There is tremendous technical skill and knowledge involved in the construction of the beautiful tutus that dazzle ballet audiences. Costumer Anne Armit is constructing four stunning tutus for Canada’s Ballet Jörgen’s Anne of Green Gables – The Ballet™. Anne’s esteemed career has included costume design for Canadian Stage, The National Ballet of Canada, and 33 years with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet where she designed tutus for the legendary Canadian ballerina, Evelyn Hart. Anne currently works out of her independent shop in Stratford, Ontario. In this interview with CBJ, Anne talks about her work with Anne of Green Gables – The Ballet™, explains the technical work of tutu construction, and shares some surprising tutu facts!
“Tutu construction is very complex. If I give a tutu’s first cut to a new sewer, I expect it to be done in 35 hours. If I give it to my tutu maker, I expect it to be done in 15 hours.”
Describe your role with CBJ’s Anne of Green Gables – The Ballet™.
I’ve known Bengt Jörgen for a really long time. I’m doing four daffodil tutus for him, plus an extra. I’m very fussy about my tutu base. Over the years of being at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, I built a base that’s a little different from most people’s, and I really like it. We cut it in my shop in Stratford, then I ship it to Winnipeg, and someone that I trained there makes the base for me because he knows how to deal with my recipe for the tutu. Here in Stratford, I have two fabulous women from Stratford Festival doing the bodices and the decoration on the plates. Each of those three people I work with are amazing.
Take us through the skill and technical work of constructing a tutu.
Tutus are tricky. The tutus that Ballet Jörgen have are 11-layered tutus. You’re going to have 3 rows of 60-inch-wide net on each layer. Each row is tucked, and there are probably 2,500 tucks in every tutu. That is sewn onto a graded panty. Once that’s done, it looks like a big chrysanthemum. Then you tack the layers together to get the structure and the shape. If you want a total pancake tutu parallel to the floor, you’re tacking tighter; if you want your tutu to come down, you’re pulling the fabric down. I like my tutu to have a 2.5-inch basque, which means the skirt of the tutu starts 2.5. inches below the waist. Then I like it to go down a little bit at the front at 6 inches, and I like it at 4 inches at the side. That way you hide the crotch and the bottom, and it makes the leg a little bit longer on the side. It’s a very subtle way to enhance the body. It also has a metal steel sprung hoop wrapped in cotton on the eighth layer– that’s what gives it a lot of its strength. Tutu construction is very complex. If I give a tutu’s first cut to a new sewer, I expect it to be done in 35 hours. If I give it to my tutu maker, I expect it to be done in 15 hours. Then we decorate them.
What might people be surprised to learn about tutus?
Tutus are very expensive. The cost is going to depend on their design. It also depends if you’re doing a repeat. If you’re doing a corps of tutus, they’re cheaper, but if you’re doing a one-off for someone like Evelyn Hart, you’re looking at between $3,000 to $5,000. They’re very expensive for people to make, and they have to be respected. You can expect a well-made tutu with refurbishment over the years to last between 15 and 20 years. You have to look after a tutu. Every time you have a tutu on, you need to have it scrubbed out before the next performance. White soap and warm water are used for quick tutu maintenance. If there are shoulder lifts, there may be makeup on the skirt as it brushes the man’s face. This would be cleaned with a washcloth. The tutu is then hung to dry by fans.
What you enjoy most about your work?
I just really love creating. It’s what I’ve done all my life, and if it’s challenging, all the better. I’m really proud of the tutu we’ve come up with. I really like how it looks, and I love doing any kind of novelty work. I like quirky challenges. I’ve made tutus for Evelyn Hart, and we’re still friends. I showed her the daffodil tutus for Ballet Jörgen, and she loved them. I think tutus are great, and I’ve gotten quite attached to them over the years. I just love them!
Anne of Green Gables – The Ballet™ premieres September 28, 2019 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. For more information visit our Anne page and look for updates in our monthly Anne Newsletter.
Written by Victoria Campbell Windle, CBJ Communications Contributor.
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