The production of Snow White is just over two weeks away and while the dancers rehearse and parents hustle to buy tickets, behind the scenes the costume designer, Deborah Shumway, is putting final touches on costumes she has been working on since September.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Debbie and learning about what goes into ensuring that each dancer has a costume that not only conveys their role, but feels good and allows them to be confident and comfortable on stage.
Debbie was a dance teacher for 40 years and has been sewing her whole life. One of her first jobs was as an alterationist at a dry cleaners. These two passions give her not only the skills she needs to ensure fit and functionality, but the knowledge as a former dancer to recognize what will work on stage and what won’t.
For Snow White Debbie kept costs down by using costumes that had previously been used in other productions. This meant that she had to take apart and redo many of them to fit dancers of vastly different sizes.
One of the most challenging sets of costumes were the Dragonfly costumes. These beautiful winged dresses had previously been used on dancers that were significantly taller than the young dancers that will wear them in Snow White. Debbie wanted to ensure that the costumes could be returned to their current size in the future so instead of cutting them she carefully pleated the sleeves and bodices. The result is a custom fitted costume that can be worn again with just a few alterations.
There are many considerations when making costumes for dance as opposed to theater. Dancers must be able to move, bend, leap and twirl and their costumes must be able to stay on, and allow for movement.
Additionally, some dancers have multiple parts or different costumes for the same part and at times must change their costumes in the wings very quickly. A good costumer must be aware of this and must ensure that the costumes can be quickly, and easily, taken off and changed, sometimes in the dark. This means sometimes fitting one costume piece under another or having helpers back stage to assist with fastening dresses and bodices.
The costumer’s work continues through the show, ensuring that the costumes arrive at the venue, fixing last minute problems, and then washing, repairing and rehanging costumes for future use.
Debbie loves working with the dancers, seeing them dance confidently in costumes she has made and watching their progress from year to year. For her this is a true labor of love and Amherst Ballet is lucky to have her!
By Lisa Gallant, parent