Which comes first: function or design?

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Libby McDonnell (Circa), Spanish Baroque costume designer speaks about costumes, design and the influence of performance on her work.

Tell us about the costume design for Spanish Baroque and how it relates to the performance.

The Spanish Baroque show compelled me to create something completely 'other' to what we achieved with French Baroque in 2016. The Spanish Baroque costume design is earthy and gritty, yet still with a contemporary edge. It hints towards another time yet is not explicitly set in the past, present or future. You can expect references to volume and movement synonymous with Latin costume flavours but the design is still firmly anchored to a more ritualistic, almost pagan-like gathering of people who have come together to conjure something magical through music and movement. 

What do you have to consider when designing for Circa?

It’s our mission from the design and costume creation teams to ensure we are supporting every artist to be magnificent on stage. This involves the technical needs and requirements being in constant conversation with the design needs. It’s a very exciting process and new discoveries and inventions are being made all the time. It requires knowing the body, knowing the artist and their apparatus or instrument, knowing how to activate their spirit in a particular way to elicit the mood or essence required in the production. A Chinese Pole artist will have very different technical requirements of their garments to an artist who plays the Double Bass to a Hula Hoop Artist. Ensuring their respective needs are met whilst making sure that their costume design is calibrated to the right time and space on stage is just a small example of the considerations involved. 

How long does it take to decide on a concept?

How long is a piece of string! No two processes are the same. They are shaped by the requirements of the performance and by the people involved.

My aim is for the costume design to serve and enhance the vision of the director and assist the artists to be on stage in their full and luminous capacity – so if I’ve done my part with sensitivity and courage then maybe the costumes stand out as a feature or maybe they disappear into the essence of the show. 

How many costumes does each performer have?

I have an eclectic method of working, I make up descriptions for things that may confuse anyone else. For example – every artist in Spanish Baroque will have a Costume Set: That’s about 20 Sets of Costumes for the performance. This Set may be made up of 2 – 4 (maybe more) individual garments. It sounds simple enough but when you get taking about Sets of Costumes and Pairs of Pants…I know there is a better way! Entry to my workshop should come with a warning!

What happens to the costumes when the tour is finished?

They hope for another season of Spanish Baroque!


How long does it take to make the costumes and who makes them?

It depends on the complexity of the design and how long we have! For Spanish Baroque we’re working with Assistant Costume Designer, Selene Cochrane and with Janie Grant’s workroom/ team of creators; Amanda Larkin, Trang Vo, and Sue Healy. 

What are the costumes made of?

Wool blends, cottons… it’s earthy and textured…mostly…and of course a strategic use of stretch nylon lycra! 

Can we see some photos?

Check out the Facebook photos!

The Brandenburg are an extraordinary company who are a perfect match for Circa in their courage of vision and passion for their art form. Our companies are lead by huge personalities with big hearts, generous souls and a relentless desire to create…You see this chemistry in the artists on stage and the dedication in the teams who pull it all together off stage. It’s electric. I am beyond excited that we have the opportunity to do it all again with Spanish Baroque. I really couldn’t single out a favourite memory from French Baroque, but I loved hearing the music in a profoundly different way, live on stage, and of course there was that moment when Paul Dyer tried on his gorgeous Jacket for the first time…AMAZING!

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Hold your breath
Spanish Baroque: Brandenburg and Circa

Spanish Baroque will take you into the fiery depths of intense emotion.


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