Back in 2015 Claire Summers (Etch choreographer) asked me if I would like to be apart of the initial research for a new piece Exim were researching. Claire explained that she wanted to research and create an inclusive performance work about memories that would incorporate all of the senses. Hearing her talk about her ideas instantly sparked off lots of creative thoughts and ideas for me. I wanted to create bespoke costumes for each individual dancer, which would incorporate highly embroidered textile work…..I wanted to create…..memory dresses!!!!!
As a designer, and maker I’m often not given the time to develop ideas and as I would say ‘letting it sit within my mind’…this is due to budget and time constraints. Many a times I have been asked we need that by next week or we have very little money or none at all. I feel people often only think about costume at the last moment and don’t always budget enough money for the time it takes to create and to get creative fulfillment.
There was a year between the initial R&D in Summer 2015 and the making period in Summer 2016. As I was about to ‘let it sit within my mind’ over this time and get a clear ideas about what I wanted to achieve for the over all look of the piece. Once the funding came in we had to work quickly to get the skeleton set and base costume ready before the dancers entered the studio. Both Claire and I felt that the dancers needed set and costume in place for playing to begin. We wanted to create a playground where the dancers and creative team felt very free and comfortable to create work. I wanted to provide a number of white base clothes which would become the base of the finial costume. Something each could dance and move within, to find if it suits their style of dance and bring out the best in them. These base clothes I wanted them to have been used before, they needed to have had history.
Everything was found on ebay or charity shops and at this point, 3 weeks before the dancers started, I had a ruff idea of colour and materials and the general look and feel but I knew the finished design wouldn’t come until we were all in the studio together and I could see the dancers moving in the clothes. It would come from them!!! It was a very organic process the way I just love to work.
As a designer and artist this is a beautiful way of working… letting the creativity come through. For me, when you are working from text, or from a design brief, you are working through someone else’s ideas.
On this project it was different…This was people collaborating together with everyone contributing equally. This gives a great freedom to let the process happen. There are still the pressures on time and budget but it’s just a more creative and fulfilling way of working.
During the initial research period and the 12 months that followed we continued to research costume ideas and shared through Pinterest.
Before and during the creative period I spoke, share words, troughs and images with each individual dancers to get a sense of who they are, where to build on their very essence. After one week within the studio I need to for each to have choose what they wish to ware, so I could need start work. Once each dance was within there base clothes, it became evident that, in them, we have the four elements. Water, earth, air and fire.
Laura’s imagery was full of green and of the earth. On her dress I placed her on top of earth in a yoga poses, within a tree. From the tree flow crows off into the sun. She was clearly earth.
A lot of Heather’s imagery was of the sea and she spoke in depth about her connection to the sea. In some of the images she looks like a mermaid. The dress she chose was scalloped at the base, gave me strong images of waves and moving water and of Heather dancing and walking through the sea shore. Heather was water.
When I finished her dress it didn’t have enough, it need something more to link the bottom to the top half. I had a conversation with Claire about it needing something more. I had a thought about hand prints, where she had dry her hands as if she had felt the sea. This thought went to the back of my mind. But it was until I saw a run through of the dance piece did I see Heather do just that wiping her hands on here thighs. To add to this at the being of the piece Heather offers hand massage. Her hands were very prominent in the piece so she needed wet hand marks on the sides of her dress so.
Lucy spoke for a long time about her family and a lot of her photos were of them. Yoga plays a very large part of Lucy life and after her yoga teacher training when she was at her most serene, a blue moth landed on her lips. She Also mentioned a Dalmatian costume, which she wore to death as a child, and that she never had a plans on getting a dog, but she now has Rolo a Dalmatian, this happen by change that he came into her life. Lucy became Air to me…she is very spiritual there are many layers to Lucy and her dress show this her family within the centre. With three blue moths on the front and a Dalmatian kite dog at the bottom which fits in with the kite story.
Vicky spoke of most about an old photo of her nan cuddling her as a child. What I got from her was warmth, hugging. The dress Vicky chose to wear was a wrap around dress, this to me gave the impression of hugging and that of warm. Vicky became fire. Hidden on the dress there is a plum, Vicky’s childhood nick name and a close line with socks drying in the sun. This memory is of Vicky times in Thailand orphanage where she washed socks… it funny as socks are warming and cosy.
With all of the dresses I wanted to bring my own personal element of who I thought they were. I introduced quotes and elements I found. Each dress is completely individualised to each dancer and I’m still adding things to them as the tour continues.
The work on the dress gave me a great creative fulfillment that so long long to feel when creating my work. The processes brought me very close to the dancers, I felt that I was creating an outer skin for each.
“These are memory dresses of the past, present and future, they tell the story of each of the dancer ….they are the elements of earth, water, fire and air …just simply that”.
As a final note, within the studio during the making time there were a lot of ‘things’. Images that both dancers and creative brought in, Images the dancers took, poetry and text, sweets and tea. I didn’t what them to end up in a box somewhere, not being seen by anyone. I wanted the energy of all these ‘things’ travel with the tour in the boxes. The audience are invited to take a look in the boxes at the start and end of the performance, a beautiful way to share some of these memories that where created of our time in the studio.
You can see ‘Life of a costume’ on Meier’s Facebook page.
Costume and Set Designer
**Etch is back on the road from next week. To see the performance please click here for more details on venues and dates**