Thursday, May 29, 2008

An Ode to Mark Zappone

I became a fan of Mark Zappone's work the moment I tried on my costume for Christopher Stowell's Opus 50.  It was, quite simply, beautiful.  The silk that wrapped around the torso just so with lovely draping that gave me a tiny waist, the layers of lush tulle, the rich olive color that looked fantastic on everyone.  The construction was immaculate: no loose ends, no excess fabric, no odd clasps or closures.  In a separate ziploc bag were ornate, handmade jeweled earrings and a headpiece dripping with matching jewels to pin into our French twists.  Everything was gorgeous, meticulous, perfect.  Sewn into the costume was a cloth label reading "Miss Leimkuhler," a nice personal touch that didn't go overlooked.  In his costume I felt so pretty, so polished, practically regal.  I couldn't wait to suit up for those performances.

I became a fan of Mark Zappone, the person, the moment I met him.  Effervescent, energetic, driven.  A keen eye and an intense focus for his work.  Always in a snazzy outfit.

Mr. Zappone has designed the brand-new tutus that are being made for our production of Raymonda (with choreography/staging by Yuri Possokhov), and, along with wardrobe mistress Kathy Scoggins and her crew, is busy assembling them for our premiere next weekend.  I was thrilled when I found out that Mr. Zappone would be the mastermind behind our new tutus.  The majority of my favorite costumes have been the results of collaborations between him and Christopher Stowell.  A quick list:

Opus 50: See above.  I cannot stress enough how pretty these were.

Zais: The girls were dressed in silk paniers with corset bodices, complete with satin ribbon lacing up the back.  These were true corsets; once we were laced in, we were in.  There was always a frantic "last-call" rush to the bathroom before the dressers helped us into our costumes.  As to be expected, Mr. Zappone imbued them with his distinct taste for elegance; with their color scheme, detailed construction and well-chosen accessories (satin ribbon necklace to match the corset lacing, light-catching drop earrings), these costumes were sophisticatedly avant-garde and, I dare add, tastefully sexy.  When I was discussing the costumes with him later, I brought up how the sculpted paniers and structured bodices reminded me of what Balenciaga and Dolce and Gabbana had sent down previous seasons' runways.  Mr. Zappone raised an eyebrow to me and smiled.  I'd like to think we speak the same language.

Eyes on You: To outfit Christopher Stowell's Cole Porter romp, Mr. Zappone gave each of us two sets of costumes; a pair of "undies" and some "evening wear," both in the style of old black-and-white musicals.  The ladies' undies were cute little silk onesies, but it was the cream-colored floor-length evening gown that we all loved.  When I slipped into my gown for my first fitting, the dress was far too long and trailed behind me by a good yard or two.  Mr. Zappone pinned where the satin bodice should wrap into a halter and chuckled, "Look at you, you're ready for the Oscars."  I promptly gave my best glance-over-the-shoulder-at-the-Oscar-cameras-swivel turn and knocked over his cup of coffee with the gown's train.  Espresso began to creep up the hem.  Absolutely mortified and humiliated I gathered up my dress's fabric and turned my eyes to him, awaiting the wrath that is a furious ballet/fashion designer.  He laughed at me.  "It's okay.  All that fabric has to be trimmed off anyways."  I loved that gown.  I remember being very happy that my fresh-from-summer-layoff tan nicely offset the ivory color.

A Midsummer Night's Dream: While Sandra Woodall was the costume designer for this ballet, Mr. Zappone was responsible for the construction of many of the costumes, namely those of the fairy corps.  For this ballet, the corp of fairy girls was in nude unitards with a handkerchief-chiffon overlay, adorned with flowers, ribbon, and not a few iridescent stones.  A nude unitard without much cover isn't exactly every ballet dancer's dream costume, so the fact that it didn't bother me to wear it, nay, enjoyed wearing it, speaks volumes for Mr. Zappone's design and craftmanship.  The unitard was well-cut and expertly dyed to show off our physiques, and the overlay lent the costume an ethereal, Botticelli-esque feel.  At somewhere between 5'6" and 5'7", I don't often feel dainty and delicate, so for this costume to make me feel legitimately fairy-like is no small feat.

But back to our Raymonda tutus.

When Mr. Zappone called me to my first fitting I arrived far too early, a six-year old girl chomping at the bit to try on the beginnings of her custom-made tutu.  He began tucking and pinning fabric, marking where certain seams would need to be made, adjusted, finished.  His attention to detail was, for a dancer, wonderful and generous: "Is this itchy?  If the bodice comes up to here, will you feel adequately covered?  This doesn't feel uncomfortable, does it?  If that doesn't feel good, then we'll change it."  These types of things don't always come into consideration when it comes to ballet costumes.  I can't tell you how many ill-fitting, uncomfortable costumes I've worn.  I've jumped out of costumes so fast due to itchiness you'd think they were giving me a rash (some have).  So to have a tutu made for you, by someone who truly knows what they're doing, is such a luxury.  It's the ballet equivalent of couture work.

Over the past few years Mr. Zappone and I have become friends, chatting about his work, fashion, general ballet gossip.  He showed me his autographed program from when he worked with Stars On Ice and it made me smile to think that both Sasha Cohen and I have worn his creations.  During my fittings he'll outfit me with the prototypes for the earrings, crown, and armbands that will accompany our tutus.  Fastening me in and pinning where some gold trim will go, he asks my opinion: "Do you like those jewels there?  Should they be higher or farther apart?  What about the crown... too big?  Would you like to tuck that part behind your ears?  And do you think the color of the armband is okay?"  My opinion?  He's asking my opinion?  It would be as if Christian Dior himself wanted to know if I thought the color of the gown he was making for me was okay.  Of course it is.  It's incredible.  You're the (ballet) fashion genius, I'm just the happy model for your stellar work.  "I think it's fantastic," I told him, and the wardrobe ladies clustered around to admire his and their work.  He unpinned the crown and instructed Susie to change the color of the horsehair to black; the dark brown didn't mesh perfectly with my hair.  Again, details.  I thanked him and Kathy and Belinda and Susie and practically skipped out of the wardrobe room.

So with all the talk of the lovely Raymonda tutus, here's a few pictures: 

Here's my tutu.  The bodice isn't attached yet, but you can see the color, detailing, and overall idea of it.  Brilliant, right?

Our headpieces/crowns.  The aforementioned horsehair is the strip of netting at the base of the crown that we use to pin the crown to our head without damaging the crown itself.  You can't tell, but there's a smattering of little crystals dangling in the gaps of the gold weaving.

Mr. Zappone consulting with Susie.  I was very stealthy in taking this picture.  After seeing me with the camera, he promptly asked me if I got his good side.  He was wearing some really great jeans that day.

My favorite part of the costume.  The best part of couture is the label, of course.  It's a fantastic and rare opportunity to have such a beautiful costume made just for you.  Years from now some girl will be wearing my costume, with my measurements and my specifications.  My very own Mark Zappone tutu.  And it goes without saying that when you're comfortable in your costume, when you feel beautiful and elegant and impossibly lovely, it comes across to the audience.  I can guarantee that I will be beaming onstage in my custom-made Zappone tutu next weekend.

One of the wardrobe ladies remarked that when the curtain goes up on Raymonda, she fully expects to weep at the sight of all of us girls in our brand-new tutus.  "I'll be so proud," she smiled.  As well she should be.  OBT's wardrobe department has been pouring themselves into the Raymonda costumes for months.  I'm sure more of these details will be discussed during Monday night's Dance Talks, when Mr. Zappone and Kathy Scoggins will detail what went into the tutu production.  After every fitting (or really, after every time I stop into wardrobe to say hello to my tutu) I'm sure to thank everyone in there who's working tirelessly to ensure that we dancers look nothing short of stunning.

Mark Zappone's work is always, always wonderful.  Dancers love wearing his costumes, audiences love seeing them.  It doesn't hurt, either, that he's so incredibly pleasant to work with.  Fun would be a better word, really.  Before the curtain went up on a performance of Zais, he stopped me and tucked in a loose corset lacing.  "This costume looks absolutely hideous on you," he grinned.  "Just awful."

"I know," I replied.  "It's all your fault!"

[Fun fact: Should I ever need one, Mr. Zappone has promised to design and make me a wedding dress.  I might get hitched just so I can have such a dress.]


1 comment:

  1. Well, my browser has crashed the last three times trying to post this, so I apologize if more than one goes through...


    Thank you for taking us, your observers, into another realm of your world. What is amazing and enjoyable is the energy I read from your blog about your costumes and work with Mr. Zappone. While I assume that the dancers enjoy their jobs (otherwise why would they do it?), hearing WHY is part of the fun. I have often wondered what it took to make the costumes and how much work must go into each and every one of them. In my industry, everything is custom made to an extent as well – while still being flexible enough to work for many. The skill base is like yours in that it’s diverse and has lots of creativity. The main difference though, is that we don’t produce a “beautiful” or “elegant” product… but rather… something just plain functional… software. Yes, our developers ask clients what they want, but it’s not nearly as detailed and client focused as the work that you describe of Mr. Zappone. How wonderful that he not only wants to create something incredibly beautiful, but also create something that makes you look even more stunning while being functional and accentuating what you’re dancing. And, what an honor that he’ll make your wedding dress.

    Thank you again Mia. I look forward to your upcoming performance (though sad that the season is coming to an end)

    (Incidentally, my posting isn’t nearly as eloquently written as yours, but at least this time there’s no spelling errors)