You’ve always had a fascination with insects ever since you were young.
Yes. Well, I don’t know how old I was — maybe I was 5 years old — I would put in my parents’ backyard rocks — huge rocks — so I could turn them around and see what other new insect I would discover. We also had a fruit tree in the backyard, and there was always these ants' nests that would go in the bark of the tree sometimes, and my dad had to cut the tree, and I would cry and say, “Don’t kill the queen!” and he would always kill the queen, because he knew [they'd keep coming back otherwise], and I was crying for the insect, and my mother was screaming at me, “Don’t bring these insects in the house again!” So when they told me the show was about insects, I thought there must be a hidden camera. I thought it was too much. Who would honor more the insect than an insect lover like me?
Did they have any idea about your obsession when they approached you about the show?
Yes. Actually, the funny thing is, it’s such a beautiful process. When something is perfect for you, you think they’re always perfect in every step, I find. ... So when [they told] me it’s a show about insects, but it’s not an imitation of insects; We want to evocate [sic] the insect world. And you know, what does it mean? It’s very vague. What is evocation? What is it really?
So that was my kick to start drawing. And I drew four, five or six different insects that they told me they wanted. They wanted a spider, they wanted a lady bug, they wanted some ants and a dragonfly. I think they gave me a couple of insects. So I drew and thought, Evocation, hmm? What should I do? So I went to Cirque to look in their books — just to be inspired and be in the environment—and I had to draw. My first one was a spider — I had to draw a real spider. It had to come out of me. I said, I don’t know what evocation is. I want to draw a real spider, so I made a very sexy costume with a big butt like a spider, a big bubble body, and the legs. And it was literally imitation of the insect and I thought, That’s done? What else?
And then I start to think, Oh, maybe if I just transpose the shape of the black widow — the hourglass — that is on the body, but if I transpose it like a corset on top of the leotard, and then I drew the spider as it is now. I just wanted to take some elements and what was the feeling of a spider. It’s very elegant. Very linear. But it’s a bit dark. You feel embarrassed somehow. And so I went into the feeling of what the insects where bringing to us. Like cockroaches, they’re absolutely beautiful insects, but we don’t like them, because where there’s one, there’s 1,000. They evocate [sic] dirt; that it’s dirty. So therefore, the way to draw was not to copy the structure of the insect, but the feeling that the insect brings in this. And some things, like a cockroach, they need to be gooey and eww and weird and you don’t want to get close to them, so it’s in that spirit that I design.
And the way we were constructing the costumes with all these different sections, because, by the way, the word insect comes from the the word “insecta”, which means “in sections.” So all insects are sectioned, like an armor. Their principal is that their bones — the hard shell — is outside of them, and our bones are inside of us. And we have this soft part on top of our hard part, and for them it’s the other way around.
So the common denominator for all of them — maybe put aside the spider, which is not an insect, because it has eight legs, not six — is that they have all sections, so what we did is that, either when we had the fabric that was not stretchy — like the crickets, for instance — we worked by folding a very specific type of fabric we developed for the crickets, and we folded these parts, that are not stretchy, but we sewed them onto a stretch leotard, so you have the effect of these hard sections, and in between the stretch fabric, and it was dimension.
Everything was about proportion and dimension, to make sure that anything we put on their heads would not disturb their vision, neither their movement, and keep the flexibility. But it’s not that complicated to do.
Did you do your own patterns and everything for the fabric?
Yes. Everything. It’s fascinating, because, you know, it’s a dream for designer to have the laboratory to have the research and development time, so you can explore, and I think that’s one of the richness of these costumes, is that we have that window of time and money, of course.
So how is Cirque’s costume shop different from others you might have worked in? In my imagination it’s like the most amazing dress-up closet.
I think it’s more than you can imagine, even because in a little shop, like — I have my company, I have my shop, I have a couple of sewing machines. We have our sink where we dye the fabric, and there’s a washer and dryer, it’s a normal shop. Even in theaters, they all look alike, sort of, but at Cirque it’s, let’s just say, the first time I saw the building where the costumes were being done, which is three floors high, I threw up. I went, I looked at it, and I thought, Oh my God, I’m scared. And that was before I went in.
The costumes are such a huge part of selling the narrative in a Cirque show because there’s really no dialogue except for the emcee-type character they have, I was wondering if you could talk about telling a story through these costumes.
They always have a scenario. Even though Giles [Ste-Croix, artistic guide] doesn't’ like scenarios — like he doesn’t want anything too intellectual, like he hates it. What you see is what you get. Don’t get too intellectual about it.
What we tried to do with the costumes was also show that the insects are very multidimensional, that they have the micro and the macro. That they could be infinitely small, but they are infinitely complex, and so, like the crickets, we removed the legs. You know, there’s these legs that they have, and when they do their number, they remove the legs, because then they jump, they don’t need the legs to metaphor that they’re jumpers, that they’re grasshoppers. Their movement creates the legs, if you want, so in the same way, we were first supposed to have many more parts that they could remove. They wear more armor parts for the end, because they need to take them out for the number or to fly, and so we went with disassembling some parts of the insects as the metaphor for their complexity, like armor.
Could you talk a little bit more about the inspiration for the different costumes, and the fact that super heroes — kind of futuristic super heroes — inspired some of these costumes.
I always was fascinated in my research in general doing costumes was three influences, and you named a couple of them—the super heroes, the insects and the armors. And the three of them comes from the insect.
I mean, everything comes from the insect; the way they do these extraterrestrials, they look at insects. And I’ll just make a little parenthesis about insects in the world, because that’s very essential. If there were no insects on earth, the earth would not exist, while, if we would remove the animals, we could still survive. Remove the human beings, the earth will be even better. So in a way, insects are so essential to our balance that we underestimate their value, and we should all know about insects. So, looking at the insect structure, and how fascinating their shells are, it’s how you can derive the creation of armors, even though back then, the first people that created armors did not look at insects necessarily, but in us we carry that, the knowledge that, to protect ourselves, we need to be structured and sectioned, and be mobile at the same time.
And the super heroes is just an extension of that—the armors, but in a futuristic way. So, yes, of course, that was an influence, but what I did very specific to avoid imitating too much armor, was to look at a book about the infinitely small world of insects. ... So, it’s going to the minimalistic shape and seeing that, in nature, we see the same organization of patterns repeating over and over again, and the infinitely big as well, in the universe, with the textures of anything you see. Of trees. Even the bark of the trees, they look like the eye of a dragonfly, for instance. So everything mixes to be all this one beautiful canvas on which life unfolds. We’re all made of the same patterns. In our DNA, in our molecules, in our cells. And you look and you say, is that an insect cell of his skin, or is that a human, the bone structure or is it, I don’t know, a rock that they found on Mars, and it’s all the same. It’s all the same.
That was a big, big influence. You may not see, when you look at OVO’s costumes, all of that, but that’s what we carry, and I believe in, the more intentions you put in making a costume — you put your awareness, your research of all that you put in there — and people will receive, not only the beauty of the colors and the shapes and say, "Wow, she’s such a good designer," people will absorb all you have put in there with your awareness, and that’s why these costumes I think are so striking, is that all the love that I’ve put doing my job, all the love and being honored to represent insects, and all this research in so many directions, and that fascination from life itself, so I think that is why they are that beautiful, because of all of that.
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