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    Ballet Memphis to celebrate new on-site costume shop

    Barbara Bradley - The Commercial Appeal -

    Fashion designers who find their jobs stressful should try designing for the ballet. Bruce Bui, costume designer for Ballet Memphis, typically designs and helps construct as many as 150 costumes a year, most of which must be suitable for dancing.

    For a big ballet like "The Nutcracker," he may be outfitting 100 kids who are switching in and out of roles that are double-cast.

    That's why it's no small matter to him to be moving into a new 2,800-square-foot in-house costume shop at Ballet Memphis in Cordova. The company will dedicate the new space with a costume retrospective, runway performances and a dance party Saturday at Ballet Memphis, 7950 Trinity Road.

    The shop, built with a $400,000 gift from The Plough Foundation, will allow the ballet to house most of its costumes on site, have more generous construction space and do more in-house work, such as laundry and fabric dyeing.

    The ballet has recently been moving some 6,000 costumes to the new shop from its old warehouse on Brooks Road.

    The event will offer a show by junior company models and on mannequins of favorite costumes from 25 seasons past, as well as a runway performance that will show off as many as 60 costumes featured in snippets of ballets performed by company dancers and choreographed by company member Kendall Britt Jr. It will be followed by a dance party for guests. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. with the show starting at 7. Tickets are $15 in advance or $20 at the door.

    Bui, who has been house designer and wardrobe supervisor for 11 years, said unlike the theater, costumes are not often reused. They appear again on stage only if a specific piece is restaged by the choreographer or his assistant.

    "We keep them because you never know," he said.

    "'The Nutcracker' costumes do get hauled out every year," he said, but must be adjusted to fit the new cast of characters. They tend to be replaced in sections each year, such as all eight mice for one season's performance.

    Bui has one full-time seamstress to help him and two or four additional women for larger ballets. There is no such thing as missing a deadline, he said. You don't tell a choreographer the costumes won't be ready.

    In addition to other duties, Bui must manage the female dancers' pointe shoes that are custom-made in London. Each of the nine company women and three apprentices go through about 40 pair per season, he said.

    He said the Ballet's wardrobe budget is usually between $70,000 and $90,000 per season, not including pointe shoes at $90 a pair.

    Guests touring the shop Saturday will see only a giant closet, industrial machines, cutting tables and wall-to-ceiling mirrors, said Bui. "But to me, it's beautiful."

    Costume Celebration

    What: Ballet Memphis will celebrate its new costume shop with a costume display and modeling, a dance party and runway ballet show featuring dancers in costumes.

    When: Saturday, 7 p.m.

    Where: 7950 Trinity Road, Cordova

    Tickets: $15 in advance, $20 at the door. Purchase online at balletmemphis.org, or 901-737-7322