Tag Archive: Costumes

The painted costumes of Cinderella

For the costumes worn throughout Cinderella, John Macfarlane created a suite of hand-painted designs. The challenge was then to create physical items of clothing as richly detailed as his illustrations.

These never-before-published photos, from the Wardrobe department’s own reference folder, reveal some of the ways in which this was done.

In many cases, John broke down the surface of the costumes into smaller pieces, drawn with feathered edges to mimic the brush strokes of his designs. In the photos above you can see a top worn by one of the men in the ballroom scene in Act II broken down in this way.

The outline of each of these shapes was copied onto a master sheet, which John then hand-painted in rich inks that matched his designs. You can see an example of this below. Once complete, the sheets were photographed, and printed onto fabric.

Each individual piece was then cut out by hand, resulting in a jigsaw puzzle of brushstrokes. These pieces were hemmed, and stitched into place on the costumes. The Wardrobe department’s own reference folder contains additional examples of these pieces, one of which you can see here, along with a finished example:

You can also see close-ups of the outfit in this costumes gallery.

As well as allowing us to physically realise the depth of John’s designs, it also saves time when producing replica costumes for the difference dancers who will dance each role over the three-week season. The technique also proved invaluable when creating the costume for the Autumn fairy – a tutu made from dozens of leaves in deep autumnal colours!

Here you can see an example of one of the individual sections produced for another tutu worn in Act II, as well as the final costume:

Cinderella returns to Birmingham Hippodrome, 21 November-9 December 2012. Click here to book your seats now.

Dancing with the Stars

One of the visual inspirations for Cinderella was the night sky. The Guests at the Prince’s ball dress in rich costumes the colour of twilight, and the ceiling of the ballroom itself fades into twinkling stars.

The Stars also feature at the end of Act I, played by a stagefull of ballerinas in glittering tutus who accompany the Fairy Godmother’s transformation of Cinderella into her ballgown.

The costumes were designed by John Macfarlane, who also designed Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker.

Here you can see some of John’s original designs for the tutus (Click each photo to enlarge)

From John’s designs, the tutus were made by hand, including all of the decoration. Here you can see photographs of the Stars’ costumes being created ahead of the 2010 premiere, as well as a shot of them being worn in the wings during a performance.

When not in use, the tutus are hung upside-down in order to preserve the bounce(!) For example, the tutus in the picture below are worn by Cinderella in the ballroom scene, and at first glance look relatively plain, as the silver patterning seen on stage is hidden underneath.

While Birmingham Royal Ballet are away on tour this week, a skeleton wardrobe staff have remained back at our Thorp Street HQ. They are currently checking over the star tutus and all of the rest of the costumes to ensure that no repairs need to be made ahead of the new performances of Cinderella this winter.

Click here to book for Cinderella now.

Backstage with John Macfarlane

When Cinderella was broadcast on the BBC, the intervals featured exclusive backstage footage, along with interviews with many of the creative team. Here you can see a short excerpt in which John Macfarlane discusses his designs, and oversees the dancers trying on the full frog and lizard costumes!

With thanks to Glass Slipper Productions.

Costume close-ups

The final costumes for Cinderella began arriving at Birmingham Royal Ballet this week, from makers across the country. While outside it was grey and foggy, the wardrobe corridor was suddenly awash with a rainbow of colour!

Upside-down tutus

Here you can see tutus for our new production of Cinderella, which have been hung upside down on the rail to maintain the ‘bounce’ of the fabric. While the undersides are plain white, the tops are elaborately decorated to shine and sparkle under the theatre lights. Even upside-down, you can see hints of the silver materials which have been used to embellish the upper levels of the skirt.

Costume fitting video diary

John Macfarlane was back at Birmingham Royal Ballet’s HQ last month, overseeing fittings for Cinderella. Here you can see a short video diary he recorded for us, including a first glimpse at one of the costumes for the title character.

Prosthetic heads

Robert Alsopp & Associates have provided prop costumes for a number of theatre productions around the world, from masks and animal heads to entire suits of armour. Their film work includes titles such as X-Men, Gladiator and Elizabeth.

Robert himself has worked with John Macfarlane as a Prop Costume Maker before, including providing the rats tails for Sir Peter Wright’s stunning production of The Nutcracker. Speaking to him now in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s costume storeroom, we glance at a selection of spare tails hanging from the wall. ‘They’re still using those same tails from day one,’ he says. ‘They’ve lasted since that first season.’

John has called upon Robert’s expertise a number of times since The Nutcracker opened in 1996, most recently enlisting him to bring to life the more fantastical costume elements required for David Bintley’s new production of Cinderella.

Pictured here is one such item: the head for one of the lizard footmen, conjured up to escort Cinderella to the ball.

Robert explains the process of creating the item, saying: ‘I start off with a head-cast as a basis to start building up a clay sculpture. It wouldn’t in this case need to be the head cast of the person who’s wearing it, because it’s such a large head. I’ll sculpt the whole shape from the clay and detail it.

‘At this stage I’ll email photos to John to get his approval and to get any new notes on the designs.

‘Once it is finished and approved, I’ll make a two-piece plaster mould of the clay sculpture. When this is ready, I’ll clean it all out – the clay’s played its part by that point, so it would just be thrown in the bin.

‘Then I brush or pour latex into that hollow plaster mould, in much the same way that cast ceramics are made. Once the latex is dry, it peels out in one piece.’

The whole process takes about a week-and-a-half. The level of detail is incredible, especially considering that the audience will never see the head up close. But establishing such detail at this point has advantages, reveals Robert.

‘It really helps with the painting,’ he says. ‘It’s much harder to paint realistic texture upon something that’s smooth. With a detailed surface you can apply transparent washes of watercolour that will then collect in all in the little recesses and wrinkles, and it will almost paint itself.’

As well as the aesthetics of the head, there are of course practical issues to consider. ‘Usually for dance the first priority is that it fits really firmly on the head and doesn’t shift backwards,’ Robert says. ‘So there’ll be an inner skull cap which is fitted specifically to the dancer. Vision is the next priority after that.

‘The head seen here is just a prototype, and at this stage we’ve not yet fully resolved the issue of visibility for the dancer. The holes that you can see here are more of an approximation of where they will see out. Part of this front section front will be cut out and replaced with mesh-fabrics. Once the fabrics are in place we’ll then further conceal the holes by adding back in some of the detail over the top.’

For David’s 2003 production of Beauty and the Beast, the heat that built up within the lead male dancer’s costume was a big issue, however it is not such a problem in this case.

‘Heat is sometimes a consideration,’ Robert says, ‘but the amount of time that these characters are on stage is fairly small, so it isn’t a problem. We may make some small holes to allow air to circulate, which can be easily hidden, but we aren’t having to worry about it so much that it’s informing the design that much.’

The 'ugly' sisters

Here you can see John Macfarlane’s designs for arguably two of the most pivotal roles in Cinderella: the heroine’s stepsisters.

David Bintley has already praised the images, called them ‘terrific’. ‘I said from the beginning that I wanted to make sure that these two were “real” characters,’ he said, ‘as opposed to caricatures – a couple of dancers acting “ugly”.

‘When John does a costume design it isn’t just a design; it’s a character sketch too. He’s told me that sometimes when he starts work on the costumes he gets hung up on the face, which is the one thing he doesn’t actually need to worry about! But of course he’s painting entire characters, as opposed to simply what a particular dancer will be wearing.’

David’s earlier work, Beauty and the Beast saw the choreographer creating sister roles, however this time around will be quite different.

‘With Beauty and the Beast, for the two girls, Vanity and Pride, I deliberately chose two very beautiful girls. I wanted them to retain that beauty, but in a very haughty way, as their names suggested. In that instance, the fun aspect for me was that they were actually very similar, and their motivations were identical; a desire for money and status. But the sisters in Cinderella are almost entirely different. I’m not even referring to them as the “ugly” sisters.’

As David has already said, he is keen to avoid creating Cinderella’s sisters as purely comedic roles, so as not to run the risk of trivialising the harsh realities of the young girl’s plight. That’s not to say that there will not be funny moments, nor that he is not having fun with the physical appearance of the terrible twosome.

‘In Prokofiev’s treatment one is called “Dumpy” and the other “Skinny”, and I wanted to stay with these original characters. And I’m taking their sizes to extremes. Obviously we have no problem finding taller, more slender ladies, but for the shorter, fatter role we’re having to do a bit of work.

‘We’ve got a prosthetic suit, for which we’ve had initial fittings. With new costumes you always have to look at the practicalities of movement; especially so when you’re using a lot of padding, obviously. But the materials that they use now are so advanced, and so light and non-restrictive. You can get the air circulating to the body in a way which you just couldn’t do 20 years ago.’

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