Esteban Cortazar, Christopher John Rogers and Christopher John Rogers have a history of making history. At 17 years old, Cortazar was the youngest person to attend New York Fashion Week. Rogers, a Louisiana native, dressed the first female Vice President Kamala Harris in the United States for the 2021 Presidential Assemblies.
They once again ventured into uncharted territory to create costumes for two new premieres of the New York City Ballet’s Fall Fashion Gala. The gala began in 2012 and has seen collaborations with designers such as Jason Wu, Iris Van Herpen and Laura Kim. Cortazar, Rogers, and Sidra Bell were the choreographers on the new ballets for the iconic dance company. The legendary dance company was founded in 1948 by George Balanchine, a Georgian-American choreographer. Although both Rogers and Cortazar are relatively new to ballet, it is easy to see why Rogers, who are known for creating colorful, theatrical costumes that allow for movement, would be a good fit for the ballet stage. “It’s so great to be doing something so important, and so cultural, because this is really creating culture,” says Cortazar, referring to the historic night that saw the first woman of color composer and first Black choreographer to create a piece for the New York City Ballet.”
Cortazar has over 20 years experience in fashion design. This opportunity was like a return to his roots. Colombian-born Cortazar, who was raised in Miami, stated that the experience brought him back to his childhood dreams of becoming a performer. Cortazar was raised by his mother, a singer, and his father, a painter. So performing and art were always a part of Cortazar’s life. He recalls, “It all brought me back to those times in my childhood, being behind the scenes in the theatre, seeing the orchestra. I was so far away, it gave me an opportunity to reconnect with it again.”
Rogers had never been to ballet before this collaboration. His New York City Ballet debut marks the first time he has ever seen a ballet performance. Rogers said, “I have never seen anything on this scale.” The pandemic meant that the designers had not met their choreographers or each other until the performance. Before they could hear the music, they had to begin sketching ideas. It was pure intuition, and lots of Zoom calls.
Cortazar collaborated with Miller and Lido Pimienta (a Colombian-Canadian artist) to create a piece of original music for the ballet. The work was titled “skyto hold”. Pimienta used rhythms from Indigenous and Afrodescendant Colombian communities like cumbia and vallenato to create the theme of freedom and vibrancy. Miller, who is from the modern dance world, choreographed Miller’s first ballet on pointe and challenged the ballet dancers with out-of-this world contortions. Cortazar created costumes that felt natural and light to achieve this goal. It’s a beautiful story that unfolds slowly and has many crescendos and peaks. Each section is marked with a different color. This is done through lighting, set design and costumes. The designer created delicate and flowing bodysuits and dresses in ombre mixtures of yellow, blue, and orange to convey the emotion in each section. They soared through air as dancers leapt and turned. One section focused on human connection and featured yellow-and orange bodysuits worn on stage by dancers. Their shadows blended through a projector, a result only possible because of Cortazar’s bodysuits.
Rogers stated that everything blew him away when he saw the costumes on the dancers for the first time. Rogers was able to draw upon his dependable sense of color, volume and proportion after months of working with Bell. Rogers was excited by the idea of costumes that combine comfort, fashion and empowerment. He used his trademarks – layered tutle skirts, ruffled necklines and balloon-shaped buses in bold and neon colors – to create the costumes. Rogers said, “I was afraid it might be too much.”
On stage, however, there was no fear. Bell’s piece “Suspended animation” saw each dancer walk on the stage in a straight line, wearing a rainbow color. This was something that could have easily taken place at a Christopher John Rogers show. But on a ballet stage the catwalk was amazing. Rogers said, “It’s definitely something new for City Ballet. And maybe ballet overall.”