Costume design and collaboration in Finnish contemporary dance in the early twenty-first century

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Doctoral thesis (article-based)
Degree programme
210 + app. 346
Aalto University publication series DOCTORAL THESES, 129/2022
Contemporary dance productions are experienced by costume designers as highly rewarding due to the creative freedom and quality of artistic allyships that they offer. To reveal characteristics of this specific genre, this article-based doctoral thesis investigates costume design in independent contemporary dance productions in twenty-first-century Finland. This study examines the topic by focusing on creative processes, costume outcomes, and collaboration. Informed by previous research in costume, dance, contemporary co-creation, and postdramatic performance, it approaches costume design as an interrelational event and collaborative practice. Drawing from the experiences of active practitioners, it focuses on the work of three significant costume designers in Finland – Marja Uusitalo, Erika Turunen, and Karoliina Koiso-Kanttila – and their partnerships with choreographers. These examples reveal wider patterns of collaboration useful for highlighting the role of costume and the costume designer within contemporary dance-making in Finland. The analysis of their work follows a hermeneutic circle–inspired dialogical process where the notion of costume as an active agent steers the query. Developing in iterative cycles, oral materials from 16 semi-structured main interviews are analysed along with data from 15 performances as well as communications with Finnish dance artists and costume designers. Specific sources in philosophy and social theory, including Aristotle’s notions of friendship (n.d.) and Derrida’s definition of ‘signature’ ([1971] 1986) are applied to theoretically frame the key themes: creative processes, costume outcomes, and collaboration. The main method of analysis across the interview materials, performance materials, and theory materials, is content analysis, and the results are two fold. First, through examples of design concepts from the simple to the spectacular, this thesis presents the ways in which costume impacts the event of dance. In particular, it exemplifies the powerful potential embedded in everyday garments as costume. Second, through increasing awareness of the creative processes of costume design within contemporary dance performance and the collaborative practices therein, it demonstrates the influence of the co-creative costume designer in the production of contemporary dance. It asserts that costume design in productions of contemporary dance gains from supportive practices in co-creation. In conclusion, this thesis argues that the creation of costume is not only the creation of a physical garment, but also the creation of performance.
Supervising professor
Pantouvaki, Sofia, Dr., Aalto University, Department of Film, Television and Scenography, Finland
Thesis advisor
Pantouvaki, Sofia, Dr., Aalto University, Finland
Laakkonen, Johanna, Dr., University of Helsinki, Finland
dance, costume design, collaboration, co-creation, ensemble, devising, performance design, Karoliina Koiso-Kanttila, Erika Turunen, Marja Uusitalo
Other note
  • [Publication 1]: Helve, Tua and Pantouvaki, Sofia (2016), ‘Sharing “untamed ideas”: Process-based costume design in Finnish contemporary dance through the work of Marja Uusitalo’, Scene, 4:2, pp. 149–72.
    DOI: 10.1386/scene.4.2.149_1 View at publisher
  • [Publication 2]: Helve, Tua (2018), ‘Political by Design: Costume Design Strategies within the Finnish Contemporary Dance Productions AmazinGRace, Noir? and The Earth Song’, Nordic Journal of Dance, 9:1, pp. 14–31.
    DOI: 10.2478/njd-2018-0003 View at publisher
  • [Publication 3]: Helve, Tua (2021), ‘Time, being, discourse: Elements of professional friendship in the collaboration between a costume designer and a choreographer’, Choreographic Practices, 12:1, pp. 67–89.
    DOI: 10.1386/chor_00029_1 View at publisher
  • [Publication 4]: Helve, Tua (2022), ‘The costume designer as co-author of contemporary dance performance: Erika Turunen’s signature style’, Studies in Costume & Performance, 7:1, pp. 27–53.
    DOI: 10.1386/scp_00059_1 View at publisher