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Harju designed the cos­tumes for the “A Stirring (Ears Opened, Heart Changed),” one of the dances in the Tower Dancers’ spring per­for­mance. Ria Harju | Courtesy

Senior Ria Harju said she didn’t plan on being a theater major when she came to Hillsdale College. And although she has been involved in the theater department since her freshman year, her love for design, she said, was also acci­dental.

Yet audience members of the last Tower Dancers’ per­for­mance saw her design work — the end product of her senior project — in four of the eight dances.

Harju, a dancer herself, designed cos­tumes for four dif­ferent dances: “Impact,” “Navajo Cre­ation Story,” “A Stirring (Ears Opened, Heart Changed),” and “Fem­i­ninity.” She created 22 cos­tumes in total.

“I loved designing for the ‘Navajo Cre­ation Story’ because it was much more literal than all the other cos­tumes because there was actually a sto­ryline, not just a theme,” Harju said. “There were actual char­acters instead of dancers trying to embody an emotion.”

One of the greatest chal­lenges throughout the project was timing, Harju said, espe­cially sched­uling fit­tings for the various dancers.

“You have to focus on so many things at once,” she said. “You really have to be able to take care all these little tiny pieces, all at once.”

Harju started the project last semester with “unre­alized” designs, which are ren­derings done as if there were an unlimited budget and resources. Harju then used the ren­derings to create the actual pieces with the limited budget. Once she had the sketches, Harju ordered fabrics and began putting the pieces together.

“I was very excited because orig­i­nally I thought my original ren­derings would have to be mod­ified a lot for prac­tical reasons,” she said. “I was very excited because by the time I got to the end of it, the cos­tumes were actually very close to the original ren­derings. So that was encour­aging because it meant that next time I could push myself even more.”

Harju’s journey to the costume shop started on the stage. Although she orig­i­nally planned to major in English, Harju noticed she was spending increasing amounts of time in the theater department and even­tually began working in the costume shop.

“Even though in my mind I thought it was just a hobby, I realized you shouldn’t be doing some­thing you don’t have a passion for,” Harju said. “I very clearly through my actions said I had a much greater passion for theater than I did for English.”

Costume Designer and Lec­turer in Theatre Bryan Simmons said he noticed this passion early.

“I could tell her eye for design was kicking in pretty strongly and her thoughts were about doing more than just being on stage,” Simmons said. “I could see she was inter­ested in exploring that world of the back­stage and design area. When I gave her little things in the shop to do, she would grab onto them and really explore ideas and pos­si­bil­ities.”

He added Harju’s expe­rience as a dancer  givers her a unique per­spective on dance costume design.

Holly Hobbs, vis­iting assistant pro­fessor of dance and the director of Tower Dancers, added that as a dancer, Harju had more awareness of what a dancer needed.

“I think she did an extremely pro­fes­sional job,” she said. “Ria had a really good sen­si­bility with matching the theme of the dance with the design.”

Harju also chore­o­graphed one of the dances she cos­tumed.

“It was hard for me to com­pletely step out of it and look at it as a third person,” she said. “I had to rely heavily on Bryan so I could get out of my own head­space.”

Harju said she wants to even­tually make a career of costume design.

“My love for English tran­si­tioned to my love for theater,” she said. “I loved the stories, I loved the power of sto­ry­telling. With English, I was thinking about it from a very intel­lectual stand­point, and with theater, I realized I could let both my intellect and my cre­ative side flourish at the same time.”