Lake Charles Civic Ballet

Posts Tagged ‘costume’

Elastic and Tulle

Photos by Cameron Durham

LCCB performed The Sleeping Beauty ballet in 1995 with new costumes and sets. The costume creator for the performance was Costume Designer Ray Delle Robbins. Recently our company returned to Houston—back to Ray Delle so she could revive her creations to their beautiful beginnings. With help from Bobbie Grizzle who has labored beside Ray Delle for over 20 years, the women silently measured and pinned and wrote notes on small tan cards. Many alterations will be needed for over fifty costumes worn by the lead characters in the ballet.

Ray Delle recalled our original order for The Sleeping Beauty ballet as clearly as if it were yesterday. During her inspection of the costumes on this visit, she found the fabrics and designs still fresh and beautiful, but the tulle skirts and the elastic shows were in need of repair. While she worked with each dancer she answered our questions about her career and her job at Houston’s Theatre Under the Stars.

She began her education as an art and drama major, but quickly realized she liked to eat more than she liked to perform so she earned her teaching certificate. After teaching school for seven years, she worked for 17 years with Houston Ballet in the wardrobe department. For the last 25 years, Ray Delle has been the Costume Shop Manager at TUTS; although her title may change from show to show. Ray Delle manages three shows for TUTS theatre each season. Traveling shows featured at TUTS and her own contract work, fill in her free time. During our fittings, Ray Delle received a visit from her prop man and set man. It was quickly apparent they are a close theatre family as they greeted each other with bright smiles and hugs.

Ray Delle spoke of her ‘spells’ with certain colors and explained how her costumes show her love for a color during certain periods in her career. She easily recognizes her creations by the fabrics and her stitching. Ray Delle Robbins will be adding to LCCB’s The Sleeping Beauty extensive costume collection with new costumes for King Florestan XXIV and the Queen, Prince Désiré, Bluebird and many, many more. We are now accepting Sponsor memberships, and individual ticket sales will begin later in the year. Visit our website at www.lakecharlescivicballet.com to reserve your seat at the ballet and witness the splendor of Ray Delle’s work up close and personal.

Inside the Wardrobe: Part II

The Houston Ballet Wardrobe Department occupies a good portion of the second floor in the new downtown Center for Dance. Bolts of fabric, costume accessories, and racks of ballet costumes are just a few of the staging areas inside the wardrobe. Wardrobe Manager Laura Lynch moved our small group of visiting moms past the ballet bibles to an office space reserved for guest designers and local artisans. This area provides their guests with ample office space complete with desks, work surfaces, and plenty of storage space to work side by side with HB wardrobe staff.
Just past the guest office space in the northeast corner of the wardrobe is the Spray Room and the Dye Room. Where some tutus are designed to be spray painted to give them a distinctive color and shape many times the fabrics are dyed. The Dye Room houses several washer/dryer sets with one set reserved just for dying fabrics. In the corner of the room stands a restaurant grade food vat used to heat the dyes to a higher temperature for those hard to dye fabrics. There is a separate hot water tank to serve the high demands of this room. Laura explained the multiple techniques used to clean ballet costumes. The techniques include hand wash, machine wash, dry clean, and ozone treatment. Dry cleaning is the hardest on costumes because the chemicals break down the structure of a costume and the fabric. Ozone treatment is more costume friendly. Houston Ballet has plans to install an ozone facility on the premises. Costumes are routinely spot cleaned with a fine mist of straight vodka. Most of the moms had never heard of this technique.

the thread wall in ‘notions central’

Anyone in Houston would love to have the views designed into this building. Walls of windows surround this end of the department. One of the most colorful spots in the costume area is called ‘notions central.’ Here you will find trimmings, buttons, beads, and spools of thread in every color imaginable. ‘Onie’ White, wardrobe volunteer, shared her bead story with our group. During a rehearsal for Marie one small area of beading broke loose from one of the costumes scattering the beads across the stage floor—a potential safety hazard for the dancers. Onie was given the job of removing all the beading from the costume so the beads could be reattached in a more secure manner. By the time she finished her job, the beads filled a large hat box. Everything on stage is larger than life.
Cutting and sewing requires light and power. The wardrobe department has power brought into the room from the floor and the ceiling. Several outlet locations are necessary to run the commercial sewing machines and irons. Here is where Laura says the design could have been improved. If the electrical outlets in the ceiling had been installed on tracks, the space would be more versatile. I don’t think anyone is complaining about that one small error in design. Scraps of thread and run away pins are always a safety concern so no slippery floor tiles in the wardrobe—concrete floors throughout. AFA Code requires one dressing room be handicap accessible, and fatigue mats are standard equipment in every dressing room since dancers can’t stand still for 
longer than 15 minutes per fitting. That must be a union rule.

 theatrical wardrobe cabinet


Only costumes for the current jobs are housed inside the wardrobe and the Academy Summer Showcase was on the books the day of our visit. The wardrobe department has moved three times over the years, but the bulk of the costume and prop inventory remains at HB’s warehouse location. The warehouse offers some climate controlled space and houses costumes, props and scenery for the company’s extensive repertoire.
One table in the wardrobe held two partially constructed costumes for Cincinnati Ballet’s all new Nutcracker. Laura’s department is one of only a few professional ballet companies that ‘job out’ work in the off season. This generates income for their department and work for local artisans. Laura shared her complex system for scheduling contract workers around a ballet season. It is extremely important to stay on budget, but also to provide enough work to attract the local artisans. Laura answered all our questions and shared many helpful tips such as where to buy practice tutus, how to clean and care for our purchases, and career opportunities in the arts.
Just a few days later Laura Lynch was seen entering the dance lab to attend one of the performances of the Academy Summer Showcase. She was just another guest—to most, but a few of us seated in the audience knew differently. Our small group of moms will forever remember the day we were invited inside the wardrobe.
Many thanks to Houston Ballet, Laura Lynch, Onie White, and Debby Brown for inviting us inside their new home at the Center for Dance in downtown Houston, Texas.

Inside the Wardrobe: Part I

Photo by Katelyn Chargois / fabric bins in Houston Ballet Wardrobe Department
During the last week of Ben Stevenson Academy 2011 Summer Intensive, a select group of moms were given the opportunity to peer inside the wardrobe department of Houston Ballet. Located on the second floor of their new home downtown in Houston Ballet Center for Dance, the Wardrobe Department is expertly managed by Laura Lynch. Laura provided our small group of visiting moms with an insider’s view of ballet wardrobe and costumes. She shared information on the department’s organization, their attention to detail, and the reasons for the bare beauty of their new space. Many thanks to Debby Brown, ‘Onie’ White, and Laura Lynch for sharing their ballet home with us, and this rarely seen view of a professional ballet company.
In a smaller market, a wardrobe department runs with mostly volunteer labor, but a professional company “must” depend on a hired work force. Laura’s team consists of only one volunteer, Hermione ‘Onie’ White, and Onie considers her work in the wardrobe department a labor of love. She shared several of her own personal stories relating to the wardrobe, but one experience appeared particularly special. With instruction and assistance from a visiting designer, Onie constructed her first tutu out of scraps of tulle. Admittedly the adventurous project challenged her skills. Following the designer’s hand drawn sketches and working for over 500 hours on her creation, Onie gained a true understanding and respect for those who work in the wardrobe and costume industry. 
Houston Ballet’s wardrobe department is made up of many different areas each with a specific purpose. There is a shoe wall—no pointe shoes here. HB has a special Shoe Room for pointe shoes. These are all decorative shoes and boots created for the many character costumes. The photo above shows the bins that hold bolts of fabric used by the department. There are rolling tutu trees, library shelving filled with boxes of costume accessories, and many staging areas reserved for precise needs. Along one wall are the Ballet Bibles—one for every ballet. Each bible contains the details for every piece necessary to recreate a costume. Swan Lake has four separate bibles of its own. Onie told us about the Stitch Bible. The book contains directions and details to sew or repair any costume. The directions are very specific. To replace a missing button you must reference details such as the button location on the costume, the fabric, and the stitch to use. If you do not follow the bible details, then you must remove your work and begin again. The strict attention to detail required by the department is one of the many things that makes their business such a success. 
A wardrobe department is truly a magical place. The full-time staff and contract artisans of Houston Ballet work behind the scenes, but their talents are seen by all of us who share a love for ballet and the theatre. We will have more to share on our visit Inside the Wardrobe: Part II.

An Occasional Fairy Tale

Guest Writer: Ashley Eaves, LCCB Principal
“Once upon a time,” is a familiar saying for everyone. Growing up, all of us have imagined what it would be like to fly like Peter Pan or to be the beautiful princess awakened with a kiss from her handsome prince. Storybooks and fairy tales have impacted the lives and imaginations of children for many generations and shall continue to have relevance for those to come. I remember imagining what it would be like to meet the characters from these stories such as the menacing evil villain or the kind fairy godmother.
Today, as a dancer with the Lake Charles Civic Ballet, I am allowed to put a face to these remarkable characters. Recently, several dancers and I were able to dress up in the costumes from The Sleeping Beauty ballet for storytime at Central Library located in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The children were fascinated as Lady Holly told the tale of The Sleeping Beauty as the ballet dancers tiptoed their way into the hearts of the audience. I was dressed as the evil fairy Carabosse. The children and parents were astonished at my wicked costume, mystified by the Lilac Fairy, and enchanted by the beautiful Princess Aurora.
Needless to say, it was an occasion that made me realize none of us are too old for fairy tales and storybooks.

Costumes Set the Stage

In just a few weeks, our company members will travel to Houston for costume fittings in preparation for this season’s The Sleeping Beauty. That kind of trip for our pre-professional company members, especially in today’s economy, represents a commitment to provide the best for our dancers and our community. For most of our dancers, this will be their first experience working with a professional costume designer. Lake Charles Civic Ballet, on the other hand, has a long history with the woman who created many of the costumes living in our attic.

New costumes for TSB will be created and old ones altered by their original designer, Ray Delle Robbins from Houston Ballet and Houston’s Theatre under the Stars.  Although you may not hear her name mentioned with the same regularity as those who perform on the stage, Ray Delle’s talent is just as valuable to the success of the performance. Her beautiful costumes have made many appearances in LCCB performances over the years and are a lasting testimony to her talent. Those who have been around The Ballet mention her name as if she is one of the family. It will be exciting to introduce our young dancers to this woman. She and the dancers together transform the stage into the world of the character.