Ballet costumes strive to bring sculpture to life

by ekramer on February 29, 2008

This weekend, the Louisville Ballet premieres a new work based on sculpture. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer looks into how one artist behind the scenes helped breath life into statues.

Dancers are arching their bodies high in the air before reeling towards the floor. Duets of entwined bodies exude passion. You can smell the sweat emanating from these dancers in this rehearsal hall.

The Louisville Ballet is rehearsing “Beyond Stillness,” a dance premiering this weekend and inspired by the work of the late American sculptor Frederick Hart.

He shaped marble and bronze to depict heroic men and willowy women in a style reminiscent of classical Greek statues. His noted work includes sculptures at the National Cathedral and the three soldiers at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

How do you create a fluid dance inspired by solid statues?

One way is with costumes. The ballet commissioned a team of artists, including costume designer Sandra Woodall.

Near the rehearsal hall, Woodall is working in a room scattered with sewing machines and bolts of fabric. She and the ballet’s Dan Fedie are fitting a dancer with an ornate leotard. They examine the fit of the folded olive netting and a belt with iridescent gold and bronze fabric.

“But if we do lift it up it would be way too big ,” Woodall tels Fedie as she examines belt on the dancer’s costume.

Woodall is a veteran designer in the dance world, having created costumes for more than 200 works including those seen last year in the ballet’s staging of “Lamberena.”

For “Beyond Stillness,” she has researched Hart and examined the materials he used. She also found inspiration in the art of William Blake and even nature.

“The garments are made of very sheer netting with just a breath of bronze tones,” Woodall says. “But actually when you look at them, they’re very much the colors of lichen. And if you think about those marble statues eventually in years to come.” Then Woodall laughs.

She chose translucent fabrics to give the impression of nudity and designed the garments with folds to create strong muscular lines.

Bruce Simpson is the ballet’s artistic director. He says Woodall’s talent enhances this ballet and helps the company reach the goals it holds for all of its commissions. The ballet wants to create work that contributes to contemporary dance while drawing local audiences. It’s one reason the company chose Woodall to help create a piece based on Hart’s popular work.

“He is accessible to so many different kinds of people,” Simpson says. “I think that’s where Frederick Hart succeeds. How do you transfer that to the dance environment? Looking at a universal approach to the work, which is exactly how I feel Frederick Hart did when he approached the sculptures.”

The Louisville Ballet is presenting “Beyond Stillness” in a program with a piece by dancer Mikelle Bruzina and Paul Taylor’s “Company B.”

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