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The glitz and glamour of circus costume must always be rooted in safety and function. These performance garments serve the needs of extreme physical performance from aerodynamics to thermal comfort, protective layers and braces to allowing extraordinary ranges of motion. In the Function vitrine, a costume with essential safety features and design considerations is highlighted, permitting extreme movement and support for repeated performances. The floor of the vitrine holds a mirror, reflecting the designer's illustration on the ceiling of the housing. Just as contortionists experience the world from multiple perspectives with their body positioning, so may the viewer regard the costume's details and illustration.

"I chose the color because red is the first color to go away when you descend into the water on a dive, so I wanted it to feel like a warm color with some blue in it. At the beginning of the act, the lighting team had the clever idea to drop the lights to emphasize blue as if the audience were divers descending."

Julie Michael, Designer
Octopus Contortion Unitard
Octopus Contortion Unitard
Genevieve Martineau & Eva Lou Rhinelander

Octopus Contortion Unitard

Title: “Octopus” Contortion Act Costume

Year: 2017

Designer: Julie Michael

Show / Intended Use: Circus Smirkus Big Top Tour, “Midnight at the Museum”

Objects & Materials: Full body unitard with hood, digitally printed spandex fabric with sequin embellishment and shaped hood detailing

Loaned by: Genevieve Martineau & Eva Lou Rhinelander

Design Details:

  • Coach Rebecca Starr requested the raised ridges on the hood of the costume (made of a soft foam) as it would further emphasize the extreme shapes of the contortion.
  • The unitards originally were created with zippers at the front, however these were moved to the center back due to the needs of the act: in poses and tricks balanced on the upper chest, the weight of the contortionists' bodies on top of the zippers would create painful pressure points. Sequins on the chest of the unitard cleverly disguise the former zipper location.

Above: An image of the original costume sketch and a laptop screen displaying a digital rendering of the fabric to be printed for the Octopus Contortion unitard. In this process, designer Julie Michael used Adobe Illustrator software to create yardage of a digital print for the Octopus Contortion Unitard.

Image provided courtesy of Julie Michael.

Octopus Contortion Unitard Illustration
Octopus Contortion Unitard Illustration
Julie Michael

Octopus Contortion Act Illustration

Title: Costume Illustration - “Octopus” Contortion Act

Year: 2017 Designer: Julie Michael Show / Intended Use: Circus Smirkus Big Top Tour, “Midnight at the Museum” Objects & Materials: Color copy of original illustration. Loaned by: Julie Michael