Ellie Cotey at work in The Joffrey Ballet's costume shop. Photo by Temur Suluashvili, Courtesy Joffrey.

What Does It Take to Be a Ballet Company's Head of Wardrobe on Opening Night?

Building a full-length ballet from scratch is an intense process. For the world premiere of Anna Karenina, a collaboration between The Joffrey Ballet and The Australian Ballet, that meant original choreography by Yuri Possokhov, a brand-new score by Ilya Demutsky, costume and set designs by Tom Pye and lighting designs by David Finn.


The lavish ballet features upwards of 200 complete looks—and more than 800 individual costume pieces.

"In the Joffrey costume shop we have a team of six to nine people, but for a big production like Anna not everything is made in-house," says Ellie Cotey, head of wardrobe for The Joffrey Ballet. She estimates that about 50 people total were involved in the build. "It is always fun to build beautiful costumes, but making naturally restrictive 19th-century costumes work for dance can be difficult."

Nicole Ciapponi and ensemble in the brand-new costumesCheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey

Despite the challenges, Cotey's ballet experience has proved invaluable. "I started ballet (and sewing) when I was 4. Having that knowledge helps me understand what the dancers are doing and how the costumes need to function." Cotey kept a journal on the day of Anna Karenina's opening night in Chicago to share how the finishing touches came together after 13 months.

7:45 am: Alterations

"I arrive for an early start at the theater today because there are lots of notes and alterations to finish before the final dress rehearsal this afternoon. We are focusing on hemming the last few skirts and doing some tweaks to the quick-change rigging on Anna's costumes. I spend most of the morning sitting on the floor trimming petticoat netting."

12:30 pm: Prepping for Final Dress Rehearsal

"Notes are finished and we are back from lunch prepping for the dress rehearsal that starts soon. Several dancers come in with small costume requests that are added to the notes list. So far nothing huge, just added closures and hat tweaks."

1 pm: Testing Quick Changes

"During the dress rehearsals, I spend half the time in the house taking notes with the costume designer and half the time backstage overseeing the more challenging quick changes in case of emergency. This rehearsal goes really smoothly, and the quick rigging changes that we made earlier are successful improvements."

Alberto Velazquez and Victoria Jaiani

Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey

5 pm: Dinner Break

"I step out for a quick dinner and to get some air. It's a bit of a chore to leave the theater today because snow boots and all the cold weather layers have to be put on."

6 pm: Pre-Show Costume Prep

"Back at the theater to get ready for the show. The wardrobe team puts out laundry, does repairs, steams and irons in preparation. I check to make sure everyone has what they need and do the pre-show prep for the magical quick-release costume."

7:30 pm: Curtain Up

"Seeing everything onstage on opening night is a huge sigh of relief! The curtain rises, and I make the rounds backstage throughout Act I to check on quick changes and presets. It's nice to be able to watch from the wings during the quieter moments."

8:35 pm: Mid-Show Repair

"Intermission is almost over and one of the guys comes in with ripped pants. I stitch them up in the wardrobe room before he has to go on. We will make sure to reinforce them before the next show. Sometimes the quick fixes are not the most beautiful."

Alberto Velazquez in Anna Karenina

Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey

9:45 pm: Curtain Call and Laundry

"The show ends and everyone celebrates onstage! After costumes have all been put back in their places and laundry has been started, we head out for more celebrating and look forward to tomorrow's well deserved day off."

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021