Holly Hynes has designed over 120 ballets in her long career as a costume designer. In North America, her theatrical designs have been seen on Broadway as well as at the Metropolitan Opera. She also designs for many major ballet companies such as American Ballet Theatre, Houston Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, The Royal Ballet of London, National Ballet of Canada, and the Mariinsky (formally Kirov) Ballet of Russia. For 21 years she was the Director of Costumes for New York City Ballet where she designed over 60 ballets. Ms. Hynes has been the resident designer of The Suzanne Farrell Ballet since its inception in 1999. (Designs in photographs are Copyright Holly Hynes)
Where do you start when Ms. Farrell asks you to design an original Balanchine ballet?
In the case of Ragtime, there are very few archive references. Ms. Farrell has a very short clip of herself doing a tiny variation in a purchased dance wear look. Her partner looks totally off the shelf. The quality of the video is pretty bad, so it isn't much help.
Since this is a small piece joining a small company, I wanted to give the ballet its own look. Ragtime music sends us to a distant past, so I found myself surrounded by 1920s research to find an appropriate look.
One of my favorite Balanchine pas de deux is the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux which has peach on the woman and cool blue on the man. I used this as my inspiration and pumped up the colors to be more jazz hot, and I think it works.
How creative can you be? How much has to match what was originally done?
Ms. Farrell allows me to be creative which I am totally grateful to her and the Balanchine Trust for this respect. I always try to be respectful to the original designers whenever I am given the opportunity to redesign a Balanchine piece.
How involved is Ms. Farrell with the look of the final product?
Ms. Farrell always has the final word on the look of the ballet. She is one of my favorite talents to work with. She has strong ideas, but gives me a lot of room to play.
How do the requirements of dancing impact the design of the costume?
When I design for dance I always try to make the costume second to the choreography. I want to help the audience enjoy the music and the movement both in color and in shape and flow of fabric. And of course, if the dancers can't move, then I haven't done a good job as a designer.
What is your biggest challenge when recreating/reinventing a costume?
When I get to put my mark on an old ballet, I always worry that the public will compare me to the original designer and not like what I have done as much. Luckily, I seem to have an advantage because I am given the opportunity to improve the look of a ballet. If nothing else, I can bring a modern edge to the ballet's image.
How many costumes will you be putting together for Ragtime and how long will they take to complete?
Ragtime is a pas de deux, so we are hoping to only make one boy and one girl costume.
It is hard to say how long it will take to finish the costumes because lots of things can get in the way. For example, casting slows us down (because we need to know who the dancers will be in order to make the costumes fit just right) and trying to find the perfect fabric takes time. Also, once the fabric is finally found, it may not be the right color so it then needs to head to a dye shop. All of our costumes are hand-made and mistakes happen, so you always need to ensure there is some "fix it" time.
What do you most enjoy about a project like this?
On a project like Ragtime, I really love the freedom that the Kennedy Center and Ms. Farrell give me as an artist. This really is a magical job.