Friday, October 5, 2012

Interview with Christine Darch, set, costume, and graphic designer for SoMoS.

SoMoS is a Branch Dance performance spectacle bridging nature and the urban landscape, to be presented in a parking lot in the North Philadelphia barrio on October 12, 2012, at 8pm as part of Taller Puertorriqueño’s performance series, Café Under the Stars: Spotlighting the Arts in El Barrio. In contrast to the urban landscape, the parking lot at 5th and Huntingdon Streets will be transformed into a quiet carnival of nature images, sounds, and movement invoking the four seasons. This is a free event.

Interview with Christine Darch, set, costume, and graphic designer for SoMoS.

Q: Please describe your work for SoMoS. How does the scale of SoMoS affect your approach to design?

Christine Darch: I am doing the set, costume, and graphic design for SoMoS. When Merián and I began set design conversations we thought about ways to create fantastical experiences of a heightened natural landscape. The first question we encountered was how to be inspired by the idea of a tent, a white rectangular box. I had grand ideas about giant flowers that bloomed over time, petals unfolding and foliage magically emerging from branches, wild masses of entangled vines, and felt strange about reconciling them with the ubiquitous white vinyl party tent. We searched for something more special and found the geodesic tents from a company that provides temporary disaster shelters and living spaces for Burning Man goers.

The design has evolved into something much more Zen and minimal in feeling. The domed tents are inherently beautiful and the video projection is stunning. Anything faux does not work. I am embellishing branches for their respective environments, creating a mirror in the shape of Puerto Rico for Jumatatu Poe to dance on. Shapes in the costumes are from nature, but neither literal nor overly conceptual.

Several different performances are happening simultaneously, and so most of the set budget has gone to creating the six "theaters"—clean, comfortable places for the dancers and audiences to experience the work. 

Q: What is the set up like for the show, and what are some of the challenges?

Christine Darch: The set up will be largely accomplished by Michael Roberts, the SoMoS production manger. The weather will affect how efficiently we can assemble four tents, almost one thousand square feet of living bluegrass from a local sod farm, about two thousand square feet of flooring, fallen trees, and hundreds of branches. The costumes have to work for whatever the weather is for that night, it could be a balmy Indian summer evening, or 45 degrees with wind-chill. My costume design for dance is usually as bare as possible. I like to see the body and bare, luminous skin. This has been my first foray into designing with "performance" fabrics, textiles that are used for hikers and mountain climbers with inherent moisture wicking properties to hopefully keep the dancers warm and dry.

Q: Merián has talked how SoMoS is a culmination of her branch dance work. How long have you been working with Merián on branch dances, and how do you see this evolution of her work?

Noemí Segarra  Photo: Merián Soto
Christine Darch: I have been working with Merián since 1997. Her passion for Puerto Rican and Afro-Caribbean culture and dedication to improvisational dance is the driving force or undercurrent to the work. The first outdoor branch dances coincidentally took place in my home town of Northport, Long Island, about seven years ago in a lovely harbor front park. This culmination brings nature and branch dancing from all its prior venues, from urban theaters to natural wooded landscapes, back to the urban environment, to beautiful and ephemeral theaters in a harsh and uninviting abandoned urban parking lot. If we are nature, it is possible to say that everything is nature, every thing is created by the natural world. Concrete resin, aluminum, steel, oil paint, PVC, vinyl, lycra, and polyester are of and from nature. Noemi Segarra appears as a mermaid in cropped hair and sunglasses on a Puerto Rican beach at sunset in one of the videos. It is a wild juxtaposition that is a perfect metaphor for how I have approached the design. Fantasy shielded by plastic in a beautiful "natural" setting. It is a striking trope to use branches along with so much technology and plastic to evoke an experience of nature. 

October 3, 2012
Christine Darch Costumes for Merián Soto Works:

States of Gravity & Light #2 Photo: Steven Schreiber
Three Branch Songs Photo; Steven Schreiber
La Máquina del Tiempo Photo Doug Herren

La Máquina del Tiempo  Photo: Doug Herren

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