Cella (2018)

Cella is devised and performed by Narelle Benjamin and Paul White, and came out of somatic research the two began in 2015 when Paul was working with the Pina Bausch Company in Germany. Cella takes its name from the Latin, ‘small room,’ and also references cells, the basic structural, biological units of all living organisms. Narelle says, in an interview for Dance Informa,

“The piece has a renaissance aesthetic, referenced and inspired by a book, Human Anatomy, Depicting the Body from the Renaissance to Today, which has beautiful drawings and images from the Renaissance period showing the dead as living embodiments of our form, and our fate, rather than clinical pictures in anatomy books… I feel like Paul and myself in Cella, we’re both mother figures, creating and giving life to each other and embodying the interdependency we each have as human beings throughout the world. Same as our physiology — one organ or system in the body can’t work in isolation; it needs the other systems to survive.”

The work premiered at the Colours Festival in Stuttgart in July 2017 to standing ovations, and was remounted for the Sydney Festival in early 2018, when I was contracted to re-design the costumes.

Following on my collaboration with choreographer Narelle Benjamin, I know that Nelly constructs highly detailed movement and intricate, textured imagery. She often works with visual imagery as source material in her choreographic process. And although she has thought about the dancers’ bodies with great attention throughout the development of a work, this doesn’t necessarily extend to the clothes…

Narelle and Paul came to me with a colour palette of dark and light greys, and certain functional aspects that the costumes needed to fulfil—the challenge here for me was to source a textural palette that understood and worked with the mood, emotion, flow, weight, tension, etc. of the movement with the same level of choreographic attention.

I worked mainly with pure linen, woven in different weights and custom dyed. A combination of different tops and pants, the costumes eschew being ‘costumes,’ and instead attempt to disappear like rehearsal clothes do.


Choreographer/Performers: Narelle Benjamin and Paul White
Music: Huey Benjamin
Lighting Design: Karen Norris
Costume Design: Justine Shih Pearson


Time Out
Vicki Van Hout for Form
Sydney Morning Herald