Dutch National Opera & Ballet is situated right in the centre of Amsterdam. The theatre is internationally renowned for its contemporary and innovative productions by the two resident companies, Dutch National Opera and Dutch National Ballet, which are considered among the best in the world. Seating 1600 and with a stage over 20 metres wide, Dutch National Opera & Ballet is one of the largest and most technically advanced theatres in Europe. Besides looking impressive, it is also a production house, and everything is made under its own roof – from music to dance, from props to costumes and from special effects to wigs.
In the costume department, consisting of one atelier for ballet and one for opera, you’ll always hear a sewing machine rattling and see the most amazing fabrics. The ballet costumes are made of special materials that have to be incredibly strong yet light as a feather. For the opera, costumes are made not only for the soloists, but also for the 60 members of the chorus. Costume designers dream up what the costumes will look like, but it is the cutters who actually make them. Good cutters, often with their own specialism, are few and far between. Some are specially trained to make men’s costumes while others specialise in women’s costumes.
Dyeing room by Kim KrijnenDutch National Opera & Ballet
Most fabrics are first dyed in the theatre’s own dyeing room. Costume designers use a colour fan to create the most amazing colour combinations for their designs.
Pointe shoes by Kim KrijnenDutch National Opera & Ballet
Each female dancer has her own pointe shoes, which she usually modifies herself to shape them perfectly to her feet. Principal dancers like Igone de Jongh sometimes get through several pairs of pointe shoes in a single performance. They are then used for rehearsals until completely worn out.
The best make-overs ever are provided by the wigs & make-up department. They make all sorts of wigs, from spectacular hairdos to what they call the ‘bald heads’. They prefer to use real human hair, because it looks best on stage. Each hair is stitched individually onto a net with a crochet needle. It’s hard work but it really pays off! There are now around 3000 wigs in the store. The hair and make-up stylists also do the make-up for singers, dancers, extras and actors. The stylists’ personality and the calmness and quality they exude are extremely important in the preparations for a performance.
At the props department, you can find the craziest things you could imagine and everything you might need for a performance: from tables, chairs and vases to flying monsters, strange birds and remote-controlled dolls. The props makers work with wood, paint and dyes, and cover things with fabric. The special effects are made here too. The props department staff try to shape the ideas and wishes of the artistic team as perfectly as possible. They usually do so by making the objects themselves, but sometimes they have to buy something at a flea market, for example, or on the internet.
Under the roof of the scenery atelier in the Zuidoost district of Amsterdam, things are planned, calculated, drawn, welded, constructed, sculpted, assembled, disassembled, packed and altered. This is where the dreams of renowned international designers and artists come true – within the bounds of possibility. In the drawing room, special software is used to first make a virtual 3D model of a set design, which forms the basis for working drawings. Then the wealth of professional knowledge in the production departments is called on to make the sets for both opera and ballet. And finally, the sets are transported in huge lorries to Dutch National Opera & Ballet.
People are doing things on and around the stage all day long. Here, the stage manager is ‘boss’. During the performance, he or she sits in the wings at a huge table covered with buttons, giving cues to everyone concerned; cueing the lighting and sound technicians, calling the soloists to the stage and ‘dropping’ the curtain. Lighting designers make increasing use of moving light, whereby the position, colour and shape of the spotlight can be controlled by computer. So placing and changing colour filters is practically a thing of the past. On the stage floor, in the fly tower, in the wings and behind the stage, the stage crew have a mammoth task in building and striking the sets, laying floors, hanging drops and flats and doing scene changes. And they have to do all of this without the audience noticing a thing.
Glimpse behind the
Maybe this virtual guided tour has inspired you to come and get a real live glimpse behind the scenes of our wonderful theatre. From September to June, guided tours are given to individual visitors nearly every Saturday at 12.15. On a guided tour, you will see the dancers rehearsing in the ballet studios, take a look backstage and visit the costume department.
© Dutch National Opera & Ballet