Head to Head:
Maria “Poni” Silver and Caroline Randall Williams
Maria “Poni” Silver (left), Caroline Randall Williams (right), and Sebastian (seated)
On a Saturday afternoon, over Bloody Marias and a well-mixed playlist, Maria “Poni” Silver and Caroline Randall Williams settled in for a conversation at Williams’ house about their art, their lives in Nashville, and their shared love of the stage.
Silver is the founder and designer of her namesake label, Black by Maria Silver, which was the 2018 recipient of the Nashville Fashion Week’s Fashion Forward Fund. Williams is an author, poet, and academic born and raised in Nashville. She is a writer in residence at Vanderbilt University and the author of Soul Food Love and Lucy Negro, Redux, a 2015 book that explores race, identity, and feminism through poetry and prose.
Their unexpected connection came through production design with the Nashville Ballet—Silver as the costume designer for Seven Deadly Sins, and Caroline as the author of Lucy Negro, Redux, which was adapted into a ballet by TPAC last year.
On how they got involved with the Nashville Ballet
CRW: It was so dreamy to think about my work being on the stage because I had written those poems with the stage in my mind. The poems themselves are very performative. . . . When Paul (Vasterling, the Creative Director of Nashville Ballet) came to my first reading after I agreed to work with the narrative of the book, he said, “I think you might have to be a part of the score.” And I thought to myself, duh. But also, I am delighted that I didn’t have to pitch myself! The joy of finding many ways into a creative life and having them all intersect honestly is an exciting thing.
PS: Paul Vasterling, [artistic director for the Nashville Ballet], had reached out to the Nashville Fashion Alliance looking for a costume designer, and [the NFA] put us together. I went in and interviewed with my portfolio and everything––and I hadn’t interviewed for something in a really long time! It turns out the Nashville Ballet uses the same costume design house that I used to work for in New York, so it all lined up. When I met with Christopher [Stuart, choreographer of the Nashville Ballet], he told me the vision, and I came up with several different aesthetics that I wanted the costumes to represent, and most of it was about the guilt you carry around with being Catholic. As for designing for movement, those are standard things I know from dancing. Asking myself if they can move and dance in something is so important.
On creating art with subtext
PS: Everyone was wearing these nude jumpsuits in their own shade of nude, with your guilt floating around you shackled in different places, representing you carrying your guilt. It’s something you can’t escape, but because it’s the ballet, I still wanted it to look beautiful. At the end of the ballet, they took the sins off and just had their flesh-toned body suits. There were scars made through stitching all over the suits, and we had to keep adding more color because it got lost in the lighting and wasn’t registering to the audience. They all had black wigs because chopping women’s hair has historically been a way of shaming women.
CRW: I wish that they’d let you put a designer’s note in the program. Sometimes with a costume, it doesn’t cost the audience anything not to know the symbolism, but with yours in Seven Deadly Sins, it would have elevated my experience to know more. That knowledge is transformative to the experience of watching the ballet.
PS: But I also loved that they all looked really beautiful on their own without context.
CRW: But with the extra knowledge I would have been both struck and shook!
PS: Part of art is that it should speak for itself. A nerd like me wants to know every piece of the detail, but as long as people are enjoying it and grasp the general idea, at the end of the day . . . extra information is a bonus.