Interview with Cirque Du Soleil Costume Designer Kym Barrett

Costume Designer Kym Barrett Talks About Cirque du Soleil

When I heard that Cirque du Soleil's new show was opening in London, I couldn't wait to find out more. Totem is currently on at The Royal Albert Hall, before it tours around the world. It's an amazing show, which includes some jaw dropping acrobatics and a very talented cast. I was interested to find out more about the costumes, so I caught up with designer Kym Barrett who worked on Totem. Kym is perhaps best known for creating Neo's world famous long coat in The Matrix!

To find out more about her work with Cirque du Soleil, and for photos just read more.

How did you get involved in the project?
They called me and asked me if I wanted to do the job because they wanted to use someone from a different kind of area. I started out in theatre a long time ago, so I thought it would be fun to go back and do it again. I started out at theatre school in Sydney and then I did five or six years of theatre and then I got my first film costume design job on Romeo and Juliet. So after that, I just started doing movies.

What were the biggest challenges when designing for Cirque du Soleil?
I think it always seems like the challenge is going to be different for something like that, because it seems so other worldly. But, most of the movies I do involve a lot of stunts, harnessing and flying of people, so in many ways it's quite similar.

I have to start with the practicality of what the performer is going to have to achieve physically, and then once I've solved those problems, I work out how to make it live within the world of the show and work with the characters as well. In some ways, it's really the same steps, it's just the individual technical requirements and then the individual requirements of each person. They're very short vignettes and you have to tell a rounded, interesting story really quickly.

What were you inspired by for the show?
The creative team came up with a visual structure from Robert Lepage's idea, which was evolution, from animal to aspirations of moving to outerspace or a virtual world. There was a basic linear through life. It was a very organic process.

Do you have any favourite looks from the show?
You fall in love with all of the looks in a way. There's a chance to make them quite different. The very first thing I designed was the Chinese unicycle girls, so I guess in some ways they provided a germination for other things. I can't say that I love one over the other.

What kind of fabrics were you using?
Well, for the most part we have to use stretch fabrics, but the challenge is to make it look like that's not what it is. The great thing about working was that we take inspiration and then create our own materials. When working there, you have the ability to do that; you have a staff textile artist, you have a staff of hat makers and shoe makers so there's an unlimited possibility. Even though you have to be conscience of making sure everything is stretchy enough, you have the ability to make things that look like they're not just lyrca or jersey. We invented new textiles.

Right now, I'm doing the new generation of Spiderman and we're doing all new suits and a whole different concept. Interesting fabrics are always coming out so I get a chance to see what new stuff is available. Right now, there's a lot of smart fabrics that can keep you warmer in the cold, or cooler in the heat. There are all kinds of fascinating things going on.

You said you were working on Spiderman, which other projects are you working on?
I'm going to start working on the Tempest at the Met in New York for 2012.

You can see clips from the show here.

Source: Getty
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