RNZ Ballet needs vodka to shine

Last updated 11:38 07/02/2013
Hank Cubitt

Don't inhale: Royal New Zealand Ballet's menswear wardrobe master Hank Cubitt with his trusty vodka spray.

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Part of the tool kit for Royal New Zealand Ballet is a bottle filled with vodka. The cheaper and nastier the better.

Touring wardrobe manager Hank Cubitt has been with the Wellington-based ballet company for five years. He's also working on the men's costumes for the ballet's Made to Move showcase at St James Theatre.

Part of his job is the upkeep of costumes on tour. And that's where the spray bottle of vodka comes in.

Because of the materials used, some costumes, including silk and velvet, are unable to be washed after every performance.

"Obviously you can't throw a silk dress in the washing machine, so we maintain it with vodka," he said. "It gets rid of the perspiration smell."

He was taught the trick by a Russian ballet company.

"I thought they carried it in their kit so they could drink it, but they sprayed it on the costumes.

"One day I asked them if I could use some and it worked a treat. We use it all the time now. The cheaper the better. You don't need 42 Below Feijoa stuff, just really bad vodka.

"You spray it straight on and it disappears, and so does any smell. I used to use Febreze, but it has a slight oil base in it, so it can stain and was more of a masking agent. The vodka just kills it all."

For the three ballets in Made to Move there are 15 people in the wardrobe department creating 80 costumes.

Before opening night they will each put in more than 400 hours.

The costumes for The Anatomy of a Passing Cloud, choreographed and designed by Javier De Frutos, and Of Days, choreographed and designed by Andrew Simmons, are made from lycra.

The costumes for Bier Halle, designed by Allan Lees (choreographed by Ethan Stiefel), are made from silks, velvet, cotton and chiffon.

Dancers are responsible for their own shoes. The wardrobe department dyes them the right colour, but it is the dancers' job to maintain them.

"We have to allow for total movement of the dancers. We do a lot of things like putting in invisible gussets so they can get their arms or legs to full extension.

"We also use materials with a bit of give in them."

Three trucks are used to transport the equipment.

"On tour we carry everything - washing machines, driers, sewing machines, buttons, everything. All our lights, floors, ballet bars and tool kits.

"We are a travelling circus. We are self-sufficient. So we know that whatever happens, wherever we are, we can fix it."

Cubitt said a lot of time went into making sure the costumes fit the time period.

"We really have to make sure we get the right look. The skirts and jackets and shirts were all special lengths for each period.

"Getting that right is important because a lot of people look for that detail and want to see the full period pieces."

Of Days is a classic ballet inspired by New Zealand landscapes.

The Anatomy of a Passing Cloud is a contemporary ballet influenced by the Pacific.

Bier Halle, the first work by new artistic director Ethan Stiefel, is a comedy set in a Bavarian beer hall.

Made to Move, three new ballets, St James Theatre, February 27 till March 24.

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- The Wellingtonian


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