Dressing the part: Costumes in Coppélia

Boston Ballet Staff

Misa Kuranaga on stage in George Balanchine's Coppelia. She stands holding her skirt out to each side.

Misa Kuranaga in Balanchine's Coppélia ©The George Balanchine Trust

Photo credit: Rosalie O'Connor

Before the magic of Coppélia can unfold on stage, a bit of magic must happen in the Costume Shop.

Wall of brightly colored thread in the Costume Shop

Photo credit: Ernesto Galan

Original costume design sketch for Swanilda by Kenneth Busbin

Wall of brightly colored thread in the Costume Shop

Photo credit: Ernesto Galan

Original costume design sketch for Swanilda by Kenneth Busbin

Boston Ballet’s Costume Shop & Wardrobe team is toiling away to perfect the costumes of Coppélia, Balanchine’s zany romantic comedy. The colorful costumes were made in house nearly ten years ago and have been refurbished and re-hemmed for each production since. Read how these pieces, designed by Kenneth Busbin with assistance from Robert O’Hearn, help bring the fantasy of Coppélia to life.

Dressing the Stars

With an over-the-top comedy like Coppélia, there are lots of big personalities on stage. Busbin’s costume designs play up the individual quirks of each character while maintaining an overall air of playfulness. For instance, Swanilda and Frantz don youthful costumes that are colorful and fun, and the Burgomeister (Mayor) wears bright, ornate clothing befitting his regal stature.
In order to communicate Dr. Coppélius’ age (and slightly unhinged demeanor), the Costume Shop fits his costume loosely and adds a slightly disheveled gray wig. Traditional stage makeup completes the effect: Age lines are added and the eyebrows are slightly grayed out.
Coppélia’s costume is the most exaggerated of all. “A huge puffy skirt and fluffy sleeves make her look like she lives in the world of the ballet, but bigger,” says Nellie Kurz, the Costume Shop’s first hand. Coppélia’s heavy makeup mimics that of a painted doll, and her pink dress stands in stark contrast to Swanilda’s blue one.

Image of shelves with spools of fabric tape, ribbons, and baskets of ribbon

Boston Ballet Costume Shop

Photo credit: Ernesto Galan

Get With the Times

In order to bring Romantic-era Spain to the stage, Busbin pulled historical elements into his designs. Laced bodices, aprons, and bonnets for the women harken back to a European pastoral setting. Likewise, Dr. Coppélius and the Burgomeister’s costumes include breeches, vests, long coats, and tricorn or bicorn hats, which help ground the ballet in its historical context.
However, all of those layers can be difficult to dance in. That’s why Busbin, a former dancer himself, crafted each costume with functionality in mind. Fabrics are breathable and flexible. Even the battle helmets worn in Act III’s War and Discord variation are made of soft, pliable leather. Plus, unlike other period ballets, the skirts in this show are much shorter than typical romantic tutus, allowing for greater movement.

Dressing the Youngest Villagers

Coppélia features the budding talent of 36 students from Boston Ballet School. “This is a big role for a lot of them,” says Children’s Costume Supervisor Erica Desautels. “They are on stage for 20 minutes and do a lot of real dancing.”

Organizing costume fittings for three dozen children? Now that’s a challenge. Luckily, superstar staff members like Desautels are there to coach these young dancers. With added guidance from Boston Ballet School’s faculty, these students are quickly learning how to move through professional costume fittings—and their energy certainly keeps the Costume Shop & Wardrobe staff on their toes.

Drama in the Details

Sequins. Fishnet sleeves. Countless yards of chiffon. Coppélia’s costumes are all about the details. You might catch a glimpse of some hidden beads on the dancers’ armor in the War and Discord variation, or notice the sunrise-like colors of the Dawn tutus. The more you look for, the more magic you’ll find in this ballet that is all about fantasy and fun.

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

Mikko Nissinen, Artistic Director