Designer Sandhya Raman on her costume journey for dance performances, design innovations for a digital stage-Art-and-culture News, Firstpost


According to Raman, the costume is a study of heritage, space and time, events unfolding nationally, globally and politically, all of which emulsify into a design that can captivate an audience.

“The costumes start their performance before the dancers even step onto the stage, because they say everything about the show,” notes designer Sandhya Raman, elaborating on the role costumes play in dance performances.

A costume is a visual narrative that sets the mood and tone of a recital, resonating with audiences long before a dancer adds the flourishes of movement and abhinaya to the service. It’s an image that appeals to spectators at the concert, says Raman, and so unappealing, can just as easily put off audiences.

To discuss these nuances of costume design for the stage, Raman will draw on her three-decade career as a costume designer for traditional and contemporary dance productions throughout the workshop, Reinventing dance costumes, presented by the National Center for Performing Arts (NCPA), Mumbai. During the sessions spread over two Fridays, Raman will not only describe his costuming journey, but will also focus on reinterpreting designs for the contemporary scene, sharing his ideas with budding artists on their specific design projects.

Raman emphasizes that costume for the performing arts is a very niche profession, which continues to gain ground, “and you must be very passionate about the performance itself, the dance or the theater”. As a “dance enthusiast”, designing costumes for dancers is her way of being close to art. “In my head, I dance with my fabrics,” she says.

The costume Raman designed for Jonathan Hollander’s 1991 choreography, Moonbeam, with dancer Mallika Sarabhai. Image via

Raman’s career as a costume designer began with American choreographer Jonathan Hollander’s ballet in 1991, Moon Beam, which featured dancer Mallika Sarabhai in the lead. One of her most cherished projects, she recalls dressing Sarabhai in a sheer white Bengal cotton, creating an almost ethereal and erotic impact, with leotard tights and a dress that shone bright thanks to the yellow lights. and blue sewn into its fabric. For the designer, who has continued to work with mainstays like Astad Deboo, Hema Rajagopalan and Aditi Mangaldas, among others, her first assignment continues to be an “all-time favorite” steeped in childhood memories.

According to Raman, the costume is a study of heritage, space and time, events unfolding nationally, globally and politically, all of which emulsify into a design that can captivate an audience. It is this journey of understanding the underlying themes of a choreography, then molding the details and design of a fabric based on the concept that Raman wishes to share with artists and performers during his workshop.

Moreover, creating costumes for a production is a collaboration, she argues, where the dancer and the costume designer must be “in sync”. Thus, an important facet of his creative process is to interact with the performers and choreographers from the ideation phase to discuss the motifs that the project is trying to explore. This step is crucial, Raman points out, “Over the past ten years, dancers have started to involve me from the start,” allowing him to research the stories and ideas that would be portrayed in the performance before creating. its silhouettes.

Designer Sandhya Raman on her costume journey for dance performances, design innovations for a digital stage

Costumes designed by Raman for a performance called Seasons. Image via

Costumes for productions in New Delhi or Chennai, Raman also attends several in-person rehearsals to understand the choreography while for his international projects, video calls are timed to match erratic time zones because “All in all, dancers have a budget, ”she says with a smile, and can’t have her designer come in every rehearsal.

With this process that allows for a deep understanding of choreography, lighting, and trainings, Raman introduces those interventions into fabrics, details, and cuts that would be comfortable for an artist performing rigorous movements while simultaneously engaging the audience. in aesthetic pursuits.

In one of her most ambitious projects, Raman describes how she explored a fusion of Bharatnatyam and circus: one a pristine classical art, the other a colorful and light picnic experience in a space. open. For the performance which would take place in a London park, the designer, along with her team, created a plaid fabric that both celebrated the classic repertoire and symbolized the mats that are often spread out at a picnic for people lay on it.

On the other hand, in the classical repertoire, Raman’s reflection, she admits, tends to highlight the lineage of the dance form. “If I promote Odissi,” she says, “I look at where the fabric comes from, where the dancer got her movements from, then bring that culture into the dance to re-establish the connection between the materials and the dance and the dancer. “

“We have the best of tastes,” she says, elegant combinations like white with zari or fabrics like mul, Chanderi, brocades and jamdani. Even tribal sensibilities like vivid fuchsia pinks or fluorescent yellows portray an austerity that is anything but garish. “This is what we have to bring to the public. “

Designer Sandhya Raman on her costume journey for dance shows, design innovations for a digital stage

Silhouettes created by Raman for costume design rooted in the classical Indian repertoire.

And yet there are always challenges along the way. Raman recalls designing a deep royal blue costume for a dance drama performed by artists Geeta Chandran and Rashid Ansari that depicts the story of the mythological queen Kaikeyi. In the camera of the Akshara theater in New Delhi, against a backdrop of “chatai“, this combination of blue against brown” looked phenomenal “but for the same recital planned on a stage with a black background, the color blue was lost in the dark.” The situations demand a change, “says Raman. , describing how she recreated a new costume in a “stag color” with multiple layers that represented the varied personalities of royalty, with 24 hours left for the live show.

This workshop then becomes an opportunity to learn more about these and many other varied aspects of costume, from understanding color and texture theory which takes into account an artist’s body type to type. curtains suitable for a certain place.

Swapnokalpa Dasgupta, head of dance at NCPA, explains that like most performers, she too has had her own share of costume faux pas where she chose to wear a saree just because it looked good without wondering. if she was beautiful in it. This is where a costume designer comes in, she suggests, because a costume “shouldn’t distract from what you’re trying to present.”

In the post-pandemic space, as artists present live performances on the virtual stage, new challenges have emerged in assembling the curtains, adjusting the lighting and available space according to the digital support.

“One important thing during the lockdown was the context,” remarks Dasgupta. Perform a ashtapadi (an eight-verse poem) describing Radha and Krishna, in the context of her living room, dressed in traditional attire, made for a very comical experience, she notes bonhomie.

Designer Sandhya Raman on her costume journey for dance performances, design innovations for a digital stage

(Left) Costumes designed by Raman for the production, Mythologies Retold (Right) Sheets designed by the costume designer for Bharatnatyam’s representative, Subathra Sudarshan. Images via

The big challenge then is for a performer to reconcile the costume, the choreography and the backdrop with the new medium and specifically for that, says Raman, “We have now created a line for people who want to do digital performances.”

Another obstacle, the creator points out, for a performer who attracts a virtual audience by the thousands, is that once one recital is performed, another cannot be staged in the same outfit. So, as a costume designer in the post-pandemic world, what is needed is to help performers make new combinations from their existing wardrobes that will appear differently on screen each time. “You don’t have to have a complete set, you can just have a few pieces chosen,” she advises.

Acknowledging that in the wake of the pandemic, the entertainment industry has suffered a financial blow with no new projects to come, Raman says the purpose of this workshop for her and Dasgupta is simple: to allow attendees to regain a perspective. sessions to their wardrobe that allows them to review their pre-existing costumes, recycle some, restore others and come back on stage with a new look, instead of spending money to create new dresses.

The two-part NCPA workshop, Reinventing dance costumes with Sandhya Raman will take place on June 18 and 25. To register, write to [email protected] or [email protected]

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