Sea Witch

Creating and Staging an Interactive Ballet Dance Costume
Cooperation with Theater&Philharmonie Thüringen, Landestheater Altenburg, 2017.

The sea witch plays a miscreant, and conjures up legs for the little mermaid. We developed the costume and interaction design based on the character’s dark personality.

Costume design, by Hilke Förster
Concept Design
The Sea Witch appears on stage for around five minutes. The costume design symbolizes the power and force of the mighty female creature that reigns the sea’s underworld. Her dress has shiny dark-greenish fabric, fish net stockings and black ballet shoes. In addition, she wears a bolero jacket from black velvet with long wide sleeves from semi-transparent fabric, a large stiff collar and the shoulder area is decorated with appliqués, in which I embedded 70 light dots of addressable RGB LEDs. Underneath the appliqués, I hid a LilyPad microcontroller and rechargeable batteries. Black gloves with extended fingers cover hands and forearms. On her head, the dancer wears a black cap with branch-like elements. For the interaction concept, the core idea is to utilize the typical ballet hand posture that ballet dancers perform anyways while dancing, to close/open the circuit to activate the light. I thus connected one end of the circuit to the thumb and the other to the middle finger, attached to a piece of conductive fabric. The fingers’ contact point functions as push button, and the Sea Witch can thereby directly trigger her shoulder illumination to symbolically perform magic. The light pattern has greenish colors to fit the fabric, it glows brighter and more bluish the longer the dancer activates it.
Final costume in the dark, back view.
Final costume, front view.
  • Michaela Honauer, Danielle Wilde, and Eva Hornecker. 2020. Overcoming Reserve - Supporting Professional Appropriation of Interactive Costumes. In Proceedings of the 2020 on Designing Interactive Systems Conference (DIS ‘20). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2189–2200. DOI: (BEST PAPER AWARD) PDF
This costume is the result of the ongoing cooperation with Claudia Kupsch and the children and youth ballet of Theater&Philharmonie Thüringen. With a few students, we have created and staged the costumes of Seahorse and Jellyfish for a ballet performance based on the fairy tale The Little Mermaid by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. The Sea Witch costume has been developed for the same piece but as an in-house creation of the theatre stuff in collaboration with me. The costume's fashion design has been developed by Hilke Förster.

As external interaction designer, I was in charge of developing and realizing a meaningful interaction concept. The theatre houses's wardrobe mistresses first created the cutting pattern and sewed the basic shape of the jacket and the gloves. Then I attached all electronic components (e.g. LEDs and conductive fabric), before they finally added the appliqués and finished the final costume design. Since the performer's needed to get familiar with the costumes features, but the final costume was only finished two weeks before the premiere, I developed a rehearsal costume prototype for the dancers what they could use already around four months earlier. This also gave the chance toget user feedback and finally helped to improve the interaction concept continuously.
Rehearsing prototype.
Attaching the addressable RGB LEDs.
Testing the glove.
Premiere _ Landestheater Altenburg, June 4th, 2017.

Collaborators _ Children and Youth Ballet Theater&Philharmonie Thüringen with director Claudia Kupsch, Cornelia Möckel (Wardrobe Mistress) and her team, and Mike Passoth (Leading Event Technician, Lighting) and his team

Costume Design _ Hilke Förster

Interaction Design _ Michaela Honauer