Designing for the body in motion…

Design for Dance,
English National Ballet, Istituto Marangoni
City Hall, London

English National Ballet and Istituto Marangoni reprised their partnership from earlier in the year, coming together to present a discursive informative evening about dance and design. With their experience of creating a brand new Firebird – which had its premiere at the London Coliseum in March – as the centerpiece for discussion, panelists from both organizations generated a rousing and highly engaging discussion.

The panel consisted of four speakers from each of the two artistic spheres in question – dance was represented by English National Ballet’s artistic director Wayne Eagling, dancer Ksenia Ovsyanick, archivist Jane Pritchard and Head of Costume Wizzy Shawyer; and design fielded couture footwear, accessories and costume designer Rob Goodwin, senior tutor and graduate students of Istituto Marangoni Massimo Casagrande, Louise Körner and Ekaterine Lomtadze.

Following an explosive and all too brief excerpt from George Williamson’s Firebird brilliantly performed by Junior Soloist Junor Souza, The Times dance critic Donald Hutera led the panel through the ballet’s creative process. Ovsyanick, who created the titular role in this new production, spoke about how special it was to have a piece of choreography created on and for her. Eagling shed light on his bold commissioning of Williamson, mentioning his recognition of the 21 year-old’s talent even during his time at English National Ballet School.

The spotlight then shifted to the designers on the panel, and the differences between fashion and dance surfaced, highlighting just how challenging such an interdisciplinary collaboration must have been. Working with David Bamber, one of the luminaries in the fashion industry, Körner and Lomtadze have gained an immeasurable amount of experience, a respect for dancers and a fresh perspective on designing for the body in motion. Every garment had to be ‘ballet-proof’, a tall order akin to making it bullet-proof!

The overarching and recurring theme of the discussion seems best summed up in the following saying by Tom Bodett: The difference between school and life? In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson. Just as Williamson underwent a stressful but rewarding ordeal for his first commission, designers Goodwin, Körner and Lomtadze shared similar struggles but rose to the occasion and emerged nurtured and victorious.

Germaine Cheng