Three years ago was the one hundredth anniversary of the Ballet Russe. To honor and celebrate this influential ballet company, Alonzo King's Lines Ballet was commissioned to mount a new version of Scheherezade, expanding upon the story, modernizing the design, and contemporizing the music. It was and still is one of the most exciting pieces of dance I have ever seen. And I had the honor of contributing to the production development by creating a singular tutu made entirely of peacock feathers!
One of the more amusing aspects of costume design is the need to creatively problem solve and source materials. I often spend a third of my time in hardware stores looking for materials that are non textile based from which to build pieces. The peacock feather tutu was a project that required this approach and so off I went to my local hardware store. They are very well organized, with a lot of available, enthusiastic salespeople to point a customer in the necessary direction and to offer advice on how to approach a project as well. But these are also people whose area of expertise lies in home improvement, repair, actual hardware, and urban construction.
Having thought for several days about how to approach the actual build of the tutu, I concluded that 1. It needed to be lightweight. 2. It needed to be strong. 3. The construction would need to be invisible to the audience. 4. It needed to follow the basic traditions of tutu construction, but for a twenty first century application. Most tutus, the classical Russian type, are made of dozens of yards of gathered tulle, netting, and boning, with specialized hand stitching to hold everything together. My peacock feather tutu needed to be strong, flat, and yet also remain horizontal to the dancer. The traditional materials wouldn't work. I had found a plastic mesh at a craft store that was sold by the yard and came in a good width, color black, that would blend in nicely with the dark tones of the feathers. It would in theory allow the same support and silhouette as a traditional tutu, minus the tons of layers of tulle and such. But the standard types of boning that were available to assist in the stiffening of bodices, corsets, etc that is usually used for tutus would either be not strong enough to support the several hundred feathers that were going to be used, or too heavy, so it would weight the tutu down, cause it to droop, and and be too heavy for the dancer.
What to do? How to solve the problem? I remembered having seen a hollow plastic tubing somewhere and thought that might be the solution. So to the hardware store I went, in search of it being sold by the yard, or foot, or inch. I didn't know where something like that would be located at the store, under what category it would be found, or even how to best describe what I was looking for. Up shuffles a helpful looking salesperson and inquires at to what I might need. I explained the type of stuff I was looking for and so that he can have a better sense of how to guide me, the salesperson asked what it would be used for. "A tutu". "Do you mean a "2x2?". Ummm, no, a tutu, a ballet costume, you know, the frilly skirts that ballet dancers wear?" He just stared at me, not understanding. "So if you could just show me where I might find some bendable plastic tubing, I can take care of the rest, thanks." So he shuffles off down several aisles and leads me to some huge rounds wrapped with different types of squishy plastic tubing. Not the right stuff. I need rigid, yet bendable. I realized that the salesperson wouldn't really ever understand what I'm making and as he was looking really uncomfortable about my project and what I, crazy woman, was asking for, I looked at the material hopefully, thanked him for his assistance, and sent him on his way. I then spent another half hour trolling the aisles, to see if I could find what I was looking for or if I was in fact crazy. And finally, there they were, in a standing container, the plastic tubing of my dreams! I grabbed a few, since I figured there would be some necessary problem solving to this project, purchased the items and went home to prepare for the next step, the structure and construction of the tutu support.