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A day in the life

Barbara Langley, Wardrobe Manager, The Australian Ballet Store

Barbara Langley, Wardrobe Manager of The Australian Ballet Store Photograph: Kate Scott

Barbara Langley, Wardrobe Manager of The Australian Ballet Store. Photo Kate Scott

When did you start working at The Australian Ballet?

In 1978, as Assistant Ballet Mistress when Peggy van Praagh was Artistic Director. In 1985 I moved to the production division as Assistant Wardrobe Manager, and then in 1994 or 1995 I came out to the store in Kensington. I find it more like a library of costumes, and I've always been interested in libraries.

For an evening-length story ballet like Manon, which hasn't been performed for nearly a decade, what process do you need to go through to get the costumes out of the store and onto the stage?

I'll arrange with colleagues at the store to get the skips out – it might mean twenty skips – and then I uncover the costumes (which have usually been covered with plastic and calico). I pack ladies all together, gentlemen all together, then I'll get out the footwear and I'll pack that in groups. In Manon, there's lots of footwear because it's a period piece: elegant shoes for the men, as well as ballet boots and character boots. There's also headwear and wigs; lots of wigs in Manon.

What can happen to a costume after ten years in storage?

Elastics go to elastic heaven. The newer hooks and bars corrode (the older ones must be made in a different way). Some materials do disintegrate – if organzas have been dyed a lot, something in the dyeing process weakens the fabric. Feathers sometimes don't have a long life. Footwear is generally alright, except the young people's feet grow bigger, so we may not have a big enough size.

How much space do the costumes for something like Graeme Murphy's Swan Lake or Manon take up?

They take a lot of room. To get a costume that is at the back of a rack is about fifty paces, which I imagine is about fifty metres. The headwear and the footwear are in another spot, and there are shelves and shelves of wigs.

What is one of the trickier ballets to pull out of storage?

Graeme Murphy's Swan Lake – the men's costumes – because they're in dinner suits. A dinner suit is trousers, a tail coat, a shirt, a bow tie, a waistcoat, socks and shoes, maybe a top hat and maybe a cape – so it can be eight to ten pieces for one costume, multiplied by eighteen to twenty dancers. That's in one act. The morning suit in the first act is a grey tailcoat with all the accessories. The men are very bitsy, where the ladies are often just a very nice dress with a headdress, maybe some jewellery, tights, pointe shoes and briefs. And gloves.

Do you have a favourite costume?

No, but I admire many of the designers and their designs. Some of them are beautiful works of art, and I do consider the people who make the costumes artists in their own right, equivalent to the people on stage.



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