for the performers. Our lead character’s costume is getting built from scratch. We discussed how the characters are in this made-up country at an embassy in Paris and what that might look like. We got to decide what and where that country was. We decided on something eastern European, but I incorporated little bits of different European cultures into a made-up folk costume so you’ll see elements of that. There are two characters that are wearing kilts and one in lederhosen. There are little flavors of recognizable folk traditions scattered among the Petrovenians. It’s off the wall but still a little controlled. When I’m in the costume shop and all around me are flower crowns and lederhosen and kilts and a bunch of tuxedoes, I feel I should be telling people “I swear I’m not crazy, I promise this will make sense!” Fingers crossed!

Maria Lenn built and draped this dashing red and black dress for Jessica Faselt (playing Hanna Glawari on Friday and Sunday) from Greta Stokes’ designs. Lenn is fitting Faselt while Stokes and her assistant, Sarah Red Redden look on as Stokes’ designs come to life. Photography by Steve Shin.

Maria Lenn built and draped this dashing red and black dress for Jessica Faselt (playing Hanna Glawari on Friday and Sunday) from Greta Stokes’ designs. Lenn is fitting Faselt while Stokes and her assistant, Sarah Red Redden look on as Stokes’ designs come to life. Photo by Steve Shin.

CK: Does Hanna have a costume change in the middle of the show?

GS: She kind of does, she has this outer shell made with beautiful pink dupioni. The shell comes off later in the opera as the acts and the parties go on. And there are so many crystals on that black skirt, it’s gonna be on fire.

CK: How are these costumes different from costumes you might see in another version?

GS: In the original versions there are HUGE choruses and they’re all wearing these crazy costumes that are all very expensive and lavish. Older productions were all about the costumes, and the performers just kind of walk around the stage going “lalala, look at my giant hat, lalalalala.”

Ours is a condensed, smaller cast. It’s still a lot of people, but because we have created more modern clothing, it has become really more about their movement. The idea is that they’re drinking, moving from one party to the next. They’re having a really good time.

CK: How much liberty do you have? Do you get to design whatever you want? Do you have any restrictions or guidelines?

In Act II, the party guests reconvene at Hanna Glawari’s house for a garden party. Brian Horton built these hats for the characters, who decide that Hanna’s garden is better suited for their outfits. Photography by Steve Shin.

In Act II, the party guests reconvene at Hanna Glawari’s house for a garden party. Brian Horton built these hats for the characters, who decide that Hanna’s garden is better suited for their outfits. Photo by Steve Shin.

GS: We operate under the guidance of Professor Dean Mogle, head of the Costume Design and Technology program at CCM. I would say we are restricted by what we are able to get. Obviously there are time restrictions, as well. I couldn’t ask them to build every single tuxedo, so we purchased tuxedos. I designed Hanna’s costume to look like a mix between Marilyn Monroe and Anna Nicole Smith.

As for the dancers, I actually found these vintage dresses that we had in stock that were specifically dance dresses. Because we are not doing a traditional can-can we can use these really full, floofy skirts with all these sparkles and stuff. In Act II they’re all at Hanna’s house for a garden party and the women take these flowers off of the set and put them on their hats. They are completely ruining her garden, and she totally does not care.

Professor Griffin is incredible to work with. She is so great at letting designers have liberties, while still reining us in or pushing us forward. It is really nice to have all those liberties, to be able to create this world out of nothing and figure out what exists in it.

CK: Is it the same dress design for the two Hanna’s?

GS: Yes, but they are built to fit each performer. The design will be the same, but the fit will be different just because the bodies are.

CK: How much work are you doing outside of CCM while you’re also a student?

GS: Oh, not a lot, because I’m a little busy! I am working on The Little Prince right now for Cincinnati Chamber Opera as the costume designer/coordinator.

I also work for New Edgecliff Theatre. We just closed Frankie & Johnny in the Clare de Lune and we’ll be back in the spring with The Shape of Things.

CK: Have you enjoyed your time as a student at CCM?

GS: Of course yes! I am from Columbus, so I’m not too far from my family. This school is incredible. I love how hands-on it is and how we’re really working as a professional theatre would. We are learning to interact with each other and not just in our own little worlds.

CK: How did you get into costume design?

GS: I am a non-traditional student, so I ‘m quite a bit older. I did theatre in high school. I worked in the costume shop. I did a little acting, but I wasn’t very good! I stitched. I was friends with all of the theatre kids and I really liked it. My grandmother was a dress designer so I would always go play with her dressmaking tools and pocket a few of them. I continued to work in vintage stores for a long time doing alterations for vintage clothing.

I have always been working with clothing, and this made more sense than fashion. I have always really loved the theatre community and I feel like it has a really good turnover. It’s not like “oh, polka-dots are so in right now.” It’s a constant challenge.

Maria Lenn built and draped this dashing red and black dress for Jessica Faselt (playing Hanna Glawari on Friday and Sunday) from Greta Stokes’ designs. Lenn is fitting Faselt while Stokes and her assistant, Sarah Red Redden look on as Stokes’ designs come to life. Photo by Steve Shin.

Maria Lenn built and draped this dashing red and black dress for Jessica Faselt (playing Hanna Glawari on Friday and Sunday) from Greta Stokes’ designs. Lenn is fitting Faselt while Stokes and her assistant, Sarah Red Redden look on as Stokes’ designs come to life. Photo by Steve Shin.

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Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow runs Nov. 19 – 22 in Patricia Corbett Theater. Tickets are $31-35 for adults, $20-24 for non-UC students and $18-22 UC students with a valid ID. $12-$15 student rush tickets will become available one hour prior to each performance; limit two student rush tickets per valid ID.

Tickets can be purchased in person at the CCM Box Office, over the telephone at 513-556-4183 or online at ccm.uc.edu/boxoffice/mainstage/merry-widow.

CCM Season Presenting Sponsor and Musical Theatre Program Sponsor: The Otto M. Budig Family Foundation

Mainstage Season Production Sponsor: Macy’s

Community Partner: ArtsWave

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