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Making Magic

Making Magic

Last week students in RISD’s first theatrical design studio – co-taught by Sculpture Critic Jane South and Interior Architecture Critic Michael McGarty, who also teaches in the Theatre Arts department at Brown – offered a backstage peek inside The Magic Box, an all-new ballet that will premiere in Providence this spring. As part of the newly launched Robert L. Turner Theatrical and Performance Design initiative, students collaborated with the Providence Ballet Theatre company to design sets and costumes that support the larger vision of the piece.

“Fourteen students from eight different disciplines brainstormed on this collaboration with Brown University and the Providence Ballet Theatre,” South explained to the small audience invited to the preview. “The excitement, trepidation and terror we felt turned out to be fertile ground for creativity.”

Students worked with Eva Marie Pacheco, artistic director and choreographer of the Providence Ballet Theatre, and collaborative advisor Li Jun Lai to design sets, costumes and staging for the 40-minute ballet, an original piece created by Pacheco and Rhode Island composer Roger Seitz. The Magic Box “is about being inside your own box, experiencing conflict and coming to terms,” Pacheco says. “The main character is given the opportunity to explore his past through reflection, see and deal with his current struggles and look to the future with a new understanding and strength.”

At the preview in Brown’s John Street Studio, RISD undergraduate Emily Hoffman 15 IL introduced her team’s design of three large set pieces built of steel and Lycra to represent a deconstructed box. Dancers will interact with the pieces during the performances on April 11 and 12, creating implied spaces by shifting and turning them over on stage to form a variety of shapes. The movable pieces also provide interesting opportunities for lighting and projection.

As Mi Ru Shim 15 SC pointed out during the presentation, all of the students’ design decisions have been made to support the larger vision of the ballet. “We were careful not to disrupt the dancers,” she says. Costumes inspired by Greek mythology are neutral in color and the lighting is designed to create different moods for the different scenes, shifting from warm to cold. Projections will be used sparingly; one scene incorporates images of cascading blue ink (see photo, above), while another depicts rising bubbles. A spray of projected stars marks the moment when the main character finds enlightenment at the end of the piece.

This groundbreaking collaboration around The Magic Box is the first in a new initiative funded by residential interior designer Robert L. Turner 74 IL, a theater devotee interested in helping current students pursue studies in theatrical design. The Turner Theatrical and Performance Design Project is “especially valuable to RISD as we address new interdisciplinary goals set forth in our strategic plan,” notes Interim President Rosanne Somerson 76 ID. “Students are hungering for more opportunities to get involved in all aspects of performance art.”

Two public performances and two shows for local schoolchildren will be presented at Rhode Island College’s Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts on April 11 and 12.

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