Because the art form of dance is all about the human body, the importance of what the dancer is wearing cannot be overstated. Here are some wide-ranging examples of costumes that contribute immeasurably to the overall impact of the performances of which they are a part.
Reggie Wilson / Fist & Heel Performance Group
This new work brought together two designers, Naoko Nagata and Enver Chakartash, who referenced Shaker design while bringing their individual creative visions to the collaboration. This clip also features a bold Indigo Batik created by Arianne King Comer and Adjua Nsoroma together with Fist and Heel performers in a residency at Milwaukee’s Lynden Sculpture Garden.
Lori Belilove & The Isadora Duncan Dance Company featuring Sara Mearns
Rose Petals, 2019
These designs are based upon some of the earliest known modern dance costumes, inspired by ancient Greek garments. Aside from the classic design, another standout element on this particular occasion was the windblown effect supplied entirely by Mother Nature.
Erick Hawkins Dance Company
Here and Now with Watchers, 2009
Sculptor Ralph Dorazio created these unique sculptural costumes in 1957. Dorazio (1922-2004), was an American modernist sculptor who drew inspiration from the New York City avant-garde scene in the 1960s and 70s.
Changing costumes in full view of the audience is one surefire way of commanding attention, and that’s exactly what the versatile Bill Irwin does in this inspired routine.
The voluminous dresses employed by these five formidable performers were designed by the veteran costumer A. Christina Giannini along with choreographer Jacqulyn Buglisi.
Compañía María Pagés
La Tirana, 2003
Clothes play an essential role in this dance, which was inspired by the famous Goya painting of a Duchess, who was depicted undressed. The dance takes place inside the Prado Museum, where a young visitor stays inside at night and the painting comes alive.
Dialogue of Self and Soul, 2008
Here’s a dress that commands attention – and dominates the entire stage picture, serving as both set and costume for this unique solo performer.
Peter Boal & Wendy Whelan
Herman Schmerman, 2004
These matching skirts for Peter Boal and Wendy Whelan were designed by Gianni Versace.
The Seven Deadly Sins
With dancers dressed as drumsticks, a hot dog, and Hershey’s Kisses, Lawrence Goldhuber’s segment of The Seven Deadly Sins truly embodied the idea of gluttony.
The Peony Pavilion, 1999
This was the first full-length staging of The Peony Pavilion in 300 years, and it took shape during a weeks-long residency at Jacob’s Pillow. The traditional garments played an essential role in this work, and the crew can be seen here sharing the stage space with racks of costumes.
Ronald K. Brown
Awassa Astrige (Ostrich), 1997
While this costume is minimal, it plays an essential role in creating the illusion that the solo dancer is, in fact, an ostrich. Asadata Dafora’s classic work was memorably performed here by Charles Moore in the 1970s, while Dafora himself helped inaugurate the Ted Shawn Theatre in 1942.
American Indian Dance Theater
Hoop Dance, 1995
Should the hoops in this dance be characterized as props rather than costume elements? However they may be viewed, it’s clear that the dancer uses them to transform himself right before the audience’s eyes.
In this highly original Pilobolus work, watch how these costumes are magically transformed from floor-length gowns to knee-length dresses as soon as each dancer sprouts a suspiciously masculine pair of legs.
Center Ballet of Buffalo
Les Biches, 1969
Known primarily as a French painter and printmaker, Marie Laurencin was commissioned by Diaghilev to design the sets and costumes for Bronislava Nijinska’s Les Biches in 1924. Forty-five years later, the designs once again came to life at the Pillow in an unusual palette of pastel pink, blue, and gray.
Color played an important part in these designs by five-time Oscar-winner Irene Sharaff (as can be seen in John Lindquist’s Technicolor photograph) even though the film of this early Jerome Robbins ballet is in black and white.
Ruth St. Denis
"The Delirium of Senses" from Radha, 1941
It’s easy to see how Ruth St. Denis’s early career as a “skirt dancer” in the late 19th century influenced her pioneering dances of the early 1900s. Even though there was an element of mysterious exoticism in this breakout 1906 work, the climax of each performance came in seeing St. Denis expertly swirl her multi-layered skirts.