Erin Rollins, BalletMet's costume shop manager, talks costume creation, maintenance and her favorite look
"I like large parties," says a very blunt Jordan Baker in F. Scott Fitzgerald'sThe Great Gatsby."They're so intimate."
Do you like large parties, too? There are a total of seven of them in BalletMet's upcoming performances of the celebrated '20s novel.
And each one requires all of the members of the company to be on stage, says Erin Rollins, costume shop manager. A large party, indeed.
Gatsby, choregraphed by Jimmy Orante, longtime BalletMet dancer, originally premiered in 2009. It runs from Feb. 6 to 14 at Capitol Theatre. Get your tickets at ticketmaster.com.
And while the dancing will undoubtedly be the main attraction, Rollins', who also oversees hair and makeup for the company's performances, says the costumes for this show are exceptional in their construction and detail.
We talked with her about the process of creating the dancers' wardrobes, her favorite look and why vodka is an important part of costume maintenance.
-Taylor Starek, @taylorstarek
What's the process like for creating a BalletMet costume?
The choreographer will work with the designer that he or she wants for the production. They will make a series of renderings-they're painted and sometimes they're drawn-that are used both as a visual for the choreographer to see what the costumes will look like but also the blueprints for the shop. We will take those pictures and the measurement of the dancers cast, and we'll use that info to create patterns that will then be made out of a cheaper fabric, like muslin, to test the pattern. We'll make a quick rendition of the costume and try it on the dancers, usually with the designer present. We can tweak the fit, the designer can make any changes to the silhouette or the lines, and we go back to the pattern, alter it and then we make the actual costume. It's the least expensive way to do it.
Did you make any significant changes to the original costumes?
We did. In the actual parties that happen at Gatsby's-there are 7 of them in the show, and they all use all of the people in the company. They're large scenes. [The choreographer] felt they were too dark. Everything was black and gray, which worked originally, but he was really wanting to add some color. So we went back to the designer, who wasn't here anymore, and said, "Here's what the choreographer is thinking." So she came up with a way to re-trim the existing women's dresses to add color to them. It's a major overhaul of all of those dresses, adding gems and trims and fringes to help add pops of color.
What goes into the maintenance of the costumes?
We will launder anything that can be laundered. Usually all dancers will have at least one layer under the costume to protect it from the sweat. Those things will be laundered after every performance. Anything that can't be washed is sprayed with vodka, which is a natural deodorizer and disinfectant, and allowed to dry. Then all of the costumes are dry cleaned at the end of the performances.
Any costumes particularly difficult to maintain?
All of the women's dresses are made out of silk charmeuse, and it's become very difficult to keep makeup stains off of them. The dresses can't be made with zippers or any type of closure because of the nature of their construction, so the girls have to pull them over their head. That's been difficult. But you don't see it from stage.
Which character has the most costume changes?
Gatsby. He doesn't have ton of costumes, but there are lots of different pieces. He's got vests and shirts and ties and a hat and shoes. In almost every scene his look is being tweaked in some way. He has three complete looks, but we deconstruct and add pieces to all of the looks, so he's probably appearing in seven different ways.
Your favorite costume?
They're all fantastic. Daisy's main dress is just gorgeous. It looks very simple, but it's actually extremely complicated. [It has] lots of beautiful detailing. Next to that we have four shopping ladies in Act 1, and they're just lovely. [They've got] just lots of beautiful detailing-really fine craftsmanship went in to making them.
Will some of the iconic '20s accessories appear on stage?
One of the things I love best about this particular show is it has a tons of really great accessories. Ballet dancers don't usually wear gloves and hats because of the movement, but the choreographer keeps that in mind a little bit, especially for the women. We're just getting the chance to put some lovely shawls out there and some really great headpieces in the party scenes and some fantastic hats and gloves and creating ensembles of costumes, which is something you don't usually get to do in dance, and the girls like it a lot. It's fun, figuring out how to keep those things on their bodies and coming up with savvy ways to keep a shawl on someone's arms.
How about makeup and hair?
The makeup is fairly straightforward. People were starting to tan and wear lipstick [in the '20s], but that was about it. The hair is quite complicated, partially because the marcel wave is iconic for that era, and your average women did it at the time. The biggest challenge is none of our girls have short hair. We are wigging a couple of people in order to get some of those styles on stage, and then of course with Daisy it's sort of essential that she's blonde. After that, the challenge is figuring out how to make the girls' hair look short without it being short. All of our dancers do their own hair, so we will be doing a training with them. I'm not worried, but they are [laughing].
Photos courtesy BalletMet