The Australian Ballet’s fave practice gear

15 March 2011 | By Kitty Walker

Photo by Lynette Wills from 'Step Inside: The Australian Ballet'
Photo by Lynette Wills from 'Step Inside: The Australian Ballet'
Vivienne Wong with artists of The Australian Ballet. Photo by Christopher Tovo
Vivienne Wong with artists of The Australian Ballet. Photo by Christopher Tovo

Ballet. It’s not all bun-heads and sequins, puffed tulle and fairy wings. Sure, the onstage costume-side of operations is dreamy and magical and helps transport dancers and audience members to another world, but there’s another side to dressing up that dancers put just as much thought into: what on earth do you wear day-to-day when your office is a rehearsal studio?

When Rodarte unveiled their vulture-inspired onstage designs for Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, who couldn’t help an involuntary gasp of pleasure at their sheer ravishing inventiveness? But just as importantly, Amy Westcott, the costume designer for the film as a whole, put a ton of work and thought into what company members were wearing in the studio.

So, which designers do dancers at The Australian Ballet favour for the everyday? In a random poll of female dancers from all ranks of the Ballet, one name emerged over and over in the number one position: Yumiko, Yumiko, Yumiko. If you dance, you won’t be surprised. And if you do a little research into Black Swan, you’ll find that Westcott engaged Yumiko to custom-make a variety of everyday wear for the film on advice from dancers at New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre.

Understandably, things need to feel good when you’re moving and grooving in them for hours on end, and this seems to be the key to Yumiko’s appeal. Launched in 2002, the handmade label is the creation of Japanese dancer Yumiko Takeshima, who is now a principal with Semper Oper Ballett in Germany.

The dancers of The Australian Ballet gave it up en masse for the label. For Corps de Ballet member Alice Topp, Yumiko is a one-stop shop “for all things awesome” while Senior Artist Juliet Burnett explains that “you can custom-order your own colours in her beautifully handmade leotards, which are the comfiest EVER”. So popular is the label with The Australian Ballet’s dancers that hunting down Yumiko’s Tokyo store was the first point of call on the company’s recent tour to Japan, winning out over visits to Disneyland or cultural sightseeing.

The use of Chacott ‘sauna’ or ‘garbage-bag’ pants also increased rapidly after the company’s Tokyo/Nagoya tour (Chacott is another Japanese-based brand). “Plastics do keep you warm and they give you a great Flashdance vibe,” explains Coryphée Dana Stephensen. “And they make swooshy noises when you move! I find a coiffed side fringe and high ponytail really completes the look … I am an 80s kid after all.”

Coryphée Kismet Bourne likes to wear swimsuits as leotards, favouring Jets by Jessika Allen; Juliet Burnett has found that Stella McCartney has created a beautiful range for adidas. Bloch. Wearmoi. Capezio. Sansha. American Apparel. Even Target! The list goes on.

There is one kind of practice gear that’s hard to come by. It takes years of dancing and working with the one company to get your hands on such an outfit. We’re talking about hand-me-downs. “Some garments have been handed down by dancers for generations,” says Corps de Ballet member Brooke Lockett. “There is something lovely and comforting about that.”

Who’s your favourite designer for everyday dance?