Posts Tagged ‘Wardrobe’


Swan Lake in the Costume Shop: Memories of Kristian Fredrikson

June 6, 2014

Guest Writer:  Laura Lynch, Houston Ballet Wardrobe Manager


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Sara Webb and Connor Walsh in Swan Lake; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

It’s opening day of Swan Lake. This production brings with it so many bittersweet memories. Kristian Fredrikson, the internationally acclaimed production designer who created the scenery and costumes for this Swan Lake, died in November 2005 during the build of the show before it opened in February 2006. So many decisions were made without him. But we did our best to honor his design choices and I think we succeeded.


Kristian Fredrikson. Courtesy of The Australian Ballet

Kristian was an incredible designer and human being! Swan Lake was the second design build with him here at Houston Ballet. Our first build with Kristian was for the Pecos section of Stanton’s Tales of Texas in 2004. It was during that build process that I fell in love with Kristian as a designer and friend.

Watching the dress rehearsals of Swan Lake over the past two days has brought back so many fond memories of him, his witty sense of humor and the particular way he spoke to the crew to explain his designs and what he expected of us.

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Artists of Houston Ballet in Swan Lake; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Whenever I watch any of our productions that are built here in Houston Ballet’s Costume Shop, I see the talented artists that work with us to create these productions. I watch Swan Lake and I remember who built particular costumes and the process we went through to get the show built.

Swan Lake is a staple in any ballet company, and our dancers certainly have created a beautiful work for us all to enjoy. But beyond the dance, I see the people who created the physical aspects of the show on stage right alongside the dancers as they bring the story to life.

Enjoy the show, feel the magic and be transformed if only for a few hours.


Houston Ballet will perform Swan Lake June 5 – 15 at Wortham Theater Center. Swan Lake tells the classic tale of Odette – a beautiful maiden transformed into a swan by an evil knight – and the prince who swears his enduring love for her. Tickets may be purchased at

For more information on this program, visit:

To watch a video preview of Swan Lake


Holly Hynes Creates Tuxedos “Worthy of the Red Carpet” in The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra

March 5, 2014

From March 6 – 16, Houston Ballet will unveil the world premiere of Stanton Welch’s new version of The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, set to the beloved score by Benjamin Britten and featuring costumes designed by Holly Hynes. 

Costume sketch by Holly Hynes

Costume sketch for The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra by Holly Hynes

Ms. Hynes has enjoyed a long, distinguished career as a costume designer, with commissions from the Royal Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, and San Francisco Ballet, among many others.  She has collaborated with Stanton Welch on eleven productions, including The Core, his homage to New York City in the 1940s, and Brigade, his delightful classical showpiece created in 2006.

Holly Hynes - Headshot

Holly Hynes; Photo by Paul Kolnik


Houston Ballet:Your costumes for The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra seem inspired by tuxedos and have an air of 1930s Hollywood glamour. Can you talk about your concept for the costume design of The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra? 

Holly Hynes: Stanton and I had been working on this idea for months. Batting around several different looks, we finally settled on an “orchestra uniform” for all, men and women, I wanted to come up with a glamorous streamline look for the main body of the ballet. Adjustments had to be made to the tailcoats so the dancers could move. But for the real meat of the choreography, I wanted something worthy of the red carpet: something tailored but showing their amazing bodies.

Houston Ballet: You’ve worked with Stanton Welch on several projects. Can you describe your collaborative process, and how it worked for The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra?

Holly Hynes: This is my eleventh ballet with Stanton. He’s created some wonderful ballets for me to design all over the United States but the experience has been the best in his own backyard at the Houston Ballet. The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra is very special to me because I worked with Jerome Robbins and have supervised the recreation of Irene Sharaff’s designs for his Fanfare for the New York City Ballet and Miami City Ballet which is set to the same music. To hear this piece played by the masterful Houston Ballet orchestra is a treat. But to watch the Houston Ballet dancers interpret Stanton’s vision in my clothes is a blessing.

Because I am based on the East Coast, our first meeting was in Central Park in New York City over coffee on a beautiful sunny day. I love that our collaborations are based on hard work but we always manage to get laughter and fun in there too. My first drawings were on little scraps of hotel note paper. Stanton is so trusting and we have worked well together for so long that even those little scratches could turn into full costume renderings. Of course living in two different cities, the internet has made our process much easier.

 Costume sketch 4

Costume sketch for The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra by Holly Hynes

Houston Ballet: Can you talk about your collaboration with Houston Ballet’s costume shop in constructing the costumes for The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra? When did you first provide them with costume sketches? How did you interact with them? 

Holly Hynes: Houston Ballet has a wonderful brand new costume shop in the Center for Dance. The workroom is filled with old and new friends. Wardrobe Manager Laura Lynch, who runs the department, is the first person after Stanton to receive the sketches. This is my twelfth build with Laura and we often finish each other’s’ sentences.

Our first conversation centered around budgets. We decided it would be more cost efficient to try and purchase the tailcoats but to make the pants and shirts and cummerbunds. That said, this started us on a long journey of trying to find black material and off the rack coats that would appear to be the same color on stage. The fabric needed to stretch as well, and extra jacket material had to be bought so we could add gussets under everyone’s arms.

Laura found some interesting fabrics and samples were made. But when I came in for my first trip, I didn’t love any of them. Next we went back to High Fashion Fabrics where I found a wonderful stretch fabric for all the pants. We held our breath while the store tried to find the right amount of yardage for us.

Costume sketch 3

A month passed and I flew in from New York a second time, and we fit the first cast which is over 30 dancers. Costume Shop Supervisor Sara Seavey, who is in charge of the work room, was amazing at keeping the fittings on time and everything tagged and organized. Not one dancer missed a fitting, something I wish other companies could boast about. Not sure how the tailors and drapers keep all parts together since from a distance it is a sea of black and white sameness. Follow up fittings and second casts were seen without me, but by then everyone owned the ballet.

I flew in last Thursday for the technical rehearsal and now we are waiting to begin the dress rehearsals leading up to the opening.

Houston Ballet: What was the first project on which you collaborated with Stanton Welch as costume designer? Did you realize at the time that it would lead to such a long and fruitful collaboration?

Holly Hynes: When I was Director of Costumes for the New York City Ballet I also had an active career designing both for the company and for outside ballet companies. One group, called the Chamber Dance Project, had invited a young choreographer from Australia to create a new piece for them. I was already working with them on another piece so they asked me to design for Stanton as well.

It is always scary to be suggested for a collaboration when you don’t know the other partner. Stanton couldn’t have been nicer and we immediately spoke the same language. He had grown up behind the scenes at The Australian Ballet with his performing parents and spent many an hour running around the costume shop. He has a great eye, and we have a very similar love of color.

Over the years he has really helped me find my voice as an artist. I owe him a lot as a friend and as a collaborator. The name of that first ballet was Kisses…I think that says it all.


Houston Ballet will perform The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra March 6 – 16 at Wortham Theater Center.  Also featured on the program are Stanton Welch’s ballets Maninyas and the company premiere of Of Blessed Memory.  Tickets start at $19, and may be purchased at

 For more information on this program, visit:

To watch a video preview of The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra:


From Storyboards to the Stage: The glamorous costumes and jewelry for The Merry Widow

September 16, 2013

Guest Writer: Ashley Roberts, Wardrobe Intern

First as an operetta in 1905 and as a ballet in 1975, The Merry Widow has been performed on countless stages around the world. Choreographer Ronald Hynd’s glamorous production is once again being produced by Houston Ballet September 19-29 at Wortham Theater Center. Featuring lavish and spectacular scenery by Italian designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno, The Merry Widow takes place in 1905 Paris, the ballet is comprised of two love stories. One story is about previous lovers and the other about forbidden love. However, the spotlight is on the wardrobe. As a Wardrobe Intern I got to sit in on a fitting for The Merry Widow. I even got a chance to repair some of the jewelry pieces used in the show and additionally got to attend the first technical rehearsal for The Merry Widow. I never saw The Merry Widow performed or had any background information of the ballet before I started interning.

The Merry Widow_ Artists of Houston Ballet 2N9Y9460

Ballet: The Merry Widow; Dancer(s): Artists of Houston Ballet; Photo: Amitava Sarkar

My introduction to The Merry Widow started by completing storyboards for all the characters in the show. A storyboard is made of pictures or illustrations that comprise a story. The finished boards are then put in the dressing rooms of the dancers. They give the dancers and dressers, who come to help get the dancers in and out the costumes, a visual idea of their completed look. The wardrobe of the two main female characters Hanna and Valencienne stood out the most to me. Hanna, a wealthy widow, and Valencienne, the wife of a nobleman, have four different wardrobe changes each. The women are dressed in bodices made of rich velvets that are designed with attention to detail and are outfitted in gowns that sparkle.

 Storyboard The Merry Widow

An example of one of the storyboards that are placed in the dancer’s dressing rooms.

My favorite part of the wardrobe in The Merry Widow are the accessories! Almost every character has a set of accessories. In Act III the women have tiaras and the men carry top hats. The most meaningful accessory is a little pink scarf. Danilo pulls out a handkerchief that Hanna gave him many years ago as young lovers in Act I and of course Hanna is surprised. My favorite accessory for Hanna is a feathered shawl that is floor length in Act III. My favorite accessory for Valencienne is in Act I where she is wearing a chandelier necklace that lights up the stage. The Merry Widow has a great plot, fabulous wardrobe and is sure to fill your heart with delight!

Merry Jewelry

Valencienne’s necklace that she wears in Act I. The necklace has French elastic at the bottom that hooks into the bodice of Valencienne’s costume so the necklace won’t fall off or hurt the dancer on stage.


From September 19-29, 2013, Houston Ballet revives Ronald Hynd’s deliciously comic love story, The Merry Widow, featuring spectacular scenery and costumes by Italian designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno. Set in turn of the century Paris, this production has it all:  lilting waltzes by Franz Lehár; saucy can-can girls, glamour and champagne; and a wonderful love story featuring an unlikely couple, separated in their youth, who rekindle their lost romance.

Tickets may be purchased by calling 713 227 2787 or by visiting

Watch a video preview of Ronald Hynd’s The Merry Widow.






March 8, 2013

Houston Ballet’s veteran wardrobe manager Laura Lynch collaborated closely with two of three choreographers featured on Houston Ballet’s The Rite of Spring mixed repertory program March 7 – 17 to help them realize their visions for the costumes for their works.

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Dancers: Karina Gonzalez and Simon Ballet; Photo: Amitava Sarkar

For Edwaard Liang’s ballet Murmuration, Ms. Lynch served as costume designer, along with Mr. Liang. For Stanton Welch’s world premiere of The Rite of Spring, Ms. Lynch realized the costume designs conceived by Mr. Welch.

Here is her journal of how she worked with the choreographers to realize their different visions.


Guest Writer:  Laura Lynch, Houston Ballet Wardrobe Manager

Edwaard Liang and I met via email. We then had a couple of phone conversations. He sent me a video of “murmuration.” (a phenomenon in Europe where starling birds flock together and make beautiful shapes and patterns in the sky), filmed in the wild. We discussed the simplicity he wanted in the design.

Edwaard was concrete in his decision that all women would have one look and that all men would have one look. The shop then took direction and created mock-ups for Liang to look at his first day here. Edwaard is a true collaborator. He thrives on hearing others’ opinions as well as seeking guidance when he is stuck.

Although he knew he wanted the ladies in a leotard, he wasn’t sure about the drape he wanted to soften the look with. After looking at the first round of mock-ups, we determined that a flat tab of fabric would better serve the simplicity he was looking for.

_MG_5907 copy_Karina Gonzalez and Christopher Coomer

Dancers: Christopher Coomer and Karina Gonzalez; Photo: Amitava Sarkar

The leotard color also changed as we discussed the color of the birds.  Black leotards became gray leotardss and the chiffon tabs were shortened and the hem angled. We also decided to hombre (gradation of color) the chiffon tabs to better show the body. For the men, a simple pair of pants.  The decision together came in the discussion of using different fabrics to achieve the gray color for the women’s leotards. The decision was made to layer black mesh over white lycra.

The next decision was to determine the best width for the legs. A mock-up went into rehearsal so Liang could see the garment move. Changes were communicated and we were ready to purchase show fabrics and begin the build.


Stanton created a design book with research pictures and information sketches of members of indigenous tribes charting what each character track would wear.

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Dancers: Artists of Houston Ballet; Photo: Amitava Sarkar

Stanton presents his ideas, and then I ask questions to clarify.

We shopped fabrics and trims together early in the process because we had an upcoming season brochure photo shoot. I have the shop go straight to fashion fabrics when we have a definitive decision about the costume. We knew we’d use circle skirts and loin cloths – so those go right into production.

I draped all the North and South tribal women’s bras using the discussions with Stanton as my guide. Costume shop supervisor Sara Seavey draped the tribal men’s loin cloths, and incorporated the shop to assist. The tattoo mesh work was done by Monica Guerra using the research and discussion from Stanton.

_MG_6659 copy_Nozomi Iijima and Artists of Houston Ballet

Dancers: Nozomi Iijima and Artists of Houston Ballet; Photo: Amitava Sarkar

The shop follows direction from both Stanton and me as we construct all the other costumes and details. Amanda Mitchell and crew created all the wigs. All North and South tribal women have wigs, the “religious” have wigs, and everyone has some type of make-up. The tattoos are mostly created by painted mesh costumes.

Stanton Welch’s The Rite of Spring and Edwaard Liang’s Murmuration continue in performance with the company premiere of Mark Morris’s Pacific through Sunday, March 17 at Wortham Theater Center.


Costumes Take Center Stage with Rock, Roll & Tutus

March 5, 2012

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!


Return of the Masters: A Wardrobe Perspective

September 13, 2011

Guest Writer: Laura Lynch, wardrobe manager

Photo by Leonel Nerio of Art Institute of Houston
Photo by Leonel Nerio of Art Institute of Houston North

As we open our 2011-2012 season, Wardrobe is just wrapping up a whirlwind Academy Summer Intensive and a partial build of costumes for Cincinnati Ballet’s new Nutcracker.

The new season begins with Wardrobe requesting fittings on the dancers’ first day back. Fittings determine the fit and function of the costume.  Return of the Masters consists of 3 ballets, all rentals from other ballet companies. Once Houston Ballet determines that we will use rented costumes for a particular production, Brian Walker, production manager, gets the ball rolling and secures the rental contract. Together we look at timelines and determine when we’ll need the costumes here to begin our process.

When the rental arrives the work begins for Wardrobe Assistant Barbara Joyce Evans. She opens up the boxes and inventories everything. Also included in most cases is a costume ‘bible’ (paperwork or book that has all the information needed to set up the show). The next step is to size the costumes for assignment to our dancers cast.

Communication is key in each phase of the process. Requesting fittings is the next step in the process and this is done through the Artistic Coordinator Daniel Morin. The dancers come to Wardrobe at the scheduled fitting date/time and are fit in all the costume pieces being worn for whatever role they are dancing. The number of costume pieces and/or roles each dancer has determines how long or how many fittings are necessary.

For all productions we like to include the choreographer/choreologist/designer in the process as early as possible to check details. We have a design meeting to discuss the costume head to toe, as well as hair and make-up needs. We never want surprises once we get on stage.

Costume Shop Supervisor Sara Seavey - Photo by Leonel Nerio of Art Institute of Houston North

Wardrobe Shop Supervisor Sara Seavey - Photo by Leonel Nerio of Art Institute of Houston North

Once the costumes are fit they are then turned over to Sara Seavey, wardrobe shop supervisor, who organizes the work to go into the workroom. The shop technicians are instructed  on the costume notes needed to get the costumes ready for stage. The physical work can be restoration, alteration, repairs and/or new construction. If ballet slippers or shoes need to be painted this happens during this part of the process.

Deadlines are the name of the game in all that Wardrobe does. Once the costume notes are completed the show is organized for the move to the theater for the tech rehearsals, dress rehearsals and performances. At the theater an entire new process begins in the journey, but that’s another story.

Return of the Masters runs until September 18, so there’s still time to see the beautiful dancing and costumes at Wortham Theater Center!

Photo by Mary Stephens of Art Institute of Houston North

Photo by Mary Stephens of Art Institute of Houston North




Developing a Dancer’s Toolbox: The World of Wardrobe

July 6, 2011

Guest Writer: Jaclyn Youngblood, Academy Intern

Many dancers look stunning and move flawlessly in costumes, but not all of them understand the decisions that go into costuming a full ballet. Thanks to one of two career studies courses offered at the Houston Ballet Academy Summer Intensive Program, Wardrobe and Costume Design, some of the Level 8 (the highest level at the Summer Intensive) students will be able to explore the world of Wardobe. [The other career studies course is Set Design and Production; look for an update on that class July 20.]

Barb Dolney, a member of Houston Ballet’s wardrobe team for over 16 years, has been teaching the course since 2006. This year, there are 21 Level 8 students enrolled in the course, which takes students from initial concept to final design.

Houston Ballet Summer Intensive Career Studies Class

Students in the wardrobe class sharpen their sketching skills, focusing on body proportionality and silhouettes.


The students are paired up (with one team of three) for the final project: a minimum of six, complete color designs, three of costumes and three of hair, make-up and accessories. Dolney assigns each team to a ballet—this year’s selections are Giselle or A Midsummer Night’s Dream—and the teams decide for which period they’d like to design, such as Baroque (1715-1740), Art Nouveau (1910-1920), or Empire (1790-1815). Each team will present their designs on the final day of class, and some of the top teams will be selected to present their designs during the lower school’s final performance on July 29.
A typical class consists of going over the assigned reading, a brief lecture on the day’s topic, and an opportunity to practice drawing and work on their sketches.

Houston Ballet Summer Intensive Career Studies_Costume Sketch

Eado (Israel) works on one of his costume sketches for Giselle in the Depression era. His sketch emphasizes clean lines, structured beauty, and simplicity.


Eado (Israel) is designing for Giselle in the Depression era. He said learning about color, texture, fabric, and lighting decisions is helpful to him as a dancer because it adds to how he understands characters and plot. Dolney said she reminds students to make reasoned decisions, understanding why they are designing in a certain color or with a certain fabric, because it affects the audience’s perception.
To encourage students to engage the period they’ve selected, Dolney organizes a research day. Typically, the students meet at one of the branches of the Houston Public Library, scouring the stacks for art history books on sculpture, painting, and fashion. Due to scheduling conflicts, research day went paperless this year. Students used their laptops to research online articles and search for images to gain inspiration for their projects. Eado said he enjoyed studying about the Depression era because it gave him context in which to understand his contemporary perspective on the period.

It’s not only about the period, though. This summer, there is an extra element for students to keep in mind while they design: they’ll be designing in the style of renowned American choreographer (and Artistic Director of the Hamburg Ballet) John Neumeier. Dolney said Neumeier designs are typically sleek and restrained, with clean lines, regardless of the time period in which he is designing. Why is there an essence of John Neumeier in the Career Studies courses this year? Neumeier will be visiting the Houston Ballet in the fall; Associate Director of the Academy Shelly Power, Dolney, and Director of Production Tom Boyd (who is teaching the Set Design and Production class) thought it would be a relevant tie-in for students to focus their studies on Neumeier’s style.

Dolney said the students take away more than an artistic portfolio from the class. They learn what goes into creating a ballet. “It’s not just the dancers, but hundreds of others that contribute to get the production on stage,” she said.


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