It was a collaboration in the best sense of the word, even if it did hit a few snags — literally — along the way.
Lisa Berger, executive director of Art Center Sarasota, needed some live entertainment for her organization's sixth annual fundraiser, iconcept, in which designers showcase fashions they've created from repurposed materials. And Leymis Bolaños-Wilmott, director of Fuzión Dance Artists, needed help outfitting the dancers in her contemporary troupe for their annual spring concert.
"I needed someone to perform and they needed costumes," says Berger. "So it was just kind of symbiotic. We helped each other."
The result will be on display at Fuzión's "Dance Couture: Art Meets Dance" concert this weekend at the FSU Center for Performing Arts, as well as during iconcept 6 at the Municipal Auditorium on March 28, when the dancers will perform excerpts from their concert between runway showings.
This isn't the first collaboration between the two organizations. Fuzión has improvised in the center's exhibition galleries, interpreting the art through movement, and once basing an evening-length concert, performed in the main gallery, on the work of several female artists. Some of those collaborations were more successful than others, however.
"It was difficult because it was crowded in the galleries, the dancers were so close and people were confused," says Berger. "They weren't really sure how to react. So we were trying to come up with something that might make for a better partnership with us."
At the same time, Bolaños-Wilmott, whose company constantly operates on a tight budget and relies heavily on volunteers, was facing the dilemma of once again having to come up with original costumes for the five pieces in her upcoming program, four of them works by guest choreographers from out of town.
"Costumes are almost always the last thing we think about," Bolaños-Wilmott says. "Usually for us it's like, 'OK, what do you have in your closet, dancers? That's always been the missing link for us, to be able to present our work fully in the way I have envisioned for the company."
So the idea of having actual designers involved in the costume creation from conception was "a dream come true," she says.
"For me, it's awesome because I've been able to be involved from very early on in the process. I've tried to find a balance of what's realistic while still giving the designers some creative freedom and staying true to the vision of the choreographers."
Easier said than done.
Berger, who has a degree in fashion and was a tenniswear designer in a previous career incarnation, had some idea of the potential challenges. But neither Eric Cross, general manager for Home Resource and one of the 30 artists participating in this year's iconcept, nor Stephanie Peters, who owns a design business and a hair salon in Towles Court, had ever designed for dancers before.
"My artists are more of the 'repurposed' kind of designers," Berger says. "We use glue guns and pins. It was hard for them to understand these dancers have to be able to move without getting scratched or caught on anything. They didn't understand the potential for wardrobe malfunctions."
The first forays made that clear. When Austin, Texas-based choreographer Alyson Dolan asked for something "nerdy" that referenced computers for her techno-themed work, SIRIous, Berger set the designers to work using vests and some wiry computer parts that had been donated.
"They came back with these sharp things sticking out all over the place and I was like, 'No, no, no!'" Berger says. "So we re-did them. Same idea, but safer."
Likewise, New York choreographer Kira Blazek was looking for something with a tribal feel for "Velza," which is performed in part to Bulgarian folk music. The designers made a trip to Goodwill, collecting odds and ends to build on. Or maybe un-build would be more accurate. The affectionate nickname Berger adopted for Cross after seeing his process was "Eric Scissorhands."
"It was kind of like de-constructing rather than constructing, which I'd never done before, but I have no problem cutting into things," says Cross, who has a graphic design degree from the Ringling College of Art and Design and did window displays for Saks Fifth Avenue for 15 years. "I just went right to it. Like serendipity, it just kind of evolves."
Cross's French mother made all her own clothes, but she always kept her son away from the sewing machine. So everything he creates is sewn by hand, often using monofilament fishing line. More accustomed to working with furniture packing materials than cloth, he soon discovered that in designing for dance he had to curtail his more spontaneous and flamboyant inclinations.
"It's really important that the dancers be able to move and even with layering, you have to make sure it's not constricting," says Cross, who fashioned turbans from his scissor-happy strips of cloth. "It's just been trial and error."
The errors, however, meant a few of the outfits "just weren't coming together," as Berger says, and had to be redone as deadlines neared.
"For example, for Kira's piece, we needed a tribal feeling, but when we got done, it wasn't looking like they all came from the same tribe," she says. "It had to be coherent. So we ended up redoing them last week."
In addition to creating costumes for Bolaños-Wilmott's piece in the concert, "Dreamfall" — pale, free-flowing and gauzy — Berger was planning for iconcept, as well as preparing for the center's first ever international exhibit, "Confluence Israel," which opens March 13. The multiple deadlines made her wish more than once that she'd not taken on the collaboration, but ultimately it was a rewarding experience.
"Like anything, you stress out about it, but when you see it come together and see how happy the dancers are to wear them and move in them, anything that was a bump in the road is just gone," she says.
For Bolaños-Wilmott, on the other hand, the joint effort was a great luxury, one she would love to have become an ongoing connection.
"This is glamorous for us," she says. "It's like a dream come true. I don't know if we can do it again, but I would love to.
"We've established ongoing relationships with musicians and composers and choreographers in the past, and we'd like nothing better than to do the same thing with designers."
DANCE COUTURE: ART MEETS DANCE, Fuzión Dance Artists at the Jane B. Cook Theatre, FSU Center for Performing Arts, 7777 N. Tamiami Trail. 7:30 p.m. March 13-15; 2 p.m. March 16. Talk-backs following each performance. $18-$36. 359-0099, ext. 101; www.fuziondance.org
ICONCEPT 6: WHEN ART MEETS FASHION, a fundraiser for Art Center Sarasota at the Sarasota Municipal Auditorium, 801 N. Tamiami Trail. 6:30 p.m. (dinner), 7:30 p.m. (general admission) March 28. $45-$125. 365-2032; www.artsarasota.org