Twenty minutes — that's how long the intermission lasted at the Metropolitan Opera House Tuesday night, and it made for quite a palate cleanser. In the first half, the American Ballet Theatre presented a revival of Harald Landers' "Etudes"; in the second, the premiere of Twyla Tharp's highly anticipated "Rabbit and Rogue." The program proved a delightful contrast. Dances don't get more traditional than "Etudes," which plays like an ode to various ballet exercises — from simple barre positions to pirouettes to a dizzying tarantella. But "Rabbit and Rogue" pairs Tharp's legendary modern dance infusions with composer Danny Elfman — better known for the theme songs for "The Simpsons" and Tim Burton soundtracks. On top of that, dancers slinked around the stage in a Norma Kamali-designed wardrobe that was hardly your basic ballerina wear: bikinis and flesh-baring bodysuits.
"With Twyla, it's almost like with Bob Dylan," says Kamali, "you interpret what you like. There's a lot going on there."
Kamali dressed the troupe in mostly skintight black onesies starting off and ended with the men in white shirts and silver lamé tights and the women in drapy white goddess gowns. In between, the ladies wore suggestive black and silver bathing numbers, some with a hint of rhinestone sparkle. "My interpretation was that [the ballet] was about the contrast of dark and light and how they interact," says Kamali. "My job was to make that transition in a fluid way."
The costumes weren't always so obvious. "We talked about doing color in the beginning, electric color," says Kamali. "I did a huge presentation with prints and patterns and all sorts of things. In the end, we came to the same conclusion: It was more about an evolution."
This isn't the first time Kamali has designed for Tharp. Theirs is a working relationship that dates back to the Eighties, when photographer Richard Avedon introduced them. The most famous of their collaborations was the 1986 Philip Glass-scored ballet "In the Upper Room," with dancers in striped outfits and scarlet pointe shoes. "Dick knew we would have something in common and could do good stuff together," recalls Kamali. And, indeed, both have always put the spotlight on being body-conscious. In fact, the designer noted that as a child she had two particular pictures posted up in her bedroom. "I wanted to be a painter. I studied anatomy," she says. "I had Michelangelo's [figure] drawings and Rudolf Nureyev up there on my wall, so it was kind of predestined."
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