On June 22, award-winning choreographer Diane Coburn Bruning and local designer Bekah Nettekoven Tello, will join forces to present this year’s Chamber Dance Project at Sidney Harman Hall. A combination of Bruning’s choreography featuring Cole Porter songs performed with a live jazz trio and 16 vintage-inspired costumes designed by Tello will come together to create the world premiere of the ballet Songs by Cole.
Bruning says that she and Tello worked closely with images from the Art Deco and later periods to draw inspiration for the show. One particular song “Night and Day,” stuck out to Bruning and she asked Tello to work from the “arguing” black and white patterns of an Erte print.
For the song “Don't Fence Me In,” Tello worked on creating three cowboy costumes—jingle spurs and all—while the song “C’est Magnifique” demanded a more boldness of color and a pattern for a French-inspired walk in the park.
Bruning will assemble her troupe of talented dancers from DC’s major ballet companies who will contribute their own diversity to the show. New York choreographer Jennifer Archibald will bring the New Orleans rhythms of Rue Noir, while Argentinean choreographer Jorge Amarante will provide audiences with the sultry tangos of Sur. The three musician ensembles will feature Moshe Brass, alongside the male duet, Exit Wounds, by Bruning.
While Songs by Cole is Tello’s first official design project, she said it has been constructed on years of reimagining, recreating, and rebuilding clothing and household textiles.
“As a teenager, I raided my grandparents’ basement for vintage clothing and turned my aunt’s wool skirt into a purse,” says Tello. “During college, I wrapped myself in a window valence and called it a top, a pillow case became a skirt, and a lampshade was reborn as a summer hat.”
Acquiring knowledge for the show through various design projects including her work with The Washington Ballet Tello says spending the last five years working alongside talented designers like Liz Vandal and Christine Darch helped her learn how certain fabrics can mimic a look or style while still allowing dancers to move.
“Subtle modification of a suit jacket, a pair of pants, or a shirt enable dancers to leap and spin in harmony with their clothing instead of fighting a poorly placed seam or difficult fabric,” says Tello.
Tello says that she often retreats back to the local thrift store, where she finds surprising discoveries and inspirations among the racks of cast-off garments. Thrift stores, describes Tello, offer the opportunity to observe colors and textures arguing with each other as they hang in long rows. Tello reveals that the necktie and bow in “C’est Magnifique” was cut and pieced together from a dress she thrifted.
Tello says, “I absolutely cannot wait to see the costumes on stage for the first time, breathed with new life as the dancers wearing them explore and enlarge the Cole Porter experience through Diane’s choreography.”