Monday, December 21, 2009

Q&A with Dance Program Costume Designer Cyndi Church

In September 2009, Cyndi Church joined Emory as Costume Designer and Coordinator for the Dance Program and Costume Assistant for Theater Emory. She answered a few questions for us about her background and about designing for dance. (image above: costumes designed by Cyndi for the November 2009 Emory Dance Company Concert)

What did you do in the costume design field before beginning your job at Emory?
Prior to Emory I was designing for a company, LEA Sports, that outfits color guards, percussion ensembles, competition dance teams, and ice skaters.

Tell me a little about your background - how did you decide to go into costume design as a career?
When I was a young girl I envisioned that some day I would design window store fronts. Of course being a dreamer I only envisioned doing this for huge fabulous stores in major downtown areas. I am not sure when or why I saw myself designing these store fronts but it seemed to be a good fit for me because I would be able to design and control the space.

I was involved in the color guard activity since a very young age and began to give my opinion on what the designers had us wear for performances. Later I began to choreograph for high school color guards so as a part of that I was able to be the one to design the garments for my own productions. Early on I had some really grand ideas and some big flops but it was all a great experience for me. After a few years I started getting asked by other directors to design for their groups. I worked on a project along with a company called LEA Sports and by the end of that collaboration I was hired by them to design for a national clientele.

Why did you choose to design for dance rather than theater?
I enjoy the freedom that designing for dance allows because most projects are about creating a whole new design rather than re-creating. How garments fit the moving body is always a fun challenge. I also believe that where costuming for dance is going is exciting right now. There is a real wave of innovation and creativity that seems to be elevating the whole dance concert experience for the audience.

Tell me a little about your work for color guard (and explain what color guard is for those who don¹t know). (image at left: color guard costumes designed by Cyndi)
Explaining color guard is always a challenge; many have the old military style with high boots girls marching in back of a band image in their head when they hear the term color guard. The color guard activity has really grown over the years and taken a much more dance based approach. What is now called "Winter Guard" are groups, either high school age or collegiate, performing/competing in indoor arenas across the country. There is an organization called Winter Guard International that hosts contests around the world and each year in the spring hosts the World Championships. Groups from all over compete over a week long competition. Most spectators not familiar with Winter Guard are amazed at the depth of creativity and excellence that these groups are producing.

I began at the age of 9 years old with a independent color guard group and stayed with it as a participant for 13 years. At age 21 the participants "age out" so I moved on to choreographing for groups. I have been doing this ever since. Currently I am the Director of the Color Guard program at Walton High School in Marietta. I have been there for 14 years. The group is competitive on a national level and back in 2001 won the WGI World Championships. When designing a production for the group I always start with the costume and set design; everything else comes after. I have to see the look of the production in my head first.

What are the challenges in working with choreographers and designing for dance?
Challenges are fun to work through for me; I get energized when the project requires a lot out of me. Many times a choreographer may not think they know what they want but in talking with them I can usually hear what they are wanting even if they don't actually realize it.

What inspires you when you are designing costumes? What do you try to convey to audiences through your designs?
So much inspires me that it is hard to really say, but fashion, all forms of the arts, environment, and architecture all come into play. When there is a piece of work that has my costume designs as a part of it I want it to be just that, a part of the whole aesthetic. In most cases I wouldn't want it to pull focus or disrupt unless that was the objective of the project, maybe intellectually. I have had opportunities where I was able to design the costumes first and then the body of work comes to life.

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