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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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
Story by Rebecca Butts