For a choreographer creating a new work, costume design is an essential element for conveying meaning. A collaboration with Baltimore-based designer Jasmin Nessa Ali has added layers of context and nuance to Full Circle Dance Company’s Home/Less by choreographer Donna L. Jacobs, premiering November 19-20 at Baltimore Theatre Project. Jasmin observed rehearsals and came to know the dancers, then developed garments that reflect both the individual artists and the overall message of the choreography. The Baltimore Dance Bulletin asked Jasmin about herself and her experiences working on the project, and her fascinating answers are below. To see her work in action, don’t miss HOME: Longing and Belonging.
Q. Tell us a little about yourself, your background, and your aspirations as an artist.
A. My name is Jasmin Nessa Ali and I am a strong-willed Guyanese fashion designer from Queens, New York. Growing up in the city has given me the tenacity to forge an independent path in any city, while understanding how to cherish the support from my family at home, and peers here. After receiving a BFA in Fiber and Fashion from the Maryland Institute College of Art, I am finding my footing in Baltimore by working with community-centered organizations like Full Circle Dance Company. It is a dream-come-true to create collections by hand and completely of my own design. With every person I clothe, I try to maintain the core philosophy of my brand, NESSA, which is to empower women to clothe themselves as a reflection of the spirits that made them. For as long as I design, and as big as NESSA gets, I will forever be inspired by the legacies I’ve inherited from the women in my Guyanese matrilineage.
Q. What was it like for you to design for this dance company and on this subject?
A. I am incredibly grateful to have designed for Full Circle Dance Company, and for Donna Jacobs’s piece, Home/Less. The company reached out to my alma mater with my work in mind, which was so humbling and an honor. The experience made me appreciate the tight knit creative community that Baltimore is known for.
I set out to meet the challenge of making garments with high functionality and movement, with my signature design language. I strived to handle the topic of houselessness with care and respect, and I aimed to elevate the powerful dance piece.
Q. What do you hope the audience perceives in your designs and what elements are important to you that the audience might like to know?
A. Denim is a universal fiber; it’s touched nearly every person on this planet and it holds a heavy history. Originally dyed with natural indigo, a cash crop in the 1700s, it bears the hidden narratives of forced labor. At the same time, the plant has global roots, and has passed through the hands of artisans ranging from Japan, West Africa, and the Caribbean. Now we see denim in and outside of our homes. We’ve seen it tattered, torn, upcycled, and brand-new. Countless stories are woven into every piece of denim as it passes from person to person and home to home. It’s important that we see ourselves in every person that passes us by, and perhaps denim is a way we can be reminded of that connection.
With this collection of dance garments, it was significant that I honor the story of houseless people. I did not want to reflect any tropes of the “homeless-core” aesthetic in the fashion world right now, which is characterized by battered, dirty clothing and flaunted by individuals typically far out of touch with actual houselessness.
Instead, I centered utilitarian grace, with a distinct color palette of denim, black, and gray. The notable utilitarian aspects include plenty of cargo pockets with white stitching, because as a person moving urgently through the world, storage is crucial. I made padded harnesses and bullet vests to remind the audience that people experiencing houselessness are some of the least protected individuals in society. Finally, I brought grace and poise to the collection through airy gray gauze and ribbons that accentuate the dancers’ movements.
To learn more about Jasmin Nessa Ali and NESSA, visit:
Costume Design: Jasmin Nessa Ali | Nessa The Brand
Photo Credit: Jameer Robinson | Jameerrobinson.photography
Choreographer: Donna L. Jacobs
Dancers: Allison Powell, Liz Pelton, Amanda Rosenbaum, Elizabeth Hafey, Hope B. Byers, Ni'Kera Perkins, Shaela Davis, Xavier Paisley