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Indra’s Daughter and the modernist body: Costume and the fashioned body as scenography in A Dream Play (1915‐18)

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In this article I analyse Swedish scenographer Knut Ström’s costume and set design sketches, made in Germany in 1915‐18, for his production of August Strindberg’s A Dream Play. I focus on the costume sketches for the main character, Indra’s daughter, and discuss how the act of costuming is more than just dressing up a body onstage; it also produces the body and makes it meaningful in relation to the scenographic whole. The modernist female body could, among other aspects, be understood as a body with agency, a clothed body in motion where clothing, staging and patterns of movement all helped create a new, slim silhouette. This view of the female fashioned body, I argue, leaves an imprint on Knut Ström’s visual thinking in the sketch material where Indra’s Daughter emerges in corsetless, straight dresses. Ström’s staging of Indra’s daughter as a modernist woman not only anchors her in the process of social change; it also underlines the ‘othering’ qualities of costume and serves to distinguish her as an outsider in the play. As pointed out by Barbieri, costume can communicate with the spectators both metaphorically and viscerally. In the case of Indra’s Daughter, Ström could be said to use the modernist costuming of Indra’s Daughter metaphorically to set her apart from the other actors in more traditional costumes, and physically, with colours and shapes of her costumes that visibly stand out from the scenographic landscape. Ström’s creative work with the sketches for A Dream Play shows how he understood the power of the costumed body as a vital part of the scenographic whole.
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Keywords: A Dream Play; Knut Ström; costume; fashion sketch; modernist body; scenography

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 0000000099199582University of Gothenburg

Publication date: December 1, 2019

More about this publication?
  • Studies in Costume & Performance aims to encourage, generate and disseminate critical discourse on costume and the relationship between costume and performance. It considers costume as a symbiotic articulation of the body of the performer which is visual, material, temporal and performative. Whether performed live, seen through the camera lens or found in an archive, costume embodies and reflects the performance itself.

    The journal will bring together experts in costume, scenography, performance, fashion and curation as well as critically engaged practitioners and designers to reflect and debate costume in performance, its reception in production, exhibition and in academic critical discourse. Submission will include visual essays. The journal is double-blind peer-reviewed in order to maintain the highest standards of scholastic integrity.

    Past and current practice is considered through the ‘reading’ of the costumed body as a communication of embodied, cultural, social, artistic and historical narratives. As such this journal is an articulation of practice, which, through this process redefines practice itself.

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