Scene Last Night: Fashion Sexes Up New York City Ballet

Tyler Angle rested his hand on Wendy Whelan’s left breast as they spun on stage at the David H. Koch Theater last night. Later, Robbie Fairchild groped the backside of his dance partner (and wife), Tiler Peck, through several layers of tulle.

No bodices ripped, but the season-opener at New York City Ballet had some very heated moments on stage.

Maybe that’s what happens when fashion designers are invited to work with choreographers. The designers don’t want to skimp on fabric, and the dance-makers are encouraged to create movement that includes grabbing and smoothing it, playing with the mystery of what lies underneath.

A few guests also covered up for this gala night, perhaps inspired by the first fall chills. Donya Bommer, a New York City Ballet board member and wife of hedge-fund manager Scott Bommer, wore a long-sleeved white blouse and full-length black skirt, her hair blown out silk-straight.

Sarah Jessica Parker, the ballet board member who initiated the annual fashion collaborations four years ago, wore a long-sleeved gown by Mary Katrantzou. Martha Stewart wore a cardigan. A multi-colored fur coat by Prabal Gurung also stood out on the promenade as some 800 guests gathered for supper in a grove of faux birch trees.

Funeral Mask

The gala raised $2.3 million. From the world of finance: Howard Berkowitz of BlackRock Financial Management; hedge-fund manager John Paulson; Philip Falcone, who had a seat of honor with Peter Martins, NYCB ballet master in chief; Bob Lipp, chairman of StoneRiver Inc. and president of the ballet.

Thankfully, there was some skin: Fairchild was bare-chested underneath a knee-length flared jacket with gold details designed by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen. He was performing in a world premiere choreographed by Liam Scarlett, artist in residence and a former dancer at the Royal Ballet.

The title of the work: “Funerailles,” with music by Franz Liszt performed on stage by Elaine Chelton, a pianist in the company’s orchestra.

“We were exploring the theme of a funeral, which is a very poignant and well-dressed event with emotions running riot underneath,” Scarlett said. “The wonderful clothes are kind of masking something, everyone’s screaming inside, so we did these more animalistic things.”

The pinch of the derriere wasn’t just my active imagination: “He was definitely doing that,” Scarlett said. “It’s that point of human desperation when you grasp onto anything, be it love or sex.”

In a video that played before the program, Marc Happel, NYCB’s director of costumes, spoke about the tricky adaptation of fashion designers’ ideas to the bodily demands of dancing.

Ascending Coats

Thom Browne tested those limits to a jokey extreme in “Clearing Dawn,” a world premiere, choreographed by Troy Schumacher. As the curtain rose, six dancers appeared in jumbo-sized coats covering their bodies and feet entirely. Then they lined up and the coats, attached to wires, were lifted up in the air.

Usually when very attractive and fit people disrobe from a bulky coat -- well, you know. Instead, the big “reveal” left the dancers wearing prep-school uniforms: blazers on top of sweaters, men in shorts and socks to the knee, women in pleated short skirts and tights.

The setting was a playground, where fights between male and male, then male and female pairs broke out with mock punches, jabs, ducks and tight embraces. The physicality was exciting, but not as much as it might have been if the dancers had been wearing a bit less.

Lace Letters

The boob grab came in “This Bitter Earth,” choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon with costumes by Valentino. Whelan wore a halter. Here, the sex appeal got a big boost from the music, by Max Richter and Dinah Washington.

Carolina Herrera made an easy transition to the stage with simple dresses in peach, white and navy, each with its own distinctive silhouette, for “Morgen,” choreographed by Martins.

And Katrantzou took lace letters of the alphabet she had designed for her resort collection and translated them into fairly standard ballet costume forms (except the men were the peacocks) in “Belles-Lettres,” a world premiere made by Justin Peck, resident choreographer of the NYCB. Many guests said this was their absolute favorite. The frustration here was that the seats were too far away to appreciate the detail of the lace.

After the performance, Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner lingered with Benjamin Millepied and Natalie Portman in the lobby. It was nice to see younger patrons.

During dinner, the DJ spun a Muzak-mellow version of a Guns N’ Roses tune -- a clever way of appealing to the range of ages in the room.

(Find this column at NI SCENE.)
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