When people think of Cirque du Soleil, images of unimaginable contortionists, unbelievable acrobats, and mind-blowing stunts are oftentimes the first thoughts that come to mind. And while these elements of Cirque du Soleil undoubtedly make this production company stand out from the rest, there is another facet of Cirque that, without a question, elevates each one of these shows to a level far above any of its competitors.
Beyond the performer’s daring athletic feats and hypnotizing showmanship, it is their costuming that casts every act under an awe-inspiring and magical spotlight. The wardrobe teams of Cirque du Soleil are, in our opinion, the most specialized in that arena standing out with keen attention to detail unlike anything we have seen before.
We wanted to go behind the curtain, so we took the opportunity to spend some time with Julie Roddham, the Head of Wardrobe at Cirque du Soleil’s “O” at Bellagio. We discovered what goes into the costumes that make this whimsical show the visual splendor that it is.
Being the only Cirque show in Vegas that utilizes a wet stage, the wardrobe team has extra factors to consider when designing and fitting performers for their costumes.
With performer safety being the top priority, the “O” wardrobe team has to ensure that every costume fits perfectly, along with other random factors. This includes knowing how certain fabrics are when they’re wet versus dry, or practicing trial and error that led to making some costume pieces out of shower curtains.
One of the most interesting things that we learned while touring the show’s backstage laundry room was that most performers had at least two costumes and, depending on how many times a character entered the water during the show, a single performer could have up to 10 replicas of the exact same costume. With all of these costumes, we were shocked to learn that 60 loads of laundry are done per night to get the costumes and towels ready for use for the next day’s shows.
While the show is going on calmly and peacefully in front of the curtain, backstage is an entirely separate whirlwind of perfectly choreographed costume changes that the audience will never see.
While we gained insight on all the bustle backstage, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. What’s even more fascinating is the attention to detail that goes into every single thread of the dazzling costumes. From hair pieces to undergarments, to wigs and body suits, we learned that there is so much more than the beauty of the costume.
In order to get the perfect fit, every last centimeter of the performer’s body is sized and resized before their measurements are sent to the costume factory in Canada. Each performer also has a mold of their head made in order to be custom fit for their wigs and headpieces.
Since almost every performer is in the water for their act, their costumes must fit like second skin so they don’t interfere with their safety. Roddham and her team are continuously evolving and improving each costume for maximum aesthetic and functional efficiency. One of the standout costumes were the ones for the Blue Nage. Because of the deterioration caused by the chlorine in the pool (when this show began nearly two decades ago), these particular costumes lasted only two weeks. Now, because of advancements in the materials and the ways in which they are taken care of, these costumes last more than four times longer.
We had the chance to carefully inspect the costumes during our tour and didn’t really know what to expect. We loved seeing a wide array of materials used in various costumes. With millions of dollars poured into the wardrobe efforts for all of the 4,800 costume pieces in this production, we were pleased to see the creative genius of pipe cleaners in headpieces, shower curtains melted down into beautiful caps, and foam threaded into hair pieces to allow them to float. It was neat to see everyday materials mixed with premium materials that together made something enchanting.
A member of the wardrobe team taught us about a pair of brand new shoes that she was aging in order for the performer to wear that night. She went on to explain that the brand new pair of trapeze slippers had to be weathered and then made new again via washing and scoring followed by repainting and finishing for the performance that night.
In all of life’s great pleasures, a beautiful show falls high on that list. Cirque du Soleil’s “O” is undeniably one of the best productions in the Entertainment Capital of the World. We urge you to take a closer look at the magnificence of the costumes next time you get to see the show.