Orpheus and Eurydice is the first co-production between powerhouse Queensland companies, Opera Queensland and Circa, to hit QPAC this October and November. If you’re new to the concept, the show is a dramatic yet contemporary retelling of the ancient Greek story of the same name, told through a thrilling mix of choreography, opera and video design. In anticipation of the experience, we sat down with Brisbane’s own Libby McDonnell, the creative behind the costumes which are set to shine on stage, and ask how she went from graduating with a dance degree to costume design so seamlessly.
A bit of razzle dazzle on stage never goes astray and this is how she does it.
You’re in an incredible position, designing the costumes for Circa shows and for Orpheus and Eurydice. When did you first discover your love for design and costumes and what was your inspiration?
I have always loved making, drawing and creating with material. I focussed that love towards costume design about ten years ago. I remember the fear and excitement of seeing my costumes on the artists on stage for the first time and there was no looking back! The transition from dancing to costume design was also influenced by a previous QUT lecturer, Shaaron Boughen, she taught me choreographic studies. It was her teaching of translating concepts into choreography that seeded an approach to designing for the moving body.
What’s your creative process?
My creative process is informed by the show’s needs. A few things that I try and do are; the research, observe and listen, ask questions, remain curious and tend to the detail without losing sight of the bigger picture. For Orpheus and Eurydice’s costume design I have worked with the extraordinary Karen Cochet and her team at Opera QLD to realise the costume designs.
What can we expect from the costumes in Orpheus and Eurydice?
The design is located on this seam between contemporary physical performance (circus) and opera with influences from German expressionism. The costumes combine the drama of opera with the restraint synonymous with some of my other work with Circa. A lot of my design work involves a considered absence of visual information. I ask myself, “what is the least amount of visual information I can apply to the design while making the most impact?”. Designing for the opera has been an opportunity to create more visual drama, through access to fabrics and silhouettes that I often avoid due to technical needs of a pure circus production.
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What would be your favourite piece from Orpheus and Eurydice?
It’s like choosing your favourite child – you love them all equally (and they challenge you equally)!
You’re a Brisbane native, what do you miss about our city when you’re out of town?
My Family! What I do love about being away is my return home ritual. Travelling along Kingsford Smith Drive at 7am with the Brisbane River sparkling, calling my partner from the taxi, having a coffee and avocado on toast from Jamie’s ready to start work at 9am.
Are your incredible design skills self-taught?
I haven’t trained at an institution in design, but I wouldn’t say that makes me self-taught. I would say I’ve had many generous teachers and that I have benefitted from a mixture of intuition, hard work and luck.
How do you think your studies in dance influences the way you design costumes?
The body, movement and fabric are central to my work as a designer. I’ve recently begun designing costumes with organic material. I would say that elements of dance including movement, music, line and composition run through my costume design always.
What is your favourite part of a costume?
My favourite moment is when a garment becomes a costume…. when it’s inhabited by a performer, being watched by an audience.
Many thanks to Libby McDonnell for her time. Check out this amazing show and let us know what you think! You can find tickets to Orpheus and Eurydice, here.
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