The Muse: Enchanted by Design with Tracy Grant Lord (Interview)

'Sleeping Beauty'. Image courtesy of the Singapore Dance Theatre.

‘Sleeping Beauty’. Image courtesy of the Singapore Dance Theatre.

This festive season, Singapore Dance Theatre will enchant audiences with Sleeping Beauty, one of the classical repertoire’s most famous ballets.  Set in an enchanted world of castles, curses, forests and fairies, Sleeping Beauty is an age-old tale of a beautiful princess, enchantment of sleep and a handsome prince.

First performed in 1890 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, The Sleeping Beauty was Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s first successful ballet.

Staged by artistic director Janek Schergen featuring choreography by Marius Petipa and sumptuous costume design by Tracy Grant Lord, Singapore Dance Theatre’s latest rendition will run from 13-16 December 2012 at the Esplanade Theatre as a grand finale to the 2012 season.

The Muse recently caught up with acclaimed New Zealand costume designer Tracy Grant Lord for an exclusive chat about her inspiration in bringing  the magical kingdom to life.

How many costumes did you have to design for Sleeping Beauty in total?

Approximately 130 costumes.

Where did you get the ideas for the costume from? Were you inspired by previous performances of the ballet at all?

I use many reference resources as I design, historical references are usually my beginning point with research around the original story and its illustrations alongside the periods of history that the story describes. I have many reference books that show me details of construction for style of costume through time and specifically for ballet. I   listen to the music constantly – I become absorbed in the story through the score and in doing so grow to understand the essence of the story as described by the composer. This informs me about place and character and in turn their movement which all goes to inform the final design.

How long does it usually take for you to create an outfit?

I am merely the beginning point of a lengthy process of construction and manufacture that involves many many people. This is a process which takes several months and starts with the budgeting period and then sourcing of all the materials, then the pattern-making and construction followed by fittings and manufacture, with the final stages of the process being the detailing and assembling of all the components together including hair-pieces and millinery and jewellery and wigs and shoes. The skills required to achieve this are many and varied and I certainly would never be able to achieve it alone.

Which one is your favourite? Why?

It is very hard to choose favourites – they are all equally wonderful when they come to life on stage worn by the dancers. For me the excitement is seeing the whole production together working as a unified design, in harmony.

Which one was the hardest to make? Why?

Sometimes the simplest costumes can be the most difficult in order not to distract from the essence of the choreography and at other times there are costumes that require a lot of thought and experiment around the way a particular fabric or shape behaves with a certain movement or how a group of costumes move together. Often when I am asked to design wings on a costume we will have a few prototypes to test shapes and behaviour of the design because they need to ‘speak’ or ‘dance’ in unity with the performer and of course the music. It is not necessarily a hard thing to do but it takes time.

What do you love most about designing costumes?

I think it is the chance to be involved in the process of creating a new work from the very beginning and I love that. I also love the challenge of it being a new beginning every time. This keeps me very engaged in my work.

What projects have you got lined up for the year ahead?

I am currently working on a new production of CINDERELLA for Queensland Ballet and a new play called TRUE MINDS for Melbourne Theatre Company.

* This article was written in collaboration with Yvonne Wang.

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