Created by Kosta Karakashyan (kNOwBOX dance Ambassador)
June 2, 2022, Sofia, Bulgaria
When looking at a person moving through space, it is difficult to tease out where the dance ends and the dancer begins. Our eye takes in the physical expression holistically, blurring the edges between the performer, the choreography, and, in the case of screendance, the visual language of film.
Photo by Gabriela Ilieva
With film, we have the ability to leverage a big range of effects to construct a convincing universe. Thanks to proper casting, costume design, makeup, lighting, set design and the flexibility of the camera lens, we are able to spin a detailed tale of who we are looking at and what they want. The intimacy afforded by close-up shots allows us to tell an evocative story about a character through the visual, from the way their earrings dangle to how put together their makeup is or what the color of their nail polish signifies. In film and in screendance, the visual language of costume design is a key element of the storytelling that we shouldn’t ignore.
Polaroids by Kosta Karakashyan
Early on in pre-production of our new project In Her Skin, one of the first pieces of the puzzle was the fashion element. In Her Skin is a site-specific dance performance recorded on location at Lake Kleptuza in Velingrad, Bulgaria, exploring the interplay between the private and the public lives of five women in a small sleepy town, whose stories intertwine against the backdrop of the water. A big guiding point for the process was the concept of secrets and prejudice and how quick we are to judge others based on their appearance.
For this project, I knew I wanted five very diverse dancers so that we could create an eclectic movement language that combines contemporary dance, ballet and commercial dance in order to highlight the range of their emotions that push them to communicate candidly and occasionally violently with each other.
Before confirming casting or funding, I reached out to fashion retailer Fashion Days in order to invite them as a partner for the project. My co-director Antonia Georgieva and I knew the project needed strong characters and costumes that would help bring them to life.
Fashion Days was our first choice for the collaboration because in their own communications, they are not afraid to take risks, incorporating movement and a bold narrative of individuality. I knew we would be able to coexist in the same visual world, so we were over the moon when they decided to support the project by dressing all of our performers.
A big inspiration for this project was the New York City Ballet Fall Fashion Gala, which is an annual collaboration between fashion designers and choreographers in order to bring new life to the NYCB repertory through exciting visual collaboration. It is an inspiring event that pushes choreographers to seek inspiration in a new direction while reaffirming the link between costume and embodiment that is key to selling a fantasy on stage or on film.
With this project, we knew we would have to blur the line between costume and fashion in order to both convey the narrative but honor the edge of fashion styling that gives off an editorial vibe. We established that the visual language would have to balance between spectacle and storytelling, really pushing the characters’ visual expression while not getting in the way of their dancing.
Photo by Gabriela Ilieva
In our script we have five colorful characters: The Housewife (Emilia Toncheva), The Femme Fatale (Aleksandra Taskova), The Rebel (Neli Georgieva), The Lonely Girl by the Lake (Marina Marinova) and the Ghost (Yanitsa Atanasova). We identified key moments such as the Housewife hiding behind her big glasses and The Lonely Girl holding the necklace that reminds her of her lost sister The Ghost. From there we fed these characters through a series of visual mood boards, the first by me and Antonia, which we then passed on to our stylist Orlin Bakardzhiev, who elevated the key visuals for the characters by suggesting specific garments that highlighted their personalities.
Photo by Gabriela Ilieva
“When I was first invited to take part in the project and work on the styling, it sounded like a challenge that I definitely wanted to take! I was fascinated and deeply inspired by the idea and the script that Kosta and Antonia created. As a fashion stylist, I usually create editorial pieces that flatter mainly visually, while for In Her Skin, I had to create a visual language that has a deeper meaning and communicates a visual story to the viewer." –Orlin Bakardzhiev
Mood Boards by Orlin Bakardzhiev
More from Orlin Bakardzhiev
I have always considered Fashion itself as an applied Art in our daily life. That’s where I started when I had to create the specific characters. I created different mood boards – for inspiration, colors, fabrics, prints, silhouettes, hair, makeup. Then I refined and combined them, so they turn into one full story, told by different visual tools, speaking the same language. The hair and makeup are key elements when I create a full styling, so we discussed this early on with our makeup artist Alina Manova and hair stylist Milen Ivanov the mood we want to create for each of the characters.
I had the chance to work with Fashion Days’ numerous assortments of garments and accessories, from which I carefully selected every detail. The selection was a process, in which we discussed with Kosta and Antonia how exactly they imagined the characters, so that we could complete each other’s vision.” –Orlin Bakardzhiev
Working with Orlin makes the directing process much easier because he approaches styling holistically, thinking not only about the colors and fit of the costume, but also about the hair and makeup of the characters. One of my favorite moments from our collaborations is seeing Orlin’s mood boards for the very first time. This is when I get a lot more clarity about who the characters are.
Once Orlin constructed these detailed mood boards, then we went back to refining the script and folding this new visual information into the narrative and the physicality we want to express with the characters. Something that came up in the process with Orlin and our make-up artist Alina Manova was that the visuals we construct have to be elaborate, as in “something that the eye can follow.” In the case of In Her Skin, the visual direction aimed to add a mix of art and commerce, something that Anna Wintour often talks about as key to cultivating the interest of a more general audience. By creating strong characters that communicate boldly through fashion and styling, the project then is able to speak to viewers who may be afraid to interact with dance.
As a director and choreographer, my inspiration often comes from specific dancers or a sensation or a mood that is quite distinct in my head, but hard to put into words. It’s a sensation that can only be uncovered through the right mix of casting, movement, music and a distinct visual universe.
In Her Skin is realized with the financial support of the National Culture Fund of Bulgaria, program Creative Initiatives (Group Module) and Fashion Days.
Connect with Kosta Karakashyan
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Artistic Expression, Dance Film Dance and Technology, Self-Help, Global Perspective