William Ivey Long: The Look of Double Feature

Classic Arts Features   William Ivey Long: The Look of Double Feature
Susan Stroman's full-length ballet, Double Feature, was a big hit when it premiered in 2004, and it returns to New York City Ballet January 31 with all of its bells and whistles intact.

Double Feature is a two-part homage to the silent-film era: "The Blue Necklace" is a melodrama by Irving Berlin, while "Makin' Whoopee!" is pure slapstick. Among the many pleasures of this Broadway-style romp are the costumes by William Ivey Long, a Tony Award _winning designer who here talks about the process behind creating the ballet's great looks.

A "black-and-white" ballet

The ballet is supposed to look like a black-and-white movie, but of course it's not a movie, it's a performance. If I used just plain black, white, and gray in the costumes, the dancers' hair color and skin tones would have stood out and ruined the effect. I based my colors instead on silver gelatin photographs, which have actual golden tones. The effect on the eye is as if you are watching a black-and-white film.

"Glimmer shimmer"

The character of Dorothy Brooks goes through many changes over the course of "The Blue Necklace." In her lamentation scene near the start of the ballet, I gave her a gray dress and hooded cape for a romantic, French Lieutenant's Woman look. In the next scene, when she's now a big star, she has a glamour version of that sad look‹the same silhouette, but in "glimmer shimmer" fabrics. At the ball, all the girls have Romantic-style tutus, but of course Dorothy's is the most glamorous.

Karinska's lace

In "Makin' Whoopee!", we gave the bride-to-be a simple little dress, accessorized to show the passing of the seasons. To me, the winter look was very successful, with the pom-pom sweater and the skater hat‹very Les Patineurs. When the character comes back at the end as the bride, she gets a "plate"‹a classic stiff tutu, the only one in the ballet. I love this tutu, especially because the costume shop ladies pulled out old lace from Karinska's stock to make the plate and the bodice, and that was so exciting for me.

The wedding dresses

We needed so many, so I made a whole lineup of choices. I had my staff dress up in the gowns to see which were convincing for men and which for women. We really tried to have a lot of variety, so that the overall effect was a crazy mishmash of looks. I have to say I was pleased at the first performance. The dancers really bought into the energy of the scene, and we couldn't stop laughing. It was joyous, cacophonous madness.

Double Feature will be performed January 31 through February 6.

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