WHAT'S IN A COSTUME
“I believe in my mask... The man I made up is me
I believe in my dance... And my destiny"
Preparing to step on a stage no matter how big or small, involves a ritual: you warm up, review your steps, quiet your mind, listen to music; you lay out the hair products and accessories, bobby pins, rubber bands, eye make up, lipstick, always trying to improve on your previous look. Lastly, you slip into the dress, you buckle the shoes and the transformation is complete. It's just physical at first: perhaps the cut of the dress, its movement, affects the way you walk; looking out at the world with painted eyes is not the same as staring out with a clean, unmade face.
When you look in the mirror it's still you, but it's a "hightened" you. You step into the role and you start to inhabit it. You're bolder, more beautiful, more daring. You will allow people to look at you and you won't shy away because your costume is your armor and for as long as you're on stage, you are that dancer that you've always fantasized you could be.
So much of my up-bringing has been affected by clothes, the every day masks we wear to face the world. My mother tells me of the epic tantrums that I used to throw when at 4 years old, I categorically refused to wear a certain outfit that she had picked out for me. I would eat anything on my plate, behave perfectly well on any and all social occasions, but give me something to wear that for whatever reason I deemed unsuitable, and I turned into a scene from The Exorcist.
Fast forward to many years later, when my mother would sneak me in to the Milan fashion shows of the designer she worked for. I was deeply affected by the spectacle, the clothes, the impossible heels, the walk, the attitude.
When I began my training at The Theater School at De Paul University and later, started my acting career, I learned the importance of the costume ritual. The dressing room as a kind of sanctuary or portal between the real world and the stage.
And then I met flamenco.
The ruffles, the drama, the hair, the earrings.... my first tablao experience in Seville took my breath away. How could such a small stage encompass all that emotion, color, not to mention the miles of fabric?! There is an argument in flamenco that the art, the passion of this dance form is not in the pretty clothes, the "fluff." To some extent that is true. As a student and artist, you find that flamenco lives within you, it becomes a part of your every day and the music becomes the soundtrack of your life. You can and should be able to express it without artifice. However, if people are coming to see you perform, they expect it ALL: the emotion AND the costume, the skill AND the makeup. It's all part of the story you're narrating, and it's your job as a performer to deliver on all of it. We spend hours agonizing over a footwork sequence, a lazy arm that just won't respond the way we want it to.... why wouldn't we put the same amount of care and attention to the way we present ourselves to the public?
The costume is just a costume on a hanger until we inhabit it. It tansforms us and we transform it.
We take the time to select the right dress with the right shoe, to smoothe out the stray hair and as T.S Eliot once wrote, "...to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet."
We do it because it's important, it shows respect for the audience, ourselves and the art form.