(Katrina’s art writing can also be seen at the SunBreak)
Swanilda’s Act 1 costume, designed by Roberta Guidi
di Bagno (Pacific Northwest Ballet photo)
“Let me pull a couple of bibles.”
The Pacific Northwest Ballet’s costume shop is no longer. This is the costume building…well, at least the costume floor. And at the center, are the bibles.
“This is what we collect, with every show that we build, called a bible. Tells us the way, in case we have to ever go back and reconstruct,” explains PNB Costume Shop Manager, Larae Theige Hascall. The bibles that she pull down record facts—sizes, measurements, prices, fabric stores, processes, and research—but they also allow for notes, adjustments, and additions. After all, clothing isn’t meant to remain on the page; it’s meant to be paired with a body.
The process of taking the costumes for PNB’s Coppélia, its first full-length design commission in seven years, off the page began last spring, when Hascall first started exchanging e-mails with costume and set designer, Roberta Guidi di Bagno, who lives and works in Rome.
How do initial conversations with a designer go? “We talk about details…about silhouette and movement, how it’s supposed to fit the body. Trying to develop a relationship with the designer, get a sense of their aesthetic.” Hascall describes working with Guidi di Bagno as a back-and-forth process, “She likes to find things, and then use them, and create on the body and form.”
Designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno’s sketch for the costume pictured above (PNB photo)
During a pre-opening lecture with Doug Fullington, PNB’s Education Programs Manager, and Judtih Fugate, the stager for Coppélia, Guidi di Bagno explained, “It’s not only about my design. I start with something and then I collaborate with the makers.” She pauses, and continues, “They’re not just makers. They’re artists themselves.”
All this means that things are going to change. In her office, Hascall points to a sketch. “This is a costume that totally changed. It was based on the fabric. We found the fabric and it’s so linear, we started to cut it a different way and it’s turned into a pretty different looking dress than [the sketch]. There’s no apron, the skirt is green.”
We get up to go look around the shop. Larae points out a “squiggle” motif that runs throughout the costumes – unifying them. Up close, you see the small details. While looking at a collection of tutus, I notice some have a scalloped edge. It’s so fine a detail, barely noticeable from a foot away. Who’s going to see it on stage?
“It’s subtle, very subtle; there’s a lot of subtlety,” Hascall replies. “But it adds to the overall texture and richness of the look. It’s one of those things where if you don’t have the detail, you’ll miss it. You might not see the individual details but if they’re not there it’s a very flat look.”
Kaori Nakamura dancing the Swanilda
Act I costume (PNB photo)
Just over two weeks after my visit to the costume shop, I see the full-effect of these costumes on stage. They are fully realized costumes. Boots, jewels, capes, hats, tiaras. What were static ensembles are enlivened by moving bodies. Not that you see these bodies. Nearly every costume obstructs the majority of its dancer’s body. The dancers have to dance the costumes.
“Costumes help tell the story. They set the stage in a way…You want to give your story context,” Hascall explains. But still, the costume must work for the dancer. “It’s not costume history.”
In a very liberating way, the prerequisite of working for dance, and not remaining restricted by costume history in the way a play might, allows for a reinterpretation of Coppélia’s traditional costumes. “Classical, but with a twist of color and freshness,” were Guidi di Bagno’s initial instructions from PNB artistic director Peter Boal.
Color is what Boal got. Full and bursting to the edges, but with repetition of line and form creating an even rhythm and balance.
Amongst it all, I find myself looking for the details I was able to see up close during my visit to the costume shop. Can I see that scalloped edge? The lion figure on the armor? The heraldic peacocks on the black and white bodice? I can. Maybe only because I know to look for them, but Hascall is right, once you see them, everything is richer. Everything here is accounted for.
My favorite detail? The arm cuffs on the female warriors. They give weight to the sheer and insubstantial skirts. These skirts captured my attention during my visit to the costume shop. They were all hanging together, just above eye level. Compared to much of what I saw, they were simple and unadorned, rather dark and heavy. They were nothing like what they became on the dancers’ bodies. Appropriately shorter in front (after all, a female warrior needs to be able to move with absolute ease, unhindered by a long skirt), on the dancers’ bodies the skirts become light, in color and weight. But the addition of the arm cuffs ground the look, giving it substance and identity.
CASTING IS UP
Looking forward to seeing one of my favorite story ballets. I got a sneak peek at rehearsal the other day and it was charming and funny, just as it ought to be.
Here’s the casting, pulled from PNB’s website (sans live links, sorry):