Costume changes, new talent and a goofy version all keep 'Nutcracker' fresh

Published: Saturday, Nov. 26 2011 4:00 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — “I can’t see ‘The Nutcracker’ (happening) in unitards,” said David Heuvel, costume production director at Ballet West, following up with a hearty laugh.

In fact, no one at Ballet West can imagine the production that way.

“Part of ‘The Nutcracker’ is how visually arresting it is,” said Christopher Ruud, principal artist with the company. “The choreography is the meat of the performance,” he explained, but "just like any gift, if you wrap it really well, it seems that much more special.”

Artistic Director Adam Sklute called costuming for “The Nutcracker” absolutely essential to the overall performance. Though the costumes do look nice, there’s a little more to their purpose.

“Costuming not only tells the audience that they’re some place else, it tells the dancer,” he said. “It helps us to create the character and who we are.”

The costume staff has created new costumes for the characters of Herr Drosselmeyer and Nephew this year.

“For the last couple of years, we’ve been talking about trying to make Drosselmeyer really stand out as a peculiar character, an eccentric,” Sklute said.

Drosselmeyer’s black cape, a signature look Heuvel introduced in the first place, will receive more flair and color. When Clara enters her exaggerated dream world, it will be reflected in Drosselmeyer’s costume, too.

Heuvel discussed how he’s always trying to stay true to what “Mr. C” — founder Willam Christensen — would want for the characters’ look. He believes the change for Drosselmeyer will be a good one.

“I think this is part of the growth of the production and to make it appeal to the new generation,” Heuvel said.

Other changes were made just last year to the Grand Pas tutus worn by dancers in the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

On opening night of this year’s “Nutcracker,” principal artist Christiana Bennett, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, will be paired with Ruud, her Cavalier, who also happens to be Bennett's husband. The couple described Bennett’s current plum costume: frosty pinks and golds, embroidery, impeccable details and accents.

“I feel pretty in it,” Bennett said, laughing after her extensive description.

Heuvel talked about adding another Grand Pas tutu this year. Sklute selected seven different performing casts because he feels they have many strong dancers in the company this year.

The plum role tutus, Heuvel estimates, would cost anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000. But because Ballet West has its own costume shop, they can make their own for much less. The tutus are hand sewn, covered in more than 200 heat-set jewels.

Heuvel, his assistant, and just a few seamstresses make up the costume staff. They begin work on Nutcracker costumes during the summer. They must also work for the season-opening show in the fall — “Dracula” was this year’s — but the Christmas production becomes priority when that is complete.

Luckily, with the shop, Ballet West has a stock to pull from. They also reuse costumes. The trickiest part is maintaining and refitting so many.

“We’re very lucky at Ballet West to have a wonderful costume department,” Bennett said. “They take such good care of what we have.”

The costume department must also take care of ordering and sewing borders on hundreds of shoes. The shoes are shipped from places like New York, London, Australia, Russia and South America.

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