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Watch Scottish Ballet's Head of Wardrobe Caro Harkness discusses her exciting role.

A look behind the scenes at Scottish Ballet's Wardrobe team.

Apart from marvelling at the dancers’ incredible physicality, one of the most common conversations heard in theatre foyers after Scottish Ballet’s performances is “weren’t the costumes gorgeous?”. The Company’s productions are known for simply oozing style, and this is in part due to the hard work of Scottish Ballet’s Wardrobe team.

Scottish Ballet’s Wardrobe department may be a modest-sized team of four, but they look after each and every shoe, sequin and stitch which appears on stage. The Company’s broad repertoire comes with an equally diverse collection of costumes, so for one production the makers will be recreating costumes which are part of ballet history - Frederick Ashton’s Scenes De Ballet, performed at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival, features tutu designs from 1947 – while on another they can be liaising with designers from concept stage. Indeed, the team has been involved in creating costumes for world premieres on several occasions, working with designers including Benjamin Cho (Stephen Petronio’s Ride The Beast), Tatyana van Walsum (Krzysztof Pastor’s Romeo and Juliet) and Antony McDonald, who has designed all the new Christmas productions as well as other works in the repertoire.

In a typical day on the run up to a tour, Head of Wardrobe Caro Harkness will be liaising with designers, sourcing fabric, arranging fittings and checking that the costume makers have everything they need. The majority of costumes are made by external makers across the UK and sometimes beyond, with Resident Costume Maker Morag McKerrell in house. And with the costumes taking up to six months to research, source and make, preparations for a new season can begin as early as nine months ahead of opening night.

“There used to be a lot of costume making in house, but there was so much going on and so many different productions that it wasn’t easy,” explains Morag, who has been with Scottish Ballet for over 30 years. “But some shows are still done completely in house, like George Balanchine’s Apollo and Stephen Petronio’s MiddleSexGorge. The number of people making costumes depends very much on the particular show.”

The Wardrobe department has undergone one of the most dramatic transformations at the new Scottish Ballet headquarters at Tramway. Previously storing costumes and shoes over several floors in the former headquarters, the wardrobe team now has a separate dyeing room, laundry, fittings rooms complete with stage lights, a costume store and a room just for shoes in addition to their main working space.

“We’re still settling in,” says Caro, who joined Scottish Ballet when the Company shared premises with Scottish Opera, “but it has already made a big difference. Having two fitting rooms now is great so the dancers and the designers can work in privacy without everyone else having to see them change. And the shoe room is just amazing!”

Having these resources in house and organised so efficiently is particularly helpful when preparing to take a production on tour as the team has to do a great deal of packing (the kitchen sink stays at Tramway but the washing machine comes on tour), and making sure everything gets to the theatre is a meticulous process, as Wardrobe Mistress Mary Mullen explains.

“I need to make sure the touring skips contain everything we need for the tour and arrange dresser rails for the theatre so we’re ready to go to the theatre the Friday before production week.”

And even packing the shoes for the tour takes a lot of organisation. “I usually pack 16 pairs of pointe shoes each for the girls and six pairs for each of the boys, but those are just the shoes for class – there are all the performance shoes too, and those have to be dyed or made first!”

Mary and Assistant Wardrobe Mistress Joanna McLean then head out on tour with the Company and are always on hand to look after costumes, making adjustments and repairs as needed and helping the dancers with quick costume changes.

“Once the dancers are on stage, really moving in their costumes, we see things that have to be fixed or altered,” says Joanna. “If something goes wrong with a costume during a performance, we’ll be waiting backstage for a call, and we’ll do what we can to fix it.”

On smaller scale tours such as the 40th Anniversary Season, Joanna and Mary will oversee this, with extra assistants and wig specialists being brought in to help on larger-scale productions such as The Nutcracker. But as there are often several costume changes in addition to any urgent maintenance, they rarely get to see the costumes in action.

“We’re kept busy all the time,” laughs Joanna. “In fact, Romeo and Juliet last year was the first ballet I’ve ever watched from the front of stage as I’m always backstage working!”

Meanwhile, back at Scottish Ballet headquarters, Caro and Morag will already be working towards the next production, or even the next after that.

“There are build ups which get faster and more frenetic in the run up to the show until the production explodes on stage, and then it’s time to start again!” laughs Caro. “Working on a production takes over your life from the moment you start working on it until you see it on stage, but I like the fact that this isn’t a job where you do the same thing every day. We’re always doing something different, always moving forward.”


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