On 4th of December I left behind a cold, dark London evening, to enter a beautiful world created by LCF’s latest cohort of talented MA Costume Design for Performance students. Their final year show at Sadler’s Wells enchanted an audience of press, artists and industry with a diversity of styles and stories, all of which revealed how compelling the art of costumery can be. Watching these creations realised on stage, was like stepping into a dream world where myth and memory were interwoven, and the bounds of reality were altered to the same extent that the garments were folded, expanded and transformed.
As a relative innocent to the possibilities of costume I was unsure of what to expect from the show. However, early on, an overriding and intriguing theme became clear: each of these costumes sought out transformation. Whether touching upon political stories or childhood fairy tales, each costume proved to be a series of artworks which were continually created by the movements of the performer. Xiao Yufan’s ‘The Snow Queen’, performed by Lorraine Smith heightened this sense of transformation as it saw the young boy Kay become entranced with a pyramid shaped snowflake to then become the Snow Queen herself – frozen and shivering in a rigid cape of cracking ice. The movement from boy to woman, from frozen to melting, showed the potential for costume and performer to come together in a bodily realisation of emotional drama.
The costumes were tantalisingly ephemeral as dramatic moments were created and dismantled. Daphne Karstens’ interpretation of Beckett’s Ping saw the physical body become the spiritual body which, as she explains, “might only exist for the briefest of moments”. A stiff shroud covered in twisted wire was shed by the performer, who was again Lorraine Smith, representing a release from the physical body. She emerged, flexing and graceful in a new white ‘spirit’ body from which clouds of smoke began to flow. This felt so unexpected and magical that the audience gasped.
These costumes go to show how important collaboration is in theatre and the arts. The names in the performance booklet that I held in my hands were not just the costumiers’ but also the performers, and each MA graduate had taken on multiple roles to bring to life their pieces; as designers and directors and technicians. Sound and lighting played such an essential part of each piece. A soundtrack of rainfall accompanied Alexandra Kapsala’s ‘Medea’ bringing an atmosphere of sorrow and loss even as the mythical woman’s costume grew red and bloated with rage. Equally as effective, Pallavi Patel’s young boy at play was covered in a suit of fine wooden pieces which clacked and clattered like a toy puppet or child’s building blocks as he danced.
My favourite piece was another reworking of a myth which called upon the power of light. Clare McGarrigle’s ‘Narcissus’, performed by Francesco Mangiacasale, saw the young man who falls in love with his own reflection dressed in a mirrored cape, which in turn became wings, and then became the lake into which he gazes at his own image. Streaks of light danced off this garment, surrounding the character in a moving, flashing halo of his own movement. Reflection rebounded as Narcissus gazed at his own image projected onto a screen, over which his shadow fell – a dark copy of the man made by light. Clare’s costume called upon the whole space of the stage to create this image of the myth; a dream vision which stunned the audience.
What became clear was that not only did each costume undergo metamorphosis, but that any one performance would transform the costume in a different way – dependant on the performer, the technicians, the mood in the room. These are not lifeless garments, but objects to be realised in movement, and thereafter never to be the same again. If you can never step in the same river twice, then neither can you see the same costume performance twice. Afterwards, I stepped back out into the December night, my own vision of the role of costume transformed by the glowing, shifting shapes that had passed on stage.
- You can also read more about the MA15 Costume Design for Performance Final Show on the LCF News blog