Behind-the-scenes at the Bolshoi's costume department

The Bolshoi Theatre

Explore the magic of the world's most skilled costume department

The Bolshoi Theatre
The Bolshoi Theatre began its life as the private theatre of the Moscow proseсutor Prince Pyotr Urusov. On 28 March 1776, Empress Catherine II signed and granted the Prince the 'privilege' of organizing theatre performances, masquerades, balls and other forms of entertainment for a period of ten years. It is from this date that Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre traces its history.
The Costume Department
The Costume Department is inseparable from the Bolshoi Theatre’s life. The Costume Department has since its inception been on the forefront of creating the most spectacular and innovative costumes for ballets, operas and theatre performances. Chief specialist Elena Zaitseva supervises the team of more than 300 costume designers, male and female wardrobe masters, makeup artists, seamstresses, milliners, shoemakers and dye-house masters. The Costume Department includes a fabric painting room, dye-house, ballet and opera ateliers, and workrooms for headwear and shoes. 

Backstage at the Bolshoi Theatre

The Costume Department also consists of wardrobe supervisors. No artist will go on stage without the assistance of a wardrobe supervisor. The costumes can be incredibly complex to put on and the wardrobe supervisors help dress and undress the artists.

The artistic genius of the Bolshoi's wardrobe supervisors

The wardrobe supervisors arrive three to four hours before the show, in order to steam, press, adjust bows and check if all buttons are in place. Some work with women, while others – with men; some with opera artists, while others – with ballet artists. During the performance, the wardrobe supervisors usually stay backstage and see if anything needs to be pinned up or down.

The artistic genius of the Bolshoi's wardrobe supervisors

The ballet artists are sewn into their costumes before the performances start, to ensure a bespoke fit, maximum flexibility and avoid their partner's hand don't inadvertently unfastens any hooks or seams. The tradition of sewing up costumes on artists is a domestic know-how.

It’s very important that the dancers feel comfortable, even though it causes more frequent repairs of the costumes. Certain performances involve multiple changes of costumes – for instance, in the ballet The Lady of the Camellias the leading lady changes 12 costumes during the whole performance.

The artistic genius of the Bolshoi's wardrobe supervisors

The ballet artists are sewn into their costumes before the performances start, to ensure a bespoke fit, maximum flexibility and avoid their partner's hand don't inadvertently unfastens any hooks or seams. The tradition of sewing up costumes on artists is a domestic know-how.

It’s very important that the dancers feel comfortable, even though it causes more frequent repairs of the costumes. Certain performances involve multiple changes of costumes – for instance, in the ballet The Lady of the Camellias the leading lady changes 12 costumes during the whole performance.

Making the costumes

Sketching

Work on costumes starts with a sketch. The costume designer sets the tone while being the member of the production group. At the process of creating a costume he or she listens to the music, talks to stage directors and choreographers.

Sketch of a Spring costume, "The Snow Maiden" opera

It was created by designer M. Danilova.

Sketch of a Nadir-Shah costume, "Almast" opera

It was created by designer R. Makarov.

Sketch of a costume of Monster from the Queen of Shemakha's entourage, "The Golden Cockerel" opera

The sketch was created by designer M. Sokolova

The sewing workshop

The sewing workshop of the Bolshoi is located on the top, sixth floor of the theatre building - under the roof as they say it.

Pattern-making

The designers come up with the concept and ideas for the costumes, but the cutters and seamstresses actually make them.

Based on sketches the cutters create patterns for costumes created from scratch. For costumes that already existed the cutters only adjust patterns.

Bespoke mannequins

The mannequins used in the sewing workshop are created to imitate the soloists figure. The size of this mannequin indicates that it belongs to a opera singer.

Sewing

The sewing workshop employs all-round craftsman. Many of them have been with the Bolshoi Theatre for 30-40 years. It has modern computerised equipment and special machines.

Handicraft

Despite the fact that the sewing workshop has modern equipment and the best machines, some of work still can be done only manually.

Ballet skirts

Initially skirts were used to be made of muslin and tarlatan, and starched prior to each performance. Then the fabric nylon took over and is now used to create all skirts. Up until 2007, all tutus at the Bolshoi Theatre were made by one seamstress. With an increasing number of productions, one person could no longer deliver enough. Now all seamstresses can sew such skirts.

Today, the creation of a multi-layer tutu takes one day and 15-28 meters of fabric. They are custom-sewn and require a fitting. The styles vary from production.

Swan Lake

This costume was designed by Simon Virsaladze for Nina Ananiashvili as Odile.

Raymonda

This costume was designed by Simon Virsaladze for Lyudmila Semenyaka as Raymonda.

Sleeping Beauty

This costume was designed by Simon Virsaladze for Lyudmila Semenyaka as Aurora.

The Nutcracker

This costume was designed by Simon Virsaladze for Ekaterina Maksimova as Masha.

Jewels: Emeralds

This costume was designed by Elena Zaitseva.

A Hero of Our Time

This costume was designed by Elena Zaitseva and Kirill Serebrennikov for Princess Mary.

Dye and Print workshop
Theatrical fabric is a special one, and you cannot buy it in a shop. It should have the very colour the designer imagined. With all the hues, in huge quantities. At the Bolshoi Theatre, this problem is addressed with technical thoroughness – a theatrical fabric dyeing plant was created as part of a new production and artistic complex.

Fabric painting and finishing

Imitation is the key word for clothing artists working at the fabric and item painting division of the Bolshoi Theatre. They have no gold or diamonds, nor even any fashion jewellery. They only have paints and artistic skills enabling them to decorate fabrics with fancy patterns imitating both the embroidery and the precious stones.

Mixing paints to get the right colour.

Becks for fabrics dyeing

Dyers at work

Dye-house at the Bolshoi Theatre

A craftsman is working on imitation cartridges for “A Hero of Our Time” ballet

A craftswoman is creating a frame coating

Detail, stencils at the fabric painting workroom at the Bolshoi Theatre

Blow-in chamber

Sometimes the plot and the setting of a performance require not bright and colourful, but rather worn-out or even dirty-looking costumes. The effects of dirt or snow splashes and shabbiness can be created by spraying paint in the “blow-in chamber”.

Blowing spray-booth in the Bolshoi Theatre's dye-house

Headwear workshop

A craftswoman at work

Headwear detail

The head of the Rat King, “The Nutcracker” ballet.

The Shoe Workshop
The shoemaking shops of the theater cater for both the opera and the ballet companies, but the iconic Bolshoi ballet pointe shoe naturally sparks most interest.

The most magnificent pointe shoe

Pointe shoes enable the ballerina to balance, spin, hop, pounce, slide, and linger on the tips of her toes. Before the modern pointe shoes, ballerinas wore soft slippers and could not perform moves on pointe that we expect of today’s dancers. Pointe shoes provide the necessary support for toe dancing by allowing the dancer to transfer some of her weight to the shoe.

Individual lasts

Each ballet dancer has his or her shoes made with the use of individual lasts, which sets the shoemaking shops of the Bolshoi Theatre apart from many other manufacturers, including those globally known.

Individual wooden moulds

Individual lasts with name tags

A raw part of a future pointe shoe.

The right fit

It’s essential that the pointe shoes is comfortable. They are hand-made making each pair unique. They all feel different. Each ballet requires a different shoes.

The glue

The larger part of the shoe consists of glued fabric, which is put layer after layer upon the hard toe thus reinforcing it.

The sole

The hard sole is attached with the use of large needles and miniature nails. Families of shoemakers used to cherish their recipes of glues and passed them to new generations — it depends on glue how a shoe moistens and assumes the shape of a dancer’s foot.

The satin

The top of pointe shoes is covered in bright satin. Most pointe shoes will fit either foot; there is usually no left or right. The toe box tightly encases the toes, so that the dancer stands on an oval-shaped platform at the tip.

The pointe shoe

Toe boxes may be more or less stiff; they may be shallow and barely cover the tops of the toes, or deep; some have extended sides called wings to provide extra support along the sides of the foot.

The signature

The shoemakers finish the pointe shoes with the Bolshoi theatre signature sign empossed into the sole: "BOLSHOI THEATRE WORKSHOPS. MOSCOW-RUSSIA"

Credits: Story

The Bolshoi Theatre
The Museum of the Bolshoi Theatre
http://www.bolshoi.ru

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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