UNVEILING AND REVEALING THE COSTUME DESIGN PROCESS OF GARRETT SMITH’S WORLD PREMIERE FOR HOUSTON BALLET

This weekend from October 2-4, 2015 Houston Ballet performs its final 3 shows of the Fall Mixed Repertory Program featuring Stanton Welch’s Tapestry, Christopher Bruce’s Ghost Dances, and Garrett Smith’s RevealReveal had its world premiere on September 24. The work is set to music by Philip Glass and focuses on the ideas of self-reflection and vulnerability. To realize Mr. Smith’s vision for the costumes, Houston Ballet’s Costume Shop’s Resident Textile Artist Monica Guerra collaborated closely with choreographer Garrett Smith to create and make the designs come to life. Here, Ms. Guerra discusses her design process for Reveal.

Reveal; Jessica Collado and Karina Gonzalez; Photo by Amitava Sarkar
Reveal; Jessica Collado and Karina Gonzalez; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

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Can you share with us your inspiration and creative process for the designs of Garrett Smith’s Reveal?

When Garrett asked me to design this piece for him early this year he gave me a few key words that would best represent his vision for Reveal.  ‘Chic’ and ‘fashionable’ were among a few of them. It was perfect, I was so excited! When I design for dance it’s always important for me to keep fashion at the forefront since that is my aesthetic and my background. So for Garrett, shape, form and color all help shape his vision, as well as mine.

Reveal sketches by Monica Guerra
Reveal sketches by Monica Guerra

He came to me first with the music and the idea of his piece, then he showed me some pictures of textures and colors he liked. One of the pictures was of a scrunched up layered leotard worn down to the waist as many dancers wear in rehearsals. He was very drawn to the look. He also happens to love the sheer and stretchy quality of mesh, so I fused both and added my love of silk to it. This is how it started. I began playing with a knotted detail with long bands/ribbons stretched and cut at different widths and pleated organically to create a texture that is light and comfortable, yet beautiful as well.

For the women I wanted to add to this texture by joining silk along with the mesh for added depth. The more I played with the mesh overlaid onto the silk I loved the way the shiny silk would bleed through the mesh and then in other moments where the mesh was randomly heavier it mattified the silk. This idea then became the cohesive element for both the men and women.

Fabrics for Reveal
Fabrics for Reveal

The knotted detail is used on the ladies corsets, and for the men it is used on their pant waistbands. I would drape these ideas on my dress form at home and send Garrett pics so he had a more dimensional concept, not just a flat sketch to go by. This was usually done around 3am, lol. I sketched a lot as I presented new ideas to him or challenged myself to rework some existing designs he had already approved, and then we would talk about it. We spoke almost every night for months and locked down designs, details and fabric choices.

Garrett Smith’s piece Reveal features the men in very edgy black coats; can you explain the design process behind these coats?

In choosing the fabric for the black coats Garrett just wanted to keep them black. In my many trips to the fabric store here in Houston I came across a metallic silk and cotton blend fabric. The metallic wasn’t incredibly shiny, and the reverse side of it was a nice deep black. These coats are long and take up a lot of yardage so keeping that in mind the price of this fabric was good, and there was a possibility for more to be ordered, which is always important.

Reveal costumes by Monica Guerra
Reveal costumes by Monica Guerra

These coats were going to be choreographed into the piece so I knew they had to have a little weight at the front after Garrett explaining some of the choreography with me, but they needed to stay mostly lighter at the back so they could fly behind the dancers. This was also something that was important to Garrett. Very early on he sent me a pic of a dancer wearing a heavy, ill fitting coat, but the focus was on the fantastic movement the coat had. I took that idea of it flying into the air and amplified it!

For these coats I was originally looking for a waxed linen but couldn’t find it in a lighter weight. I told Garrett about the idea of making the coats out of this metallic fabric I had found and he liked it, but was a little hesitant about it, as was I.. But I had this feeling that it could definitely work! I had it purchased since we had to get moving on the coats.. They were the first costumes to get done so the dancers could have them in rehearsal their first week.

Have you worked with Garrett Smith in the past? What’s it been like collaborating for the designs of Reveal?

I have worked with Garrett before but not at this level. In 2012 I designed and built costumes for his NYCDA piece Unseen. It was a pas de deux, only two costumes. He always wanted to work together again so I was honored and ecstatic when he asked me to design Reveal. Being able to collaborate with Garrett on Reveal has been inspiring, and thrilling! He’s every bit a perfectionist like me, which I love. It’s been fun to work through ideas with him since he’s such an artist himself, always recognizing color and fit. It’s always so rewarding to be able to present a different concept, or challenge a choreographer with fresh ideas or interesting fabric choices, and Garrett always listens to the possibilities which makes for a great collaboration. I have always loved his choreography and watching him work is like seeing art in motion..It’s his gifting. So to be a part of it has been truly wonderful.

Reveal costume sketch by Monica Guerra
Reveal costume sketch by Monica Guerra

Any challenges?

As far as challenges go..I always believe everything is possible, so with that said the costume shop had to tackle building a tear-away tutu that is functional and able to be fully ‘ripped-away’ on stage. Garrett’s choreography has the tutu being ripped off from side to side so that meant the center front and center back had to be split open and slightly overlapped. With the construction of a tutu there are usually 12 layers of net all hand tacked together. Also, a key component to helping a tutu structurally stand the way it does is with a hoop strategically sewn inside of a hidden casing. It was tricky since our talented pattern maker had to split the hooping in half.. therefore already weakening the structure. She added spokes and Velcro to help it along, usually not a norm for a traditional tutu. We had to test it out in rehearsal and worked closely with Nao Kusuzaki who is wearing it. She was strategic in assisting us with this. We also put a male dancer in a tutu which is new for Houston Ballet. Charles-Louis Yoshiyama was very helpful in us perfecting the tutu for what he needed. He wore it in almost every rehearsal just to get used to it. It didn’t take long though.. He was meant to wear it. He looks so powerful in it! I can’t wait for you to see it all in motion!

Reveal costumes by Monica Guerra
Reveal costumes by Monica Guerra

Favorite pieces?

Definitely! There are several pieces that have become my favorites for various different reasons. One of my favorites is Nao’s silk ombré burnout and velvet coat that is placed on her on stage at a very strategic moment in the piece. There are panels in black velvet and others in a beautiful silk burnout velvet that I ombré dyed and painted. The entire back of it is pleated and the pleats continue to the side front. The collar is a high military style collar and looks

Reveal costumes by Monica Guerra
Reveal costumes by Monica Guerra

amazing on Nao! I would also have to say that another fave is the men’s look with the long black coat and black silk jersey roughed pant. The coats have these beautiful pleated panels at the center back to create an element of surprise, as well as movement and intrigue. Oh and the pants! Pure luxury in soft and stretchy silk jersey…it feels like a second skin and the dancers are loving it! The main reason I love this look is for so many reasons but also because I could easily see it on a runway. What is even better is that they are on our amazing dancers and we get to see them in full movement. Another of my favorites is the blue, as well as the white corsets worn by Katelyn May and Karina Gonzalez. They have these beautiful silk and mesh knots anchored in different places with the bands/ribbons all organically placed to wrap around the corset. The mesh and silk together form such a perfect union of draping and texture.

Reveal costume sketches by Monica Guerra
Reveal costume sketches by Monica Guerra

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Reveal; Katelyn May and Artists of Houston Ballet; Photo by Amitava Sarkar
Reveal; Katelyn May and Artists of Houston Ballet; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Houston Ballet presents its Fall Mixed Repertory Program showcasing the best of contemporary choreography. British master and Houston Ballet’s Associate Choreographer Christopher Bruce’s hauntingly beautiful Ghost Dances returns after a twelve year absence from the Houston stage. Garrett Smith returns to Houston to create Reveal, his third new work for Houston Ballet. Rounding out the program is Stanton Welch’s Tapestry, a spectacular showcase for the company’s dancers.

When: At 7:30 p.m. on September 24, 26 and October 2, 3, 2015 & At 2:00 p.m. on September 27 and October 4, 2015

For more information visit: http://www.houstonballet.org/Ticketing-Schedule/Season-Calendar/Fall-Mixed-Rep/

Watch a preview of Fall Mixed Repertory Program: 

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