Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff, 26 February 2016
Wearable Art Show
Created and performed by RWCMD Design for Performance students
Design and Costume Tutors: Bettina Reeves and Karen Thomas
Choreographer: Hannah Morris
Each summer the first year of study for those on the RWCMD Design for Performance BA course culminates in a perambulatory puppetry show. I have wonderful memories of a life-size elephant emerging from misty rain on the lawns below St Fagan’s castle and huge butterflies a-flutter in Dyffryn Gardens. The designers develop a panoply of skills in preparing and presenting the show. What I did not appreciate until this year was that their first public outing – and for many of them the first time on the stage – is in a costume showcase, presented as a catwalk fashion show.
The brainchild of Bettina Reeves, RWCMD Senior Lecturer in Design for Performance, working here alongside Lecturer Karen Thomas, the annual Wearable Art Show is created around a story with music. This year the starting point was Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and the doomed love between Orpheus and Eurydice. Each designer created a character from the story. The challenge for them was not only that they were given just three weeks to do so, but also that they had to make the costume for their character from recycled and reclaimed materials. The programme for the show lists the materials used and it is eight lines long! Alongside a range of papers and fabrics sit more unexpected items like ring pulls and watering can roses, the materials held together with a range of glues, ties and, finally, “some stitching”!
The resulting costumes were nothing short of remarkable and beautiful. RWCMD Stage Management students collaborated in the production of the show. George Pearce’s lighting provided some wonderful silhouette effects, notably of Eve Jones’s Deer. He also maximised the light inherent within some of the costumes – the fairy lights of Shiwa Tokuoka’s suspended hoop dress for Hope were reflected round the room, and reflections from mirror card used by the twin Echoes, Joseph Aragon and Aled Williams, were picked up to great effect.
I know that smoke and mirrors – both of which featured in this show – can cover a lot, but sitting in the front row I could see at close quarters the quality of the work that went into these costumes. Most fascinating to me was Cecilia Calf’s dress for Sylvia, the Messenger, made in quasi-Elizabethan style with a breastplate of postage stamps and train of envelopes, a perfect example of form matching function. In L’Orfeo the Messenger comes to tell Orpheus of Eurydice’s death from a snake bite, and the choice of music for this, Björk’s ‘Unravel’, was similarly well-suited.
The designers’ musical choices were eclectic, mostly rather distant from Monteverdi, and sometimes, particularly when they included a pounding base, distracted me from the visual elements of the show rather than complementing them. That quibble aside, this was a most impressive show. Choreographer Hannah Morris wove the movement of the individual characters together to tell the span of the story while still giving each designer his or her time in the – literal – spotlight.
Those designers with particular performance skills had a chance to display them – Elin Steele as Music dancing on points, Atena Pou Clavell as Charon the boatman parading fearlessly on stilts. All took on their performance role with enthusiasm. The whole was a joy.
Header image, L’Orfeo costume created from scrap materials, courtesy of RWCMD