Lyn Baudendistel fits Dayton Ballett dancer Daniel Powers in a costume for his role in The Nutcracker. LISA POWELL / STAFF
Photo: Lisa Powell
Photo: Lisa Powell

Behind the scenes with costume designers for “Nutcracker” ballet

Want to go?

WHAT: Dayton Ballet’s annual presentation of “The Nutcracker.”

WHEN: Opening Friday, Dec. 11 and running through Tuesday, Dec. 22. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays and 4:30 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 21-22.

WHERE: Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center, 1 W. Second St., Dayton.

PRICE: Tickets are priced from $17 to $72. Senior, teacher and military discounts are available at the box office.

MORE INFO: Website | Call (888) 228-3630


Behind the BalletAfter each performance, ticket holders are invited free of charge to a Q&A with artistic director Karen Burke and dancers.

Back Stage Tours are offered at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 12 and Dec. 19 following the Saturday Matinee performances. Tickets are $10 and include a visit with Dayton Ballet dancers and punch and cookies in the loading dock. Tickets available by calling (888) 228-3630.

• The Dayton Ballet Barre will host two Sugar Plum Teas at Boston Stoker, 34 W. Second St., across the street from the Schuster Center, at 1 p.m. Dec. 13 and Dec. 20. Tickets are $10 for adults and children. The Sugar Plum Fairy will be in attendance for photo opportunities. For tickets, call (888) 228-3630.

New this year, the Dayton Humane Society will bring a few furry visitors for a Muttcracker visit at intermission and after the matinee shows on Dec. 13, 19 and 20. The animals will be available for adoption.

The former Rike’s Department Store animated holiday windows are now on display in the Schuster Center Wintergarden. Kids can shop at the Tike’s Shoppe, and meet Santa from 2-5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Dayton Ballet Nutcracker Boutique, open before each performance and during intermissions, features hundreds of large holiday nutcrackers and ballet-themed items. Graeter’s Sweet Shoppe offers holiday goodies at each performance.

The Nutcracker ballet is a beloved Dayton tradition.

From the classic music, to the captivating choreography, to the whimsical settings, it’s no wonder this show continues to draw huge crowds year after year. The classic holiday ballet, choreographed by Karen Russo Burke, comes to the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center Dec. 11-21. The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Neal Gittleman, will accompany the dancers with the beloved Tchaikovsky score.

Another thing that makes this classic production so special is the costumes. We talk to the people who work tirelessly to create the costumes and some of the dancers who wear them. Here is their behind-the-scenes story:


Paul Gilliam admits it’s sometimes difficult to “find his characterization” when he’s rehearsing in a dance studio.

“It becomes much easier when I’m in costume,” says Gilliam, one of two dancers who will portray the Nutcracker in the Dayton Ballet’s upcoming production. “Costumes tell part of the story on their own. They can set the mood.”

Halliet Slack agrees. She’s certain that her luscious pink costume — embellished with beads and sequins — has special magic. “Every time I put on the Sugar Plum tutu and walk up to the stage, I pass the cast of young children in the production and always hear them gasp and say ‘It’s the Sugar Plum!’ ” she says. “That’s the best part of putting on that tutu.”


The costume magic doesn’t come easy. Just ask Dayton Ballet wardrobe supervisor Lyn Baudendistel and her assistant Debra Howard, who were busily sewing when I paid a visit to their costume shop on the fifth floor of the Victoria Theatre Building earlier this week. Sitting at their work table, the two were surrounded by racks of colorful costumes and walls of neatly organized boxes of fabric and notions — buttons and horsehair, beads and ribbon.

“This is the lead marzipan’s tutu; I’m stitching the plate onto the base to make her platter tutu,” explained Baudendistel, whose hands were covered with pink netting and embroidered blue chiffon. After working as assistant to costume designer extraordinaire Lowell Mathwich, Baudendistel was tapped for her job when Mathwich was offered the chance to tour with a Broadway show two years ago and decided to go for it.

Baudendistel’s current job demands a lot more than expert sewing skills. She’s not only responsible for making sure costumes are perfect for every ballet program but must ensure that they get to the right dancer at the right time. And when problems arise, even during a performance, she must be johnny-on-the-spot. “You have to be quick on your feet and creative in your ability to make and fix things,” she said. “I’m learning how to make tiaras and crowns; sometimes a zipper splits or elastic comes undone.”

The job also requires multi-tasking and working with a wide variety of people. Each costume must be fitted on each dancer, even when he or she is playing the same role two years in a row. “And you have to be organized, to order stuff ahead of time so that you can get started when you’re ready,” Baudendistel adds.


For many ballets, the challenge is creating new costumes. For those jobs, Baudendistel hires a designer, then works from a sketch to create a pattern and a finished costume. “I keep track of all of the costumes, do all of the fittings, build new ballets and pieces as needed,” she explains.

But the challenges are unique for “The Nutcracker.” The costumes we’ll see on stage were designed by Mathwich three years ago and will be used for a total of 10 years. The feat for Baudendistel and Howard is handling 175 of them — cleaning and storing them, mending and altering them, organizing them for each performance.

“Just because a costume was created in 2013 doesn’t mean that’s the end of it,” Baudendistel said. “It’s an ongoing process.”

The initial costume, Howard explained, is made for the first cast members but must be adapted every year. A new cast member may be taller, broader. “We have 70 kids in the cast so, so for the party scene we may have one skirt but two bodices in two sizes,” she explained.