Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Costumes of Wonderland

by Mackenzie Bir

From the outside it is a dance studio in the heart of Maple Valley but within Dance Expressions it is another world filled with white rabbits, angry queens, dodo birds and flamingos. Colorful plaids, citrus greens, bright blues and a pair of bouncing ears swirl around a mad tea party. Flocks of birds bobble around in sunshine yellow and bright magenta tulle. A deck of cards march around on two legs preparing for a trial. It is as though you have fallen down the rabbit hole.

Wonderland comes to the stage as Ensemble Ballet Theatre prepares for their production of “Alice,” a new work staged and choreographed by Kimberly Wooten, the artistic director of EBT. But how does the magical world of Wonderland come to life?

It starts with costumes. Once the production was announced, which was roughly a year ago, De Munger, head of costumes for EBT, began the process of developing the costumes.

“It starts with a basic plan from Kim, we then have a great deal of open discussion, brainstorming and off the wall ideas,” Munger says. “There are a thousand designs that never make it beyond paper.”

In this production, which includes “Alice” and “Three Acts in Black and White,” there are approximately 220 costumes for 90 dancers. A huge undertaking, if this is your first time in the game. But EBT, although a relatively young company, has been putting on shows full of creative costumes since 2003. Their first show, "Peter and the Wolf," needed costumes for only nine dancers. The company has increased tremendously but the same care, effort and time is put into each costume, whether that costume is for Alice, or if it is for even the tiniest of jellyfish.

The costumes for “Alice” are “'Classic Alice with a dance twist'” says Wooten. “We tried to stay as close to Lewis Carroll’s sketches as possible, while modifying for ease of movement, and flow.”

Each costume helps bring the world of Lewis Carroll to life but the costume can’t dance or move on its own. “Without the input from the dancers a costume is just a pretty collection of fabric. A ballet costume must look correct for the part, move correctly and be comfortable while dancing,” says Munger.

When a dancer feels uncomfortable in a costume, it is reflected in their dancing. But when the right costume and the dancing come together it is an unbeatable combination. “One of my most favorite rehearsals is the first time costumes are worn” says Wooten. “It is amazing to see how a good dance, with a talented dancer, can be truly transformed into a character when they put a costume on.”

Although costumes play a large part in the creation of Wonderland, they are only a piece in the puzzle. Both Wooten and Munger know from experience that it is a unique moment when set, props, costume, lighting and dancing come together on stage. “It’s a real treat,” says Munger. “In general I'm pleased with most of the costumes, but always think there are one or two I could have done better on,” she says. “Mostly I'm glad that the rush is over and I can sleep in on Monday.”

Mackenzie Bir is a journalism major at the University of Oregon. Her work has appeared in the Eugene Weekly and will soon appear at

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