Inside Look: The Sleeping Beauty’s nymph costumes

Grace Li

Nymph costumes

Photo credit: Grace Li

A Vision in Green

Creating The Sleeping Beauty’s woodland nymph costumes

Photo credit: Grace Li

Dyer Shane Maxwell at work

Photo credit: Grace Li

Photo credit: Grace Li

Dyer Shane Maxwell at work

Photo credit: Grace Li

An Enchanting Tale

Since its world premiere in 1890, The Sleeping Beauty’s Act II Vision Scene has mesmerized audiences with its captivating musical score and delightful dancing. As the Lilac Fairy leads Prince Desire into a wooded glade, she conjures a mirage of sleeping Aurora. Shimmering woodland nymphs surround Aurora, and she instantly captures the Prince’s heart. The full charm of the Vision Scene would not be complete without its legendary nymph costumes – four of which will be created from scratch in Boston Ballet’s Costume Shop this year. Costume Shop staff Liza Dezmelyk, Becky Thorogood, Nellie Kurz, and Shane Maxwell take us behind the scenes of the process of constructing these beautiful costumes.

Artistic Engineering

Each new bodice takes a minimum of 30 hours to complete from the first stitch to the final fitting, and all new creations replicate David Walker’s original 1977 designs. Creating the four new bodices is an intensive process. Boston Ballet Costume Shop First Hands Dezmelyk and Kurz begin by appraising old costumes and outlining style lines using black sewing tape. Kurz compares the first outlining step to map-making. After cutting out card stock puzzle pieces of the new bodices based on the style lines, Dezmelyk and Kurz use the pieces to cut and sew together sheets of muslin. These muslin mock costumes are fitted on dancers, and then corrected based on measurements. After altering the preliminary design, the real costumes are cut from thick fashion fabric and “flat-lined” against coutil, a sturdy cotton fabric that lines most ballet costumes. Flat-lining is a typical costume-making process in which fashion fabric and coutil are sewn together and treated as one for the remainder of the creation process. Flat-lining ensures that costumes will last and that dancers feel comfortable on stage dancing. Coutil feels soft to the touch, and “has a tight weave, so it holds up pretty well,” Thorogood said. Countless dancers wear Boston Ballet costumes over time, so costumes must challenge the aging affects of sweat, stage lights, and partnering. The rest of the costumes are sewn using metallic lace, crystal sheer, and a poly blend fabric with lurex, a synthetic fabric woven with tinsel. This carefully-constructed combination gives both a glimmering appearance onstage and a longer life.

Going from a three-dimensional costume to a two-dimensional pattern outline, then back to a new three-dimensional costume, is a laborious process of deconstruction and renewal. The process is a delicate balance between engineering and artistic expression, in which traditional construction methods produce nearly identical pieces. The Boston Ballet costume shop currently works from original stock fabric from the 1970s. Once that fabric is used up, all eighteen costumes will be replaced using new material that takes advantage of advances in technology and synthetic fabric design.

Color matching swatches

Color matching swatches

Photo credit: Grace Li

Perfecting the Recipe

Boston Ballet Costume Shop Dyer Shane Maxwell is the man behind the mix: Maxwell concocts the dyes which color new costumes, giving them their saturated color onstage. Maxwell receives the new bodices and then begins the detail-oriented process of replication. By referring back to an original costume, he mixes dyes together to test color swatches and matches the original colors perfectly. However, dyeing new costumes always comes down to trial and error. “Every fabric takes dye differently, so it’s a learning process,” he said. “Greens are really finicky, and these costumes have a mixed fiber content that makes it challenging.” Maxwell refers to a book of dyeing tricks he keeps to see if he’s completed a similar process before – those records allow him to reach a jumping off point to start. “It’s important to start light so you’ll have room to grow dark,” he said. Once he’s found the perfect color combination, Maxwell multiplies the batch so that he can dye pounds of fabric at a time.

After completing the dyeing process, he treats the costumes like a canvas for replicating Walker’s work. Maxwell starts off with spray paint to create a subtle ombre affect, then hones in on the lavish designs with paint and a brush to create the desired effect. Each new costume constitutes a piece of art in and of itself, but must also blend in with older costumes on stage. Replicating the original designs to create new costumes takes time, but Maxwell says that costume creation has always been a passion of his. After Maxwell finishes dyeing and decorating, the new bodices will be matched with separate skirts based on fittings with the dancers. “Bodice and skirt pieces are separate until we marry them together,” Costume Shop Sewer Thorogood said. In this way, coupling begins with costumes and ends with the romance of Aurora and Prince Desire: an everlasting attachment that extends from the costume shop to the stage.

The illusion we create is intended to deepen your understanding of reality.

Mikko Nissinen, Artistic Director
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