La Perle by Dragone, the region’s first permanent aqua theatre has taken Dubai by storm selling out many of its performances night after night. The show, brought to Dubai by the Al Habtoor Group, first premiered in August 2017. Joanna Andrews went behind the scenes of the state-of-the-art, high-tech theatre to speak to Jonelle DeBlanc, Head of Wardrobe, to see what it takes to get the performers ready for the twice nightly theatrical extravaganza.
Where did the inspiration for the costumes come from?
The costumes were all designed by Phillipe Guillotel, who works very closely with Franco Dragone. He listens to his requirements, vision and requests and creates stunning mood boards and sketches.
How do the different characters stand out?
Each character has a very different and unique costume, best demonstrated through the juxtaposition between the very streamlined and pointy costume of the ‘villian’ character costume to the very padded, soft and rounded look of the ‘king’ character.
A wide variety of custom textiles are used in the show. From the locally inspired colours of the citizens in bright orange, yellow and cream to the reflective, metallic colours of the cyborgs. This gives an authenticity and richness to the look while enhancing the performers actions on stage making it a true visual spectacle.
What is the process from inception to reality?
Franco Dragone and Phillipe Guillotel spent a vast amount of time creating the concept and look of the costumes. They discussed the plans, themes, and inspirations for the show and its characters, reviewed renderings and perfected sketches until approvals were agreed upon. Hundreds of ideas are shared until the marriage between show and costume was deemed concreate. Once the costume team had created sample prototype costumes, they were presented to Franco Dragone. It is only until Creation is nearly complete that the costumes can be considered finalized. This creative process means we only have a few weeks to complete the construction and fit of all costumes, plus work them into the show from an operational standpoint. It’s an intense few weeks with very little sleep, but you never notice the small sacrifices when you love what you do. Just like the show, the costuming is everevolving. We learn through each show more about the costumes, what textiles work, what doesn’t and ways we can improve.
What are the challenges that go in to making creations for performers who need to be agile?
In my many years of working in the industry I’ve become used to working with fabrics that are both agile and durable. One of the challenges we have is many costumes are easy for an artist to move in, but cannot hold up or have enough grip on the apparatus. For example, the cyborg costumes, that are worn during the V-Poles act look fantastic and very easy for the artists to move in, but many of their moves would slip on the apparatus, something that could be detrimental to the performers. The Belgian costume team chose to purchase jeans and dye them different colours, so there would be friction between the costume and pole, creating a grip.
When the shows start what does your job involve?
I’m always on hand for emergencies backstage on every show. We ensure the costumes look the way they should when they enter the stage. I oversee the quickchange teams who run each and every show so smoothly, they truly make it look effortless some days. My job involves a lot of running sometimes as I go from vom-to-vom [the entry points onto the stage for the artists] throughout the show, but it also means I rely heavily on my awesome team who really does the heavy lifting.
What are the challenges for the wardrobe department in having to deal with back-to-back shows five days a week?
As we currently have just one set of custom-made costumes for the original opening cast the challenge is the turnaround time. With limited time between shows the team takes all the wet costumes and shoes down to the costume care room where we spin the water out and hang all items in the convection drying room for as much time as possible. The effects of use in pool water on the costumes is very demanding for the department. All the costumes must be washed by hand or on a gentle machine cycle, then hung to dry night-after-night. The team has to dedicate hours each week to mending and restoring the costumes, so they’re ready to go on stage every night.
It’s not just the costumes that have to be constantly repaired either, because the show is so physically demanding, on a stage surface that is unforgiving, the cast’s shoes and soles often break or develop holes. We have a machine, (possibly the most used machine in our department) so we can cobble back the shoes to their almost-original state. It’s a lifesaver.
What is your favourite costume in the show and why?
The Dervishes are my favourite because they are a piece of art from head to toe. The use of lights in the costume really make it stand out on stage, especially as the set is so dark when they enter. I also love the symbolism the Dervishes represent and the strong nod to the Middle Eastern tradition.
There is a cast member who wears traditional Emirati clothes… how do you keep the bisht and ghutrah on?
We initially fit the head dress the traditional way but then it is carefully stitched together. Although appears to feature the traditional draping it has been secured to ensure it doesn’t come off through the performance or during the quick-changes the performer will have.