Costumes Take Center Stage with Rock, Roll & Tutus

Nozomi Iijima and Jim Nowakowski in Stanton Welch's Divergence. Photo: Amitava Sarkar

Rock, Roll & Tutus is Houston Ballet’s exciting contemporary program. Opening this Thursday, the show promises music from The Rolling Stones, fast-paced choreography and incredible costumes. In particular, the dramatic black tutus in Divergence and the new, kaleidoscopic costumes of Tapestry catch the viewer’s eye.

We went behind the scenes with Wardrobe Manager Laura Lynch to get a glimpse of how the new Tapestry costumes were created and a look at the famous Divergence tutus.

Artistic Director Stanton Welch collaborated with costume designer Holly Hynes on the new costumes for Tapestry. First, Holly provided a sketch of the costumes. Then, the Wardrobe team created a mock-up made of like fabrics to see how it moves.

Costume sketch of Tapestry and mockup photos

For Tapestry, the men’s costumes are very simple. Mesh pants with a belt are all that they will wear. Lynch commented that the belt was the hardest part to create since all of the decoration had to be stretch.

Closeup of belt detailing
Men's Tapestry costumes

The ladies will wear long, colorful skirts with flesh panels inserted to give a flash of leg and a bodice with painted stripes. Originally, the skirt was a solid color, but during the mockup the Wardrobe team substituted flesh panels and Stanton Welch liked it so much they changed the design. A matching headscarf completes the look.

Work-in-progress costume from Tapestry

The black tutus from Divergence are iconic, but what casual audience members may not know is that there can be as many as 16 costume changes for a dancer. The change may be as dramatic as the dancer switching from a tutu to pants to simply taking off their headpiece.

Those headpieces are made from shellac and a made to look like hair sculptures. The secret to gettingthem to stay on the dancer’s head? Not so secret, really. “We use lots of pinning,” Lynch confirms.

The tutus most closely resemble an Elizabethan collar. They are made from nylon plastic screening and are pleated by hand before being sewn. Nylon plastic screening is so tough that costume shop workers could only cut the material with a hot knife. They also faced multiple cuts from the rough edges of the material.  A silk edge was sewn onto every tutu to protect the skin from being torn. Another challenge they faced was that the material only came in white so the Wardrobe Department hired an auto paint shop to spray them black!

Silk edge of Divergence tutu

Traditional tutus can be carried in a soft, round fabric bag that dancers can easily carry. For Divergence, the tutus are too heavy and must be stored in a special box. The box and shelves are made of wood and are organized according to size. They can range from 12-14”. A dancer will be assigned a tutu based on her height so it doesn’t appear to overwhelm her.

Special Divergence tutu box

Audiences will be able to see all these dramatic costumes when Houston Ballet prepares to rock the stage March 8-18!


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