On pointe: creating the costumes for RNZB’s Cinderella

23 June 2022
By Fashion Quarterly

Royal New Zealand Ballet's costume designer Emma Kingsbury has breathed new life into a fairy-tale classic.

Produced in partnership with RNZB. 

We all know the story of Cinderella — and, more specifically, the part where the fairy godmother gets the beloved protagonist ready for the ball. But when it comes to outfitting a troupe of ballet dancers for the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s rendition of this tale, it falls upon the talented shoulders of costume designer Emma Kingsbury and her team. 

Collaborating closely with choreographer Loughlan Prior and composer Claire Cowan, Kingsbury has created a stunning feast for the senses within the modern interpretation. Kingsbury, who has designed extensively across the globe for stage and screen, says, “It’s been a fluid process over the past 18 months, weaving this amazing new score with the awe-inspiring movement. Costumes for ballet need to move with the dancer and support their expression of the character.”

The costume designer highlights the stepmother in Cinderella, who has a “long, lean and tight silhouette” and “minces ‘salsa style’ on her red pointe shoes” which adds a certain menacing quality. For the lead, Kingsbury explains how Cinderella’s spirit and transformation is the inspiration for her costume evolution. 

“There is a gigantic visual contrast between Cinderella’s desperate and dark situation at home and the fabulous excessiveness of the Royal Ball. Her ‘Cinders’ costume is heavily dyed and multi-layered with light mesh fabric that had been through a ‘breaking down’ process. We used seed beads to outline the singed and burnt areas of the fabric and the final process was covering the costume with a sooty layer. We wanted her to feel a bit like a chimney sweep!”

Scale and luminosity were key elements in the design of Cinderella’s ball dress, as it had to be a showstopper.  “She needs to look luxurious and visually sparkle with ‘princess’ energy.” Kingsbury hints of a third look for Cinderella that is “totally fashion forward — but you’ll have to come and see the ballet to see how this evolves.”

The designer says she loves the drawing process, but “seeing the dancer take the design and make it their own; that is what I love the most.” Her references for the costumes were the period silhouettes around the 1750s, mixed with Japanese Harajuku style.

“In the detailing we’ve used a lot of tulle, and all sorts of net pleating, hand painting, embroidery, and dyeing. There are bonkers ruffles, pearls and feathers — we’ve used denim for period coats, and we’ve also created a plastic tutu! It’s a ‘more is more’ kind of show.”

The Ryman Healthcare Season of Cinderella opens at the St James Theatre in Wellington on 3 August, touring until 3 September. The show will be performed in Wellington, Auckland, Napier, Christchurch and Dunedin, with 16 performances in total. Discover more, including how to purchase tickets, at rnzb.org.nz

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