Garbage meets high society in ‘Extravaganza’

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A report by Janene Rojas for El Paso Inc.

At the entrance of The El Paso Ballet Theatre is an ornate ball gown made of newspaper and white trash bags. Lined and corseted with metal soda tabs, the dress is on display for the upcoming show, “Extravaganza,” which runs this weekend, April 6-8, at the Lee Ross Capshaw Fine Arts Center.

“It’s about homeless life,” says Reniel Basail, the Cuban-born creator of “Extravaganza,” “the illusions and the necessities and …”

Dancer and costume designer Ailyn Tame finishes Basail’s sentence, “the hopes for a better lifestyle.”

Tame has worked with Basail to create 14 ball gowns for the show.

The characters in the play begin, quite literally, down in the dumps. They live in streets, alleyways and dumpsters, but are magically transformed into elegant members of high society. It’s a literal portrayal of turning trash into treasure. In exquisite fashion, “Extravaganza” welcomes us into the dreams of those who have nothing.

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Basail uses his own life as inspiration for the play. Originally from Cuba, he travelled around the world as a professional dancer before settling in El Paso as a resident choreographer at The El Paso Ballet Theatre. One day, while at a stoplight, he was filled with deep sadness when he saw a homeless man who reminded Basail of his own feelings of homelessness as a travelling artist, he says.

Tame said the play’s message is one of perseverance.

“Even though life is hard and you may have a lot of needs, you can always make a change in your own life,” she says. “Keep fighting and just don’t quit.”

The play’s message lends itself to the process of designing intricate costumes.

“They are not easy materials,” says Basail about his handmade work. Each of the 14 ball gowns made of garbage took one week to create.

As the ballet dancers pose playfully in their dresses, they refer to them by the store the grocery bags that decorate them are from.

“This is Albertsons,” says a girl wearing a yellow and brown gown. The skirt is made out of ruffled layers of Albertsons grocery bags with yellow and brown Price’s milk caps positioned into a floral design on the skirt. A green and black gown is made from garbage bags, braided and twisted into swirling patterns on the skirt, corset and sleeves.

The grey dress is made of Walmart bags, puffing at the neckline. Egg carton flowers adorn the gown as well as a white outer skirt cage made of braided trash bags. Newspaper, soda tabs, cellophane, clothespins, burlap, net, rope, bubble wrap, plastic water bottles and dog waste bags are the materials used to create the other 11 dresses. Under the gowns, Basail molded recycled metal into a cage to hold the shape of the massive skirts.

If intricate handmade designs weren’t enough, the entire scenery, backdrop and props in “Extravaganza” were handmade by Basail and Tame as well. After selecting the music, creating the choreography, designing every costume, creating props and painting the backdrop, what else is there for Basail to do? He will also be dancing in the show.

When it comes to his drive to create, Tame says Basail is a natural artist with the work ethic to bring his visions to life.

“What I have to say about him,” Tame says, “is he comes with an idea and, oh my God, suddenly he says, ‘I’m going to use orange,’ and then you see a beautiful dress. And also with his choreography, he says, ‘I like this music,’ then all of sudden you see this wonderful piece. It is hard work, but you see this natural talent overflow.”

Beyond all of his efforts, the humble artist only has one wish for the big night.

“We want for them to know we exist, and we are doing art in El Paso,” he says.

With the unimaginable combination of ballet, garbage and high society, this story of hope for a better life will be a unique performance with inspiring visuals and choreography. Handmade from head to pointed toe, it will also be an artistic delight with warm-hearted encouragement to keep fighting for your dreams.

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