August 4, 2011

Designing Tushaanal: Elements of Gold

By Annie Katsura Rollins

Working with ADT is a gift as a designer.  The content, the ideas, the inspiration and the team; all of it is the kind of stuff that makes you want to put pen to paper and paper to stage.  This year, working on Tushaanal, has been no different.  After the close of Kshoy! in fall last year, we quickly got to work on this years production.  The timing of this design was truncated and hurried, as I was off to China in the beginning of February for a year on a Fulbright fellowship to research Chinese shadow puppetry.

We spent those cold winter months talking about Gold.  Even as we discussed gold’s notorious properties, it’s central role in the oppressions and exploitation of so many people, there was something inherently beautiful about it, wasn’t there?  Warm, vibrant, sexy and seductive; it isn’t coveted arbitrarily.

We began with this.  Or rather, we got back to this in our initial design discussions.  Ananya had chosen gold because of the conflict surrounding it.  I wanted us to remember why it’s conflicted at all.  We looked at images of gold.  Just gold.  It was gorgeous.

Subtle shades of orange and yellow and green mixed together in the most stunning array of natural shapes; we had never seen it like this.  We’re accustomed to seeing gold purely as a sign of wealth, not beauty.

Then we moved on to its darker side.   The desirability of gold has created unmeasured greed that has led to conflicts in India, Colombia, Papau New Guinea and South Africa – to name just a few.

We talked about its symbolism, now impossible to disassociate with the element itself.  Many of us, at one point or another, had found gold to be tacky and obvious – everyone seems to be trending towards the less ostentatious silver these days.

With both of these dualities in our brainstorm pool, we set about designing the world.    How would we balance the inherent beauty of gold while still staying truthful to its full story?  Ananya’s choreography would be centered around these stories and conflict, so  we decided to make the gold of our scenic world beautiful; a pure beginning.

The costumes will play off of this scenic world and stay in line with the ADT aesthetic.  Eastern in contour and design influence, but trended towards the stage world we’ve created.  Warm and neutral silks with fine tailoring hide flashes of color and underlying emotion.


The bulk of the scenic and costume design was done before I departed, but the daily rehearsal changes and costuming is being done in absentia.  For a designer, this is like designing blind, and something I endeavor not to do often.  Nothing replaces being in the room with the dancers, watching them explore, create and challenge each other.  It’s the reason I do what I do, to make – together.   But, we’re making it work because of the amazing team and skype.