Just had to share my overwhelmed response to designer Ralph Rucci’s costumes for the ballet “Close to Chuck”, which I saw performed at the Boston Ballet yesterday.
Choreographed by Jorma Elo to a musical “portrait” of disabled artist Chuck Close by his longtime friend, composer Philip Glass, it premiered at the ABT in New York seven years ago but has been tweaked since by Elo to better incorporate the costumes in the choreography (they apparently weren’t done until the last minute in 2007). Here is a picture of one of Rucci’s costumes from the ABT premiere; the dancer shown is Vivienne Wong:
The costumes combined a black leotard with illusion panels and a taffeta wrap skirt horizontally corded in leather, under one corner of which was a silkscreened (I assume) version of the Chuck Close self portrait used as a backdrop for the second part of the ballet. (The male dancers wore the skirt also, though minus the leotard!)
The beginning of the ballet used a black/white/grey backdrop identical to the luminous red one reproduced in miniature on the skirts, save for the colorway; both backdrops consisted of a grid of hundreds of tesserae-like squares that appeared to contain abstract or amorphous forms, but which “from a distance” crystallized into an image of the upper 2/3 of the artist’s face. I’m not sure whether the backdrops were a full (or partial) blowup or scale copy of a Close painting on canvas, or whether Close (who designed the sets for the ballet) created them specially for the occasion. Here’s a scene from the Boston Ballet production with a view of the red backdrop:
When the dancers raised the corners of their cage-like skirts to reveal (or, literally, to unwrap) the image underneath, the combination of lustrous fabric and mosaicized image combined to shimmering effect, almost as if it were composed of sequins, which perfectly captured Close’s pixellated artistic technique.
Rucci’s brilliant costumes were not only an essential part of the set (because of the way they linked to the backdrop), but also of the ballet’s thematic content; they symbolically represented the physical limitations the paralyzed Close has had to transcend in order to keep creating his art. (After all, when’s the last time you saw ballet dancers perform in stiff, floor-length skirts?)
Rucci is a true artist (he’s actually an accomplished painter who exhibits his work and designs all the prints for his clothes). I’ve gasped in awe at garments of his on display in museums (where they are the very definition of “museum-worthy), but my admiration for him has just increased tenfold. Bravo!