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Danielle Truss: Creating the costumes of Vendetta
April 23, 2018
The dancers rehearsing the show Vendetta

Where did your inspiration come from to create the costumes (certain era, designer, movie…)?

With Vendetta, I was tempted to go straight for the mafia and gangster films. Like ones starring James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart, like 1930s Film Noir and pre-code Hollywood films. But once the era of the 50s and 60s was set as the backdrop, I really got stuck in that world. My biggest inspiration was watching musicals as it helped to show the movement and tricks costume designers can use to merge both style and function.

How was it to work with choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Les Grands Ballets' dancers?

This is actually my fifth collaboration with Annabelle and each project has been totally different, apart from them having a strong story or narrative at the core. The approach encourages the whole team to delve into and become a part of the whole thing. She challenges me to do my best work and when I get frustrated or annoyed and don't want to give any more, I figure it out or discover something new I can do. She has also taught me a great deal about dance and being a woman in the arts.

Les Grands Ballets' dancers are not only profoundly talented and elegant, they are funny, and smart! Whenever I have had a question or needed something they have been so accommodating. They love what they do tremendously and they want to be able to do it to the best of their ability. In that sense, I always encourage an open dialogue: if design has to be sacrificed for better range of motion, then we can find another option no matter how attached I am to it!

Tell us about your journey as a costume designer. Have you created costumes for other productions of this kind?

I knew I wanted to sew for a living the first time I took a textiles class, when I was 13. Finding the occupation that suited my passions and personality took about 15 more years though, and happened almost by accident. I studied fashion, textiles and tailoring, but when I completed each course I ultimately realized I had these great skills and yet the occupation didn't suit me. I moved from the UK to the US, decided I was going to go back to school to study art history to become a historian, and that’s when a job for a costume shop manager came up at the Grand Rapids Ballet. I applied, and got it.

Ballet is a real challenge; it’s its own art form. I love costume design because it’s humbling, it’s not about me. So if I do my job well, it will add to the piece and merge seamlessly with it, and it helps move the audience.

What was your biggest challenge?

I think probably believing in myself and trusting that I could succeed. Once I did, it has been pretty straightforward ever since. I just got to a point where I thought, ‘what the hell, I might as well try,’ where the worst that could happen would have been being told ‘no’ to something. It’s probably something that affects most artistic people! Regret is also likely to crush a person if they hold on to it for too long.

What differentiates the creation of costumes for a dance production from a play or a simple fashion clothing? What is proving the most difficult compared to this particular production?

When you design or make costumes for dance you have to essentially deconstruct what you have created and assess the functionality of every part, the comfort, and the purpose. You can't just choose a fabric because it’s pretty; you have to think about durability and wear, and on top of that these pieces have to be stunning and they need to make the dancer not only feel secure, but look and feel gorgeous, too.

For Vendetta the biggest challenge was finding the right temporal backdrop. When we were working out the kinks a year ago, Annabelle and I ‘time-travelled’ a lot. First we peered into the 20s and 30s at the jazz and depression era, then at the 1970s—which was thrown out as an option in the end because it just didn't feel right. I think the 40s was discussed briefly, but then, regarding the main character Rosalia, anything before the 50s wasn’t compatible with the story and also with actual historical dates (since the passing of the equal rights act in the US took place in 1972). I think her struggles as a 'liberated' woman, with this housewife-era backdrop, lends the story depth.

What did you enjoy most?

Honestly, every part of it, every single person that I get to work with in the costume shop, the dancers, Montreal for being an unusual and unique city, and just how welcoming and open everyone has been with me. I am so grateful.

What do you hope the public will see in the costumes and the show?

I hope that they can get lost the show. There is a lot to relate to in the characters and family struggles, the conflicts, self-doubt and love. And as for the costumes, I want them to serve as reminders of all the glamour and elegance of the 50s and 60s.

Meet Annabelle Lopez Ochoa
23, 2018