Devising the costume performance: shared agency & choreography

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The traditional role of the choreographer is to devise the dance performance, whilst the costume designer creates the costume, usually to enhance the aesthetic of the piece. Researching her new book Costume in Performance: Materiality, Culture, and the Body (2017), Barbieri found several examples throughout history of costume preceding and directing the process of choreographing the performance. Conventional approaches to choreography are challenged further by progressive experimental costume performance and the growing incorporation of costume design as part of the devising of ‘total theatre’ pieces. This presentation will reflect on dance artist and educator Lorraine Smith’s experiences of performance projects with the MA Costume Design for Performance at London College of Fashion; a course which embeds a ‘movement-based approach to the development of costume’ (Barbieri, 2012: 149) and a costume-based approach to methods of devising performance, and the impact its pedagogical approaches have had on her own artistic practice and performance pedagogy. An analysis of these experiences and Smith’s other wearable sculpture performance projects will be used to explore the question: who, or what, is choreographing the costume performance, and how? The collaborative relationship between designer, costume, performer and choreographer / director, and the importance of both the costume and the live body in the creation process will be discussed. Reference will be made to Jacques Lecoq’s Laboratoire D’Étude du Movement and Mann & Summerlin’s concept of ‘costume as choreographer’ (2016). The presentation will then examine the collaborative devising process of costume performance, questioning whether agency can be attributed to a single artist or material, concluding with proposed new terminology to encapsulate the experimental practice of creating costume performance where all elements and individuals involved not only have equal agency, but collaborate to form a shared agency that brings connection and coherence to the costume, moving body and environment.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jun 2022
Event15th NOFOD Conference 2021: Moving, relating, commanding: Choreographies for bodies, identities and ecologies. - The Danish National School of Performing Arts, Copenhagen, Denmark
Duration: 16 Jun 202219 Jun 2022


Conference15th NOFOD Conference 2021: Moving, relating, commanding: Choreographies for bodies, identities and ecologies.
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Bibliographical note

The Nordic Forum for Dance Research, NOFOD, is a non-profit organization that promotes collaboration between dance scholars and practitioners. This it does by arranging seminars and conferences as well as spreading information through discussions, performances and publications on dance. The purpose of the organization is to enhance, empower and bring together diverse forms of dance research, knowledge and practice especially in the Nordic context.

NOFOD defines dance in the broadest possible terms; ballet, modern dance, contemporary dance, new dance, post-modern dance, salsa, tango, hip-hop, folk dance, ballroom dances, line dancing, etc. Thus the field encompasses a range of theatrical and participatory dance forms constitutive of Scandinavian as well as Non-Scandinavian cultures. To study the significance of the dance event for participants and spectators, NOFOD embraces a wide range of research methods. Some employ dance-specific modes of inquiry such as movement analysis or choreographic reconstruction; others are drawn from related disciplines such as musicology, physical education, theater studies, ethnology, gender studies, artistic or participatory research etc.

NOFOD has arranged a Nordic research conference every second year since 1990. These events featured presentation papers, lecture-demonstrations, panel discussions, movement workshops and performances on a broad range of topics. Each conference has produced a proceeding in which papers have been published on the authors’ discretion.


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