It's 8 a.m. on a frigid Tuesday, and wardrobe assistant Travis
Halsey is already hard at work. He has been measuring and cutting fabric
at the Joffrey Tower in the Loop for an hour before his boss,
department head Marianne Marks, arrives at the building's third-floor
Any day for the Joffrey Ballet
wardrobe team is hectic and painstaking, but this one particularly so.
The team has little time to make a new Sugar Plum Fairy costume for the
weekend premiere of "The Nutcracker." Joffrey dancers typically rotate
roles and share outfits — Yumelia Garcia will portray the character in
Friday's premiere; Victoria Jaiani will dance in the role on Saturday
and most frequently throughout the show's run — but the wardrobe team
has decided it would be practical to make a second costume exclusively
for Jaiani, 25. In eight hours, Marks, Halsey and lead stitcher Lavinia
Morozan must stitch the bodice, make the sleeves and create the 12-layer
tutu — the last task alone normally is given 40 hours of labor.
begins work on the tutu by drawing rounded (scalloped) edges on pieces
of white, nylon netting. After the strips are cut and pieced together,
10 yards of fabric will add up to more than 90 yards of tutu. Marks sits
at another table, cutting a piece of bobbinet to make the undergarment
that attaches to the tutu.
8:30 a.m.: Morozan
arrives, greets Marks' 18-month-old son, Russ, who is playing on the
floor, then joins Halsey at the workbench to cut the netting.
"Half of the process is just prepping all the pieces," Halsey explains. "We do everything we can with the machine first."
9 a.m.: Morozan,
whom Halsey calls "the queen of sewing," carefully feeds the nylon
through a ruffling machine, scrunching straight strips of fabric into
elegant waves. Halsey stands at the workbench cutting pink bobbinet for
the sleeves, and Marks stitches the bobbinet undergarment. Russ demands
to sit on his mom's lap. Admittedly, Marks has been on the road for two
weeks so he hasn't seen much of her lately. She obliges, instructs him
to sit still and cradles him in her left arm as she leans over the
machine and continues working.
The studio's big window faces
north and offers a view of the Chicago Theatre's wall. There isn't
enough natural light, so the three compensate with small lamps and
permanent Christmas lights. Past costumes hang on a rack, mounds of
fabric stretch across tables and photos hang on the walls. They work
without drama to the sound of oldies playing on the radio.
"We're a pretty laid-back bunch," Halsey says. "We gossip."
The first sign of trouble arises. Morozan is attaching tutu layers to
the undergarment when it somehow gets wrapped around the table and
stuck. She eventually frees the tangled mess, but one piece has ripped.
Halsey assesses it and matter-of-factly tells her to remove and replace
that section. She gets back to work unfazed and unpanicked.
years ago, I would have gotten really worked up, but now it doesn't
matter," Halsey explains, "because we can fix any problem there is."
Morozan attaches the first few rows of ruffles, she and Marks each
start stitching half of the bodice. Halsey has to stop working on the
sleeves to complete the increasingly unruly tutu.
"As it gets bigger, Travis will take over because you need more —" Morozan squeezes her biceps "— guns!"
1:45 p.m.: All
the layers are attached and Halsey enjoys two dumplings from their
Chinese takeout "as my reward." He then steams the puff of nylon layers,
flattening it to a manageable size.
2:30 p.m.: After
hours of toil on the minute details, the costume's shape becomes
evident. The tutu is done, Halsey is putting lace on the sleeves, and
Marks and Morozan are finishing their halves of the bodice.
3 p.m.: The
final stretch: Halsey and Morozan hand-sew every couple of inches of
nylon together to secure the tutu. Marks connects the halves of the
bodice. A half-hour later, Marks and Halsey switch places so he can
attach the sleeves to the top.
Just before 4 p.m.: At their predetermined quitting time, they fit a mannequin with the pieces and step back to assess their work.
"Tutu in a day!" Halsey declares. "Well, almost."
"It's actually pretty, in a Sugar Plum-y way," Marks says.
The dress form is considerably bigger than Jaiani, which makes Halsey a bit nervous.
"This will fit Victoria, right?" he asks.
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