From costumes to choreography: Behind the scenes at Charlotte Ballet

From costumes to choreography: Behind the scenes at Charlotte Ballet
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“No swearing. Let’s keep it PG.”

Charlotte Ballet‘s Academy Artistic Director Kati Hanlon Mayo has just delivered a tongue-twisting sequence of choreography to a room full of dancers. She moves fast, tearing through the demo in about 60 seconds and then heads off expected dancer frustration with a light-hearted poke at their use of profanity. To me, they nail it on the first try, but to an experienced dancer and instructor, there’s work to be done.

Charlotte Ballet

Mayo floats effortlessly around the studio calling out intangible physical corrections like “free up your neck” that mean nothing to the untrained onlooker. If there’s any learning curve at all, the dancers scale it quickly and in no time the entire room is moving together.

Charlotte Ballet rehearsal

Rehearsal is a side of ballet the audience rarely sees. On stage, ballet dancers move with otherworldly, mythical grace that commands attention and respect. In practice, they’re more approachable and human — people you’ve probably seen around town in yoga classes or at the breweries, people who laugh and, yeah, people who swear when they slip up.

I’m someone who puts ballerinas up on a pedestal alongside unicorns and superheroes so I thought lifting the veil on professional rehearsal would ruin the experience for me, like seeing a mall Santa’s beard fall off or something. Instead, after sitting in on rehearsal I am even more impressed because it’s the up close, behind the scenes stuff that showcases the explosive physical power and athleticism this art demands.

Charlotte Ballet’s main company is made up of 20 dancers and they’re gearing up now for the holiday Nutcracker season (December 10 – 23). Back in the costume shop, work is well underway on their outfits for the show.

Charlotte Ballet costumes

According to Director of Costumes Aimee Coleman, they make about 80 percent of the costumes for the company in house. The remaining 20 percent might be rentals, outsourced jobs (for example, a wigmaker in New York City is doing all the hair for The Little Mermaid) or a rare store purchase.

Tutus are handmade and require anywhere from 60 to 80 hours of labor to construct. This tutu for the Snow Queen in Nutracker is only about halfway done and already has about 30 hours of labor in it. A simple tutu can cost anywhere from $800 to $1,500 but a fully decorated final product is upwards of $5,000.

Charlotte Ballet costumes

Charlotte Ballet costumes

I left my Charlotte Ballet tour kicking myself for not keeping up with those ballet classes my mom forced me into when I was little. But for people with ballet-related regrets like me, there’s Charlotte Ballet’s Adult Open Divison, dance and dance-based fitness classes for beginners to former dancers from age 14 and up. Drop-in classes are $16 (or $10 with a student ID).

Charlotte Ballet

I am absolutely going to take these classes and pretend I’m a ballerina. Don’t judge me.

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