Wardrobe Technician Ciara Nolan joined Scottish Ballet in 2017. Since then, she has dressed our dancers as aliens, Salem puritans and mice... just to name a few!
Born in Donegal, Ciara moved to Edinburgh to study costume. Whilst working as a dresser at Festival Theatre Edinburgh, Ciara met Scottish Ballet’s Head of Wardrobe, Mary Mullen – and it wasn't long before they were working together.
When Ciara is not costuming our dancers, she collects and sells vintage fashion. Oh, and did you read her glittery Strictly Come Dancing column for The Telegraph? We grabbed a chat with Ciara to find out more about her creative career.
When did you first become interested in costume?
I was studying fashion and textile design back home in Ireland, but my interest was in historical clothing. My tutor said, ‘You need to go into costume, that’s where you’re suited’.
What makes costuming for dance different to other couture fashion and design?
Dance costumes need to adapt to the body. Dancers’ bodies are special — the movement range is extraordinary, so the fabric must have a lot of stretch. We sometimes need to raise hemlines of historical costumes to work with complex choreography, like in The Crucible.
However, in the prologue to The Nutcracker (pictured below), the women wear huge full-length Victorian dresses and we just have to hope that the guys don’t stand on the trains.
What does your job involve?
Everything from drafting patterns, to making mock-up costumes for the dancers to wear in rehearsals. There are lots of fittings involved before finalising a costume. Then we pack it all up and take it on the road.
I help manage the teams of dressers in each theatre and keep up with the constant repairs and alterations along the way.
What have been some highlights of your time with Scottish Ballet so far?
The Crucible (2019, pictured below) was such a huge feat for the Wardrobe Team; we made lots of the costumes in-house. This was the first time my colleague, Wardrobe Technician, Rhona Anderson, and I made costumes for the company from scratch. It was such a big accomplishment to see them on the stage. The Highlands and Islands tour in 2018 was a real test, as we had to adapt to so many different, smaller venues. I would love to work on Highland Fling again.
If you had to pick one costume, which one is your favourite?
The Ballerina in The Snow Queen (below), designed by Lez Brotherston and made by Parkinson Gill. It’s smaller than a normal tutu. It’s gold, super sparkly and the only tutu in the whole production, so it really stands out.
What are the challenges of your job?
Casting changes mean a costume could be nearly finished then you need to make it again for a different dancer. Quick changes (sometimes 20 seconds) can be scary and often we only have one or two rehearsals before opening night.
What makes Scottish Ballet’s Wardrobe Team special?
We are a small team. When we don’t have work placement students or freelancers in, it’s just the three of us. We depend on each other if we need advice, which helps on 12 hour days touring together. Unlike other companies' Wardrobe Teams, we often dress our dancers too!
This interview first appeared in Backstage magazine. Join our free Membership to get exclusive access to each edition!