Ever agonised about what to wear? Then there's one scene in particular in Footnote New Zealand Dance's latest show, Lifeworld (in five parts), by Claire O'Neil, that will make you smile.

Dancer Jeremy Beck must choose what shirt to wear and, as he goes about choosing what to don for the day, he starts to imagine the different experiences he may have depending on the cut and colour of the shirt he picks.

It's symbolic of daily decisions we face - some much bigger than others - related to why this and not that and the emotions and aspirations involved. But it made us think about the clothes themselves that dancers sometimes wear. Anyone who's been to the World of Wearable Arts show or watched dancers move across the stage in sky-high heeled shoes will have wondered, "how do they dance in those?"

We asked Beck and fellow dancer Lana Phillips about the impact of the costumes on their work.


What impact does what you're wearing have on the way you dance?

LP: Your costume can really help to switch you and your mind frame from rehearsing to performing. Dress rehearsals are vital, because it's a chance for us to see what works and what doesn't when movement and costumes come together.

JB: What you wear as a dancer is part of the intention of the choreographer, it is part of the narrative. With Lifeworld (in five parts), putting our costumes on and taking them off is within the choreography, so the movements are part of the work itself.

How difficult is it, after rehearsing in exercise/dance gear, to make the transition to sometimes more restrictive costumes?

LP: It can be very difficult at times, but you just have to make it work. This sometimes means adjusting the movement to make the costume work or it could mean changing or altering the costume to keep the movement.

JB: Let's just say I've split the crotch in a lot of trousers.

Lana Phillips in Cascade, by Victoria Edgar, at the World of Wearable Arts show.
Lana Phillips in Cascade, by Victoria Edgar, at the World of Wearable Arts show.

What is the most outrageous thing you've ever had to wear on stage?

LP: A barely-there garment in WOW, which was very delicate and made of silver, copper and pearls. It had a specific way to be put on, too, which made getting into it really complicated. (The garment was Cascade, by Victoria Edgar, and it won the Australia and South Pacific Design Award).

The costume changes at WOW are pretty quick; this year I had a super quick change that needed four extra people to help because the garment was so intricate and complex to put on. One person helped with my hair and make-up, the other two took off the previous garment and put the next one on. It was so fast it was a blur.

JB: A purple leotard with tassels. It was a bit too tight in the leg, so not fun to wear. This year I've worn a dress and a skirt also. The fastest costume change I had in WOW this year was 50 seconds, which included a full beard. It was a quick change from a full tailored suit into a loincloth and a beard. All in a day's work.

Jeremy Beck, front, wears a skirt for a performance in this year 's World of Wearable Arts.
Jeremy Beck, front, wears a skirt for a performance in this year 's World of Wearable Arts.

How do you manage to dance in heels?

JB: You' ll have to ask Lana as I've never done it ... yet!

LP: With lots and lots of rehearsal and very, very sore calves.

How does clothing relate to the piece you're dancing in for Footnote?

JB: My character faces the daily dilemma of not knowing what to wear; I think I change my shirt more than 10 times in the show. As my character transitions through each shirt, it brings a different emotion to the piece. It always gets a laugh because it's a recognisable, "Hey that's me! I do that!" moment for the audience.

What: Lifeworld (in five parts)
Where & when: Q Theatre, Rangatira; Friday, November 4