Aerial dance and costumes design

My mother was a seamstress, and a good one.  She sewed many of our costumes, not only when we were children, but later when we became professional dancers. Somehow I took it for granted that she would always be there.  So when I read about dance production, I always skipped the parts about costume design.

But time always catches up with us.

In Mar del Zvr there is a scene in the first act: the duet of the Myth of the Flat Earth.  The idea is simple.  A sea monster finally traps a sailor who dares to go beyond the edge of the horizon. When I first came up with the idea for this show, that specific duet was important to me. It was the first moment when I felt I had achieved my vision of floating. I had the fantasy fresh in my head, the perfect couple to dance it, and an impeccable rigging system upon which to perform it. Everything was ready.

Suddenly, one of my colleagues handed me a pile of rocks: heavy catalogues selling dance costumes, full of beautiful bodies in the same sad meaningless poses.  With the best of intentions, she asked me very nicely, “How do you want the dancers to dress up?”

I knew it was one of those TOUGH LUCK moments; you have to come up with something, but you don’t actually know how.


Like many things in Panama, if we don’t have the expertise to get a job done, we get out there and learn it.  Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you get it wrong. That’s tough luck!

At the beginning of the creative process, costumes are not our primary concern. We know it’s something that we’ll have to address eventually.  But what is right or wrong in aerial dance costume design?  As a choreographer I know I get it right when the audience responds to the story I’m telling, when I can make them experience diverse emotions.  In aerial dance, we rely on the accuracy of the rigging.  We spend a lot of time, and most of our resources, ensuring the safety of the dancers. Although one member of the creative team pays particular attention to safety issues, the entire production crew and the dancers are always looking up. It’s obvious when we get it right because we didn’t call the ambulance and there are no accidents.

As a creator of aerial dance performances, my essential concern is for the costume to immerse the dancer into the character that they are portraying.  In this duet, connecting both characters with harnesses that the audience can’t see, creates the illusion of floating.  In addition, the one point rigging system allows the choreography to end when both bodies merge into one being.

So there I was, with the sea monster and the sailor.  I didn’t want that stereotypical leotard look with a tight fit.  For the female dancer, I had the clear idea of a magical skirt which, when she flipped over, would have the effect of a jellyfish bell. For her male partner I envisioned a sea monster with gills, but also a visible human chest.

When the idea was ready in my mind, I put it on paper. Thank God I can always count on my sister’s super powers: bringing ideas into reality.  Monica contacted Nina Reed, who is her colleague on the Dance Faculty at Webster University in St Louis.  As a dance costume designer, Nina really knows her job. She found the elastic white fabric that gives lightness to the jellyfish, and the velvet that conveys the heaviness of the water. Sewing and fitting were real challenges. We needed to reach a compromise between my pure jellyfish vision and practical elements which would allow the dancer to ascend and descend rapidly, and in safety.  In the case of my sea monster, Nina had the brilliant idea of putting the gills on the legs.  She had the technical knowledge and ability to create the most phenomenal monster’s legs.


I was so proud when I saw them dancing.  The couple merged perfectly, and although she wants to escape to the surface, his body entices her back, until they become one.


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