The Iconic Costumes of Swan Lake - Boston Ballet

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The Iconic Costumes of Swan Lake

Boston Ballet in Mikko Nissinen's Swan Lake

Photo credit: Gene Schiavone

Go behind the scenes with Boston Ballet’s Costume Shop and Wardrobe team and discover the hidden details of our Swan Lake costumes.

Costume sketch for Hungarian dancers

Sketch: Robert Perdziola

Detail of Hungarian costume

Photo credit: Lauren Pajer

The Power of Collaboration

Boston Ballet premiered Mikko Nissinen’s SWAN LAKE in 2014, with updated choreography as well as new sets and costumes by award-winning designer Robert Perdziola. “Robert is a very calm and approachable designer,” said Director of Costumes Howard Merlin. “His eye for detail comes across in every character sketch that he produces.”

The Costume Shop worked with Perdziola when Boston Ballet premiered Nissinen’s The Nutcracker in 2012. “His attention to detail was a familiar challenge after working together to build The Nutcracker,” explained former Draper Sara Marhamo Kirk. “These high expectations really pushed the Costume Shop creatively to produce this stunning set of costumes.”

Making the Costumes

A total of 125 costumes appear on stage in a single performance of Swan Lake, but about 170 are made to accommodate multiple casts. Each costume is incredibly labor intensive, from the headpieces to the shoes. “The swans are built using feathers that we made in house, out of ribbon, so just the feathers alone were a lot of work to manufacture,” said former Costume Crafts Person Erica Desautels. “Each of the swans is also crowned with a small pearl tiara, which were individually crafted and soldered together.”

The second act of Swan Lake is considered a masterpiece for the corps de ballet. Not only do the dancers have to move in uniformity, the costumes do too. “Handmade details on a group of costumes like this are refurbished using the original sewing technique and tension. That keeps them looking and moving in a uniform way,” said Marhamo Kirk.

It isn’t just the swan costumes that are difficult to master. “The bodices for the Waltz Girls, Princesses, and Pas De Trois women required careful cutting to match and distribute fabric patterns. The Princesses had over 100 yards of trim that was hot-jeweled by hand. That was work for one employee for at least three weeks,” said Draper Lisa Dezmelyk.

Along with the sets and dancing, the costumes help in telling the story. Odette, the Swan Queen, wears a white tutu, meant to offer an ethereal and delicate appearance. Odile wears a black tutu, encrusted with attention-grabbing Swarovski crystals and sharp edges. “The costumes reinforce the personality of the character,” said Marhamo Kirk.

Odile costume detail

Photo credit: Brooke Trisolini

Coming to Life on Stage

The work of the Costume Shop and Wardrobe team continues once the ballet is on stage. The Wardrobe staff works with the dancers to help them during quick changes, which are almost as rehearsed as the dancing onstage.

“The biggest quick change is for the corps, when the women change into their swan costumes. There are four to five dressers assisting three or four dancers each,” Wardrobe Supervisor Heather McLernon explained.  “Some of the women need to change from character shoes to pointe shoes, and they all need to change headpieces. The dressers preset the costumes in designated spots through the room for each dancer. Those spots don’t change so the dancers know exactly where to go.”

See the costumes on stage in Mikko Nissinen’s SWAN LAKE, May 26–June 5.