PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The colorful costumes of the Nutcracker Ballet bring the land of the sweets and flowers and sugarplum fairy to life on stage.
Costumier Janet Groom is celebrating her 40th year with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater and knows the costumes like they’re her children.
“The good thing about Nutcracker is it’s here,” she says. “It’s like an old friend. So whenever we don’t have a lot to do, we pull out Nutcracker and start working on it — do any repairs or rebuilds we have to do to keep it looking fresh every year.”
Groom and her fellow seamstress work on the costumes year-round. They handmade 110 of the 210 costumes in the show.
The ones they didn’t make, like the nutcracker head, require special construction.
“It looks kind of like a football helmet inside, going around ears, and under chin,” Groom said.
Each costume is engineered so the dancers can move.
“What we did was made sleeves separate from the tunic of the jacket, and the we vented shoulder seams, so that his biceps, when he raises his arm it won’t be stopped by shoulder,” Goom said. “It can open up and his jacket stays mainly in the same place, whether his arms move up or down.”
That way, audiences are not distracted by the jacket riding up.
The traditional tutu is one of the hardest to make.
“The partners have to move in close to principal dancers and the tutu has to collapse when then when he moves away, it has to go right back where it was before,” Groom said.
Many of the costumes are worn by several different dancers over the 24 performances, so they’re made with extra hooks and elastic. And some costumes are harder to dance in.
“It’s very heavy, so we have many turns throughout the dance, so we do,” one dancer said. “Janet’s kind enough to give us skirts to rehearse in before the show.”
And then there’s all the laundry – eight loads per show.
“All you have to do is take the skirt right off the bodice,” Groom said. “Also good for cleaning because dry clean bodice and hand wash the skirt.”
The PBT’s costume shop is in the same facility as their dance studios in the Strip District.
They even have a place to store all the costumes, accessories and extra fabric.
“This is Great Gatsby, Swan Lake, Romeo, Petrushka, Coppelia and up above on the conveyer … that’s where our Nutcracker costumes were,” Groom says touring the storage facility.
It’s easy to get lost in the spectacle on stage, but the work that goes into the costumes, alone, is part of what makes the PBT’s Nutcracker such a memorable experience.