21, No. 15, March 7, 2002
UI designer had hand in opening
ceremonies of Winter Olympics
By Sharita Forrest,
(217) 244-1072; email@example.com
by Bill Wiegand
| The Fire Within
Benny Gomes, a lecturer in the UIs theater department,
helped design the dancing mobiles costumes for
the opening ceremonies "The Fire Within" number
of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. The costumes, some of which
towered 40 feet high and spanned 32 feet in width, were the
largest costumes to date designed by the Callaloo Company.
A designer from
the UIs Urbana campus, Benny Gomes, helped light up the
2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.
No, Gomes did not run in the torch relay, but he helped bring heat to
Rice-Eccles Stadium as one of a team of designers who helped stage the
opening ceremonies dramatic hallmark segment, "The Fire Within."
Gomes, a lecturer in the UIs theater Department, is one of several
associate designers working with the Callaloo Company, a performance
art company based in his native Trinidad and headed by creative director
"The Fire Within" production incorporated Callaloo Companys
"dancing mobiles" enormous costumes that combine the
theatricality of sculpture with the expressiveness and mobility of the
human body. The parachute-like costumes radiate yards above the wearers
heads and out beyond their limbs using Fiberglas fishing poles akin
to umbrella spines that move in tandem with the performer.
| An early
line drawing for the snowflake costumes, which were a steel-colored
mesh that encased the performer. As the performers turned,
the circle spiraled and gave the motion of falling/turning
The costumes are
derived from the mas, what the locals call the masquerade of Trinidads
Carnival celebration, another event for which the company designs costumes
and stages productions.
The 2002 games marked Gomes third Olympics design project with
Callaloo. The company also staged productions for the 1992 and 1996
Olympic Games in Barcelona and Atlanta, respectively.
The dancing mobiles for the 2002 Winter Olympics, some of which towered
40 feet high and spanned 32 feet in width, were the largest costumes
to date designed by the company.
Callaloos designs for the 1996 Olympics production had incorporated
24-foot fishing poles. However, the design team had since found a company
in Scotland selling 32-foot poles and decided they would top their production
from the previous Olympics.
Structural engineers helped create the skeletons of the dancing mobiles
to help achieve the correct balance and placement of the various moving
"Its almost like having stilt walkers, but the performer
is actually controlling all of the movement with their limbs,"
Gomes said. "They have a kind of towering energy. Theyre
Callaloos design team began working on the production number for
the 2002 Olympics approximately 2 1/2 years ago. Given the theme, "The
Fire Within," the designers were charged with creating a dramatic
but simple story and illustrating that story through a stadium-sized
production number containing little or no narration.
The design team conceived a scene akin to a Grimm fairy tale in which
a child would wander through a magical winter forest and become lost
in the darkness and would be beset by crones and a snowstorm of "icicle
people" until the child was rescued by hundreds of other children
"And thats where we had 750 other children coming into the
stadium with their little lights," Gomes said. "So it was
really a story of the human spirit but told with light."
For the Trinidadian design team, an added challenge was that the adult
performers, the dancing mobiles, would be ice skating rather than walking,
in keeping with the season of the games. Thus, the team had to find
a way to incorporate the skaters boots into the designs so they
would not be obtrusive and demystify the illusion created by the rest
of the costume.
In addition, outfitting skaters also posed a few challenges for the
designers because of the added speed and wind resistance. Yet another
challenge was that the designers were working with a choreographer with
whom they had never worked.
The designers also had to create the production keeping in mind that
the majority of its viewers would see it by television rather than in
person as they would a theater production.
"Designing for the box, for television, is quite different than
designing for the theater, which is an entirely different shape and
different scale," Gomes said. "It cant be called anything
but spectacle, " Gomes said.
Nonetheless, the performers and designers had only two dress rehearsals
prior to the opening ceremonies.
Frigid 30-degree weather and a television viewing audience of millions
made for "controlled chaos," Gomes said.
Throughout his 30 years with the Callaloo Company, Gomes has helped
design costumes and stage productions for other major events, including
the 1994 World Cup Soccer Tournament in Chicago and the 1987 Pan American
Games in Indianapolis.
Gomes earned his undergraduate degree in theater production from Boston
University and his masters degree in lighting design from the
UI. Gomes joined the UIs theater department in 1999. He has worked
in costume and lighting design internationally, and his credits include
productions of "Angels in America, Part 1: Millennium Approaches"
(1994) and "La Boheme" (2001).
Gomes is designing costumes and lighting for the upcoming production
of "Song of Songs," which opens at Krannert Center for the
Performing Arts March 30. The production draws upon verses from the
Quran and the Bibles Song of Solomon.
"I think that will be quite a treat," Gomes said. "It
involves multi-media and is probably one of the most collaborative efforts
in the theater Ive ever experienced. The actors and the director
are bringing ideas and the costume designs are evolving from that rather
than the costumes being designed beforehand. Its quite a different
way of working."
Gomes preliminary designs sketches show multi-layered costumes,
symbolizing the multi-dimensionality of the texts from which the stories