I learned the importance of dance costume at a very young age, as both of my parents were dancers, and I remember watching repeated costume fittings for hours from my cradle near the piano in the ballet studio in my mother. Growing up and becoming a professional ballet dancer, I learned more and more that the proper design and fit of a costume is an integral part of the art.
When I danced with the Stuttgart Ballet, I was often asked to do costume fittings on the third floor of the Stuttgart Opera, which was entirely dedicated to costumes. I remember looking at rows of sewing machines and women and men sitting in front of the machines amid rolls of fabric and sketches of paper costumes. The Stuttgart Ballet enjoys incredible government support which allows the ballet company great artistic freedom to create a complete dance art with great talent on stage and great talent behind the scenes.
As I grew up and became a prima ballerina, I realized more and more that in the art of ballet the costume is just as important as the dancer. The costume defines the choreography even before the dancer takes his first steps on stage.
The costume must blend in with the choreographer’s vision and highlight the body shape and fluidity of movement of each dancer. Towards the latter part of my 28-year professional stage career, I was only wearing costumes designed especially for me by my favorite costume designer. When I danced in a Jeanette Owlette costume, I felt like I was moving in my own second skin. It was paradise!
The proper design and construction of ballet costumes is a complex art in itself. Although Sierra Nevada Ballet does not have the budget of a large European ballet company, we are fortunate to have a very talented and experienced client. “I take inspiration from the choreography first and try to understand the choreographer’s vision,” said Michele Vietti, costume designer for SNB. “Then I look at each dancer and I look at the movements that each has to perform. Then I look at the physical form of each dancer and I try to design a costume that will complement the form (and) allow for proper technical execution while achieving simultaneously the vision of the choreographer.
This month, students from the Sierra Nevada Ballet Academy prepare to compete in the Youth America Grand Prix semifinals in San Francisco. I asked Michele if she would help me with the costumes. YAGP is a professional ballet competition, and students must perform traditional classical ballet variations in traditional ballet costume. For the dancer, this can be a very difficult undertaking. Tutus are very expensive to buy and it is difficult for parents to get professionally executed tutus. “Tutus take between 40 and 60 hours to make due to the complex work required to produce a professional level product,” Vietti said.
In the case of SNB Academy student Sami Zamora, Michele’s task was an even greater challenge. “Sami is so petite and so delicate in shape that I didn’t want to use boning in the construction of the tutu bodice or too much embellishment in the trim because I felt that would overpower her slight appearance.”
Michelle’s designs are always beautiful and suitable for both the dancer and the choreography. Michele clearly enjoys what she does.
“I fell in love with sewing in college when I made a pillow in my home economics class. I had originally planned to get into styling in college, but later decided to devote myself to raising a family instead. “
Michele continued to sew and study fashion design on her own over the years. She made her first dance costume when her daughter, Abriana, was 5 years old and this costume sparked a passion within Michele that inspired a talent that Michele has developed over the past 11 years.
SNB plans to create a new version of the feature film “Cinderella” this summer and will feature a sample of the ballet in the company’s “Brew, Brats and Ballet” and “Choreography and Conversations” programs in mid-May.
Asked about her costume ideas for “Cinderella,” Michele smirked, “I have a lot of costume ideas floating around in my head; my next job is to put them on paper.”
Guess we just have to wait and see what she comes up with. Whatever it is, I know it will be wonderful because Michele never would have done it any other way.
“I take great pleasure in the finished product and share the joy of the dancer. Seeing the smiles on the faces of the dancers is worth it to me.
SNB presents “Brew, Brats and Ballet” on May 14 and 15 at the Reno Little Theater in Reno and on March 22 at the Brewery Arts Center in Carson; and “Choreography and Conversations” on May 21 at the Oak Park Arts Center in Fallon.