The Excitement of an Arts Collaboration

Louisa Chapman
Louisa Chapman

“It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”

—Charles Darwin

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.

Chapman in the final product of the Tree costume. Design by Jennifer Kim. Photo by Matt Francis.
Louisa Chapman wearing the Tree costume. Design by Jennifer Kim. Photo by Matt Francis.

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One Reply to “The Excitement of an Arts Collaboration”

  1. Louisa,
    Liked your article very much. Your story telling craft is as articulate as your dance.
    I can`t see how much less of a “costumey” look your outfit could be.
    But on the positive side the show will be fun and many people that I speak with are looking forward to enjoying the dancing,story telling and of course the costumes.

    Good luck!
    Tom

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