In addition to all of the required courses that we have to take for the NYU/ABTprogram, we choose one elective – either an existing course or an independent study. I’ve always been fascinated with costuming, so I decided to create my own course so I have more background information to help me as a future studio owner. So far, I’ve been reading texts, making site visits to costume shops, having discussions with costume designers, and even attempting to sew a leotard.
I’ve had the opportunity to tour the costume shop at Tri-Cities Opera in Binghamton, NY, where I learned that they spray the arm pits of the costumes with vodka after shows to help neutralize any odors. I also took a two-hour tour of the Metropolitan Opera House, which allows visitors to see all of the inner workings of a major theater – from set and costume design to even the wig shop.
During a chat with Maggie Raywood, costume director and associate arts professor at Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, she illustrated how important it is that costumes are also safe in addition to being aesthetically pleasing. She said something as much as how one cuts a piece a fabric can impact a dancer’s balance. For example, she’s seen first hand the effects of putting someone in a heavy coat with an asymmetrical hem — it literally threw the dancer off his center during turns.
And Katherine Patterson, wardrobe supervisor for Mark Morris Dance Group, showed me book after book of “costume bibles” for various pieces in the company’s repertory. They include the original sketches done by the costume designer (including Isaac Mizrahi), fabric samples for each item, and then several photographs of the final product on a dancer, so that if anything needs to be repaired at some point, the wardrobe department can see what was used, where items were purchased, and how it originally looked. She also recommended storing most dance costumes – once they are cleaned – folded and flat in a cool, dry space, rather than hanging to prevent the clothes from stretching out from the hangers.
I still hope to talk to master pointe shoe fitter Judy Weiss at Grishko, sit in the corner and observe the costume shop at New York City Ballet, and take some time to browse in the fabric shops in the Fashion District. I’ve already got the material for the leotard, but am still unsure whether it will actually be wearable in the long run …. luckily, I still have time to work on it before our classes wrap up this December!
Hannah Guruianu is a master’s degree candidate in dance education at New York University. She is a freelance writer and editor, flamenco student, and someday hopes to own her own studio. Before returning to school, she was the features editor at the newspaper in Binghamton, New York, and taught ballet classes at a local studio and community college.