Tabula Rasa Dance Theater Performers to Get the Designer Treatment

As the executive director of the Tabula Rasa Dance Theater, Amy Fine Collins has had a hand in the avant-garde costumes that will be worn for the troupe’s upcoming “Oedipus Rex” performance.

She first became involved with the inclusive organization that explores challenging issues when artistic director Felipe Escalante founded it in 2018. On Friday, Collins will host a preview of the dance at The Ned hotel.

“Oedipus Rex” performances will be available to the public from Sept. 27 to Oct. 2 at New York Live Arts on West 19th Street. This modern take of the Sophocles’ play is set in 2020 during the pandemic in a contemporary, but slightly futuristic nightclub. “It’s quite an ambitious production that is daring and inventive and gorgeous at the same time. Felipe is very focused on costumes and on everything. He is extremely visual and literary.” Collins said.

As the self-described “fairy godmother” for Tabula Rasa Dance Theater, she helped Escalante get started, with fundraising, outreach, costumes and graphic design. Choreography is the exception — “that is far beyond my canon. I wouldn’t even dare to imagine anything to contribute on that front,” she said.

Collins confers with him about the costumes and sometimes helps to develop ideas, but Escalante definitely has ideas of his own. For the 75-minute “Oedipus” production, performers will have about six costume changes, including some that only allow performers one or two beats of music to transform themselves. Coincidentally, mesh unitards and other transparent pieces, which were a recurring trend during New York Fashion Week’s latest run at Tory Burch and other shows, are essential for the dancers.

“There was a lot of transparency here in New York this past week and this idea of the male and the female body not being all that different,” Collins said, noting the preponderance of mesh, net or chiffon styles. “You would see a male with a visible chest or a female with a visible chest on the runway, or someone, who you didn’t know if they were male or female. This point of ‘What are we hiding in life?’ and how anatomy is beautiful and is part of life and getting dressed and undressed,” Collins said.

Performers will also wear “extraordinary painted jackets,” including repurposed ones like a Saint Laurent “Le Smoking” jacket, a Geoffrey Beene plastic raincoat, and an Isaac Mizrahi trench coat, among others. Designer-inspired costumes are in season. too, considering that the New York City Ballet will soon unveil a fall lineup that includes costumes by Raf Simons, Giles Deacon and Alejandro Gómez Palomo.

The decision for dancers to sport mesh neck ruffs or collars with mesh unitards and strapless dresses sprang from a conversation that Collins had with Escalante about the neck scrunchies that Beene designed, when hair scrunchies were all the rage. (In another strange twist of fate, Rommy Hunt Revson, the creator of the scrunchie, recently died.)

Escalante is relying on workers and colleagues in Mexico to make the more technical parts of the costumes. “That’s also a time thing, because he also knows how to sew,” she said.

Attendees at the upcoming performances will be able to buy “Oedipus Rex” tote bags that are imprinted with a quote from Sophocles and feature an Atlas-inspired image that substitutes a disco ball for the world that will cost “next-to-nothing,” Collins said. Upon seeing the logo, people question whether it was by Robert Mapplethorpe, comment on its provocativeness or presume it’s “just another ancient sculpture,” she said. “It’s an interesting little Rorschach, but Felipe took that photograph of himself. He’s capable of doing just about everything. Part of that is because resources are limited as well.”

The hope is that the company will go on tour perhaps in the next year or two. A robotic dog is featured in the production, and wearable lasers — bras, gloves, sunglasses and belts — periodically flash in different colors on the dancers. The laser bras include cone-like missile ones reminiscent of the ones designed by Jean Paul Gaultier.

A photoshoot is planned with the dancers for As If magazine, and Collins has her own full dance card.

Always working on the “International Best Dressed List” and contributing to Air Mail, she is now also the New York contributing editor for World of Interiors, since Hamish Bowles’ arrival at the helm. Collins said that sponsors are being lined up for an International Best Dressed List exhibition in development that could bow in New York in fall 2023. Collins is also cooking up a Geoffrey Beene exhibition, culling from her own collection of the late designer’s work. And she will be speaking with a filmmaker about a documentary about her friend Thom Browne that is being explored.

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