A look behind the scenes at Colorado Ballet’s costume department


For years now Colorado ballet provided the Denver area with breathtaking performances and memorable acts such as his annual performance of Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet and more. First conceived as a ballet school in 1951 by its founders, Freidann Parker and Lillian Covillo, the school quickly became the Covillo-Parker ballet school in 1961. Fast forward to 2017, and the Colorado Ballet is now known as a world class dance company with 30 professional dancers and 20 studio dancers presenting over 50 performances per year..

Shirin Lankarani holds up one of his drawings. All photographs by Meg O’Neill.

With multiple performances throughout the year, it’s hard to believe that Colorado Ballet’s costume department is operating on human power. only two full-time costumers. The costume department is headed by Shirin Lankarani who has worked with ballet for almost 20 years. Before coming to the United States, she worked in the world of cinema in Iran. “I was a director and a costume designer. So when I arrived in the United States, I wanted to continue working in this field. So I came to America and started ballet as my first job… and I’m still here. Elijah Meader acts as Assistant Director of the Ballet Wardrobe and has been there since 2013. Together the two manage and produce all of the looks seen on stage at Colorado Ballet.

Despite the massive amount of clothing that ballet is responsible for, it doesn’t take Lankarani long to find what she needs. “Everything we have is organized by production,” she said. They currently have their own costumes for Nutcracker, Dracula and much more. However, some productions may require them to rent costumes from other ballet companies as well as sell their own costumes in order to acquire new pieces. “We just finished with Romeo and Juliet and we didn’t need the costumes anymore, so we sold it to a company in Japan.” Although they can rent and borrow costumes from time to time, the costume department usually finds itself creating pieces from scratch.

The daily process of the costume department is constantly evolving, depending on current and upcoming productions. Currently, Lankarani is working on a costume for the Spanish dancer who appears in the holiday production of Nutcracker. Indeed, every year Nutcracker is still considered the most active production. Not only are tickets still selling out, but the volume of costumes is double what you would see in another production. Lankarani said, “We have to deal with a lot of dancers and costume changes. Some dancers may need to change multiple times during production, and many times we make changes on site. “

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While there may be rows and rows of costumes throughout the space, the majority of the department’s budget is devoted to peaks. “We have a wardrobe made up of shoes only, with all styles and all brands… because some dancers prefer a specific brand. ” They import their shoes from Russia, Paris and New York, with each dancer going through five pairs of shoes per month. The costume department will also be hand dye each shoe by production. “Two years ago, we made Alice in Wonderland and had to dye 150 pairs of shoes internally. But sometimes the dancers just color their own shoes with a magic marker because the audience can’t tell that far from the stage.

Throughout Lankarani’s 20 years in ballet, his favorite production to date has been Dracula. “I fell in love with it because of the costumes. They are fun and elaborate, but also dark. We received the costumes from England and our very first screening of Dracula was tough in terms of costumes, but now I love it and look forward to it.

Colorado Ballet has grown into a big production over the years and is now very popular in the dance world. In fact, the Colorado Ballet production of Nutcracker was ranked as the best Nutcracker in the United States via the Annual Goldstar National Nutcracker Award. “A lot has changed in recent years,” said Lankarani. “We moved to this new building which gave us more space for costumes and for working, which we really needed. While the department is much busier now with multiple productions a year, Lankarani is excited about all the changes and looks forward to many more years to see the Denver dance community grow.

All the photographs of Meg O’Neill.

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