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Birds of a feather: Costume helps Makaroff Youth Ballet soar

By Katy Hopp, executive director of Makaroff Youth Ballet

Behind the scenes of every great stage performance is the work to bring the production to life through outstanding costumes. This past May, Makaroff Youth Ballet dancers practiced for over 72 hours to prepare for Prokofiev’s classical tale of “Peter and the Wolf.” In January of 2020, the performance will be reprised for area elementary school students.

A lesser known fact about the production is the show was a technical challenge behind the scenes! Creating and constructing the costumes began with researching this classic Russian tale, which features a duck, cat, bird, the wolf, Peter, his Grandfather, and a brigade of Russian hunters. Volunteers took great care to create original costumes to compliment Jeanette Makaroff’s original choreography.

Costume designer and Makaroff board member Duyen Bagwell says making the bird costume was the most time consuming and intricate of all the costumes featured in “Peter and the Wolf”.

“Imagine creating real wings with layers of feathers that still allow a dancer’s arms to move naturally and adjust to each movement. The biggest challenge was to give a show-stopping effect to the costume, like a peacock showing off his plumage, while still being functional,” says Bagwell.

The blue bird-inspired wings measure 82 inches from wingtip to wingtip. The frame was made of a mesh fabric covered with goose feathers and each feather was individually wrapped in ribbon, then hand-stitched to the fabric.

Each feather had fluffy fronds at its base which were covered by other feathers. About 1,050 real feathers were hand-selected in ultramarine and sassy blue to complete the wings. For articulated segments of the wings, white feathers were incorporated to advance the look.

Although the audience didn’t necessarily notice individual feathers, paying attention to the details improved the overall impression of the wings. The process took four and a half weeks to complete, and the results were stunning!

The costume was worn by Keanna Schulz portraying the part of the bird and the wings were specifically fitted to her 5’3” frame. However, it can be altered to fit other dancers.

Our dancers are trained to take the audience into a world of make-believe through their movements and choreography, but adding costumes like this enhances the imagination and performance for dancers and the audience.

In January 2020, the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center will be full of energetic first through third graders as Makaroff Youth Ballet presents “Peter and the Wolf” as part of the Amcor Education Series. The project is in collaboration with the Fox Cities P.A.C., Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra, and Appleton Area School District, and received grants from the Bright Idea Fund and Mielke Family Foundation, both within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region.

We are thrilled to expose young students to both ballet and live orchestra at a critical early age, and look forward to the excitement a trip to the Fox Cities P.A.C. brings the young audience. Educators who wish to bring students to the performance can find more information at

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