With five scenes, over 150 unique costumes, more than 1,500 accessories and 21 performances, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s (PBT) production of the holiday classic The Nutcracker is no small feat. One unique aspect of The Nutcracker is its amazing costumes, which were designed specifically for the beloved holiday tale.
Janet Groom Campbell, who was PBT’s Costumier for more than 48 years, says that organization is key for the myriad of costumes used in The Nutcracker, and much of that preparation occurs even before performances begin.
“I always said that The Nutcracker is our best friend because we can work on it any time during the season because it is always there,” Campbell remarked.
“We pull all the costumes for each performance from storage, organize everything in the costume shop and make sure everything is performance ready. Then, one Saturday in November, we do all the student fittings and have Kathie Sullivan (PBT’s Wardrobe Supervisor) come in to pack and count everything to be transported to the Benedum Center.”
Kristin McLain, current Costume Director at PBT who has been working with the organization since 2016, noted that, “Pretty much all of November is a scramble to get Nutcracker ready.”
McLain described the annual preparation routine for The Nutcracker as very methodical and precise.
“Year after year, we follow the same plan as the year before,” said McLain. “During the summer, we pull each group of costumes from the back storage and carefully look through for repairs.”
According to McLain, typically in early November, they’ll have a costume fitting day for the nearly 150 students who are dancing in The Nutcracker. This is usually a fast-paced, fun day because they get to see all of the kids who will be performing and can make sure that their costumes fit and that they know how to put them on. At the end of November, company casting is released and the costume department can begin fitting the company dancers and graduate students.
“Many of the dancers have worn these costumes in years past; however, we find that we can usually make a few minor adjustments to perfect the fit,” said McLain. “While we don’t usually have difficult alterations, with so many dancers it can add up.”
Campbell explained that, “When building a show like The Nutcracker, you build the costumes in a way that is easy to fit on many different bodies because during the lifespan of a Nutcracker costume, it will be worn by many different body types.”
After alterations are complete, the costumes must be transported to and organized at the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts.
“When packing, Kathie Sullivan organizes how the crates are packed and where they will go in the theater. Most costumes have at least four accessories,” Campbell explains.
According to McLain, The Nutcracker has the most costumes and dancers that she’s ever worked with and due to the number of people and activity backstage, it MUST stay organized.
“At the theater, Kathie Sullivan and her dressers keep everything in order”, said McLain. “The costumes and dressing areas are located over four floors of the Benedum: the basement dressing rooms, stage level dressing rooms, entry level dressing rooms and rehearsal studios. For a full week before performances, Kathie and her team place costumes, tights, shoes/boots and headpieces into the areas of the corresponding dancers. Between shows, items will return to the wardrobe room for washing and repair and will then be placed back exactly where they belong.”
In addition to the company and graduate student dancers, there are also nearly 150 student dancers involved in the performances. The student costumes include everything from flowers and snowflakes to party children, soldiers, bumblebee, clowns and everything in between.
Although it certainly takes a village to alter, assign and distribute all of the costumes required of The Nutcracker, the effort certainly pays off — the over 150 dazzling, unique costumes bring the magical ballet to life on stage.
Get an up-close look at the details of The Sugar Plum Fairy, Cavaliere and The Nutcracker Prince costumes below.
Don’t miss your chance to experience the magic of The Nutcracker this holiday season, running December 9-28 at the Benedum Center!
Thank you to our sponsors, Highmark, Giant Eagle, Clearview and Federal Credit Union for their support of The Nutcracker.
This past weekend, PBT lost Jay Romano, our beloved CFO of over 40 years. Jay left a profound impact on PBT, and his tremendous passion, incredible empathy and terrific positivity will never be forgotten. He was a mentor, a friend and the beating heart of PBT. We are deeply sorry to lose such a wonderful person, and we send our love to Jay’s family and friends at this time.
Thank you Jay, for your inspiration, dedication and your smiles. PBT will always honor your legacy.
As a loyal Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre employee of 40 years, Jay has spent his entire adult life working in a very demanding profession. As chief financial advisor, he has helped lead the organization to increasing levels of service, recognition and support while fulfilling its mission to enrich the cultural growth of the community. He continues to focus his attention on accurate and timely financial reporting and cash flow management which are critical for each department in order to reach the strategic objectives of the organization. Jay provides reliable financial analysis, robust projections research and compelling recommendations to assist the leadership team in making artistic, development and financial decisions to achieve growth projections. Jay served as a board member of the Canon McMillan School District from 1993 through 2009 while serving as past Treasurer and Board President and served on the grant review panel for the PA Partners in the Arts.
PBT will honor Jay in the coming weeks with a Celebration of Life; details for this event will be announced soon.
Written by Denise Mosley-Moore
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s (PBT) first production of the 2022-2023 season is Storytelling in Motion, a mixed repertoire showcase of contemporary ballet. Storytelling in Motion features PBT’s own Principal Dancer Yoshiaki Nakano’s Catharsis, a world premiere that celebrates the transformative power of human connection and community support.
“I’m so grateful to choreograph with dancers I know because I can connect with them. I can relate to them,” Nakano explained. “I know them. I know how they dance,” he continued. This is Nakano’s fifth commissioned mainstage work for the PBT Company.
When describing his choreographic process, Nakano expressed, “I always start with music. The music always inspires me.” Nakano’s initial inspiration for Catharsis was “Moonlight Sonata: Adagio,” a rearrangement and performance by Maya Beiser that is based upon Beethoven’s solo “Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2: Sonata quasi una fantasia.” Beiser’s rendition features a very prevalent heartbeat, which Nakano says he “fell in love with” when he heard it for the first time. “If you strip everything, we are bones, muscles, and organs. So, the heartbeat is the center of humans,” explains Nakano.
Catharsis consists of four movements that shed light on the human capacity to connect through shared values, authenticity, support and empathy. Viewers will be entranced by the progressively deeper connections the dancers make throughout the piece as dancers layer the tenderly expressive, yet demanding choreography with increasingly greater levels of human connection through touch, emotion and eye contact.
The first movement reveals a striking disconnection between a group of dancers who move in unison with crisp, hypnotizing choreography while three soloists discreetly separate from the group to demonstrate feelings of loneliness that we as humans often feel in the midst of others. In the second movement Masahiro Haneji and Josiah Kauffman command the stage with heart-wrenching solos emoting the feelings of intense isolation and frustration they feel for being unseen and unheard by the rest of the group. There is a glimmer of hope for reconnection when solo dancers Hannah Carter and JoAnna Schmidt gracefully depart from the group and seemingly glide across the stage to re-engage Masahiro and Josiah with a gentle touch to their faces.
In the third movement of Catharsis Hannah and JoAnna inspire a deeper connection among the rest of the group through touch as well. The women are joined by three other dancers who anchor them through what seems like an endless, yet seemingly effortless series of breathtaking and extremely demanding lifts. The piece crescendos with the fourth and final movement that Nakano describes as “much brighter, more contemporary and neoclassical” in contrast to the first three movements. For the first time in the piece, the dancers begin to exchange eye contact, which Nakano believes to be a critical and healing component of human connection. “Humans are social beings,” he says. “We all need support,” Nakano adds.
When asked what he’d like the audience to feel when they witness the world premiere of Catharsis, Nakano explains that he wants the audience to appreciate the beauty of this choreography while being reminded that although they may feel lonely at times, they are never truly alone. “You can find someone who relates to you and you can be yourself there.”
Make sure to see Catharsis, along with two other innovative, contemporary pieces — Nacho Duato’s Duende and Helen Pickett’s The Exiled — at Storytelling in Motion, running Oct. 7-9 at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center! Check out the preview video here.
Photography: Aviana Adams