Every dancer knows there's as much magic taking place backstage as there is in what the audience sees onstage. Behind the scenes, it takes a village, says American Ballet Theatre's wig and makeup supervisor, Rena Most. With wig and makeup preparations happening in a studio of their own as the dancers rehearse, Most and her team work to make sure not a single detail is lost.
Dance Magazine recently spoke to Most to find out what actually goes into the hair and makeup looks audiences see on the ABT stage.
The wig and makeup team create the finishing touch:
"Our job is to create characters. If you're playing Carabosse in The Sleeping Beauty, her costume says she's a witch, her acting says she's a witch, and then her wig, prosthetics and makeup are the final touches. We're responsible for that last little bit of magic."
Nancy Raffa as Carabosse
Doug Gifford, Courtesy ABT
Wigs are a ballet companies' best friend:
"We have a lot of wigs because they can re-create a specific style much faster and more consistently. We can cut, color and style them as needed, so at the theater, you can just plop it on the dancer and make sure it's secure."
What goes into prepping for a new production:
"For something like The Sleeping Beauty, we're doing historical research—looking at paintings and sculptures and references from that time period to replicate what that person would wear, and then giving it a little ballet twist."
Getting through performance season:
"Anytime we finish a performance week, we take all of those wigs apart, brush them, wash them with shampoo and conditioner, and reset them with rollers. The rollers create different patterns and textures, and that allows us to sculpt the hair to what we need."
"When we're at the Metropolitan Opera House, we have eight consecutive weeks with about 14 different shows. Swan Lake is one of our easier shows because we have one wig, one prosthetic piece, a few character makeups, a few mustaches and a few quick changes. Whereas in The Sleeping Beauty, we have 200 wigs, about 15 character makeups, and endless quick changes."
Every dancer onstage here in The Sleeping Beauty is wearing a wig
Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT
Making makeup happen on the road:
"When we tour, we usually have one day to set up, and then we bring our crew in and teach them what they'll be doing.
"We pack everything in road boxes. One is a wig dryer. One has tall director chairs to do the makeup. We bring everything because we don't always know what the theater we're traveling to is like—sometimes we're placed in huge, luxurious rooms, and sometimes we're in a hallway."
The best part of the job:
"We are often the last people in the dancer's face before they perform. In a super-hectic day—where people have rehearsals, fittings, the gym, have to feed their dog—when that dancer sits down in our chair, it's just the two of us. Whether we work in silence or joke and laugh the whole time, it's a sense of comfort to the dancer to know that we will take care of them."