It has almost been 5 years since we at Kalopisa got invited to help develop, design and produce the costumes for CIRCUS FEMALE INTELLIGENTSIA. A Canadian, sci-fi circus performance that bent the tensions on how we look at women. Gynoïdes was CFI’s opening show and was the first only female circus performance. It investigated the question of ‘women’ in circus as well as circus as a vehicle to understand and experience the place of women in society.

The piece was a response to the objectification of women’s bodies in circus arts, and to the stereotypes that are generally perpetuated within the discipline.

With in our role we also had the opportunity to be part of the promotion shoot for the performance which was located at the R1 - Nuclear Reactor. R1 was active between 1954-1970 and is located at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology campus in the rocks beneath their current ‘Q’ buildings. We had serval unique challenges when developing these costumes. The first and most critical was the costumes had to be almost completely natural fibre. This was due to the friction caused on the garments during the performances, as the heat generated would potentially melt a synthetic fabric to the skin.

After research, testing and trailing, we found an off-white 95% cotton white a 5% elastic blend in with a 4-way stretch. But how would we dye it?

The performers had a wide range of skin tones and under the lights on stage any difference between them and the costumes was amplified. The dye also had to be long-lasting and as natural as possible as it would be so close the skin for so long.

After a lot of trails and tests and with the deadline for the live televisions preview looming we finally cracked it at around 3am with two days to go. Tea! It was natural, washed well and was easily replicated if a new costume was needed. We ended up using a combo of 2 parts chai to one part English breakfast tea with each costume being boiled for a different length of time depending on the skin tone of the performer and the size of the costume.

The final challenge with these costumes was the fit. The costumes were intended to show the bodies of the performers as machines. Celebrating the unique and powerful nature of circus performers without any distractions from the costume. This presented us was an interesting situation. We need to created nude form fitted costumes that were in no way sexualised and also fit the varied body shapes of each performer. The different disciplines of circus performance created a huge range of body shapes none of which fit a traditional sizing grade.

After many hours discussing with the performers - what their needs were, measuring and remeasuring we came up with a range of costumes bespoke to their needs and body shapes. Some of the costumes required addition coverage to stop rope burns or to be in single of multiple pieces to either aim movements or protect the performer.

This was one of the challenging, strange and rewarding projects we have ever taken on and looking back at it now, we have so much pride in the small part we play in it. Gynoïdes pushed us to our limits creatively, physically and mentally… and we were only back stage.

(Photo: Poster from the performance taken at the R1 Nuclear Reactor of “hair-hanging”).

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