Sunday, October 26, 2008

Côte d'Aszur: Backstage @ Sid's Waltzing Masquerade

The world premier season of the Sydney Dance Company’s new work, Sid’s Waltzing Masquerade, wrapped last night in Sydney. The show, which was choreographed by Canadian Aszure Barton, with costumes by Australian fashion and jewellery designer Michelle Jank, will run next at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre from November 5-15. After that, the SDC hopes the show will tour internationally.

I had a ‘Fashion Scoop’ on the Barton/Jank collaboration in WWD on October 10th, which revealed that not only did Barton choose Jank out of a field of five costume/fashion names suggested to her – including Josh Goot – but that Barton and Jank hit it off so well they are now cooking up future collabs.

Given Barton’s connections, these projects could prove very interesting for Jank.

Barton's other works include a Broadway production of The Threepenny Opera starring Alan Cumming, Jim Dale and Cyndi Lauper and an excerpt of Salome, which starred Al Pacino, Kevin Anderson and Jessica Chastain.

Barton is currently artist-in-residence at New York’s Baryshnikov Performing Arts Center (a venue frockwriter knows well – having once in fact, in a different incarnation, blogged from it).

aszure barton (L) and michelle jank

Sid’s Waltzing Masquerade is short (60 minutes), sharp and very entertaining. It came as no surprise to hear Barton being thanked at the after-show speeches on opening night for having “brought humour back” to the company.

With artistic directors Graeme Murphy and Janet Vernon departing the company last year after 30 years at its helm, and their incoming replacement Tania Liedtke tragically killed in a traffic accident just three months into her tenure, the company obviously needed a good laugh.

Among other amusing scenes, dancers occasionally give ‘the finger’, with one male dancer even making the universal, hand-shaking “wanker” gesture.

By all accounts this was quite unfamiliar territory for the SDC dancers, at least in the choreographic sense - Barton told me it took some time persuading them to drop the decorum.

The costumes are quite beautiful and frockwriter can’t help thinking their influence may spread further afield than the dance theatre.

There are over 60 costumes, with the female dancers each having numerous changes throughout the production.

Inspired by Russian folk dolls, Jank created a ‘layered’ look which was based on little sculpted Powernet bodysuits, over which elastic ‘harnesses’ were attached, some with silk georgette ruffles on the shoulders and hips, as well as diaphanous silk gazar skirts. The men wear simple black and white suits.

For the ballroom scene finale, Jank wanted to create a series of full-skirted ballgowns inspired by the great couturiers of the 1950s, notably Christian Dior.

After running out of funds, Sydney cashmere label To Sir With Love came up with $10,000.

Jank used her couture-specialist dressmaker from Perth, who once worked in fact at the Christian Dior haute couture atelier in Paris according to Jank.

The production represents Jank’s first dance collaboration – and in fact Barton’s first collaboration with a fashion designer. At the dress rehearsal Jank did express some surprise that, unlike the sponsor-drenched field of sport, and even fashion – in which it’s relatively easy for even up-and-coming designers to secure sponsorship money to blow on a once-off Australian Fashion Week show - Australia’s leading contemporary dance company doesn’t have much money.

“I like the relationship that you get with the dancers” Jank told me during one of the dress rehearsals. ”You’re working really one on one with them and it’s a beautiful process getting to know someone and then tailor-making it to make them feel nice. It’s like couture I suppose, making something that’s especially for their body. It’s been lovely working with Aszure, who’s uncannily like my sister in a way".

She added, “You can create some sort of a painting on stage which I find really interesting - creating the dynamic of fabric in movement, or fighting against movement. You are working in a palette that is like a painting and creating an extension of a feeling that she’s working on. She’s very inspiring to work with”.

Noted Barton, of Jank:

“Right away it was a connection, it was a sensibility. And I loved her heart. Since 2002 I’ve worked with different people (on costumes). But never with a fashion designer. And I love it. I’ve seen a lot of work with fashion designers that I’m not that fond of, so this is a really amazing connection”.

Here's the official trailer in which you can see the dancers – and costumes – in action (click here for the higher res option):


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