earlier this fall, i received a request to make a costume for a performance my friend lisa degrace was working on. i met lisa while making the costumes from last year’s production of cocoon bird. she told me it would involve a giant skirt to be fitted over a metal frame. sounded intriguing. we met up a few days later to talk about it in person. the performance involved her crawling into and buckling herself into this skirt that she was to be trapped in until she had to fall out and get back in. she had been looking into ordering a 30′ parachute to be somehow fitted to this metal frame that another friend of ours, richard cawley was building. i contemplated how to make this happen. at first we considered a long row of snap tape with a couple of separating zippers and several buckles, but after testing this, it proved to be too complicated for the actual reality of the performance. in the end, we eventually came up with a circle skirt design with a really long separating zipper to attach to the bottom of the skirt and the parachute with a few buckles for added interest.
i made the skirt part ahead of time, and on the appointed day, lisa came with the parachute and the metal frame to fit her and the parachute and the metal frame together into one piece. it was quite the wrestling match to get the parachute through the sewing machine, but we did most of it in an afternoon through trial and error.
me: what inspired you to want to be trapped in a gigantic skirt?
lisa: the image comes from two places: one was some work i was doing with my friend meshi chavez on a piece called cocoon bird. i’m not trained as a dancer, so you have to speak in story and image to get my mind around a kind of movement. in trying to get me to weight down my lower body, he told me to envision myself in an iron skirt. i just couldn’t shake that image.
the rest is based on images from dreams and my inner life. it’s an expression of the feeling of being alone, even when surrounded by people. i wanted my clown’s universe to be sort of tiny and vast all at once, and to feel specifically alone…. like no one had ever been there, or at least had wanted to stay. but i had to look kind of glamorous too…. like a very strange fashion model or something.
me: this costume is almost the set for this piece. when considering the costume for a performance where the costume is so integral to the piece, what do you take in to consideration about the logistics of your vision, and how much do you depend on your costume makers to help in the actual function of the costume?
lisa: i am very very lucky to live in portland and know imaginiative and creative people like you and richard cawley (who built the metal portion of the skirt). so, honestly, i counted on the fact that you would know all the right questions to ask and things to do if i just told you the concept. and it worked! you had all the right ideas- like connecting the pieces of the skirt together with a sleeping bag zipper (i would have never thought of that one). i had a whole laundry list of obscure things… about how it should sound, how heavy it should be, and, most significantly, that it has to fit as checked luggage on a plane. both you and richard seemd to take each problem as a design challenge, rather than a road block. that was great.
me: you spent some time rehearsing without the skirt and just the metal frame; what changed once you had the skirt to wear and drape over the frame?
lisa: in one sense, nothing really changed… it all just intensified and clarified. the first time i got into the whole shebang….parachute skirt and iron skirt and all, i became almost immediately nauseous! because it was such a literal manifestation of a more figuartive feeling of being separated from the world. so, while it wasn’t planned this way, the first thing i worked on the was the end of the piece where (SPOILER ALERT) i free myself of the iron skirt… while taking the entire fabric skirt with me. once I knew i could leave, it didn’t make me as sick to be in there.
having it all together DID show me new worlds of possibility… “oh! i can do this! oh! i look like this.” i didn’t actually get to see what the whole thing looks like in motion until after i performed it for the first time (a friend recorded it). and i have to say…. it looks pretty amazing. i guess when i had thought about the look of it, i had thought about it more in still frames. in motion, it is really pretty trippy and beautiful.
flying iron opens in portland, oregon this weekend:
is self inflicted loneliness a blessing or a curse?
the audience sees someone “trapped by choice” in a very small world, an iron hoop skirt contained within a 30‐foot diameter dress. the piece explores the solitude of being alone, even when surrounded by people, utilizing music, movement, costume, text, and clowning.
the show is conceived of and performed by lisa deGrace, with direction from choreographer meshi chavez, massachusetts based director sheila siragusa, and master clown sue morrison. thhe costume was built by kirsten a. moore of piper ewan and metal sculptor richard cawley.
come see FLYING IRON
5 – 7 december and 12 – 14 december at 8pm
performance works northwest
4625 se 67th ave (between se foster and se holgate).
tickets are $10 ‐ $15, and can be purchased at www.brownpapertickets.com
or by contacting lisa at email@example.com
reservations are requested!
recommended for adults primarily, and children ages 12 and up. FLYING IRON is funded in part by the regional arts & culture council.