If you’ve ever been to one of our performances after 2003, you’ve likely seen the work of Liz Prince, our costume designer. Liz, who received a Bessie award in 1990 for outstanding costume design, has designed and created dozens of costumes for us, from the fishy costumes in “Aquatica” to the military guerrilla outfits in “Redline.” Most recently, Liz designed costumes for last season’s collaborations with Art Spiegelman and Dan Zanes in addition to the shedable wedding outfits for “Hitched.”
How many years have you been designing costumes for Pilobolus? What was the first piece?
Liz: The first Pilobolus piece I worked on was “Megawatt” in 2003 with Jonathan [Wolken]. Since then, I have had a pretty strong working relationship with the company and worked with Jonathan, Michael, and Robby [the artistic directors] extensively since then.
In part it’s because the company likes to work in costume as ideas are generated. It started with Jonathan when we were working on Megawatt. I started going to rehearsal and coming back with sketches and pictures and books for Jonathan to look at. The pictures got Jonathan into a tizzy – he thought it was so difficult to translate a costume from a picture into real life. So, one day I decided to load up my Honda Civic with everything that might be appropriate for the piece. I came into the studio and spread it all out on the floor. Jonathan loved it. We were able to build a look with all the dancers right then and there.
So that’s how it started! I remember those days when you’d bring in bags and bags of clothes and lay them all out and we’d run around trying things on.
Liz: Sometimes pictures and books work too. Michael is comfortable looking at sketches. For “Lanterna Magica,” we looked at a lot of Hieronymus Bosch paintings. We took inspiration from Bosch’s “little medieval townsfolk” for the costumes. Michael was more comfortable moving from sketches to costume pieces.
Is designing costumes for dance any different than other shows?
Liz: Yes. When designing for dance, I try to accommodate dancers as much as possible and get stuff into the rehearsal process as soon as possible. It’s usually a very fast, driven way of rehearsal – it can be very frenetic sometimes. For a play, you can read the script and design the costumes in advance. With dance, when you begin there is no script you often have to react more with your gut while watching rehearsals. There are very few sign posts – as there are when working with a script – to tell you which way to go. You’re flying by the seat of your pants. It can be very exciting!
You have also design costumes for other dance companies, like Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zanes and ZviDance. Is designing costumes for Pilobolus any different that other designing for other dance companies?
Liz: Pilobolus is very different. The rehearsal process is short. You guys come in fast and hard. One day you fly in from Timbuktu, then you rehearse for three days before heading back out on the road.
Also, I always try to keep in mind that, with Pilobolus work in particular, the choreography is often built upon the gorgeous human form which is manipulated to create a piece. Take Jonathan’s “Hitched,” for example. Even if a piece is costumed heavily in wedding garb, I think, “Let’s get them out of that pretty quick.” What’s interesting about that piece at the core is the entanglement of arms and legs and you need to be able to see that. With Pilobolus, it’s not so much about beautiful flowing fabric, but the different physicalities of the different dancers and paying attention to that. And everything changed in the Art Spiegelman collaboration when I had to make that rubber hair and very stylized cartoon like silhouettes! Art really wanted a particular look for each of the characters. Of course by the end a number of characters shed their costume somehow and it’s was great to see their bodies.
Liz was also featured in last month’s Hudson Valley Magazine. Read the article here.
Interviewed by Jeffery Huang