Whatever you do, don’t call Jen King Elliot “a seamstress.”
“With all due respect to seamstresses of the past and present,” Elliot says, “what I do is so much more.”
To be clear, Elliot is not surly. Nor is she snooty.
A talkative 33-year-old, Elliot is just being honest. She is more than just a seamstress.
A former student at Ringling College of Art and Design, Elliot has been making clothes since she was 12, when her mother bought her a Tiny Tailor sewing machine off a television infomercial.
She began working on Broadway productions in 1999, shortly after transferring from Ringling College to the Fashion Institute of Technology, in New York City, where one fortuitous summer she met five-time
Tony Award-winning costume designer William Ivey Long.
She had lunch plans with a friend, who happened to be working out of Long’s studio.
“I picked him up at the studio,” Elliot recalls. “And William Ivey Long introduced himself. I said, ‘You know,
I make costumes, too. If you ever need help with anything … ’ It was a ha-ha, joke-y comment. I didn’t expect him to say, ‘Actually, I’m working on a new show and could use some help.’”
The show was Susan Stroman’s “Contact,” which would premiere that fall in Lincoln Center and later move to Broadway, where it would go on to win the 2000 Tony Award for “Best Musical.”
When Elliot signed on to help, Long tasked her with designing the mockup for the show’s famously skintight yellow dress.
Seventeen versions later, she came up with the final slinky cut that would adorn the original Girl in The Yellow Dress.
“It’s my 15-minute claim-to-fame,” Elliot says. “It was the most fun, most intense month of my life.”
Since then, Elliot has worked with Long on dozens of Broadway productions, including “Hairspray,” “The Boy From Oz,” “Sweet Charity,” “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Young Frankenstein.”
The work has kept her busy, but not so busy that she’s abandoned her ties to Sarasota.
Last year, she teamed up with local artist Sabrina Small and choreographer Leymis Bolaños Wilmott, founder of Fuzión Dance Artists, to create costumes for a dance number based on Small’s “Black Orpheus” — a painting that depicts two Siamese twins dressed in thigh-high boots, short pleated skirts and black gloves.
The performance is one of several artistic collaborations on the bill for this weekend’s Fuzión dance concert at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts.
The pieces, which will transform dancers Angela Rauter and Alyson Dolan into black tentacle-headed conjoined twins, are bound to hold audiences spellbound.
The designer spent all of December and most of January in Sarasota working on the project with Small and Wilmott.
Using black treated materials from New York’s Garment District, Elliot created long capes and short skirts and added dashes of gold and silver sparkles; moody blues and deep purples brought out the mysteriously feminine, yet eerily militant vibe of Small’s “Black Orpheus.”
“The challenge with any collaboration,” says Elliot, “is communicating what’s in your head. You don’t just answer to your vision. You’ve got to take other people’s perspectives into consideration, which can be difficult because no one knows what’s going on in your brain better than you do.”
The project harkened back to a previous experience — her first big design assignment as a commercial illustration major at Ringling College.
“We were asked to create a piece of biographical clothing inspired by a classmate,” Elliot says. “So, I made this burgundy velvet corset with a big evil-queen collar. I put a Georgia O’Keefe painting on the collar, wrapped it around makeshift pattern paper, and my teacher was like, ‘OK, you’re operating on another level.’”
Jen King Elliot wasn’t the only one interpreting Sabrina Small’s artwork. Fuzión founder Leymis Bolaños Wilmott had to choreograph a dance piece that also evoked the Siamese twins in Small’s curious “Black Orpheus.”
Wilmott says to expect abstract, intertwined choreography that conjures up “the mixed emotions of being connected to someone.”
IF YOU GO
Fuzión Dance Artists will perform its fifth Season Concert at 8 p.m. Friday, March 25, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, March 26 and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 27, at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts. For tickets, call 359-0099, Ext. 101.
Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected]