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Jewels Costume
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Jewels: A Fusion of Artistry and Fine Craftsmanship

From stunning jewels to elaborate costumes, the upcoming performances of Jewels by Kansas City Ballet (KCB) celebrate fine craftsmanship as well as showcase mesmerizing dance and captivating music.

A Sparkling Collaboration with VanBrock

The exquisite gems that inspired George Balanchine’s captivating ballet also ignited a new collaboration with Kansas City’s own VanBrock, a distinguished private jeweler. As the proud sponsor of Jewels May 10-19, VanBrock brings its 17-year legacy of exceptional jewelry and service to enhance this historic KCB production featuring all three pieces of Jewels – Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds.

According to Bonne Illig, owner of VanBrock,  “Partnering with Kansas City Ballet to showcase Jewels, with its focus on stunning gemstones and elegant dancing, was a natural tie-in for VanBrock.”

To commemorate the partnership, VanBrock hosted a special reception for KCB supporters in their retail jewelry suite on April 9. Additionally, VanBrock is giving away a piece of precious jewelry to one lucky audience member at each Jewels performance.

The Brilliance of Jewels Costuming

Under the guidance of Jennifer Carroll, KCB’s Costume Supervisor since 2008, the costume team delves into the intricate process of sourcing the perfect trim, gemstones and appliqués to elevate Jewels costumes from ordinary to extraordinary.

Inspired by the legacy of Barbara Karinska, the original designer of Jewels costumes, Jennifer and her team spare no effort in ensuring that each detail reflects the ballet’s brilliance and essence.

Yet, locating that magical trim can prove challenging, as only a few vendors are situated in Kansas City itself. Fortunately, that’s when the KCB team springs into action, leveraging contacts made from previous performances and conducting whatever online sleuthing is necessary to find the right type of trim.

“If there’s a perfect gemstone, gold trim or appliqué to be found, we’ll find it,” affirms Jennifer, who together with Assistant Costume Supervisor Betti Jo Diem forms the core KCB costume team.


The Enchanting Origins of Jewels Costumes

The original costumes for Jewels were inspired by Balanchine’s visit to the New York showrooms of Van Cleef and Arpels the year before Jewels premiered in 1967. They were such exquisitely crafted pieces of art that some of them have been exhibited in museums.

Oscar-winning costume designer Karinska is renowned for her extensive collaboration with Balanchine and New York City Ballet that resulted in more than seventy ballets. She paid particular attention to finding the finest trim that would accurately represent the true glitter of genuine gemstones on display in Jewels.

Today, her abstract designs for Jewels are considered by some critics to be her greatest.

“The costumes for Jewels are indeed beautiful, with each perfectly following the stylistic differences of the music,” says KCB’s Jennifer, who toured as a wardrobe supervisor with Broadway shows such as Oklahoma! and Movin’ Out before joining KCB.

Costumes Vital to the Performance

Jennifer and the team have spent the last few weeks adapting rented Jewels costumes from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, a frequent practice among ballet companies.

“Sometimes you have to recreate entire costumes with nothing more than images off the internet, so the opportunity to rent quality costumes gave us a good start,” explains Jennifer.

The unique styles of the costumes provide the unique flavor of the three distinct acts in Jewels.

“The green-hued Emeralds costumes evoke the French school of ballet with longer, more romantic tutus that are designed to sway easily to the movement,” says Jennifer.

Rubies costumes embody the witty, jazzier spirit of American ballet with sophisticated short skirts designed to allow for contemporary dance movement, while Diamonds costumes recall the essence of Imperial Russia with the flat classical tutu for the lead,” she adds.

Preparing the Costumes for Showtime

Finding the right gemstones is just the first hurdle.

“It can be equally hard to find the correct size of gemstone,” Jennifer notes. This hunt for gemstones and other trims is just a part of the extensive process that her team must undertake to prepare costumes for Jewels.

“As soon as the costumes arrive, we ‘check them in’ and examine them for hardware, such as hooks, bars, snaps, or zippers, as these can rust out if they’ve been in storage for a while,” she explains. “Additionally, we check all the elastic, including waistbands and straps, to see if they’re still viable.”

All of this requires additional online detective work and conversations with multiple vendors.

Once the sourcing is complete, Jennifer and her team start fitting the costumes to the dancers, typically in scheduled fittings of 15 minutes.

“During the fitting, we check skirt lengths, as well as the men’s tunics, to make sure they’re not too long or too short,” Jennifer describes. “We also ensure men can execute the full range of motion with their arms while in the costume, which is crucial for a successful performance.”

A particular challenge for Jewels is accommodating the costumes, especially the white Diamonds costumes, for varying dancer skin tones. “This may involve ‘rigging’ the costume’s mesh to easily snap off and hook back on, ensuring it can withstand the rigors of dancing.”

Fine-Tuning for Perfection

Adjustments to secure the proper fit may require as much as a full week after the fitting. During this process, Jennifer and her team stitch in the dancers’ names for easy costume identification.

Once the ballet heads to the theater for the show’s run, Jennifer and Betti Jo arrive each performance day by 4:30 p.m., supervising costumes and making repairs as required. Additionally, local union teams of professional wardrobe “dressers” are on hand to perform critical tasks such as unhooking and re-hooking anything on the back of the costumes.

“We’re meticulous about ensuring the costumes are as pristine as possible throughout the show’s run,” Jennifer emphasizes, including addressing issues like makeup mishaps using baby wipes or a bit of Shout.

“Our goal is always to make the dancers look good, feel good and absolutely shine on stage,” concludes Jennifer.

Thank you to VanBrock and KCB’s team of talented costumers for their dedication to meticulous detail and outstanding craftsmanship.


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