Backstage Pass: Dangerous Liaisons
Welcome to Wardrobe! Not everyone knows this, but at BalletMet and many other theaters across the nation, the Wardrobe and the Costume Shop are actually two different areas of one department. The Costume Shop is in charge of the design and creation of a set of costumes for a production. Once the show is in performance, however, the Wardrobe takes over. We do everything from laundering, steaming and repairing costumes before and after every performance, assisting the dancers with any quick changes or costume-related emergencies backstage, and making sure that all costumes, accessories, hair and makeup maintains the standards set by the choreographer and designer. The audience never sees us, but we’re backstage every single show, doing what we do.
Our traveling costume ‘studio,’ tucked away in the corner of the Capital Theater green room.
Dangerous Liaisons is a fun show for hairstyles. People wore their hair very differently in the 18th century, and when the dancers dress their hair in similar ways, it adds wonderful historical detail to the show, taking us one step further into the world of the story. Part of our job is researching what the hairstyles need to be, and how people of that era achieved them, then coaching the dancers in how to do it themselves.
The hairstyles we chose sought to reflect character and age, and also to accommodate hair type. For instance, Kerri Riccardi, who played the character of Cecille de Volange, is quite young. We added some curls in the back to give her a sense of great youth and naiveté. You can also see Courtney, Olivia and Zoica. Courtney and Olivia have the high bouffant hairstyle worn by older ladies of that era. Zoica has a smaller bouffant, indicating that she is younger.
And speaking of Olivia and Courtney, remember these dresses?
Looking gorgeous as usual! You might notice that Courtney’s face looks a little different. Her character is quite elderly, which requires her to do aging makeup. Up close she looks very strange, but once she is on stage and under lights, the high contrast lines soften to become wrinkles. We also gave her longer sleeves, gloves (which she loves) and a fichu (neck scarf) to cover her lovely neck and arms and give an increased sense of age and infirm.
The men have some hair conundrums as well. Men of the 18th century wore their hair quite long, and pulled into some version of a pony tail, usually with a ribbon. We decided that we didn’t want to use wigs to achieve this look, so instead we just made the ponytails.
The boys were warned about two months in advance that they would need to grow their hair as long as possible, to make it easier to attach the “queue.” Most of them were able to grow their hair long enough to do a tiny stub ponytail that we could use as a base.
You see above that Andrew Notarile was one of the lucky ones with a ponytail. Even with it, however, applying the queue can be quite painful. The base of the queue must be tucked behind the ponytail, and bobby pins used to secure it to the base of the scalp. I then tucked and pinned the remaining hair on the neckline to complete the look.
The rule for attaching anything to the head is, “if it doesn’t hurt, it won’t stay.”
The men’s costumes have other complexities as well. Tights, black silk breeches, white flowing shirt with lace cuffs, waistcoat with only half the buttons buttoned, cutaway coat with large cuffs, and finally the cravat (a lacy ancestor of the modern day necktie). All of this is fussy enough on its own, but getting it all to stay in place while dancing… that’s an entirely different thing.
First, the top of the tights are rolled around a belt of webbing or elastic to keep them from riding down. A piece of stretch fabric (referred to as, ahem, a crotch strap) is passed between the legs and sewn to the front and back hem of the shirt to keep it from coming untucked. The breeches and waistcoat are buttoned together with pieces of buttonhole elastic- two in front and two in back- to keep the waistcoat in place.
buttoning waistcoat to breeches
The cravat is especially complex. First it is attached to the collar of the shirt with buttons. Then it is wrapped around the neck, tied, and attached to itself and the front of the shirt to keep it from flying in the dancer’s face or climbing up his neck.
buttoning the cravat
And finally, the coat itself is also buttoned to the front of the vest with strips of elastic. The men have been rehearsing with their coats for weeks now, because they actually have to shift the way they dance based on the weight of the coat. It can slow them down or knock them off balance if they’re not accustomed to it. And once the jackets are buttoned down, the weight shifts and they have to adjust again!
buttoning the coat.
Finally, Andrew is looking dapper and ready to dance!
Once the dancers are in costume, they must still be careful. They are not permitted to eat or drink or chew gum, and sometimes they’re not allowed to sit, in order to avoid wrinkling the costume more than necessary. After dancing two large and difficult ball numbers, Andrew and Gabe were finished for the evening, so they removed their jackets and sat down to a favorite backstage pastime.
We hope that you’re enjoying Dangerous Liaisons. We’ll see you at the theater!