The Australian Ballet

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It’s a rhinestone world: Behind the scenes with the volunteers helping to create the costumes for Jewels.

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It takes a village to create a ballet the scale of George Balanchine’s Jewels and The Australian Ballet is fortunate to have the support and talent of the Embroiderers Guild and the Country Women’s Association who have so generously offered their time to help create the costumes for the upcoming production.

It’s a process that began back in 2022 and has seen the talented beaders and embroiders sew on thousands of beads over as many hours. Behind Ballet chats to the remarkable team of ladies who have helped bring the Jewels costumes to the stage.

Initially booked from the 17th of November 2022 up until Christmas, the volunteers quicky proved how valuable they were to the costume department. The team were asked to come back after the Christmas holidays and continue the massive process of sewing on the thousands of beads originally designed by Barbara Karinska in the 1960s.

Mandy and Naomi have been leading the team over the past five months that can include anywhere from 2 – 10 volunteers during a five-hour shift. Today they are working on the Emeralds flowers that sit on the dancers shoulders.

“Each flower has 52 beads,” says Naomi. “There’s two flowers per costume, so 104 beads and each flower takes about two hours to sew.”

The Emeralds corps has 36 dancers and The Australian Ballet makes two sets of these costumes for understudies and alternates. 72 costumes x 104 beads = 7488 beads just on the shoulders for Emeralds!

“Each flower has 52 beads, there’s two flowers per costume, so 104 beads and each flower takes about two hours to sew.” — Nao­mi, Jew­els cos­tume volunteer
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Many of the volunteers began sewing as children at primary school or high school in dress making class. While they went into other professions, they’ve all kept up their skills giving them the ability to take on the mammoth task of the Jewels costumes.

“You need to be a confident needlewoman” says Mandy. “This is very particular, you have to knot off each bead, so none of them fall off because someone could trip on it on stage. It’s very precise stitching.”

The copyrighted costumes must be made exactly to the original Karinska specifications. It was Barbara Karinska who pioneered more flexible and breathable costume allowing dancers to not only have greater freedom of movement in their dancing but to be more comfortable as well. However, while the stretch material of the costumes may be more comfortable, the sheer weight of these costumes is less so.

The volunteers estimate that the neckline of the Rubies costumes weighs close to half a kilogram in addition to the skirt which also has three rubies sewn onto to each panel. “It’s important for the dancers to be rehearsing in these costumes to get used to the weight,” says Naomi.

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As the deadline approached for the costumes to be ready, the volunteers came back in force to finish the Diamonds and Emeralds pieces. They’ve cancelled other plans to come in and sew but say it’s all worth it when they see the finished costumes.

“We oohh and ahh over them of course!” Says Mandy.

While it’s been hard work the volunteers have enjoyed the behind-the-scenes experience of working at The Australian Ballet and will miss the community they’ve created here. One volunteer is even getting the opportunity to fulfill a childhood dream of creating costumes for the stage several decades later. They’ve also had the opportunity to see the incredible costume department which is a wonderland of tulle, beads, pearls and any type of fabric you could imagine.

“We can’t imagine how you could be sad or angry working at a place like this surrounded by so many beautiful things”, says Mandy. “We all just want to dive into the supply room.”

“We all just want to dive into the supply room.” — Mandy, Jew­els cos­tume volunteer
Two Australian Ballet dancers, on in red ruby costume and another in gold costume dance next to each other, out of focus.


  • Adelaide / Tarndanya 12 - 18 July 2024