Tutus, tiaras and toiles

Costume Atelier

Come into Aladdin’s Cave

Twelve permanent wardrobe staff work at The Australian Ballet, including a production manager, costumiers, a milliner and a wigs supervisor, but the team grows to as many as 30 when creating big classical productions like Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. The soundtrack in the sunlit atelier is the gentle hum of sewing machines, the hiss of industrial steamers, the rustle of tulle being unfurled, and the delighted “ahhhhhhs” of those who visit.

When you feel you look good, you dance better, without a doubt,

David McAllister

The fabric of the ballet

The Australian Ballet’s fabric room is a repository of riches. In our latest production of The Sleeping Beauty alone, costumes were conjured from silk, brocade, velvet, faux fur, lace, flannel, feathers, digital prints, and almost 5000 metres of tulle. In the dyeing room, a rainbow of bottles are set against white tiles and industrial vats, where our specialist dyer tints fabric, tights, socks and ballet shoes to the perfect hue.

How tutus begin

Those stunning tutus you see on stage start with our cutters. Working from the designer’s sketch, the specialist ladies’ or gentlemen’s cutter cuts out the bones of the costume, which then goes to the costumier to assemble. As in haute couture, the costume is first made as a “toile”, or a calico mock, to finalise the design before it’s rendered in more expensive fabrics. See our Head of Costume Workshop (formerly Lady’s Cutter) Musette Molyneaux in action.

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Our artisans at work

Sink into the hypnotic world of the atelier, where sewing needles gleam, steam is breathed onto ruffles and dedicated craftspeople toil to bring each costume to perfection.

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From head to toe

Wigs are an essential part of classical ballet costumes, whether it’s the powdered wig of a 17th-century queen or the elaborate coiffure of a fairy. At The Australian Ballet, most wigs are made the traditional way: strand by individual strand. It takes two weeks of intensive work to make one wig by hand. See our Wigs Supervisor at work.

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The perfect fit

Regular costume fittings are essential to ensuring the “danceability” of an outfit, and the dancers’ feedback is crucial. Tweaks can happen right up till the last moment: for instance, after the dress rehearsal for the Eastern fantasy Schèhèrazade, which involves much writhing and rolling on the floor, the elaborate beading was toned down because it was bruising dancers.

When you overhear something in the auditorium of how lovely the costumes are, or when a scene lifts up and people applaud, that’s the most satisfying thing.

Production Coordinator Jenny Howard