舞跡可尋 In Search of a Dance Story
Betty Wong - Sewing Memory
黃海真 Betty Wong; 攝Photo: Wong Ching-kiu
Dancers perform on stage, and their costumes sway with the movements. Dance costumes, when they work well with the choreography, not only have the magic of conjuring a piece’s moods, but also give confidence to dancers and allow them to move on stage comfortably and without worry. Over the past decade, Betty Wong, who many call Aunt Betty, has hand stitched costumes for many projects by independent dance groups as well as community dance productions of City Contemporary Dance Company (CCDC); helping choreographers and dancers realize their stories on stage.
“This sewing machine is called four needle overlock [sewing] machine. We have to stitch up a T-shirt with a four thread overlock stitch, otherwise it will rip. The other one you see here is called three-thread…” Wong introduced me to her studio, while she told me stories of her learning to be a tailor in the early 1970s. “When I was a teen, I was very interested in tailoring and needlework. So, I often looked into fashion magazines to get inspirations. When I saw a style that I liked, I would try to remake it my own way. It was then very prevalent for tailoring schools to teach students how to pattern-cut, measure, and sew." Talking about how she became involved in the production of dance costumes, she said, “In fact, it was a chance encounter.” It wasn’t until the millennium when a friend introduced her to the CCDC wardrobe department, for which she has worked for several years, and then through introductions of colleagues, she began to take different commissions and worked with individual dance troupes and CCDC Dance Centre (CCDCDC).
Betty為CCDC舞蹈中心「舞蹈青年2007」改裝而成的中褸。The altered jacket for CCDCDC’s Wu Dao Qing Nian 2007.
攝Photo: Dicky Wong
She recalls her first experience in 2007 as an independent costume maker when her colleagues referred her to CCDCDC to work with the youth program Wu Dao Qing Nian. At first, she was not that acquainted and had little understanding of the industry, also not a born communicator, she heard that costume designer Yuri Ng was a demanding artist; she was quite fearful that she would not be able to cope. Hesitating to reject the job opportunity, her colleagues told her that Ng planned just to alter a ready-made suit into a costume: “Clothing alteration is a different thing. Compared to communication and design, it is much simpler! So, I took up the opportunity, which became my debut.” But theater costume alteration is not as easy as it sounds. “Yuri likes the effect of the rolling up of the sleeve. By tacking and stitching a few bits here and there, the layering effect gave more volume to the original suit. Just imagine, he wanted to change the original suit to a jacket. Also, he wanted to have the suit sleeves removed, leaving the hem frayed. Yuri didn’t mind at all, because he wanted the effect.” She found the opportunity exciting, as it opened a new horizon to her and costume making can be fun and full of challenges. “Cutting the fabric and then sewing it back. Even though it looks a bit frayed, it can still be worn as a costume, which we don’t normally do.” She laughs as she recalls.
Another of Wong’s memorable productions was Dance Art Dance Theatre’s In Search of Hui Sin in 2013. “It was a very special experience. The designer decided to use an expensive fabric for the Qipao. That meant that when we did the mock-up for fitting on the dancers, we could not use the actual fabric. In addition, we didn’t adopt the traditional pattern method to cut the Qipao costume. Instead, the designers drew it on the fabric draped on the dancers during the fitting. We first made a mould, onto which we fitted the dancers. The designer then drew the pattern according to the dancer’s body and required movements. We then cut it and put them together again to make the special pattern cuts for the Qipao costumes. The real fabrics were only used at the final stage when it came to making them. It took quite a bit of effort!” When it comes to a Qipao, it demands a lot of attention to details and the process can be very complicated, she laughs.
Betty在2013年為動藝《尋找許仙》（由何應豐編導）製作的白旗袍 The white Qipao for In Search of Hui Sin (Directed by Hoyingfung); 攝Photo: 阮漢威 Leocampo Yuen
Compared to previous experiences as a tailor, it gives her great satisfaction and excitement to make a good theater costume that not only fits the performers’ bodies, but also serves the performance‘s purposes. Seeing dancers and children wear her costumes and clothes, her face breaks into a radiant and genuine smile.
“Looking back on the past ten years, working in the performing arts industry has allowed me to know a lot of dancer friends from the dance community. Since I changed my career direction, my path has been smooth.” It may be easy for audiences to remember a dance piece or a stage effect. But for Betty Wong, who is responsible for costume production, designers and choreographers’s narration and their realization process is her memory of the production.