Ballet flats and leg warmers were all the rage last year. But the Cincinnati Ballet Company is no stranger to fashion. In fact, the Cincinnati Ballet has employed its own wardrobe department for decades.
Deep in the basement of their Central Parkway-based facility, you will find Diana Vandergriff-Adams, Cincinnati Ballet wardrobe mistress, hard at work. You’ll also find decades of Cincinnati Ballet wardrobe hanging on countless rows of racks hanging from the old catacomb ceilings.
The basement of the Cincinnati Ballet is naturally climate controlled, as it was once home to a brewery. With Cincinnati having its own wardrobe department, which is rare for most ballet companies, the consistently cool basement was a major factor in their relocation to that facility.
From huge and elaborate to the simple and traditional, every piece in the Cincinnati Ballet’s wardrobe collection is simply magnificent. No detail is overlooked and there is no room for mistakes. The wardrobe mistresses just don’t tend to the costumes, they build them from scratch from start to finish. They work closely with the production’s designer to create a vision then they execute it into reality.
"They refer to it as building costumes because most of the time they create their own patterns," says Terry Honebrink, Community Relations and Group Sales Manager at the Cincinnati Ballet. "A designer will give them a rendering or a picture or a sketch of what they want. And some of the designers will even go as far as to pick out their own fabric. Then it’s up to the wardrobe department to make the pattern and create the costume."
To do this, they work tediously long hours to build the costumes for each dancer for each moment of one production. Many times, they will re-use whole costumes or bits and pieces of costumes from past productions and other times they build from the ground up. One basic tutu can take up to 80 man-hours to complete, this is not a job for the weary.
"It’s astronomical the amount of time that it takes," says Honebrink. "Not only are they in charge of building all the costumes, but then they have to fit all the dancers. They’re also responsible for cleaning them and putting them back in stock."
Each year, the Cincinnati Ballet puts on six series that all need costumes. Depending on the production, the costumes are either rented or the mistresses build them. After the costumes are built and used, they are archived and stored in the basement. Other ballet companies then rent out these items, or they are re-used for other productions.
The ballet’s wardrobes are so prized and delicately handled that whenever another company rents costumes from the Vandergriff-Adams, goes with the costumes to fit each costume to each dancer to insure that the Cincinnati Ballet’s costumes are handled properly.
"If we rent a show out for example our Cinderella they clean things after the shows, they go through and inventory everything and pack it up and they send it to whatever company is going to rent them," says Honebrink. "To protect the costumes Di will go and fit those dancers then she comes home. They then ship the dirty costumes back to us and our department cleans them all. They first have to take off all the embellishments and then wash them either by dry cleaning or by hand. I mean it’s not shoving them all in a crate and sending them to the dry cleaners to be cleaned… it doesn’t quite work like that."
The Cincinnati Ballet has some great series coming up that feature the great craftsmanship of the wardrobe mistresses. The season begins with New Works which is a contemporary series is performed up-close and personal in a intimate studio setting. New Works runs from September 8 through 18 and is followed by a Halloween weekend run of the hauntingly beautiful series, Giselle. The Nutcracker hits the Aronoff stage December 15 through 24 and tickets are sure to sell out fast. This year’s Nutcracker is a newly imagined perspective with all new costumes and featuring over 100 young ballet students and gymnasts. To buy tickets to any of the series gracing the Cincinnati Ballet visit their website at www.cballet.org.