An Interview with Wardrobe Manager Melissa Parry

9 Apr 2024

As our spring tour of ‘BELONGING: Loss. Legacy. Love.’ continues its journey, we had the privilege of chatting with Wardrobe Manager Melissa Parry about the creative process and inspiration behind crafting the costumes for Miguel Altunaga’s Cloudburst and Marcus Jarrell Willis’ Terms of Agreement.

Hi Melissa, can you provide insights into your background and your journey as a costume designer that brought you to working with Phoenix Dance Theatre?

Between 2010 and 2013, I completed a costume making and design course at Arts University Bournemouth. Following that, I secured an internship in the costume department at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, followed by freelancing opportunities in London, including work with Secret Cinema.

Later, I met Gianluca Vincentini, who was the artistic director at Northern School of Contemporary Dance. This encounter led me to Leeds, where I freelanced in a variety of roles for various institutions; including NSCD, Northern Ballet and Opera North. During this time, I also designed for Mobius Dance, under Gianluca’s direction. It was during my involvement in Phoenix’s Windrush production that I met Emma [James, former Wardrobe Manager]. Through my experiences here, I gradually transitioned into Wardrobe Management.

What was your approach to designing costumes for ‘BELONGING: Loss. Legacy. Love.’ Did you and the choreographers for Cloudburst and Terms of Agreement share similar visions during the initial stages of costume development?

Costumes for excerpts of Requiem were designed by Joanna Parker in 2023 and restaged for BELONGING: Loss. Legacy. Love.

For Cloudburst with Miguel [Altunaga], I was able to sit in the studio with the dancers and create sketch after sketch inspired by the dancer’s movement, tone, and the incredible music. Miguel wanted a strong silhouette and from our conversations together I took inspiration from fencing outfits and Miguel’s interest in Afro Futurism. We wanted the costumes to balance in the world between super-futuristic but also feel like they could be eons old. As time went on, I was able to develop the textile artwork on the costumes to be more reflective of their aged, worn state.

With the costumes for Terms of Agreement, since this was a continuation of two pieces that Marcus had previously created, I already had a strong aesthetic framework to build from. So, this time I worked by creating mood boards for each of the dancers, building a look-book of styles that would be interesting and appropriate for them based on the previous works. Then, with Marcus, I narrowed each mood board down to a single design. The key was creating looks that worked individually but also within each ‘family’ of costumes. We made each of them a mock-up design which allowed me to see which ideas worked and which needed reflection.

What materials and sources did you use to make the costumes?

For this production we wanted every piece to be as sustainable as possible; this can be tricky but for both Cloudburst and Terms of Agreement we were able to source fabrics from local suppliers and used a mixture of natural fibres and deadstock material (material that otherwise would have gone to landfill). We also purchased all haberdashery items from small independent businesses in the Leeds area.

When designing costumes for the tour, what factors had you considered?

In Requiem, all seams are lined with cotton tape to provide added stability to the fabric, particularly necessary for silk which requires additional support. We often incorporate gussets for enhanced movement. Whenever feasible, we opt for breathable and lightweight fabrics to minimise impact on the dancer.

You have worked closely with other members of the production team including Luke Haywood, our Head of Technical – how have you collaborated to ensure a shared visual experience?

Luke began in January and has been vital to the smooth running of this project. With all the creatives involved the challenge is finding the line between the choreographer’s artistic vision and the dancers’ physical needs and balancing them to ensure everyone is happy and able to perform at their best. I create a range of concept ideas, from sketches to maquettes to sample pieces, before beginning work on the final project to harmonise ideas and to ensure everyone’s satisfaction.

Are there any methods that you use that balance creativity and practicality in your designs for the shows?

Choosing stretch fabrics wherever possible allows for tailored looks without restricting dancers’ movement, ensuring a range of motion appropriate for their needs. However, in Cloudburst the fabric required could not be stretchy, so we drafted individual patterns that incorporated a built-in gusset to allow for the intense range of dancer’s movements. The objective is to produce all trousers in-house in the future.

Photos: Drew Forsyth

Discover more behind-the-scenes content here in our ‘Spotlight On… BELONGING’

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