Dressing the Part at the Kennedy Center

Arthur Mitchell and Suzanne Farrell in the 1960s
Arthur Mitchell and Suzanne Farrell in the 1960s "Bugaku." (New York City Ballet Archives)

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Friday, November 16, 2007

If clothes make the man, then costumes help make the ballet.

And if the man is George Balanchine and you're former prima ballerina Suzanne Farrell mounting an all-Balanchine program at the Kennedy Center, then you truly understand how much costumes matter.

Farrell, artistic director of the Kennedy Center's resident dance company, and her design team have spent months creating and collecting costumes that the dancers will wear during a five-day run at the Opera House that opens Tuesday.

Some costumes will be replicas of what Farrell herself wore four decades ago at the New York City Ballet. Others are new, designed by globe-trotting ballet costumer Holly Hynes and inspired by a few details from Farrell's memory.

For one of the ballets the company will perform, "Pithoprakta," Hynes designed new dancewear. Farrell asked Hynes to re-create costumes based on her scant recollections from when she danced the lead role in 1968: The costumes were black and white, and Farrell wore a fringed skirt.

Hynes, who has been in the ballet costume business for 30 years, added gold accents and, inspired by the ballet's Greek name, gave the costumes a few Mediterranean touches: geometric trim on the principal male dancer's unitard and a daring low backline in the shape of a Byzantine cross for the female. The resulting costumes have a "Russell Crowe, Greco-Roman warrior feel," Hynes says.

The costumes for "Bugaku" will be replicas of those worn in the 1960s by Farrell and her partner, Arthur Mitchell. "Bugaku" depicts a Japanese wedding night as imagined by Balanchine. The silk organza robes and embroidered undergarments are as "suggestive of lingerie as you can go in ballet," Hynes says.

"It's very hippie-chick. But that's not what you'll think. You'll think, 'Wow, we're in Japan.' "

After all, preserving Balanchine's ballets is not just about retracing a set of jumps and steps, it's about recapturing magic.

-- Rebecca Ritzel

Suzanne Farrell Ballet Kennedy Center Opera House, 2700 F. St. NW 202-467-4600 Tuesday, Wednesday and Nov. 23-25. $29-$85. Suzanne Farrell Ballet Kennedy Center Opera House, 2700 F. St. NW 202-467-4600 Tuesday, Wednesday and Nov. 23-25. $29-$85.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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