Process & Performance: Sam Meredith on Re-Designing Albany Berkshire Ballet’s Nutcracker
Updated: Aug 4
After a tremendous career as a dancer, Sam Meredith says his transition to becoming a costume designer began almost by accident.
"I was a ballet master for a small repertory company in the city, and we were in desperate, desperate need of costumes for an upcoming tour," Meredith recalls. "I feel like I became a builder and a stitcher before I became a designer."
With the help of his partner who had a background in design and apparel, he began making his own tutus and bodices.
Now a sought after designer in the dance world one decade later, Sam's Pro Tutu Studio has begun the process of creating some all new costumes for Albany Berkshire Ballet's "The Nutcracker," as it enters its 47th tour in 2022.
"With this one I'm being very careful to show reverence to what the designs used to be." His new designs won't duplicate, but will "go in the style that the costumes originally were. Keep the color palettes, keep the proportions, but find some liberties and zhuzh it up a bit."
In this year's phase, Pro Tutu studio is focusing primarily on costumes for the ballet's Act I family party scene. This scene is considered one of this production's most distinctive, and one which Culpo has frequently described as her favorite. Some Act II principal characters, such as the Sugar Plum Fairy, will also be addressed this season.
"Our aim is to reinstall the party scene and have it resemble what it was in the past but also crank it up a notch, and really make it beautiful."
Archival record show the very first costumes for ABB's Nutcracker were pulled together in a few weeks in 1974, by volunteers Catherine Condon, Jean Fresia, Beryl Nadeau, and William & Jean Humphrey. New costumes began in 1978, designed by Rita Watson. Since then, others such as Victile Donahue, Robert Boland, and Carl Sprague have been involved in designing and updating its attire.
Meredith said an important part of his design vision is to "construct it in a way that it's adaptable, alterable over the years, and it's really going to be able to serve them for decades."
Some of his pragmatism in design stems from his 30 year career as a dancer. From the Metropolitan Opera to Broadway and international tours, Sam has had an extraordinary career that includes touring as an original cast member in Mathew Bourne's Tony-Award-winning "Swan Lake."
"I always looked at my costumes," he reflects. "I looked at the outsides, I looked at the insides, how they were put together, how the linings were attached. I was always fascinated with that kind of stuff, where as other dancers would just put it on and go."
Sam will present a special preview into the emerging new designs for Nutcracker 2022 at a benefit performance event, Visions of Sugar Plums, in Pittsfield, Mass on August 14, from 1 to 4pm at the Berkshire Hills Country Club.