The Sleeping Beauty is one of the biggest productions in Cincinnati Ballet’s repertoire. When it comes to life again at Music Hall from February 14-17, dancers will be wearing 70 luminous, newly handsewn tutus. “It’s a dying art,” said Cincinnati Ballet Wardrobe Mistress Diana Vandergriff-Adams. “People aren’t sewing anymore. It takes too much time.”
Tutus were first designed in the late 1800s to raise above a dancer’s feet, so movement could be better seen. While there’s no definite story about why they are called tutus, it’s likely a reference to the French children’s word, which mean “bottom,” as it’s worn around a dancer’s waist.
Each hand sewn tutu in The Sleeping Beauty can take between 40 and 120 hours to build. Vandergriff-Adams has spent countless hours rebuilding the costumes herself, often at home into the wee hours of the night. It’s been a labor of love for her, as she has been the matriarch of the wardrobe and costume department for 47 seasons. “I’m hoping it’s a cleaner, fresher look,” she said. “The costumes are in the best shape since they were originally built.”
The Sleeping Beauty’s sets and costumes were originally created by the late English ballet designer Peter Farmer for the London Festival Ballet in 1973. Boston Ballet bought them from London Festival Ballet, then they found their way to Cincinnati Ballet in 1993. Over the years, Vandergriff-Adams and her team have rebuilt many of the ballet’s costumes, all while preserving the vision of the original costume designer.
“It’s such a huge show,” she said. “There are probably 300 pieces in it.” The sheer volume of costumes for the production is astounding, and Cincinnati Ballet’s devoted wardrobe department has lovingly maintained them for many years, but the costumes are still subject the effects of time and use.
“A dancer will wear the costume out from the inside out,” she explained. “Seams go, they start to shred. Tutus famously don’t have long lives because they are made of net.”
The tutus had to be rebuilt when Cincinnati Ballet first bought the show, embellishing them with glittering fabrics and refurbished trim, including ribbons and jewels.
“There are several shows I’ve done in my life when the curtain opens and the audience gasps. That’s the moment you know you’ve done it right,” she said, with a hint of a smile. “The Sleeping Beauty is one of them.”