Even with 120 insect-inspired costumes to chose from, Steve Armstrong, the Head of Wardrobe for OVO, the Cirque du Soleil show currently playing in Toronto, doesn’t hesitate when asked to name his favourite.
“I’ll tell you, even though it’s the one we worked the most on, it would be the crickets,” says Armstrong, 32, perched in an office chair pulling a needle and thread through layers of bright green fabric. “It’s not because of the colour or anything but the actual conception of the thing.”
The costumes themselves are a brilliant triumph of teamwork, artistry and engineering, crafted out of stainless steel, ball joints, plane-grade aluminum, bolts, neoprene, foam, Lycra, nylon and Mytex, a shiny material used to make downhill skiers’ unitards aerodynamic.
The first prototype took 75 hours to construct but it took two months of on-stage trials before coming up with the final design that would withstand the continual tumbling and jumping required by the 10 trampolining cricket characters that wear them in every show.
“The trampolines were damaging to the costumes. The actual structure didn’t work. But we got lucky enough to have one of the trampolinists who was also an engineer,” says Armstrong, who originally trained in high fashion in Montreal and has been working with the costumes department for 11 years. “So, I said ‘I’m thinking of doing it like this’, and he’d say ‘This is going to break at under pressure.’ It was fun to involve an artist in developing something they’ll be working in.”
All the costumes worn by the 53 performing artists are made to each person’s specific measurements at the Cirque’s head office in Montreal and are maintained by Armstrong’s six-person team in their small workshop in the main tent.
And keep in mind, crickets aren’t the only things at OVO that are green:
• They use 100 per cent biodegradable detergent to wash the 100 to 250 costumes every day.
• Once the show ends, one full set of each costume is archived and the rest are sent to recycling factories where they are reused in a number of different products, including carpeting.
• The vast majority of fabrics used are from Ontario and Quebec.
• Armstrong’s team uses pedal-powered sewing machines on location for leather repairs; these machines allow them more control over the needle while saving energy.
OVO is playing until Nov. 8, 2009, under the Grand Chapiteau, at the Port Lands on Cherry Street.
For more info call 1-800-450-1480 or go to cirquedusoleil.com.