Costume Design

SF Ballet in Wheeldon's Within the Golden Hour©. (© Erik Tomasson)

One of the most memorable aspects of a ballet production is the costumes. They affect how the audience sees an artist, enhancing the performer’s natural body line and helping to emphasize the grace and movement that the dancer already brings to the stage. Costume design is a crucial part of the atmosphere of a ballet, often conveying an impression of a specific style or time period in the production.

In San Francisco Ballet’s production of the Nutcracker for example, you are immediately transported to 1915 San Francisco in the party scene. The women wear long Victorian-era evening dresses and the young girls are dressed in knee-length dresses decorated beautifully with lace, a popular fashion at that time. Both the men and the young boys are clad in smart suits. Once the ballet enters into the land of Clara's dreams, the costumes become more fantastic. The snowflakes seem to float with their white tulle Romantic tutus, the flowers come alive in their brightly colored bell tutus, and the Russian dancers leap and spin effortlessly as their Cossack trousers flare out with every movement.

Costume designers have the difficult but rewarding task of creating beautiful, yet wearable and functional costumes. It can take many hours and many thousands of dollars to create just one costume. Because costumes are expensive and time consuming to construct, they are made sturdily and cleverly built so that ballet dancers of different sizes and proportions can wear the same costume over numerous years.