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‘Forever & Ever’ costume designer Paula Levis on her creative process

18 October 2018

Collaboration is vital in the creation of a new work, with many people involved; from the dancers to choreographers, lighting designers, composers, and costume designers.

Forever & Ever costume designer Paula Levis and choreographer Antony Hamilton have worked together before. Several motifs, shapes and symbols were explored in the conception of the costumes, and as Paula states, “the audience will see something very bold, very graphic.”

On the eve of Forever & ever opening night, we spoke with Paula about her collaboration with Antony and the inspiration behind her designs.

Q. Could you describe the costumes and what the audience will see?

As the work is called Forever & Ever, I tried to find motifs that represented the theme of infinity. We start off with an infinity symbol and throughout there are different symbols which the audience might not actually pick up. But they are there and they all relate to the idea of Forever & Ever. The audience will see something very bold, very graphic. Initially something very structural with a lot of shapes and a lot of lines.

Q. What kind of shapes will the audience see?

The costumes start big and become smaller. The first two are cartoony as they are quite oversized. At one stage during the work there is a big black hooded figure like out of a story book. There’s a sense of surrealism throughout the work with all the shapes.

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Q. You’ve worked with Antony Hamilton on several works before. What has your relationship been like on Forever & Ever?

We have a really good working relationship because we can be really honest with each other.

Q. Could you tell me a little about your background?

I studied fashion design straight out of high school and did some theatre shows while I was studying, and I felt that they were my people. A few years after I graduated I went to the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) and did a postgrad course and made contacts that got the ball rolling. I worked with Becky Hilton who is a choreographer at VCA and she got me on a show two years later.

Q. Have you found it different designing things for dance compared to other artforms?

It depends on the work, the director, the choreographer. Sometimes the director is happy to go with something more fantastical and some choreographers who happen to be like Antony.

Q. You have mentioned using shapes as inspiration. Did you also use images and where did you find those images?

To begin with it was just shapes. I was looking for anything interesting that referred to any of the ideas I was thinking about. I did a lot of internet searching. I basically wanted to find something carnal, something that I could sink my teeth into. Then that might lead me to something else.

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Q. Do you draw sketches on paper?

Yes, I always do a range, anything I am thinking I will draw it up. Then Antony will have a look and tell me what he responds to.

Q. From there do you give the designs to a costume maker?

I usually make the costumes as well. But for this show I needed help because there are a lot of costumes and Sydney Dance Company has makers who are amazing. If there is anything that I want them to make that is quite complicated, I will always give them a technical drawing (which is a black and white drawing like an architectural drawing), this is quite specific and tells them where the stitching line is going to be.

Q. How would you describe your design style?

My style would be that there is always a lot of thought put into it. Even if it is a t-shirt and pants, which Antony and I created for another show, it is a very specific t-shirt and I made the pant specifically. Every costume has a reason and a lot of thought put into it.

See Antony Hamilton’s brand new work Forever & Ever as part of a double bill with Rafael Bonachela’s Frame of Mind in Sydney 16 – 27 October.

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