“In talking with the director and other designers, we envisioned an Art Deco theme for the Zarkana costumes,” notes Slovenia-based designer Alain Hranitelj, about his first complete project for Cirque du Soleil (he had worked on an uncompleted project for Macau several years ago).
“There is a lot inspired by Erte and Paul Poiret, and that is the most beautiful period,” says Hranitelj. “I love the clothes and the costumes. Erte was a great illustrator and I love the costumes he did. They are so different from costumes today. We are more serious, they had more fun: We have fun during the process but those costumes were really fun… The crazy 20’s.” The result is a contemporary version of the 20th-century Art Deco aesthetic.
In working on Zarkana, Hranitelj describes a two-year process, one year for sketches and research, the second year for production of the costumes. “I like to speak with the actual artists and performers, and sometimes have to change things… I like the interaction with them, to see how they think…how they see the character, and pull their ideas into the costumes, sometimes a perfect match.”
For the acrobats, Hranitelj found the process similar to designing for ballet as dancers also need space and fabrics that move... “Here you have to deal with harnesses under the costumes, as there are clowns and acrobats that hang upside down, and there are different sizes of harness that create a challenge, but the performers were all very professional,” he notes. The costumes were also designed in collaboration with the set and lighting designer to make sure the audience could see the performers. “Each scene had a specific color for the costumes to contrast with the lighting and video,” Hranitelj explains.
For example, the clowns are white: “The director wanted white clowns… it is really hard to make a white costume, they are the most difficult as white is hardest to light. You have to be careful that you can read the shape of a white costume, which is easier for a small stage, harder on a large stage,” says Hranitelj. “We tried a lot of white fabrics, painted them, gave them a patina, make sure the shape was good or they look like a snowball from afar.”
In addition to the white, red is a major color in Zarkana, worn by the magician Zark and his lady, Lia. “Red... pure love! The red of the roses, at the end when Zark and Lia get together,” exclaims Hranitelj. “Her dress is like a rose… A lot of work went into that costume, there were so many of hours of hand sewing, with thousands of petals… a lot of love and a lot work, with seven different variations of red and different kinds of silk… from crepe de chine to satin, all mixed together to make the costume,” the designer notes.
“Zarkana has a happy ending, with the red such a strong color, it’s a beautiful look, with red roses and white clowns at the end, even roses on the video and on Zark’s top hat and his cape, so it is all connected,” says Hranitelj, who points out that all of the costumes were made by Cirque du Soleil in Montreal: “They are all hand made, it was a huge job,” he adds.
“Radio City has a huge stage, so you mostly see them from afar but the costumes have a lot of detail so everything looks perfect in case it gets filmed,” Hranitelj explains. “Even if you don’t see it, the detail is there. There is very strong energy in the space at Radio City, it was great to work there.” The same costumes will be recreated for the tour that begins in Madrid, with a smaller stage, and smaller version of the show.
A costume designer for classic ballet, opera, movies, theatre, Hranitelj enjoys jumping from one style to another, loves to mix, and finds it good for his creativity to change styles. He works mostly in Europe, but had sent an exhibition monograph/catalogue from a show in 1995 to Cirque du Soleil. “After 10 years they found the catalogue (they had lost it) and found me eventually through the Slovenia embassy in Canada. It was a long process,” recalls Hranitelj.
The second act of Zarkana opens with a sand painting scene, in which the artist is dressed in pure Erte. “In the early 20th century clothes from China and India were very chic, and her dress is a variation of an original sari,” says Hranitelj, who searched for a specific color of blue. “Her hat is also an Etre design. Each costume, I love them all.”