Time Out Melbourne

The Australian Ballet's wardrobe production manager talks tutus with Time Out

September is a busy time of the year for Australian Ballet. In Melbourne they're presenting both La Bayadère and Peter Wright's The Nutcracker, as well hosting series of public workshops, classes and conversations.

With so much to prepare, you half expect the company's wardrobe department to resemble a sort of Aladdin's Cave, overflowing with exotic costumes, silks piled on nets and flannels, a chaos of ballet shoes and brocade, sequins and spandex.

In fact, under the sober direction of Michael Williams, head of wardrobe for almost 30 years, everything is in its right place. All is order, efficiency and stacked Tupperware boxes.

It needs to be. One full-scale, three-act ballet can require as many as 500 fittings, all of which need to be squeezed in around the dancers' hectic rehearsal schedule.

Still, despite the careful labelling, there is magic in the place. Among the racks and racks of costumes currently standing by for La Bayadère and The Nutcracker, familiar figures can be glimpsed.

Here, an entire rack of ghostly Shades, the dead bayadères. There, the particoloured Mirlitons.

Williams points out Drosselmeyer's coat, an exquisite piece, star-spangled with crimson mottling, all of which had to be painted and set by hand.

Then there are the Sugar Plum Fairies. These tutus are most expensive pieces Williams and his team have yet had to make.

"The reason they're is so expensive is the immense amount of hand stitching," explains Williams.

Each Sugar Plum costume alone features 10,000 hand-sewn beads, with 800 pearls in each tiny plum appliquéd to the costume.

Of course, the very fine fabrics cause frequent headaches because they damage quite easily; but, according to Williams, you can't substitute them with anything else. Nothing moves the same way.

"One lady suggested we should use Calico and just dye it," he laughs. "Yes, you could, but it would look crap! There is no substitute for velvet and silk."


La Bayadère, Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne. Various times. $39-$142. 28 Aug-6 Sep.

The Nutcracker, Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne. Tue 6.30pm; Wed- Fri 7.30pm; Sat, 1.30pm & 7.30pm. $39-$142. 12-25 Sep.

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Updated on 4 Sep 2014.

By Andrew Fuhrmann   |   Photos by Georges Antoni
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