Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Couture Marries Dance - The New York City 2014 Fall Ballet Gala


Starting from the left:
 Friend, Lieba Nesis, Michele Herbert & Chiu-Ti Jansen

The NYC ballet gala was held at the David Koch Theater in Lincoln Center. Attending and reporting on 2 galas in a row left me with gala-itis, but I made some noteworthy observations in the process. Firstly, I am convinced there are a group of people at the opera, ballet and symphony who attend just for the joy of telling others to shut up or not to move so loudly. Secondly, there is a small segment of the social elite of New York who will attend anything with the name "gala" in its title. Lastly, the connection between designers and the arts is inextricable and continues to evolve with numerous collaborations and alliances.

Dancer Maria Kowroski, Carolina Herrera & dancer Sara Mearns
all in Herrera
(all photos Lieba Nesis)

This gala is the first time I have seen fashion become the focal point of a ballet, and I am still unsure if this is a positive development. Carolina Herrera, Valentino Garavani, Thom Browne, Sarah Burton and Mary Katrantzou were the designers chosen to dress the dancers for each individual vignette choreographed by 5 different individuals including Peter Martins, Justin Peck and Christopher Wheeldon. This, according to Martins, was the brainchild of fashion icon Sarah Jessica Parker. Parker, accompanied by Andy Cohen, appeared in a demure Mary Katrantzou gown and posed on the red carpet for what seemed like an eternity.


Julia & David  Koch with Robert Kraft & Ricki Lander

Some other fashion luminaries in the audience were Jean Shafiroff, Chiu-Ti Jansen, Michele Herbert and Fe Fendi as well as lifestyle gurus Nate Berkus, and Martha Stewart. David Koch and his wife Julia, the ballet's redeemers, joined fellow billionaire Robert Kraft and his 30-something year old girlfriend, Ricki Lander.

Thom Browne & Andrew Bolton

The opening of the ballet presented a film where the designers and their collaborating choreographers were introduced. Carolina Herrera expounded on how style is not "just what you wear but the way you wear it-with your own personal stamp. " Following her was Thom Browne, who recounted how his fitted clothing had to be adapted to ballet wear. Sarah Burton never appeared in the film or on the ballet stage; perhaps, she is too busy dressing Kate Middleton. While I enjoyed the narrative, I was more interested in watching the ballet to see whether the designers lived up to the hype.

Jodi Wolf, Lauren Roberts, Di Mondo and Carolina Portago

The first act opened to the singing of soprano Jennifer Zetlan. After spending 4 hours listening to the opera last night this was slightly sadistic and detracted from the beauty of the ballet. The costumes designed by Herrera in white, midnight blue and peach with some slight embroidery and beading were pretty and ethereal. The next act contained some unremarkable costumes in a grey palette, designed by Valentino in 2012. Thom Browne's costumes in the 3rd act were disappointing and gimmicky. The dancers appeared in tweed coats that were mechanically removed and suspended mid-air, with the coats collapsing on the floor at the end of the act. The dancers costumes were grey wool shorts, and skirts accompanied by high grey socks, and grey and white wool jackets. The look was masculine and heavy, giving the dancers a weighty appearance - the opposite of what most designers aim to achieve. Thom failed to adapt his trademark clothing to accommodate the specifics of the ballet. Moreover, the dancers seemed restricted in movement despite their best efforts to prove otherwise.

Sarah Jessica Parker in Mary Katrantzou

The 4th act contained a beautiful white and black flamenco style gown worn by dancer Tiler Peck and designed by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen. This look was my favorite, but the difficulty of dancing in a voluminous skirt makes it impractical - a problem Valentino encountered in his 2012 ballet collection. Robert Fairchild, the male partner in this act, sans shirt, wore an embroidered jacket and tights, kind of like Antonio Banderas meets Peter Pan. The culmination of the ballet with costumes designed by Mary Katrantzou, was paradigmatic of the problems with hodge-podge collaborations. Katrantzou, a Greek designer, went over the top with her mazelike unitards for the men - this look was dizzying, distracting and dismal - a 3D combination. The womens leotards in a nude pink were attractive, but the prominency of the mens attire made it hard to focus on anything else. Uniting choreographers Peter Martins, Liam Scarlett, Troy Schumacher, and Justin Peck, with talented designers was an ambitious endeavor. The choreographed vignettes were executed perfectly by the dancers, with a flexibility that was remarkable. However, the mix of costumes created a confusing collection which lacked cohesiveness and failed to dazzle.

Amy Fine Collins in Thom Browne & Robert Couturier

At the conclusion of the ballet, a select group congregated on the 2nd floor of the Theater where dinner was served and pictures were snapped. Peter Martins, the ballet's master-in-chief, called the choreographers and the designers on stage to congratulate them on the successful evening, and rightfully acknowledged that the "New York City Ballet" does not play it safe with its choices. Despite its imperfections, the beauty of the dancers and their partners made this evening an unforgettable one - even by those who are dazzled on a continual basis.





- Lieba Nesis

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