Bold Blue Ballgown

This year is flying by! July is already on the horizon, and I haven’t updated this website since January. (Oh darn!)

I’ve been kept busy by my full-time status at ODC Dance as Assistant Production Manager and Assistant Youth & Teen Registrar. It’s been an experiment and an experience balancing work between two departments and managing to get projects finished for both. And then still scheduling time for my personal interests and projects.

I have too much to do and too much I want to do! (Cue anyone who knows me muttering to themselves, “So what else is new?”) But this exciting and exhausting year has brought bubbling to the surface specific elements of my life and artistic pursuits that I want to focus on. More on that later…

For now, over the next few posts, I want to share some projects from the last 6 months of which I’m really proud.

Dresses for ODC’s Dance Downtown and the premiere of Brenda Way’s Lifesaving Maneuvers:

Satin cocktail style dresses for five women, in five different colors. Sounds relatively easy, right? It started out that way. I found an amazing pink frock that fit one dancer in our costume stock. Then I went hunting in Mission district thrift stores for a couple days and came up with several rounds of dresses. The first round of contenders that made the cut: The red one and the green one needed minimal alterations to make them dance-worthy.

Click any photo for larger image, captions & gallery option

The maroon one needed several rounds of alterations to show off our dancer’s athletic bod and please the choreographer’s eye for style. We got there, eventually…

Photo by Dino Corti: Vanessa Thiessen & Justin Andrews performing Lifesaving Maneuvers by Brenda Way, ODC Dance Downtown 2013, YBCA SF CABut the blue dress would turn into a major, very tricky project that truly pushed me. It was one of those projects where you learn so much from it that by the end you think, “Well, I would do this whole project differently now…” But you’re already finished!

Anyway, the original thrift store dress we loved the color of, and the style was interesting, but the fabric didn’t match the other dresses and with all the partnering work, it kept riding up.

Blue Dress #1

After sketching out a few designs, and researching images of dresses from the 20′s and 30′s, Ms. Way and I figured out that what she was really looking for was a blue, shorter version of this magnificent ballgown from Swing Time:

Ginger Rogers Swing Time DressGinger Rogers with Fred Astaire in Swing Time Dress (Fred, you're very nice, but we're really into the dress!)The back on this dress… simply stunning.

I created a pattern and found a fabric that was very similar to the original thrift store dress. This served as a good mock up, but Ms. Way was adamant that the fabric needed to match the other dresses.

Blue Dress #2

I continued my fabric search and finally found a beautiful aquamarine lightweight satin blend. Working with it was like working with liquid. The next challenge was realizing that my pattern was wrong. This is really hard to admit. But it was just wrong.

I had been puzzled by the research images from Swing Time, especially with figuring out how the dress was so full while still fitting the torso of the dancer. I had patterned a circle skirt and fit it to the bodice, so there was an exciting amount of fabric for the skirt, but it didn’t fit the torso and the way it hung was just too bulky. It was too late too start over, so I had to figure out a way to make it work!

Blue Dress #3 (Yayoi still loved it…Bless her!)

I’m strong in my basics, and getting stronger in drafting original patterns, but I may still be a novice when it comes to draping. Thankfully, the extremely talented and lovely dancer/costumer/fashion designer Jamielyn Duggan heard my distress call and stopped by our shop to help me brainstorm a way to take all that extra fabric and fit it to the body of the dancer. Together, we made it happen.

The final challenge was the sparkly straps that criss-crossed in the back. I had to shop locally for this as the performance date was fast approaching. I found a gorgeous aqua sparkle ribbon, but it wasn’t stretch. I created a base of nude elastic and stitched the sparkle trim to the dress, tacking it in strategic points on the dress. This worked, but it was very fragile.

Actually, I think the entire dress is very fragile for a dance costume, but it looks gorgeous on the dancer, on stage, and it actually held up well, even with all the partnering and rolling on the ground! (Oh, modern dance…)

Photo by Margo Mortiz: Yayoi Kambara & Jeremy Smith in Lifesaving Maneuvers, ODC Dance Downtown 2013, YBCA SF CAI was working on the dress up to opening night, but it turned out and I learned a lot from the build. And most importantly, Ms. Way and Ms. Kambara were satisfied.

“Lifesaving Maneuvers”: Don’t over-think your patterns – look for the basic shape and start there. Find the right fabric early on and purchase extra. I need to work on my draping skills. When you’re stuck, phone a friend (especially if they know more than you!) and talk it out! And always (ALWAYS) listen to your choreographer and dancers.

Photo by Margo Moritz: Jeremy Smith, Vanessa Thiessen, Justin Andrews, Maggie Stack, Corey Brady, Natasha Adorelee Johnson, Dennis Adams, Annie Zivolich in Lifesaving Maneuvers, ODC Dance Downtown 2013, YBCA SF CAThanks for reading,

LBhanko