Who is choreographing the costume performance? A discussion on shared agency

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


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 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 wearable sculpture performance project Elizabeth & The Three Sisters (2016) will be used to investigate 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. 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 - 8 Aug 2020
EventCritical Costume 2020: Costume Agency - Oslo National Academy of the Arts - Online (COVID)
Duration: 21 Aug 202023 Aug 2020


ConferenceCritical Costume 2020
Internet address

Bibliographical note

Due to COVID19 and related social distancing measures, CC2020 will be presented via an online presentation platform. Video presentations will be published via an online video library. The use of the video library is non-commercial, and the purpose is education and research. The content of the video library will be available for free for the audience. The video Library will launch on August 8th at 15.00 CET, at: http://costumeagency.com, remaining accessible to the public until December 1st, 2021. The Costume Agency Artistic Research Project will retain the rights to present an archive of the contributions as part of the Critical Costume 2020 (CC2020) conference of which it is a host, indefinitely as an archive offline.

An online conference working group for this video presentation will take place on Friday 21st August.


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