Everything was beautiful at the ballet on Thursday night, when the New York City Ballet held its annual fall gala at Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater to kick off its season with the debut of three new productions. Led by NYCB chairman Sarah Jessica Parker, the special one-night-only program premiered new work from choreographers Justin Peck, Benjamin Millepied and Angelin Preljocaj, with each featuring costumes from fashion designers Prabal Gurung, Iris van Herpen and Olivier Theyskens.
“Never mind the talent that I know will be witnessed by all tonight; I think it was the spirit in which they embraced the idea, the fact that they both said yes so quickly,” Parker told reporters of bringing designers to the ballet’s stage (after proposing the collaboration idea to the board, she roped in friends Gurung and Theyskens; Millepied paired with Van Herpen). “The fact that in the middle of incredible crazy schedules, they put this time aside and gave everything that was required, which is not a little thing to ask of somebody. They were so enthusiastic; they’re both such devoted admirers of the ballet. I think it was a great point in their careers to take this on – I know Olivier had been wanting to do something like this; Prabal and I had talked about six, eight months ago. I just think it’s a confluence of things that came together at the right time. For us, it’s an enormous opportunity.”
The guest list included Millepied’s wife Natalie Portman, Drew Barrymore and Will Kopelman, Nicky Hilton, Martha Stewart, designers Tory Burch and Zani Gugelmann, and models Doutzen Kroes, Amber Valletta and Elettra Rossellini Wiedemann, among others. At the pre-performance cocktail reception, Curtis Jackson (also known as 50 Cent) told The Hollywood Reporter that it would be his first time ever attending the ballet.
The evening was also a first for Gurung in that he had never designed for the stage before. “When [Parker] asked me, never in my wildest dreams -- like, it’s been four and a half years since this little boy came from Nepal -- would be able to have any kind of contribution, opening one of the important nights in New York,” he told reporters on the red carpet alongside Parker and fellow designer and friend Theyskens. “It’s really surreal; I’m really extremely, eternally grateful. It all came through for me personally, and for [Theyskens] too, because of her. She just reached out to us, and I said of course. And the fact that he was doing it too -- he’s a friend of mine, he was doing it too -- it was like, it was so easy to say yes. It really has been wonderful.”
Parker wore a voluminous light pink strapless gown to the gala that represented the evening of partnering in itself – Gurung designed the top half, while Theyskens designed the skirt portion. Gurung told reporters the couture collaboration for Parker’s outfit was Theyskens’ idea. When Parker was asked if she got a say in tonight’s design, she laughed, “Who wants a say when you’re working with these two? A third say is not important!”
Inside the theater, each production premiered with a short film that explained the journey to create the one-of-a-kind costumes that would enhance the new work. And afterward, each choreographer-designer duo joined their performers onstage for multiple curtain calls.
Gurung dressed Peck’s performers in black, white and red cocktail dresses and white tank tops, each accessorized with a different black leather harness (the designer jokingly asked in the film if he should make them tighter). Entitled Capricious Maneuvers, Peck’s dainty and flirty choreography was accompanied by a cello and piano onstage, which served as both instruments to play Lukas Foss’ Capriccio and as momentary props throughout the ballet.
A former ballet dancer herself, Van Herpen covered sleeveless unitards and strapless dresses in hundreds of pieces of polyvinyl chloride plastic that reflected the light from every angle, sometimes into the audience. “She’s designing a costume that’s unique and never been seen onstage,” said Millepied in the pre-performance video, which also showed, to the audience’s amusement, NYCB director of costumes Mark Happel’s confusion over how Van Herpen's designs would not only be danceable onstage but wearable in general. Millepied split his Neverwhere production into six short dances, set to a score for viola and piano called “Drones and Viola” by the noteworthy American composer Nico Muhly (a frequent collaborator of the choreographer).
Theyskens adorned four female dancers with massive body scars over white dresses, created by outlining sections of their unitards with red tape, and then covering those sections in transparent packing tape to create a type of body mold. “It could look like fresh marmalade,” said Theyskens of the scars’ eventual texture, shapes that guided Preljocaj’s choreography loosely based on the Salem witch trials. The production, called Spectral Evidence, put men in priest regalia – complete with collars – and starred principal dancers and engaged couple Robert Fairchild and Tiler Peck.
There was not a single tutu in sight -- at least not until the fourth and final ballet of the evening: Western Symphony, a ballet choreographed by NYCB founder George Balanchine with costumes by longtime NYCB costume designer Barbara Karinska. Guests then enjoyed a black-tie Supper Ball alongside NYCB's principal dancers.