‘Behind the scenes: Wardrobe at Northern Ballet’
A couple of months have passed by since our visit to Northern Ballet, and we’re still reminiscent of our day spent behind the scenes. Whilst the company are in the midst of their current production, The Three Musketeers, we want to give you some insight into the Wardrobe department at Northern Ballet – where the magic happens!
Visiting Mikhaila Pye, Senior Wardrobe Manager, we quickly realise the importance of the wardrobe mechanism of each production. The wardrobe team is made up of 12 talented individuals, working in different areas to create the fantastic costumes used.
Based in the Northern Ballet headquarters, some of the team are full-time and some of the team accompany the dancers on tour. There are also a number of freelancers who work with the company.
Mikhaila explains that the Wardrobe team work closely with the costume designer for each ballet to bring their vision for the production to life.
Mikhaila, who has been with Northern Ballet team for 19 years, has worked on over 30 productions. We asked her what costumes have proven the most difficult to design thus far…
‘With all of the costumes, we need to ensure that they’re comfortable and easy for the dancers to move around in. They need to be non-restrictive and lightweight where possible and always with a certain level of stretch too.
Different productions can present different challenges. Sometimes it’s the volume of costumes that are required rather than the technical difficulty. I think technically, the mermaid tails for The Little Mermaid were rather challenging to make because of all the zips and pleating, we have to ensure that the costume looks good as well as being suited for the dancers’ movements.’
Costumes & Pointe Shoes at Northern Ballet
Where do you store 18 productions worth of costumes, we ponder? Mikhaila then moves us through to a large storage room where we’re shown an array of past production costumes. Fascinated by the level of detail and variety, we guess which productions some of the costumes belonged to. There’s a mix of chiffon, ruffle necks and delicate hand-sewn beads amongst an array of colours from earthy tones to bolder, brighter palettes.
Making our way from rail to rail, we come across such a simple yet beautiful arrangement of pointe shoes – the epitomic symbolisation of classical ballet. Some of the pointe shoes tell a more experienced story than others, presented in different shades of pink.
‘Customisation is a key part in the efficacy and comfort of the shoes for each dancer. You’ll find a lot sew and cut parts of them to fit their feet perfectly,’ Mikhaila explains.
‘Just as you can see the pointe shoes lined up on the radiator here, you’ll see this all around the building. The dancers use clear nail varnish to harden the shoes and leave them to dry. A lot of work goes in to preparing the shoes.’
We move into a small room made up of labelled ‘pigeon holes’, occupied by each of the dancers’ pointe shoes. The dancers go through around 10 pairs of pointe shoes each per month! We believe this is testament to just how much training and rehearsing the dancers do.
Set in a room just off the main wardrobe floor, we find Harriet Rogers, who leads on creating the wigs. Harriet welcomes us into her working space to see completed masterpieces and works in progress settled upon individual mannequin heads. As we enter, Harriet is working on a male wig for the upcoming Musketeers show. The intricacy and the level of attention required becomes apparent and we listen as she tells us more.
‘We usually get to work on the wigs about 5 – 6 months prior to the tour. There’s a real synergy and importance of communication between wardrobe, make up and the creation of the wigs. I remember when working on The Little Mermaid, we used some heavy theatrical makeup for some of the characters. This meant I had to be aware of how the wigs and hair pieces would complement and blend well with the makeup and costumes.’
‘The difficult part is to create something comfortable for the dancers whilst capturing the authentic aesthetic elements of the characters. Experience and lots of tricks and techniques help, definitely!’
We leave Wardrobe reflecting on the shared sense of passion amongst each sub-department and each of the team members.
This division of Northern Ballet may sometimes be the unsung heroes. Their role in setting the scene, stimulating our physical senses and tantalising our imaginations is fundamental in the immersive and spellbinding experience of the ballet.
NEXT UP IN OUR ‘BEHIND THE SCENES AT NORTHERN BALLET’ SERIES: WE MEET THE TECHNICAL TEAM