For the past year and a half, world-renowned Italian costume and scenic designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno has worked to design the sets and costumes for the first new production for Houston Ballet in 28 years -- Artistic Director Stanton Welch's Romeo and Juliet.
Guidi di Bagno and Welch met in 1998 while working on his commission of Ønsket for the Royal Danish Ballet. When it came time to look for a designer, that's who Welch reached out to in his search for authenticity in the classic tale of young lovers doomed by a family feud, a story set in Renaissance-era Verona, Italy,
"After speaking with Stanton, I looked at paintings from the Old Italian Masters of the 1400s," Guidi di Bagno says. "I took inspiration from those real representations of the time period and then I washed a surface away in my mind and added my own interpretation."
Guidi di Bagno says there are four phases she goes through while creating the costumes for a ballet: thinking, drawing, making prototypes, and adapting the garments to the needs of the dancers.
Two-thirds of the ballet's fabrics were sourced in Italy and even the sets were built overseas.
"I am using extremely thin leathers, which are custom-made in Italy," Guidi di Bagno says. An innovative technique was used in the Houston Ballet wardrobe department to sew the ornate leathers onto a stretchable Lycra fabric base so that the dancers can still be mobile in the costumes. It was also important for the sets to be mobile as well.
"Stanton asked me from the very beginning to construct a fluid production." In order to do that, Guidi di Bagno designed all of the set pieces to be on wheels, making for seamless location changes within the three-act, three-hour-long ballet.
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When asked if she has a favorite scenic piece in the show, Guidi di Bagno said that one of the towers within the production's townscape was directly inspired by a real building in Ferrara, Italy -- her grandmother's building. "I look forward to the audience feeling like they're in a real Renaissance town within the theater."
Performances of Romeo and Juliet are scheduled for February 26 through March 8. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Fridays and Saturday, 1:30 Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sunday at the Wortham Center, 501 Texas. For information call 713-227-2787 or visit houstonballet.org.