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Costume call.

The performance date is set, your shoes are ordered, and now it's time for a costume call. Before you're judged on what you wear onstage, here are some suggestions for making flattering choices and ways to preserve your costume.

Costume catalogs are available for all forms of dance, with an enormous choice of design at reasonable cost. Gone are the days when mothers and relatives began sewing months ahead of a performance date. Nonetheless, allowing four to fourteen weeks prior to your performance is still required by most costume companies.

If you need advice, don't hesitate to ask catalog costumers. They offer suggestions to disguise figure faults: heavy thighs need a loose, fringed skirt; currently favored pastel-colored, long ballet skirts with matching leotards require a slim body. They'll tell you what's "hot": best colors for jazz and tap routines are black or dark fluorescent hues; current fashion colors are yellow and orange; and favorite aerobic and acrobatic designs use bold abstract shapes. Almost all costumes are available in nylon net, although these soon lose their form: stretch fabrics are washable and wonderful; and cut velvet is elegant and flattering.

For the most part, the choice of costume is the teacher's, although parents frequently provide some input. Costumes for young students should always be age-appropriate and tasteful. "Times have changed," laments one costumer. "With the influence of suggestive costuming on television and in movies, there is no longer any sensitivity to a young person's natural growth, and some choices are too provocative."

Sequins, glitz, and glamour fabrics can he suitable, depending upon the routine and the age of the performer.

Costumes for groups are inexpensive and disposable, although they can be worn two, three, or more times if carefully tended. All can be worn at least once again for Halloween, other events, or resale.

If you want an exclusive design, consult someone like New York City-based costume designer Rosemary Ponzo. "I like to first meet the talent," Ponzo says, "and establish a personal relationship that enables me to know what is suitable, flattering, and original to that performer. I need to determine which colors and fabrics are best for that performer and what kind and how much movement is involved. Lighting, scenery, and the director's wishes are also important. Costumes should never overpower the performance.

"A costume too full of material," she adds, "can obscure the body. The wrong color can be distracting. A costume with too many pieces can make an audience uncomfortable. A long body can wear an empire line well; an all-black leotard or black pants and shirt on a male dancer needs a touch of color at the neck or waist, or his costume choice could be in a shimmering fabric.

"Comfort when moving is the most important factor in a dance design. Some designers have been clever in creating beautiful, structurally original and comfortable stage wardrobes: Halston's long pajama-leg gowns for Martha Graham; Karinska's immovable bodices for tutus; and Irene Sharaff's discreetly sexy costumes for stage and screen."

Hate your costume? Is it one you'd like to improve with scissors, dye in the bathtub, or throw out the stage door? If you haven't paid for it, don't touch the wardrobe! Speak to your artistic director about it. The costume is not yours. Dancers have been fined or fired for destroying or changing designs.

Wearing clear nail polish is okay; red is not acceptable; your hands will look like red claws from the audience -- hardly consistent with any role except that of a monster. Nor is the wearing of personal jewelry. You can always give your rings, earrings. and necklaces to your stage manager for safekeeping. If he has not warned you about wearing personal items on stage, he or she is remiss.

Costume-room manners are part of your training. Following your preperformance warm-up, makeup, and hair preparations, and after you've put on clean tights and shoes, the costume, as part of your role, is put on last. If you are fortunate enough to have a dresser, show your professionalism by letting her or him take the costume off the rack, help you step into it, and zip, hook, or Velcro the closings. If you are helping someone zip up, be sure to put a finger between the closure and the performer's skin as you zip.

Count the pieces before you go onstage if you have several items to wear. That way you won't find yourself missing an item. Remember, whether you do or don't own the costume you're wearing, it deserves respect and care. You must never eat, sit, or smoke in your costume; but you may try it on early or al another time to work with it and become familiar with its construction or to wear at a costume call onstage -- the official parade and last check before dress rehearsal.

Upon your return from performing onstage go directly to the costume room where the dresser will help you remove the costume and place it on a hanger. (Pavlova's contract specified that twelve wire hangers were to be placed in her dressing room -- unheard of costume care at that time.) Ponzo recommends cloth-covered hangers interfaced with cotton for hanging delicate fabrics. Under no circumstances should you leave the costume on the floor or in your dressing room. Report any weak spots such as loose hooks, overly stretched elastics, or missing decorations. (By the way, tip your dresser about $20 for a week of service and about $5 for a single performance. These theater people spend their day mending, ironing, and cleaning costumes, and are frequently the last to leave at night with the stagehands.) The magic of split-second costume changes executed in the pitch-black of backstage are a tribute to their efficiency.

Spots happen, especially if you clutch your bouquet to your bosom when you bow. Your bosom is washable -- your costume may not be. Take care of any spot immediately. Ponzo's studio suggests these remedies:

Aerosol (not a pump) hair spray. such as White Rain or Aqua Net. Spray the spot immediately from eight inches away and lift off.

Ivory soap on a white washcloth with plain warm water.

Motsenbocker lift-offs for food, beverage, grease, ink, and other hard stains.

Everblum or Techstain, available in stores that sell findings, such as Greenberg & Hammer, or Bed. Bath & Beyond, both in New York City.

White vinegar, an eye-dropper amount, carefully placed, will do wonders on a deep stain and will set dye. Using vinegar to remove spots, however. takes practice.

Tights can be tinted a softer shade by rinsing them in dissolved, ordinary, packaged dye. Peach is an especially flattering substitute for harsh pink. Pointe shoes can be tinted the same color by using the same dissolved tint or dye spread on a cotton ball and spread lightly over the top satin.

To freshen a washable nylon net tutu, detach the skirt from the bodice and dip in mild suds, rinse, hang upside down, and when almost dry, spray-starch each layer, pulling out the wrinkles to separate each ruffle. This can be done at any time when the tutu begins to droop. A tutu should always be hung upside down.

Union rules require regular costume cleaning by a theatrical shop, such as Ernest Winzer in New York City, and when another performer wears your wardrobe.

Personal hygiene may be a quaint term for referring to body cleanliness, but it's important to your health and comfort and a courtesy to other performers. It's also part of your professional manners. If you need to remove perspiration between costume changes, give yourself an alcohol rubdown. Keep a plastic bottle of drugstore alcohol in your dance bag for after-class, after-rehearsal, or between-costume changes. Using cologne is not advised since it may cause an allergic reaction in other performers or may be overpowering.

Of course, tights and underwear must be kept clean, and shoes should have no smudges. Use alcohol or cleaning fluid on a piece of cotton to remove spots on pointe shoes, and a soft cloth for leather shoes, after every performance (pancake and powder will mask those stains that are too stubborn to be removed), and clip the "beard" from the tip of the shoe as it wears. Wash the ribbons after each wearing. Heavy rosin can be scraped off. although Marley-floor stains require several tries with cleaning fluid. Alternate wearing one pair of pointe shoes with another pair and let them dry, thoroughly before the next wearing. You'll be surprised at how much longer they will last. There's always brown paper stuffing, but a better way to save the box when it becomes too soft is to carefully apply a light spray of Zinsser shellac, Lambert's Fabulon clear floor finish, or Krazy Glue inside the box. Let the shoes dry thoroughly. If you are really adventurous, put the ribbons inside the shoe and place the pair in a 200-degree oven with the door open to redry the original glue. Timing depends upon how hard you want the box to be.

Male dancers should make sure that their hands are clean of makeup before they partner. (Ballerinas, at one time, used to inspect the hands and shoes of the corps de ballet before curtain time.)

Not to be forgotten by both male and female performers is the use of underarm deodorants, such as Mitchum cream deodorant or an antiperspirant. For women, Skintimate shaving gels and creams for removal of leg, underarm, or bikini-line hair are gentle and require no moisturizer after shaving.

Traveling? Ponzo has more suggestions: be sure your name tag and the name of the ballet or work is on every hanger. Pack costumes in clear plastic garment bags with side zippers. Hang, costumes on your shower curtain rod and steam wrinkles away in your hotel bathroom if no costume room is available.

As for the crown on your head, the sequins on your costume. and the sparkles on your ears, these are easily cleansed with a dip in a bath of warm water and a splash of alcohol. Dry gently with a soft cloth. Alcohol will also clean your dressing room mirror. makeup containers, and dressing table very nicely.

Ready? Break a leg!
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Title Annotation:planning a costume for a dance performance
Author:Horosko, Marian
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 1998
Previous Article:A love-hate affair with dance.
Next Article:Wilkommen Back, 'Cabaret'.

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