Exclusive Interview with designer Ralph Rucci

October 8, 2007

Fashion designer Ralph Rucci created the costumes for American Ballet Theatre’s new production A Musical Portrait of Chuck Close, set to music by Philip Glass and choreographed by Jorma Elo. Here he gives us a glimpse into his process.

ABT approached me and said they wanted the piece to be very special. Philip Glass had already prepared the music and Elo had choreographed it. We each had a basic notion of what we were all doing but there was not a discussion of the minute details. We were conscious of each other.

My philosophy is that clothing should never be the first thing one sees. It should register subliminally. It’s a success if it’s the second thing you notice. It’s constant, total constraint, reduction, and simplification. To arrive at something so pure is very difficult. But to make it new takes an enormous amount of complexity. I could make a bias tube to the floor but it might have a spiral theme. I like to take the usual and make it unusual. If there is soul and spirituality, the costumes fall into place.

The ballet’s set consists of paintings by Chuck Close (like the President Clinton portrait below). I felt black was a perfect reference and starting point. It becomes a resting point to the eye. Spatially the costume becomes part of the set. In general my notion in color is very subtle. I use white, black, mud, or brown.

A difference between a model and dancer is the line between the shoulder blades. It’s so extraordinary. We sketch it, but on a dancer it’s actually there. In designing for dance you also need to think of durability, comfort, and the practical idea of getting into the costume quickly.

The costume for this piece is three-dimensional and the dancer does not arrive onstage with it. There is volume to it but you still feel the dancer and see a beautiful, elegant vignette.

See A Musical Portrait of Chuck Close, as part of ABT’s 2007 New York City Center Season, October 23-November 4.