Renowned as a master of ballet costume design, Holly Hynes is the winner of the 2018 TDF/Irene Sharaff Lifetime Achievement Award for costume design. Presented annually through the TDF Costume Collection, the 2018 Sharaff Awards ceremony takes place on Friday, April 20 in New York City. Live Design chats with Hynes about her designs and her career, which encompasses over 250 ballets; 70 at New York City Ballet, the others for companies around the world.
Live Design: How did you become a specialist in designing costumes for dance?
Holly Hynes: In my 20s, I was lucky enough to be hired to assist Barbara Matera at her shop as the person in charge of the dance projects. Ann Roth, who recommended me for the job, told me it was just like working on plays and musicals except that the fabric stretched. While assisting Barbara, I worked on projects for Paul Taylor Dance, Eliot Feld, San Francisco Ballet, and American Ballet Theatre. I was able to observe some of the best designers and artists in NYC. Then Barbara and I joined the NYCB when I turned 30. I was designing small ballets at first while running the workroom and learning how to recreate Karinska, Chagall, Noguchi, Rauschenberg, Ter-Arutunian, Zipprodt, Klotz, and even Irene Sharaff herself.
LD: What do you love about it?
HH: I love working with dancers who have the most beautiful bodies in the world. I love hearing live orchestras in opera houses in the US, Europe, and Russia. I love traveling and getting to know artisans all over the globe. I love the art of taking a one-dimensional sketch and turning it into a moving three-dimensional tapestry.
LD: What are some of the specifics in terms of movement and freedom for the dancers when it comes to the costume design?
HH: Dancers have to move, that's the point. The first unitard I had to recreate was designed by Irene Sharaff for Slaughter On Tenth Avenue. It was made of wool jersey. Those poor dancers. When miliskin and spandex entered the fabric world, the ballet world exploded with joy. Now you can buy almost any fabric with stretch in it. The trick with dance costumes is making sure they hold up to lights, makeup, partnering, and sweat, but still make the dancers feel like they are naked.
LD: What are your favorite fabrics, and why?
HH: When I designed Daphnis and Chloë for the Paris Opera, they had the silk crepe milled for me because 3-ply wasn't heavy enough and 4-ply was too heavy. So I guess my favorite fabric is 3.5 silk crepe. It's delicious and moves beautifully. It loves dye, too.
LD: Are there one or two productions that really stand out in your extensive design repertoire and can you say a few words about each one?
HH: Balanchine's revival of Don Quixote with new sets and costumes and choreography recreated by Suzanne Farrell (National Ballet of Canada/Suzanne Farrell Ballet). This was my first full-length ballet. The sets were designed by Zack Brown, who I had assisted on the touring company of On Your Toes in the 80s. The costumes were made in Toronto, and they were superlative.
Devon Carney's The Nutcracker (Kansas City Ballet) was my first complete Nutcracker. Sets were by Alain Vaes. My costumes were created all over the US. Fourteen different makers. My heart and soul went into these costumes. My favorites were the adult mice inspired by football linebackers. The day after it opened, I was offered another Nutcracker, every designer’s hope.
For Christopher Wheeldon After the Rain (New York City Ballet), I was lucky enough to watch the pas de deux rehearsal before anyone not involved had seen it. It was the most beautiful ballet I had ever watched, and there was Jock Soto, Wendy Whelan, Chris Wheeldon, the pianist, and me. Needless to say, I burst into tears. My costumes were extremely simple but often, that is the best for ballet.
LD: Is there a word of advice you would give to young costume designers entering the field today?
HH: One of the hardest things to tackle as an artist is to make a living. While I started out as a designer, I worked in three different costume shops while trying to get design jobs. Once I discovered my love of dance, it was a little easier to mold my craft in that it was more concentrated but I worked in shops until 2006. My advice would be get a job that pays the rent and then spend every other second loving your passion and your family.