New exhibit examines ballet's lasting influence on fashion

The “Dewdrop” costume from The Nutcracker in the foreground and background, left to right: “Rubies” and “Emeralds” costumes from Jewels, that are part of the new exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. The exhibit features 90 items, including ballet costumes, high fashion and athletic wear, or what we call today “athleisure.”

Ballet’s influence on fashion exhibit

NEW YORK (AP) — A crowning jewel of the new exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Technology is a feathered white tutu. It may look, to the untrained eye, like any ballet costume. It is, however, anything but.

Worn by the iconic Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova in her most famous role, the Dying Swan, the tutu contains 1,537 feathers. Curators at the Museum at FIT know this because the feathers had to be counted to get the tutu through the permit process to arrive in the United States, from Britain. At FIT, the tutu resides in its own alarmed case with 37 screws keeping it safe and secure.

The launch this week of “Ballerina: Fashion’s Modern Muse” was timed to coincide with New York Fashion Week, taking advantage of all the editors in town. But the connection is more than logistical: The exhibit argues that ballet has had a major influence on fashion both high-end and casual, starting in the early 20th century and up to the present time.

The exhibit features 90 items, including ballet costumes, couture gowns and athletic wear, or what we today call “athleisure.” Ballgowns or party dresses from top labels like Dior, Chanel and Lanvin are displayed along with the ballet costumes that inspired them.

To Patricia Mears, curator of the exhibit and deputy director of the Museum at FIT, ballet’s influence is “everywhere.”

“So (if) you’re looking at a formal gown made out of silk tulle that is covered with spangles and has a satin bodice, immediately you think of a ballerina’s tutu,” Mears says. ”If you look at the flat ballet slipper, millions of women wear that kind of shoe today. And then the leotard, the leggings ... all these things have found their way into fashion. It’s ubiquitous.”

While ballet’s popularity dipped somewhat at the end of the 20th century, Mears feels it’s gained considerable ground over the past decade, partly due to the popularity of “Black Swan,” the 2010 film that won Natalie Portman an Oscar, and partly due to the use of social media by dancers to connect with audiences. Some dancers have become familiar cultural figures (none more than Misty Copeland, for example, who has crossed over into mainstream stardom.)

And fashion has played a role in the phenomenon, argues Mears: “The collaboration between high-end designers and ballet companies has been a really important force in making this change as well.”

The most obvious example: New York City Ballet, which has contributed nine costumes to the exhibit, including the late costume designer Karinska’s famous tutus from “Jewels” by George Balanchine, and a 2012 costume for “Symphony in C” by current NYCB costume director Marc Happel. The company’s annual fall fashion gala brings in noted designers to create costumes for new ballets every year.

Also on loan from NYCB: the lovely long pink tutu worn by the Sugarplum Fairy in “The Nutcracker” — a character that is “every little girl’s dream,” says Happel. “She has two costumes — she’s one of the only characters that does. This one is made of a very beautiful satin bodice and several layers of tulle, which are different colors. That can be very subtle, but it creates more depth in the classical tutu.”

Echoes of that tutu, in fact, can be seen in a very modern item Happel has contributed to the exhibit: the wedding dress he designed for Sara Mearns, NYCB’s star ballerina and a good friend, for her 2018 marriage, a stunning pink dress with spaghetti straps and a jewel-encrusted bodice.

In one section, the exhibit departs from the European high fashion elements — the Lanvin, the Chanel, the Dior fashions inspired by ballet — to look a particularly American phenomenon of the 20th century: activewear.

“I think one of the most surprising parts of the exhibit are the activewear elements,” says Mears, “the leotards, the leggings. Today, ‘athleisure’ is everywhere. But actually the phenomenon started in the 1940s. and we have a whole group of American women designers like Claire McCardell to thank for that. They were actually looking at dancers as a source of inspiration.”

The exhibit runs through April 18.

Being positive about male body image

NEW YORK (AP) — The debate over unrealistic body ideals for women is a long-standing one, but the same discussion over expectations for men hasn’t reached the same cultural pitch.

That was the motivation behind Ryan’s Secret, a different kind of show at New York Fashion Week that featured plus size men proudly baring skin.

“Especially being a big guy myself, going for job interviews, if you’re not looking like some studly guy, sometimes you don’t get the job. Just like Barbie has the same issues, Ken has even more,” said 36-year-old Joseph Diaz, one of the models at Wednesday night’s show.

Diaz walked in black embellished bicycle shorts and a matching cape for the gods-themed show.

Ryan’s Secret creative director and designer Myriam Chalek wanted to bring awareness to young men who experience depression and commit suicide because of body shaming and bullying.

She also pointed to steroid abuse and men who submit themselves to punishing gym routines to attain superhero bodies.

The message was clear: End male body shaming.

“Yeah, I’m body positive, I think it’s a good message to show people that you love your body, you love yourself,” said model Daniel Jean.

Jean walked in royal purple satin. He was among 15 plus size men to participate.

Heggie’s ‘Dead Man Walking’ gets Met Opera premiere in 20-21

NEW YORK (AP) — After years of pushing, Joyce DiDonato has been granted a big wish: The Metropolitan Opera is mounting Jake Heggie’s “Dead Man Walking” for the mezzo-soprano next season.

Twenty seasons after the work’s world premiere, it arrives at the Met on April 8, 2021, in a production directed by Tony Award-winner Ivo van Hove.

“It is the most performed and successful opera of the last 20 or so years,” said Met general manager Peter Gelb, who originally hoped Heggie would write a new opera for the Met. “He was so busy doing full-fledged commissions with guaranteed presentations that he was less interested in participating in our commissioning program that only guaranteed a workshop.”

The Met announced its 2020-21 season Thursday, which 23 productions, down from 25 this season and the fewest at the Met since 1998-99.

“We’re trying to balance between artistic excellence and also economic fiscal responsibility,” Gelb said.

DiDonato stars as Sister Helen Prejean in a cast that includes Etienne Dupuis as the convict Joseph De Rocher, Latonia Moore as Sister Rose and Susan Graham as Mrs. Patrick De Rocher — she was Sister Helen at the San Francisco Opera’s world premiere in 2000. Music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts, and the April 17 performance will be telecast to movie theaters around the world.

Based on Sister Helen Prejean’s 1993 book, which was turned into a film two years later by director Tim Robbins, the opera’s portrays a death-row convict struggling to come to terms with his crime and upcoming execution, his confession to Sister Helen and her forgiveness.

“I think more than any opera it deals with perhaps the most important thing, which is true love,” said DiDonato, who has sung the role since 2002. “What he’s looking for is forgiveness. And what I find is the theme of this opera expands and becomes about looking at every human being’s humanity and which life has value? Whose life has more value than another? And how do we as a society begin to prioritize them?”

Heggie was commissioned to adapt “Dead Man” with playwright Terrence McNally, who wrote the libretto.

“A lot of big companies were like, oh, this will never work,” Heggie said. “Unknown composer, controversial story. And it really hit a chord. It became something that was relevant and connected to things that people were talking about in popular culture, not obtusely, but directly. And I think it also surprised people that it was very lyric.”