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Hong Kong Costume Designer: Couture Behind the Scenes

by Bridget — June 17, 2016

Hong Kong costume designer Bridget Steis, has designed a new ballet, Sacred Thread. See behind the scenes of this new work for the Hong Kong Ballet by talented choreographer Edwaard Liang.

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Another show has come and gone and our busy working schedule and creative energy has been rewarded once again with a brand new production to delight the senses. Congratulations to the hard work of everyone involved.

Most people don’t realise how much energy goes into every single production, from planning the artistic vision of the company, to harnessing and tracking finances, publicizing the event, & renting the space. Then, there’s the artistry of the pieces, you need talented and dedicated dancers, people to organize and take care of them including managers and therapists. There are choreographers with fresh ideas, dance class instructors, & ballet masters to keep the dance up to its fine standards. There are designers who help to shape the vision of the production and assist the choreographers in forming and presenting their views, themes, and feelings on stage. And finally you have the makers, managers who interpret the designs and aid in making it a physical tangibility on stage. The ticket you purchase goes towards every single person that makes that show into a reality and is often heavily subsidized to make it affordable.

It’s important work. The proof can been seen when political leaders block the flow of self expression, and thoughtful art within their borders. As humans we share ideas through our art and culture and that is our greatest tool to elicit change and growth. Of course, for me as a Hong Kong costume designer, I believe design should add a finesse–a little je ne sais quoi. Good design should imply ideas above and beyond the choreography, it should add and support, keep the audience members wondering and using their brains to think of all of the possibilities the production wishes to suggest.

Behind the scenes with a Hong Kong costume designer:

Here’s a quick look at this Hong Kong costume designer’s creative process, and the effort it took behind the scenes to get this beautiful production on stage.

I paired up with Edwaard Liang, accomplished choreographer and Artistic Director of BalletMet in Columbus, Ohio. We communicated via Skype, email, and images in Dropbox–thank you technology!!!! He started by telling me his vision of a piece that has athletic & frantic choreography, a Chinese wedding, an arranged marriage, with a sense of history in its modernity, and inspiration from the Rite of Spring.

An assortment of research images: history of Chinese clothing, & modern couture. (above)

I went to work researching all kinds of images, discussed them with Edwaard and then we started narrowing our focus to what would work for this production. We almost went in a more literal direction until we agreed that the emotions and physicality of this piece needed something different and at the last minute we scratched those ideas and went with something more abstract. It was already there in the research, so we were able to change directions instantly. I think it was the best decision we made as it served to make a more meaningful production.

Our final influences for the piece, number of characters, & themes. (above)

Now it was time to get more specific with the cutting details for each character, I had sketches of them posted up on a board, perched on my living room wall, so I could get the feeling of the whole show at once.

Rough plans on my bulletin board, & Me and Edwaard discussing our concept at the Hong Kong Ballet Lecture Series. (above)

I madly worked on beautiful renderings of my designs, ready for my final deadline and then it was all about searching for the correct fabrics with the help of the Director of Wardrobe, Joanne Chong. We had trouble finding the perfect cotton stretch with a rustic texture but ended up finding something perfect in the wardrobe stock and dying it multiple colours.

The texture drawn on a mock up, & Karen hard at work transferring templates of the patterns onto the final fabric. (above)

If that wasn’t enough work, I had also decided that to achieve the correct look of decay for these garments, I wanted it to appear like it’s one piece of fabric but with portions of it missing and falling to pieces. They didn’t have much time to think about how to achieve the look so we started plugging away. Due to time restraints, we may have accidentally chosen the most difficult procedure as it was incredibly painstaking and ended up being some seriously hardcore couture.

Sewing the around the pattern, & cutting out all of the holes. (above)

All the same, because I’m an awesome designer who feels responsibility for my decisions, I came in every day and slaved along side the lovely team of amazing Hong Kong Ballet wardrobe ladies. I cursed the picky Hong Kong costume designer (ME!) many times as I developed bruises and blisters on my hands from the endless couture cutting we had to do on the shirts. My happy exclamation of, “It’s going to look beautiful!” eventually became a strained, “It better look beautiful…” And every day I would fall into bed exhausted.

A view of the flurry of work the week before the show(s) open, & detail of Bride’s top ready for the finished touches to be sewn on. (above)

All too soon opening night is near, the dancers are in costumes and I could see them on the stage with lights. That’s a tricky moment for a costume designer, there are so many things to keep your eye out for and to consider once everything is onstage. For example, we were in the middle of a fight to keep the Bride’s top laying flat; a fight with gravity, friction, fabrics, choreography, & vision. She’s the main female character so she also had the most difficult partnering, which took its toll on her costume. That’s one of those tricky things about having a seemingly simple looking design–the more simple it is, the more perfect it needs to appear. We finally managed to get it right in the end but it took a lot of genius experimentation, blood, sweat, & tears.

Moments before opening, Zolima City Magazine released an eloquent article by the ever talented Elle Kwan about my work and experience as a Hong Kong costume designer. Read it here: Code Red for Sacred Thread by Elle Kwan June 9, 2016.

And then–ta da! It’s finally/already opening night!!!!!!! I feel like I’ve been working forever on this show but in reality it has come far too fast. But not to worry, it’s another beautiful show for Bridget Steis, Hong Kong Costume Designer extraordinaire! Yay me!

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Photo by Conrad Dy-Liacco from dress rehearsal.
Hong Kong Ballet Dancers featuring Yu-yao Liu and Jia-bo Li (Bride & Groom)
Sacred Thread (World Premiere)
Choreography: Edwaard Liang
Costume Design: Bridget Steis
Lighting Design: Mak Kwok Fai

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