Dance & Fashion Exhibit at Museum at FIT

There has long been a symbiotic relationship between dance and fashion whereby each influence the other. If you have any doubt just think of the opening credits of “Sex and the City” where Sarah Jessica Parker is shown wearing a pink tutu as a NY city bus drives by and splashes her. If a designer’s goal is to witness his creations on a graceful moving human form, then there is perhaps no better client than a dancer. Similarly, many designers have taken inspiration from the world of dance particularly ballet and many have actually designed ballet costumes. Since dance is also a visual art, costume plays an important role for the dancer.

Last night, I attended the opening cocktail party for the Museum  at FIT’s “Dance & Fashion,” a stunning exploration of the relationship between these two embodied art forms.  The exhibit which will be on display until January 3, 2015, was organized by Dr. Valerie Steele and is set in a dramatic Mise-en-scene created by architect Kim Ackert. The exhibit features nearly 100 dance costumes, as well as dance-inspired fashions , ranging from the 19th century to the present, many of which have not been exhibited until now.

The exhibit opens with a display of ballet costumes and related fashions circa 1830s and 40s; the era of the Romantic ballet. There are costumes that were worn by the great ballerina Fanny Elssler accompanied by fashions of the period. Here you can trace the evolution of classic ballet costumes as it features the works of Christian Berard for Symphonie Fantastique and Mme. Karinska for Ballet Imperial. The continuing appeal of the Romantic ballet can also be witnessed in a costume from Creole Giselle for the Dance Theatre of Harlem. In 1949, Christian Dior’s “Black Swan” ball gown was a direct example of ballet’s influence on fashion design.   Marc Happel, costume director of New York City Ballet claims that his costumes for Symphony in C were in turn, inspired by Dior and Balenciaga.

Just before you enter the exhibit gallery there are photographs and a video by dance and fashion photographer Anne Deniau also known as Ann Ray, in collaboration with performers from the Paris Opera Ballet. A multi-author book, published by Yale University Press, accompanies the exhibition.  And, in case you want to learn more, a two-day symposium (October 23-24) which will be free and open to the public will further explore the topic of dance and fashion.

Jean Shafiroff

The period from 1909-29 known as the Ballets Russes with its orientalism has influenced and inspired several generations of fashion designers from Paul Poiret to Yves Saint Laurent who also designed costumes for the Paris Opera Ballet. An example is a costume from Scheherazade, 1910, by the artist Leon Bakst, the centerpiece in a display featuring a couture ensemble from YSL’s 1976 Ballet Russes collection as well as an Emanuel Ungaro design worn by Princess Caroline of Monaco. This section also features costumes worn by Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov as well as pointe shoes. Many current designer’s ballet costumes are there including Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy for the Paris Opera Ballet along with Christian Lacroix, Jean Paul Gaultier, Valentino Garavani, Prabal Gurung, Gilles Mendel, Olivier Theyskens, Rodarte and Iris Van Herpen for New York City Ballet.

Eleonora Kennedy, Valerie Steele, Anna Safir

The modern dance section features many from the Martha Graham Dance Company, some worn by Graham herself and some are a collaboration between Halston and Graham.  A costume from Katherine Dunham, one from Jose Limon’s “The Moor’s Pavane” and one from Alvin AIley’s “Revelations” are featured here. Fashion designers in this section include Narciso Rodriguez for Morphoses, Francisco Costa for Elisa Monte and Tara Subkoff for Stephen Petronio. Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons has a featured costume for Merce Cunningham’s “Scenario” as well as the CDG “bump” dress which was the costume’s inspiration.

flamenco designer dresses

The section of flamenco and flamenco-inspired dresses was one of the most inspiring featuring a group of flame red dresses by Balenciaga, Oscar de la Renta and Ralph Lauren.  Elsa Schiaparelli and Jeanne Paquin also have dresses appearing in this section.

Marilyn Kirschner & Chiu-Ti Jansen

During the cocktail party there was a performance by Team Vicious, a step dance troupe which livened up an already interesting evening.   Guests included nine time Tony Award winner Tommy Tune, Yaz Hernandez, Maggie Norris, Jean Shafiroff and a puppet named Lola. Many attendees wore something dance inspired ranging from Ms. Shafiroff’s Oscar de la Renta tulle and applique covered ball gown or Chiu-Ti Jansen’s vibrantly colored flamenco inspired gown.

“Feathered woman”:  Joy Marks with Nicole DiCocco

Many guests took their sartorial cues from the dance theme which lent to feathers, full skirts, tulle while others played it safer in classic cocktail attire.  I spied a pair of ballerina inspired stilettos that incorporated lattice work up the leg reminiscent of a lace up toe shoe.  One night after the conclusion of Fashion Week it would seem that fashionable New Yorkers never tire of the “dance” of dressing up and going out.

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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