Originally created 12/03/99

Dressed for the part

Since October, the ballet has been her life.

Donna Hancock is in charge of costumes for the Augusta Dance Theatre's upcoming production of Nutcracker in a Nutshell. So each day the stay-at-home mom cuts out patterns, sews seams or adds ribbons, buttons and fur to costumes. The show, which will be performed Dec. 18-19 at the Grover C. Maxwell Performing Arts Theatre at Augusta State University, has a cast of 120.

Nutcracker ballet performances are a Christmas staple for many. The annual holiday production brings to mind a fantasy world of dreamy snowflakes, sugarplum fairies and giant mice. But making such visions real takes time and creativity.

The costumes can cost hundreds of dollars and require countless hours of hard work, usually provided by parent volunteers.

The dress for Mother Ginger, for example, may cost Augusta Dance Theatre more than $300. Mrs. Hancock said hundreds of yards of fabric will be used to create the majestic costume, the skirt of which is big enough to conceal a bevy of bonbons.

The Augusta Ballet's annual Nutcracker opened Friday at the Imperial Theatre and continues today and Thursday through Sunday, Dec. 12. Augusta Ballet has set up an endowment fund to pay for new Nutcracker costumes and costumes that need repair. Many of the outfits in the performance have been used for years.

The Nutcracker outfit, being worn this year by 13-year-old Jeremy Bannon-Neches, is an original from the Atlanta Ballet Company and has been used for more than 40 years.

Clara's costume is practically a rookie at just 4 years old. The blue lace-trimmed dress is one of the heavier outfits in the show, and one of the hottest for the dancers because it's fully lined and includes bloomers in addition to the tights and leotard. Olivia Anderson and Jessica Cohen alternate in the role.

There are five new costumes in Augusta Ballet's production this year: two tutus, a new male tea dancer outfit and two party jackets for child dancers.

One tutu can cost up to $250, said Patti Ann Smith, a working parent who also volunteers her time as a costume coordinator. After lace, beads and sequins are attached, she estimates the cost per tutu could be as high as $500.

"You can't just go out and buy pieces like this," said Ms. Smith. "You have to make it."

The costume for the Arabian Coffee part was completed with almost no help from patterns. It was created by costume designer Ken Busbin, a former Augusta Ballet dancer. It's composed of harem pants and a bra-style top covered with sequins and blue beads.

Many Augusta Ballet costumes are works in progress, evolving and being updated. The ornate top for Little Bo-Peep's costume was remade three years ago. It was dyed yellow, and lace was added to the end of the elbow-length sleeves.

Mrs. Hancock, the costume coordinator for Augusta Dance Theatre, looked at traditional outfits from other Nutcracker productions to make the costumes for this year's performers.

"The polechinelle costumes are hard to make because I had to combine four or five different patterns to get the look I wanted," Mrs. Hancock said. She and other parents spent four to five hours making each of the 10 bonbon costumes from green and purple silk taffeta, with gold trim on the sleeves and collars.

Meredith Tannehill, 11, plays a Chinese dancer in Nutcracker in a Nutshell. Her costume, a red silk tunic, was cut straight from a dress pattern, Mrs. Hancock said. It's accented by silver frog closures for buttons, black tights and a black tassel in her hair. Meredith's outfit, one of the least expensive, cost $20 to $25.

Alexis Bashinski, 14, plays an ice skater. Her costume, one of the more costly ones, is made from pressed royal blue velour with white fur at the collar, waist, wrists and swing skirt hem.

"It's a very tailored look," Mrs. Hancock said. "It's an early-1900 look -- very Victorian."

Seven-year-old Nathan Lubeck of Augusta plays the part of the Jack-in-the-Box. His red and white polka-dotted costume is made from a clown costume with boning at the waistband to give him bounce. The tall jester-like headpiece is actually a lot lighter than it looks. Made from felt and stuffed with cotton, it's easy for Nathan to move around in.

Mrs. Hancock said parents of dancers often pay for their children's costumes.

"The trick is to find something in your budget," she said.

Nathan's parents, Chuck and Mickey Lubeck, who toured professionally in the national production of Cats, do his makeup and help the other performers with theirs.

For Mrs. Hancock, the reward of countless hours of hemming, sewing, pasting and alterations comes when she sees her finished products on stage.

"With each performance my heart jumps," she said.

On stage

The Augusta Ballet will perform The Nutcracker at 1 and 5 p.m. today, 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 1 and 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 11, and Sunday, Dec. 12, at the Imperial Theatre, 745 Broad St. Admission is $8 to $33. Call 261-0555.

The Augusta Dance Theatre will perform Nutcracker in a Nutshell at the Grover C. Maxwell Performing Arts Theatre at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 18, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 19. Tickets are $10 for adults; $7.50 for children. Call 860-1852.

Reach Barnini Chakraborty at (706) 823-3332 or newsroom@augustachronicle.com.


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