Elliot Neck on the GRAFT costume design
Elliot Neck / Designer, Graft
Elliot Neck’s Dance diploma from MainDance in the early ‘90s led him into Technical Theatre. His engagement with puppetry, fire and stilting performance, developed extensively during his years as Production Manager of Public Dreams Society. Subsequently he took his fire training and has been working in the Fireworks industry for 18 years, with the Celebration of Light, as Production and Account Manager for Concept, and designing and choreographing fireworks to music. These days, Elliot is working in Film (props). The field of props deals with the physical world – all of it – spanning everything the actors touch, and drawing on the many strands of his background.
The collaboration with Jennifer has been awesome. I really like the way Jennifer looks at movement and space around the dancer. In this work, she’s trying to make the space around the body a lot more palpable by having it articulated with these larger pieces. I appreciate how she is always trying to improve and grow ideas.
My role starts with “We want it to do this but these materials don’t do that.” My expertise is in seeking out the right thing, within constraints of the budget and time. My focus was on the limitations of the materials used. The goal is that the idea rings true.
Identifying and finding the right types of materials and the means to affix, hold it all together so the idea can ring is really fun. In the course of the work I do, because of the unusual building of structures in Public Dreams Society, and now, in the Props field –I’m exposed to a great many different items and sources. My task was identifying and testing out materials, a la Goldilocks: “This one’s just right – but when she does this movement, it scrapes across the floor. Let’s try….”
We used a substance, a polycarbonate called Lexan, which generally doesn’t maintain a memory. You can bend it quite a lot and it doesn’t show. It’s very strong, in fact bulletproof as it gets thicker – and very expensive. A 4by8 piece can cost $250-300. Fortunately, we needed only 4-5 strips. This kind of material sourcing depends on things like the timing of building offcuts, and so on. So much depends on your application when you go into a commercial plastic supplier. “Are you building a clear, transparent podium?” ” No, thin strips that wiggle.” Etc. .
Something I find great with choreographers is that in working with performers, a compromise is always sought between the idea and the possible. Remounting on different performers – that’s not so easy – so there is a discovery of the possible. And, through the way the design responds differently to each performer and movement range, the materials themselves open up what can be done next.
And it has to be comfortable to wear. Questions like “What will support the headpiece the most, but still have a streamlined look and be versatile?” Once it moves to the sewing stage it costs money – the more informed the strategy, the better
There’s a sense of the performer’s energy carrying on well past physical form. The objects act as amplification – magnifying gesture and detail. In this costume, there’s the fragility of the units coming off the back. So small that at first you cant see them, the line off the back responds and exposes each nuance. It can show the audience that there’s something more going on than is visible.
The straightening of the spine doesn’t end at the head, it continues up 8 feet in the pieces attached to the hat – the top of the spine – as her posture shifts. It brings that awareness outside the body. From my perspective, when simple every day movement, which is so efficient, is conveyed this way, it is particularly eloquent. It is so fluent and pure – movements of every day life which embody that fluency.