Direction by Peta Lily Project Leadership by Donatella Barbieri for MA costume LCF
#movement #costume #costumedesign #physicaltheatre #magic #performance
In January (2020) I led seventeen intensive 1-2-1 workshops as part of the Costume Design for Performance MA at the London College of Fashion, led by international designer Agnes Treplin.
Each January, 17 new design students are invited to design for a radical re-telling of a text (in previous years: Woycek, Mr Broucek’s Trip to the Moon, Caucasian Chalk Circle and Ubu Roi) – this year, Englebert Humperdinck’s Opera Hansel and Gretel. The design students are coached in this module by the remarkable Donatella Barbieri (author of the wonderfully readable and insightful ‘Costume in Performance: Materiality, Culture and the Body’).
Donatella Barbieri coaches the students to push the boundaries of design, to create costumes which transform; to employ materials in such a way that there can be a creative dialogue between performer and costume. The result is an imaginative dreamspace, a heightened reality.
Peter Brook said that with Opera, performers enter a heightened reality due to the music. The same applies here with these costumes. The performers who participate in the workshops leave the sessions having had a vivid imaginative and emotional experience. They also gain an expanded awareness of the possibilities of creative costume. Donatella holds a rigorous and nurturing dialogue with each design student, inviting and entraining them to expand their horizons, their way of thinking, to explore a range of inspirations, to weigh and realise the potentials of textiles and other materials, to think and feel into the metaphors of their concepts and their materials, to explore their impulses and interrogate and push further as they envisage a full, innovative costume design for the text and make a single costume for one character from the text. I call this work #costumeembodiment.
The costumes Donatella guides the students to create not only serve each student's original vision (and of course serve the character) but also serve the chosen character’s narrative journey and existential predicament.
These costume creations transform ... twice, maybe three times!
Each costume is a playground whose terrain shifts and provokes and leads the performer to make connections with powerful themes of human and material existence.
And I get to facilitate this journey – I use my experience of Butoh, Commedia, comedy, Opera, mime , physical theatre, and theatre making to guide each performer to immerse into the possibilities of the costume and discover how a character can be realised in full depth and vigour and complexity from an experiential process.
At the start of each session, I check in with the designer and the potential of their creation. (I ask each designer to prepare in advance a story board, but also, Donatella and I brief them in advance to let go of all their plans and projected outcomes). It is beautiful after the sessions to see the designers bedazzled by the unexpected richness in terms of atmosphere, emotion, shape and narrative they have seen unfold in the room.
I speak with the performers and ask them what connection they might have with the character and their predicament. First the performer is given free range to warm their body into its new shape(s), then I offer suggestions and also encourage the discoveries of the moment, the impulses arising from play, from the interaction between human and material.
Al the end of the workshop days, my dreams are more vivid - fuelled by the experience.
At the end of each year the students of the Costume Design for Performance MA go on to create a costume inspired by a character or theme in a text of their own choosing. I have directed pieces for this graduating showcase for four consecutive years - you can see the work in the students in their November 2019 show called Hidden Stories here.