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."
In the middle of one of New York City Center's cavernous studios, Misty Copeland takes a measured step backwards. The suggestion of a swan arm ripples before she turns downstage, chest and shoulders unfurling as her legs stretch into an open lunge. She piqués onto pointe, arms echoing the sinuous curve of her back attitude, then walks out of it, pausing to warily look over her shoulder. As the droning of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto's mysterious "Attack/Transition" grows more insistent, her feet start to fly with a rapidity that seems to almost startle her.
And then she stops mid-phrase. Copeland's hands fall to her hips as she apologizes. Choreographer Kyle Abraham slides to the sound system to pause the music, giving Copeland a moment to remind herself of a recent change to the sequence.
"It's different when the sound's on!" he reassures her. "And it's a lot of changes."
The day before was the first time Abraham had seen Copeland dance the solo in its entirety, and the first moment they were in the studio together in a month. This is their last rehearsal, save for tech, before the premiere of Ash exactly one week later, as part of the opening night of City Center's Fall for Dance festival.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.