Creating for Calypso: Behind the Scenes

Posted on 23rd November 2022

Our Rediscover Fashion Team, led by Programme Manager Arran Murphy, designed and created the Nymph costume for David Bolger’s choreographic response to Calypso, Chapter 4 of James Joyce’s epic Ulysses. Part of the Ulysses 2.2 commemorative project  ‘Go to Blazes’, which finished last week to strong reviews. How did they create this stunning piece? 

Similar to the choreography, the design and creation of the piece evolved organically through a process of research and collaboration with the choreographer and the performer. The chapter references a painting above the Leopold and Molly Bloom’s bed, ‘the bathing of the nymph’, bringing this character to life was one the main elements of David Bolger’s creative vision. With the character of the Nymph fluidly embodying many different aspects of the narrative and references in Joyce’s writing, the Rediscover Fashion team’s circular design skills of reuse and reimagining were a perfect fit. The starting point of their creation was incorporating decommissioned sails into the costume, this was a brilliant connection to the title of the chapter, Calypso and the idea of the siren luring sailors to their doom!  

In preparation for this costume design, the team listened to the 1982 RTE audio production of the chapter, and examined old images of incarnations of nymphs, their ideas developing through a series of drawings and experiments with different texture and textiles. 

Initially designed to be part of the dress, the costume evolved to incorporate the sails as large external design pieces to which the dancer was attached, and onto which images were projected.  The dancer was able to release herself from the sails at a point in the performance,  a dramatic element representing the transmigration of the soul described in the chapter. 

Joyce’s work layers meaning, with stories of culture, myths, and history. This made the perfect link between the performance and Rediscover Fashion’s approach, using old textiles that already had a story, now incorporated into this response to the chapter. The team utilised different techniques and textures to channel both the nymph and an Edwardian butcher apron, a reference to the visceral descriptions of a visit to the butcher and cooking meat in the chapter. Interesting textures were created to represent meat veins, with the piping ropes salvaged from the sails. A restyled bedsheet, deconstructed shirt sleeves, an antique collar lapel, and curtain voile (for a patch of classic nymph) as well as netting created from t-shirt yarn were built into the design. The dress grew organically by combining elements, built and sculpted on a mannequin. Their composition highlights the importance of design, as when creating for choreography, the piece must allow for movement and flow.

As the team created the costume using exclusively upcycled textiles, they were working with a small quantity of limited resources, a valuable experience for circular economy design.

We are excited to see what comes from the workshop next!