Ballet Co.Laboratory heads this weekend to the 1920s for a feminist, jazz-infused re-imagining of Georges Bizet's famous opera of love and death.
With an original score composed by Richard Erickson performed live, the St. Paul company's "Carmen in the 1920s" will be set in New York City during the Jazz Era instead of 1820s Spain and include speakeasies and swing dancing going en pointe.
Artistic director Zoé Emilie Henrot designed the Roaring '20-style costumes, along with Zander Brod and Phoebe Poole. To embody the free spirit of the era, the team included loose dress styles and used fabrics that wouldn't tear easily and that could stretch.
Here are five points that the costumers focused on:
Keeping movements in mind: The designers wanted to make sure that the performers could move freely and feel comfortable when swing dancing and doing the Charleston.
"We were working off of 1920s dress patterns, but the drop waist of so many garments for women specifically in that era don't really allow legs to go up," Henrot said.
To address the problem, the designers brought the waist up on the dress pattern but then placed a low ribbon to make it look like a drop waist from the time period.
Dancers wear wigs, an easier option than styling finger bobs and curls with the actual hair. And pearl necklaces and hats are all pinned in place for the different numbers.
For the pinstripe suits, the designers sought a stretchy fabric.
"We ended up finding only two different versions of pinstripe," Henrot said, and purchased as much as possible of those two types.
The team ended up using spandex as it found that the material was friendly for the various movements. "We were looking at purchasing antique-style ones, but those are made out of canvas, and we knew that those were going to rip with the movement," Henrot said.
Etsy to the aid: Henrot said her team found a bounty of vintage dress patterns on Etsy. Many of the old patterns are very delicate, so the costumers made new patterns based on the original. This way it could be pinned without tearing.
Often, dress styles from the early 20th century are smaller in size than what is worn today. But luckily, most drop-waist dress styles are meant to be baggy.
"We've had to attach the dresses to a leotard so that they don't move around at the waist while the dancers are partnering," said Henrot. "That's kind of been an ongoing educational journey."
Color distinguishes characters: Henrot directed "Carmen in the 1920s" once before, and it was during her last season as artistic director of St. Paul Ballet. In preparing for Ballet Co.Laboratory's production, she decided to employ color as a way to help the audience follow the story.
"I wanted to make sure that everyone really had a distinct color who needed to be seen," said Henrot. "Last time, also, the gangsters were all in browns and blacks, and I felt like it was too dark. So I gave them a little bit more lightness this time."
You cannot have "Carmen" without the color red and so it makes its splash onstage. Henrot also wanted to make sure there was enough color onstage to make the show enticing while trying to honor the 1920s fashion scene.
Embracing uniforms: Besides the flapper looks found in the speakeasy scenes, the production explores the different costumes that workers wore in the 1920s. So, factory workers don linen dresses and aprons with muted colors. Telephone operators are in black collared uniforms and secretaries have a ribbon tie around their necks. The most challenging part for the costumers was coming up with a uniform for the baseball team, which is part of Ballet Co.Laboratory's reimagined story.
Developing the artist's artistry: Henrot and crew also wanted to embrace the production's open approach to gender and casting when coming up with costumes. The show has male-identifying dancers in pointe shoes and female-identifying ones in suits.
"I always like to play with gender," Henrot said.
She said that in casting, not only can that help to develop an artist's artistry but also it allows those who are part of the LGBTQ community to embrace their full self within what they're doing.
When: 7 p.m. Fri., 2 & 7 p.m. Sat., 2 p.m. Sun.
Where: E.M. Pearson Theatre, Concordia University, 312 N. Hamline Av., St. Paul.
Tickets: $40. 651-313-5967, balletcolaboratory.org.