BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - One Baton Rouge carnival krewe literally takes its costumes to new heights every year. The Mystic Krewe of Apollo’s annual Bal Masque is known for larger than life creations that bounce down the runway.
Chad Blanchard and Chase Niedringhouse have to use a U-Haul truck to transport their lavish designs.
"The most I think we've ever had one weigh is about maybe 70, 80 pounds," Blanchard said. "That night is so intense, to walk down the runway with over 1,000 people there in the audience."
The costumes start out on paper, sketched out by longtime Bal designer, Carol Guion. Then, it’s up to each krewe member to bring them to life.
"We kind of started getting into using Styrofoam a couple years ago and actually sculpting it to get our three-dimensional look," Blanchard explained.
For this year’s theme “Apollo Gets Animated,” the pair created Finding Nemo characters, Nemo and Dory, along with elephant and giraffe heads for a Tarzan costume. The goal is to get them as big as possible while keeping them as light as possible so they can be worn like a backpack. Blanchard uses his background in construction to work out the physics.
“It’s almost like a harness, and it’s made out of just flat bar aluminum, and there’s two pieces of conduit in the back of it, 3/4-inch conduit, and then the 1/2-inch poles just slide down into it, so once you put all that on and strap yourself in, this will be about 12 and a half foot tall,” he said, explaining the construction of the Tarzan piece.
Walking with those massive pieces is a challenge in and of itself though. The trip down the runway usually ends with a big sigh of relief.
“The best feeling is realizing that I didn’t trip and that I was able to support the weight of it,” Niedringhaus said. “There’s been some close calls.”
It’s a lot of work for a six-minute strut, but it’s for a great cause. The Krewe of Apollo is a non-profit group that supports HIV/AIDS services in the capital area.
After the Bal is over, Blanchard and Niedringhaus take their costumes down to New Orleans to enter competitions with cash prizes. They've taken top honors several times.
“To be in an even bigger crowd, outside this time [in the French Quarter], it’s a completely different experience, but it just allows us to wear our costumes a second time,” Blanchard said.
Then, it’s right back to work on the following year’s creations.
"We'll start probably February, March this year and work on it up 'til next February," Niedringhaus said.
Surrounded by feathers and rhinestones for months at a time, it’s a true labor of love for the Krewe of Apollo. The unique spectacle wows audiences near and far.
“People from other states or even sometimes out of the country post pictures, and you’ll see yourself in them, and it’s like, ‘Wow.’ It’s just a great experience to be part of,” Blanchard said.
Apollo Baton Rouge’s Bal Masque XXXIX happens Saturday, Jan. 25 at the Raising Cane’s River Center Ballroom. Click here for ticket information.