Designing a World Premiere: Madness, Rack, and Honey

       When Smuin’s newest original work, a “rollicking” contemporary piece from Garrett Ammon, premiered on September 29, 2016, audiences witnessed a poetic inclination that Smuin dancers quickly morphed into “an infectious good time.” Brimming with tongue-in-cheek enthusiasm, this world premiere offers a unique insight into Ammon’s creative process.

       Inspired by the poet Mary Ruefle’s collection of lectures by the same name, Madness, Rack, and Honey melds Ammon’s personal love of the written word with dance. He notes that “language, and in particular poetry, has many parallels with dance, in the way you express ideas [metaphorically].”

       Adamant that the new ballet exist in a spectrum of grey tones, Ammon’s color palette mimics the poetic meaning one finds when reading between the lines. “We exist in a world where black and white, or words on paper,” are the “base of what we’re talking about.” Ammon reaches to explore “the idea of paper and ink merging:” a grey area that translates itself into the tone of the whole work.

Photo: Terez Dean

       Developing a world premiere for the stage is often a collaborative process between several designers, and creating original costumes is no exception. Choreographers often rely on visuals from a fashion runway, or fabric swatches to begin a dialogue with the creative team. Costume designers sometimes observe rehearsals to enhance their grasp of the piece, as well as the choreographer’s artistic vision.

       Designing costumes for a physically-demanding, movement-based art form presents unique challenges. Choreography involving complex partnering and inventive floorwork can have a great impact on a garment’s structure. Costumes must also complement the aesthetic of the piece, adding their own artistic element while remaining fully functional. Luckily, modern fabrics such as stretchy Lycra blends allow dancers to don amazing patterns without restricting mobility.

       In Madness, Rack, and Honey, Cassandra Carpenter’s standout designs mimic the structure and sumptuous feel of couture pieces, but with the functionality of traditional leotards and tights. Initially, the costumes drew inspiration from the fashion houses of Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, and Dries van Noten, with a dash of “Victorian insanity,” as Ammon jokingly comments. Carpenter’s creations are rich with whimsical details; borrowing voluminous skirts from Vivienne Westwood, while blending patterns and textures not unlike Dries van Noten, throwing in ruching, ruffles, lace, and even feathers!

       The thematic, and occasionally literal, interpretation of the piece’s namesake, Madness, Rack, and Honey, manifests itself visually in the costumes. Each dancer sports a completely unique creation. Ammon remarks that some detailing on the costumes “leans toward the rack… the torture” that comes with creating new artistic works, as touched on in Ruefle’s lectures. Linear details hint at this severe structure in a dancer’s version of a pantsuit with suspenders, whereas the “madness” can be found in the eccentric layers and patterns in the women’s billowing dresses.

       Why are these carefully crafted designs paired with “rollicking” about onstage? As per the program notes, Ammon says “with a relative degree of certainty […] the meaning of any of this will remain frustratingly elusive.” Whether his statement refers to the meaning behind the steps, the vivid lighting, or the costumes, audiences will have to discover this for themselves.

Interested in learning more about Garrett Ammon’s world premiere for Smuin? Read about his creative process here. Join us for Madness, Rack, and Honey and other thought-provoking works in Smuin’s Dance Series 01, opening March 02-05 at Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, and March 24-25 at Carmel’s Sunset Center. Purchase your tickets today.

** Written by Eva Faizi, Smuin’s Communications Manager


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