She's cut out for the job

She's cut out for the job

Costume designer: It takes a team effort to get dancers dressed to take the stage

CHAMPAIGN — Masumi Iriye is the costume mistress behind the splendiferous look of "Sleeping Beauty."

And she's also witty: "I didn't change my name when I got married, because I thought 'Masumi O'Brien' just sounded way-y-y-y too ethnic," she joked.

Tchaikovsky's opulent ballet will be performed at 2 p.m. today at The Virginia Theatre, 203 W. Park Ave., C.

The Champaign Urbana Ballet has performed "The Sleeping Beauty" before, so there were already some costumes.

"This weekend's performances of 'The Sleeping Beauty' will showcase the latest costumes created — among others, fairies, their entourage and consorts," Iriye said.

But there is an entirely new garland waltz scene, "as well as highlighting the timeless elegance of the costumes that were unveiled nine years ago, including jewels, lilac Naiads and Aurora's birthday and wedding costumes," she added.

Iriye did not set out to be a costumer.

In 2009, she was promoted to deputy director of the Center for Advanced Studies at the University of Illinois.

Her doctorate is in art history, specializing in visual culture from the early modern period in France.

But she was always able to sew.

"I learned to sew from my next-door neighbor in Chicago, when I was about 5 or 6, but I wasn't really bitten by the costuming bug until my daughters joined the cast of the Champaign Urbana Ballet's 'The Nutcracker' nine years ago," she said.

She signed up as a volunteer in the sewing corps and credits Julianna Steitz, who headed the costume shop, and Mary Wojnar, a key contributor, with improving her skills.

"Both are still active volunteers, and their beautiful handiwork is represented in this year's 'Sleeping Beauty,'" the costume mistress said.

She also learned from other volunteers as well as from professionals like Anne de Velder, who heads the costume department at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, and Deanna Doty, the ballet's artistic director.

"Costuming for me is an ongoing learning process — and the wonderful thing is I get to learn in great company. Costuming is not solitary: It's definitely a communal effort," she said.

"There's a core group of dedicated volunteers who collectively have put in hundreds of hours of sewing since fall — after work, during weekends and using our vacation days. All because we believe the effort is definitely worth it, and because we enjoy the camaraderie."

Iriye said she loves to see mounds of newly dyed fabric, yards of gold cording and stacks of bodice pieces transformed into beautiful new constructions.

She said she looks forward to seeing some of the costumes in "The Nutcracker" later this year and in "Swan Lake" in 2015.

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