If Linda Bulecza, costume designer for the Ballet Arts Conservatory of Tallahassee, could travel anywhere in time, it would be to the industrial era. She can only imagine what the period’s palpable energy must have been like — from the rise of steam-powered locomotives to new inventions and automation.
It also appeals to Bulecza’s fascination with steampunk culture, a futuristic version of the industrial age imagined and expressed in fashion, book, and movies.
When it came time to put a twist on her designs for BACT’s spring ballet, “Alice in Wonderland,” premiering on June 9 and 10, steampunk was her first thought. “I’ve often heard steampunk referred to as the time that never was,” explains Bulecza. “It comes from the notion of the steam era which involves gears and locomotives. It also deals with the notion of time travel, which lends itself so well to Alice traveling and being time-driven.”
In fact, it was during company’s first iteration of “Alice in Wonderland” 10 years ago that Bulecza began helping with costuming, creating papiermâché teapots and painting unitards. Her history as a seamstress reaches further back, however, starting with sewing her own clothes as a child.
As a self-taught artist, the first dance costume she ever made was for her daughter —a red pleated skirt and polkadotted top fit for a jazzy solo number. As a painter and crafter of all kinds, Bulecza was ready to jump into new territory and next volunteered her time helping out for Pas de Vie’s “Nutcracker” where she learned techniques for dance costuming from Claire Walker, the costume shop manager for the FSU Theater Department. “I’ve never been shy about trying something new artistically,” says Bulecza. “Claire gave me advice on the weight of fabrics and how to get more movement in them. Mainly, I’ve learned how to do costuming by reading and a lot of trial and error.” Bulecza says most of her process takes place in the researching and shopping stages. Many of her books, supplies, and patterns are sourced from an online dance website, which gives her helpful guidelines in terms of making bodices and tutus for ballet. When it comes to materials, her workshop is packed to the hilt with fabrics from all over the country.
Anytime she travels to a larger metropolitan area, New York City being among her favorites, she scours the fashion districts for lowpriced,high-quality materials to take back home. She’s also had luck on sites like eBay where she can
buy directly from suppliers in China, especially when she’s looking to acquire more embellished, intricate fabrics.
Her philosophy in costuming is to create as many reusable pieces as possible, so she is able to mix and match more easily for future projects. For example, in her first storybook ballet for BACT, “Christmas in Narnia,” she created white circle skirts and blouses that have been used in multiple ways over the years, and will even make an appearance in “Alice.” Her individual approach to costuming, however, never comes out the same way twice. “I think flying by the seat of my pants would probably be my style,” laughs Bulecza, as she relies on improvisation in her process. “I can do the traditional tutu or I can get into the crazy off-thewall stuff. Mostly, I get a look in my head and I think about how I can make it work with the way the dancers move.”
Over the years, she’s formed a unique partnership with BACT’s Artistic Director, Amy Lowe, working closely to create a cohesive look for each original ballet. It all begins with a sketch, and from there Bulecza looks to colors and music for inspiration. She remarks that while the bulk of the cutting and sewing is finished rather quickly, it is the final fittings and tailoring that take the most time. Most importantly, Bulecza finds attending rehearsals to be paramount in order to imagine how her pieces will relate to one another based on characters and choreography.
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