Background: I was born in Delaware and I grew up in Seattle and Tokyo. I have a twin sister who is also at RISD and majors in illustration, and I often ask her for artistic advice. I have always loved art and fashion design, and I especially enjoy designing sportswear.
Thoughts on the Collaboration: I had never done any costume design before this class, and so it was a really fun opportunity for me to let go a bit creatively and design with a lot of imagination. At the same time, I think we learned a lot about collaboration and about the practicalities and challenges of constructing a functional dance costume.
Brianne Benack is a junior at RISD in the Cut & Sew Costume Studio.
“It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”
Arts collaborations are an extremely exciting prospect to me. Every time I see or hear about an upcoming collaboration I pull the program closer or perk my ears up. Collaborations present an opportunity for different groups to join their strengths and ideas to create something new and powerful they could not have done on their own. In my career thus far, I have already had the privilege of being involved in amazing collaborations. In Nashville, TN the Tennessee Holocaust Commission and choreographer Gina Patterson collaborated to create a poignant version of Anne Frank in which I got to portray a version of the title character. In Columbus, OH video game programmers and choreographers worked together to create a program in which projections and sounds corresponded to the dancers movements. These experiences taught me to be eager when I learned that Festival Ballet Providence would be collaborating with students from Rhode Island School of Design’s “Cut and Sew Costume Studio” to create unique costumes for our upcoming children’s production of Little Red Riding Hood.
The process began this fall when the designers came and observed a day of rehearsals. I remember my fellow trainee, Tess and I whispered in the back of rehearsal how unique and beautiful the fashion student’s outfits were. Knowing that I am only going to wear my street clothes for five minutes on the way to and from the studio generally produces apathy towards my outfits. (I often clash, ask my friends) The students watched rehearsal and talked with Boyko Dossev, the creator of the ballet.
The dancers did not see them until a few weeks later when they all came in with their designs for Boyko to choose between.The studio looked like an art gallery with all of their sketches against the wall. I slowly walked through, agape at the designs. It was amazing to see the designer’s varied interpretations of the creatures. For instance, in the ballet, there are three different trees. There is a tree that looks ancient, covered with vines and lichens, a tree that has a flowered tutu, reminiscent of a blossoming cherry tree, and the tree I play which is a robust brown with vibrant leaves.
The final designs were chosen and we did not hear from the designers until they were ready for our first fitting. It was exciting to enter their studio and see the designs coming to life. The first fitting was all about the base layer of the costumes, usually a leotard or unitard. Some designers were lucky, the leotard slipped on and needed only minor adjustments. Some were not so lucky as more than one seam had to be ripped out to even get the leotard on. I was struck by how complicated it was for them to fix a problem. One adjustment took four more to keep the proportions right and I couldn’t help but think an engineering degree would come in handy in the fashion world.
I enjoyed getting to know the designers and their lifestyles. Whereas we complain of pointe shoes that died too quickly or tight muscles, they complain of broken sewing machines and sore fingers. We have long, exhausting days but we know that at 8:30 we can go home and go to bed. They often stay until the early hours of the morning and crash before class that day. We joked about how often they fall asleep in the very slow, very warm elevator on their way to or from the studio.
We had more fittings building up to the culmination of their side of the collaboration, their Critiques. For the Critique they had to present their design along with a companion ready-to-wear look in a fashion show in front of three judges. I was so excited about the prospect of being in a fashion show!
We arrived early so the designers could do our makeup and make sure everything looked good. My designer took time to choreograph how many steps and turns I and the girl wearing her companion piece would take across the stage. She kept worrying that we wouldn’t remember and I laughingly assured her that my job was to remember choreography, this was no big deal. She looked the same as we dancers look waiting in the wings before we go on. Nervous, fidgeting, taking deep breaths, but with an intense focus in her eyes that let me know she was prepared. When the time came we modeled across the stage and then stood for the judges to verbally critique the outfits.
The critiques for all the designers were very good as they had poured so much work into their beautiful designs. I really had to bite my tongue when the one negative comment my designer got was that it was, “Too costumey”. I wanted to shoot back, “Well, it is a costume.”
Now it is our turn to put the work in. Boyko has choreographed a beautiful, funny ballet that will thrill and delight children of all ages. We are rehearsing away at the studio and cannot wait to put on our beautiful costumes and proudly perform this piece that has been a true collaboration between two talented parts. I hope you will come see the show and that this is the first of many collaborations between RISD and FBP!
Louisa Chapman is a first-year Company Trainee with Festival Ballet Providence.
Background: Fatoumata Camara grew up in Jersey City, NJ to a family of Guinea decent. From an early beginning, she was submersed in the fine arts world and began exploring fashion design in high school. As an artist and designer she is strongly influenced by whimsical, child-like themes and bold colors.
Thoughts on the Collaboration: Working with Festival Ballet was one the most exciting experiences I have had thus far. I was thrilled when I was chosen to design Little Red’s costume. I drew inspiration from the fashion of the CW11 hit series Gossip Girl while keeping the innocence of the traditional character. I loved working with my dancers. They were just as excited about the development of the costume as I was. The best part about this experience was seeing how the garments looked in action.
Fatoumata Camara is a junior at RISD in the Cut & Sew Costume Studio.
Background: An apparel and graphic designer, Susan Merriam has received the YMA Fashion Fund Scholarship, Esper A. Shwaery Scholarship, and has recently had a piece in the Clerestory x Better World by Design Exhibition. She will be having a piece in RISD Collection ’13 in the Spring and a piece in the Gelman Gallery’s Show, Simple. She studied dance and musical theatre in high school and is very happy to be working with Festival Ballet on this collaboration.
Thoughts on the Collaboration: It was a great opportunity working with Festival Ballet on this collaboration. It is very helpful as a designer interacting with the person that will wear and experience one’s designs. Being able to see if it’s comfortable, moveable and interesting to look at are always considerations that sometimes in fashion get forgotten.
Susan Merriam is a junior in the RISD Cut & Sew Costume Studio.
Background: I was born and raised in Japan. My mother is Greek-Cypriot and my father is American. Having an international background, I have the tendency to make artwork that deals with cultures. I am also very interested in fabric manipulation that creates depth to a piece.
Thoughts on the Collaboration:
It was the first time I have made menswear in my life and the interest has grown ever since I have made the squirrel costume. It was a great challenge to understand what it means to make costumes that are durable, washable and comfortable for someone who would be rigorously moving in it. It was such a great opportunity to be able to work with such an amazing group of people. I had so much fun.
Elisha is a Junior in the Apparel department taking menswear in the spring.
We asked dance critic Arlene Croce to give us some insight into the ballet:
“Before it was ever performed, Agon was understood to be the climax of the most powerful partnership in ballet history, a partnership concieved as a friendly contest (Agon means contest) between Music (Igor Stravinsky) and Dance (George Balanchine). On November 27, 1957 and again on December 1, the official opening night, Agon was unveiled to packed houses at City Center, home of the New York City Ballet, and was instantly recognized as a classic of the twentieth-first as well as the twentieth century. Not only an artistic triumph, it was, against all expectation, a box-office hit. The programs of the 1957-58 season were repeatedly torn up to make room for extra perfrormances of Agon. In the years to come, the wit, the daring, the tensions and intricacies of Agon invaded the consciousness of ballet companies the world over. Often imitated, never surpassed, not even by its creators, Agon stands today as the supreme example of advanced American style in the classical ballet.”
Arlene Croce, a dance critic for The New Yorker for many years, is a leading authority on the works of George Balanchine, having written extensively on the subject throughout her career.
Festival Ballet Providence will be presenting Agon as part of our double-bill Agon & Orchis March 8, 9, and 10 at The Vets in Providence, RI.
Background: I am from the Philippines and from a family of eight; including my parents. I tend to make garments with a textiles aesthetic as well as enjoy experimenting with various materials and techniques.
Thoughts on the collaboration: The collaboration with Festival Ballet Providence was truly beneficial as it allowed me to try my hand at a number of apparel techniques that resulted in a satisfying garment solution. Moreover, I came to understand the importance of a seamless conversation between client, designer, model, and viewer. The process from research, in-class critiques, color matching, fittings, material sourcing, exposure to dance movement, pattern making, sewing and finishing was challenging but nonetheless a very worthwhile experience.
Mara is a Junior Apparel Design Major at the Rhode Island School of Design.