Bravo! Morgane Le Fay’s Liliana Casabal Designs Costumes for New York City Ballet

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New York City Ballet dancers Charles Askegard and Maria Kowroski (left) and Tiler Peck (right) in “Naïve and Sentimental Music,” choreographed by Peter Martins to music by John Adams, with costumes by Liliana Casabal (Photos: Paul Kolnik)

Fashion, with its appetite for constant change and delicately puddling silks, is the antithesis of durable. Most runway ensembles wilt after a cab ride, to say nothing of the destructive effects of an evening of sweeping arm movements. And so the fashion design/costume design Venn diagram has a surprisingly slender sliver of overlap, despite the disciplines’ similar tools and training. Of course, there are notable exceptions, as when Ralph Rucci impeccably outfitted outfitted American Ballet Theater dancers for Jorma Elo‘s 2007 ballet tribute to Chuck Close, set to music by Philip Glass. A similarly triumphant match of choreographer, company, composer, and costume designer can be seen tonight (and again next Friday) at Lincoln Center, when the New York City Ballet performs “Naïve and Sentimental Music.” The new ballet by NYCB Ballet Master Peter Martins stirringly interprets John Adams‘s ambitious orchestral composition of the same name. Helping to delineate the three movements, which are united by a bipolar melody that Adams has described as “naïve/sentimental,” are the assured costumes designed by Liliana Casabal of New York-based fashion house Morgane Le Fay. At once wistful and profound, classic and modern, Casabal’s designs add dimension to the intense performance, from the opening series of cool-hued costumes that create an ombre effect on stage to creamy ivories and pops of crimson. We asked Casabal to tell us about her first time designing for the stage. Here’s hoping for an encore.

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The cast of the first section of “Naïve and Sentimental Music.”

How did this project come about?
It was an incredible honor to work on this project with Peter Martins and all of the incredibly talented people at the NYCB. The commission was a first for Morgane Le Fay, however it was one of the more challenging and inspiring projects I have ever worked on. It was amazing to be exposed to the world of dance and to work one on one with the dancers, a true growth experience. The project first came to us when Peter left me a note in one of my stores. His wife is a client and when he visited with her he fell in love with the collection and the aesthetic.

What guidance were you given in advance? Did you have the opportunity to hear the music or see the ballet in advance?
I received the music to the ballet, Naïve and Sentimental Music by John Adams, along with a brief. The music is intensely dramatic and really spoke to me creatively. The costumes were designed before the ballet began rehersing, but it was a long and collaborative process where the goal was for the costumes to serve the ballet.


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How did you approach the project? What fabrics did you use?
The Inspiration for John Adams’s music was the creation of ideas, which I found incredibly interesting and was excited to explore. Each of the costumes included a small crown with rays of light, which symbolize the world of ideas and the creative process. The project was approached in the same manner that Morgane Le Fay’s clothes are. The medium that we used were silks and silk chiffons that are representative of our identity.

Were there unique issues that you had to consider in designing ballet costumes?
Our original concerns proved not to be so important. The costumes were designed as if they were part of the collection and then they were adapted for the athletic nature of the ballet.

How did you choose the colors and hues for the three distinct parts of “Naïve and Sentimental Music”?
The color palette was the most challenging aspect of the project. Developing a palette that expressed the three distinct movements of the ballet, while distinguishing each of the principle ballerinas, giving the male dancers a majestic and distinct palette of their own and simultaneously making all of it work as a group was a daunting task. After many presentations and weeks of work with Peter Martins, we were able to find the right balance and interpret Peter’s vision. The first movement’s are shades of blues and greens which symbolize water. The second movement is in hues of ivory which symbolize air and the spiritual. The third, in red, represent fire, passion and the ignition of ideas. The men’s palette, black for the first movement, ivory for the second and gray for the final, were designed to ground their female counterparts and represent earth, completing the four elements.