Design process photos above by me. Click to enlarge.
David Herrera and I have known each other for at least four years. I’m racking my brain to remember how we actually met, but in the ever-over-lapping layers of performance art communities I belong to, it’s hard to say. I interviewed him in 2016 for Stance on Dance and I was struck by his many-layered approach to building choreography with his dancers, his dedication to showcasing under-represented bodies and voices, and his fearlessness in having the audience on stage during performances. All of this allows David Herrera Performance Company to present deep dance work that though contemporary, is still gut-resounding.
So, in the late summer of 2018, when David approached me about creating costumes for his company, I was thrilled to collaborate. I had my first measurement and photo session with his five dancers in January 2019, and we had fittings in February and March leading up to the performance of David Herrera’s Performance Company 10th home season April 2019, at ZSpace of San Francisco.
I love a long process.
It allows ideas to evolve organically and it gives me a chance to get to know the performers, which was key in this new work called Resurrection of Everyday People. David was giving his dancers more and more of the reins in building choreography. Their process required all involved to tap deeply personal and traumatic experiences for inspiration in the conversation around empathy.
The original inspiration for the costumes was Mad Max-esque, post-apocalyptic-Burning-Man-inspired, pieced-together-layers of clothing in shades of white, off-white, cream, tan, beige, and the range of desert dirt colors. But what struck me about discussing and viewing the work over several months was that if there was an apocalypse we were describing on stage, it was an emotional one.
With all this in mind, I approached the dancers with questions like, “What color is your aura currently?” which David and I decided on not as a New Age assessment of his dancers, but as a way to give them each individually-inspired color accents within the realm of otherwise “neutral” costumes.
My next question was, “Where, in or on your body, is your ‘emotional armor’?”
This question was inspired by seeing the documentary Free Solo, in which Alex Honnold describes needing “emotional armor” to be able to accomplish daring and incredibly dangerous feats of rock climbing. It struck me that all of us carry emotional armor of some kind, even if we're not free climbing thousands of feet above the earth.
For some of us, just getting out the door in the morning is our daring feat.
How does our ‘emotional armor’ help and hinder our ability to not just function, but empathize and connect with other human beings?
I also allowed the dancers initial choice in picking base layers of clothing that they were drawn to and felt comfortable moving in. Then, their answers to my questions inspired individualized color choices to accent each dancer’s costume, as well as pieces of "armor" that would be removed onstage during the performance.
Despite a lovely, long process (and as always in performance of any kind) some things just don't happen until the last days and minutes leading up to the main event. The main challenges in the design and construction all came down to scheduling and fitting time. This led to an interesting conversation with David ruminating on the joys of calling the first weekend a "preview"!
In the midst of the challenge was the other joy of utilizing my membership at Sips N Sews for the first time during a build. It truly saved me leading up to the preview, as I needed multiple dress forms to stand in for dancers I wouldn't be able to see before costumes were needed on stage. This, and taking detailed measurements and lots of information-gathering early in the process, was the only reason I didn't need to fix much between the preview and show weekends. I was also able to use the Sips N Sews scrap bin and relieve strain on both the budget and the environment when it came to adding extra fabric to flesh out color accents and armor on the costumes.
All of the costumes were built from second-hand clothing and fabric. A few, small pieces of fabric were purchased new, but I generally stuck to reusing and recycling. Another reason I loved this project was because the design requirements overlapped with my preference to be environmentally-friendly and sustainability-oriented.
I find inspiration in re-purposing existing clothing and fabrics into new clothing.
My favorite part was seeing the costumes sparkling in Ray Oppenheimer's dramatic lighting design between silhouettes of audience members mingling on stage.
The gorgeous performance photography below is by Natalia Perez Photography.
"Resurrection of Everyday People" premiered at ZSpace in San Francisco, on April 11th, 2019.