I recently participated in a project with my graduate program that paired design teams with one of the choreographers from Mason Gross' dance program. The brief was to create a cohesive and realistically accomplished design for a modern piece the choreographer and his company of junior and senior dancers were creating. It was my first foray into designing for dance, so I was a little worried about how different it would be to design for bodies that moved the story. Having finished the project I came out with a few great pieces of insight into designing for dancers.
Firstly, I had to get away from the rigid renderings I relied on; instead I needed to create fluid figures. Choreographers, like directors are usually visual people. They appreciate seeing a realistic depiction of what the clothing you're creating will look like in motion. I had fun looking at different photographs of dancers as well as some rehearsal footage I filmed to get different poses for my dancers.
Another important thing is how the cloth itself moves. Yes spandex is great but do you really want a whole show to be in spandex? It can get boarding. I played with different knits, of course spandex, and a few other stretch fabrics to find combinations that worked for the movements in the pieces. I was highly influenced for my design by what some of the dancers chose to wear to rehearsal the day I visited, so their choices of clothing items also helped me have a jumping off point to find fabrics and styles that would work with their dance.
When presenting I heard something from one of the dancers that will probably stick with me for a while. She was happy to see some of us in the group focused on what them men were wearing. Usually in dance, she explained, men are there as a support for the women and are only in dance tights or pants. Their costumes seem to sometimes be an afterthought rather than an integrated piece of the overall design.
It was a lovely experience working with the choreographer and dancers on this piece. Although my design will not be realized, they are creating a piece that will be featured this spring in their program. Being part of a collaboration that was ever changing (no script!) was an interesting and challenging assignment. I hope I will be able to revisit designing for dance again some time in my future career. I know this experience will have prepared me better for it when I do.