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New York City Ballet Seminar: "Dance and Design"

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New York City Ballet
(NYCB Website)
Dance and Design
A Ballet Seminar
(New York City Ballet Seminar Web Page)

Moderator: Joan Quatrano, Managing Director,
Volunteer & Programmatic Services
Panelists: Marc Happel: Designer, Director, Costume & Wardrobe
Marguerite Mehler: Production Stage Manager
Tiler Peck: Principal Dancer
Mark Stanley: Resident Lighting Designer

Founders, George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein
Founding Choreographers: George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins
Ballet Master in Chief: Peter Martins
Ballet Mistress: Rosemary Dunleavy
Assistant to the Ballet Master in Chief: Sean Lavery
Children’s Ballet Master: Garielle Whittle
Orchestra, Music Director: Fayšal Karoui
Chairman of the Board: John L. Vogelstein
Managing Dir. Communications and Special Projects: Robert Daniels
Manager, Media Relations: Katharina Plumb
Assoc., Communications and Special Projects: Caitlin Gillette
The David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
September 20, 2010

(Read more NYC Ballet Reviews)

Today’s NYC Ballet Seminar on Design of costumes and lighting, brought out panelists ranging from Marc Happel, Designer and Director of Costumes and Wardrobes, Marguerite Mehler, Production Stage Manager, Tiler Peck, Principal Dancer, and Mark Stanley, Resident Lighting Designer. Tonight’s Moderator was Joan Quatrano, Managing Director, Volunteer & Programmatic Services. The David H. Koch Theater was packed on the orchestra level, and the audience was quite engaged.

Ms. Peck, who seems to appear and star in so many current productions, with youthful vigor, in a range of character and abstract roles, spoke about the lead time to fit her costumes. In the recent Bigonzetti dance (Luce Nascosta) , she had more time, but in the Wheeldon (Estancia), less time. In the McGregor (Outlier), a unitard was easy to work with. The panelists talked about the timing of matching lighting, choreography, and costumes, while each element in the production is still a work in progress. This was riveting (for a balletomane), as we mentally conjure these elements, while the respective ballet is analyzed. Ms. Mehler mentioned deadlines, goals, and rehearsals as key to her role in managing the stage production. For Peter Martins’ Mirage, a recent premiere, the choreography merged with the shapes of Calatrava’s metal bird-like shape, followed by Mr. Stanley’s lighting, that gave a final multi-colored, vibrant effect to the original, white, metal structure.

For Luce Nascosta, Mr. Happel talked about the challenge of receiving discs of black fabric two weeks before the premiere, shapes that matched Calatrava’s discs. Mr. Happel then transformed the discs into bird-like black and gold costumes. Ms. Peck then reassured Mr. Happel that he always does it on time, and the costumes look great. Mr. Stanley spoke about lighting the amazing disc shapes of five of Calatrava’s set designs in the recent “Architecture of Dance” series. Mr. Stanley’s lights are somewhat controlled by computer, and the challenge is to light the discs when they are not moving, as well as to enhance them with paint quality of color. Shifting from challenges to inspirations, Mr. Happel gave credit to Karinska, as well as to Barbara Matera, who ran the costume shop before he did. Ms. Peck gave inspirational credit to Wendy Whelan, Julie Kent (ABT), and Alina Cojocaru (Royal Ballet). Mr. Stanley’s muses were the English painter, William Turner, and the Alwin Nikolais Company’s lighting concepts.

In a discussion of honoring the original designs of costumes and lighting, Mr. Happel mentioned his dedication to caring for Karinska’s costumes, some 30 years old. In recreating her designs, he sometimes has to dye synthetics to match the natural look of her creations. Some older fabrics are no longer available. Mr. Stanley talked of Ronald Bates’ (original lighting designer) notes, like “snow”. Mr. Happel talked about the challenge of the Grazioso ballerina costume change, taking a top skirt off during the ballet. For Balanchine’s Jewels, Mr. Happel elaborated on the glass jewels that are encrusted into the costumes for the three acts. He likes to use light decorations that don’t add weight to the dancer. He discussed the pancake style tutu, morphing from 12-14 layers to 7 layers with no hoop.

Ms. Mehler told the panel and audience about double-flooring that allows management to store props and gift shop replacements. As for sets, she referred to The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, as large-scale story ballets, whose expansive sets go off-site for storage. Mr. Stanley shifted to Balanchine’s lighting notes, “pale, blue, pink, intense”. He said that Balanchine’s lighting “fills the air with energy” and also spoke of Wendy Whelan telling him how to light Liturgy. Mr. Stanley says he helps out-of-town designers scale their lighting, when New York City Ballet dancers are there for a performance.

In a shift to highlighting the comfort of costumes, Mr. Happel mentioned Call Me Ben, with retro wide-legged pants for men and suits with secretly designed tricks, so the dancers can move. He confided in being careful about fabrics that get caught in partnering and about head pieces that throw off balance. When Mr. Happel broached the subject of color palettes, he suggested that subtlety doesn’t work with stage lighting, that costume design is far different from fashion design. In fact, he has had to change fabrics suddenly, when he sees the lighting effects on the original choices. Tiler Peck had the last word, about a tutu that lit her up for television on “Dancing with the Stars”. The tutu lights were so brilliant that the television viewers couldn’t see her dance!

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at