FRONTIER Costume and Scenery Sneak Peek:
“Space Suits”, “Terrestrial costumes” and Sets
Kennedy Center Opera House, May 25-27
The Washington Ballet (TWB) presents the world premiere of Ethan Stiefel’s Frontier next month, a ballet inspired by President Kennedy and his space travel aspirations for America. The ballet employs an authenticity as it investigates space exploration through the perspective of the astronaut, delving into the emotional and physical rigors required for space travel.
Stiefel met with astronauts at NASA to discuss their first-hand experience and he’s collaborating on the costumes with designer Flora Gill, and Ted Southern, owner of Final Frontier Design, a company that creates space suits and safety garments that enable human travel to space.
“Ted is currently working on some versions of mechanical counter-pressure suits and gloves for space, so we applied some of that research into the look of the Frontier costumes,” says Gill. “The costumes ‘on earth’ are very similar to what an actual astronaut candidate might wear today. The ‘space suit’ is based more on forecasting about the future of space apparel – much more trim and flexible than current space suits.”
Stiefel reveals, “The costumes reflect the sensibilities of the movement. I wanted to create two different worlds in this ballet — the earth-bound world and the complete unknown — a planet, an unexplored place with virtually no gravity. Much of the earth-bound portion of the ballet takes on a pedestrian/civilian quality with the dancers dressed in flight suits and sneakers. On the planet, the movement is generally more fluid and the dancers are on pointe. The pointe shoe also serves as a metaphor – it’s alien to many people and there is a certain superhero quality to dancers who perform in pointe shoes.”
The designers worked with Stiefel to create a futuristic space suit that speaks to physiological needs while allowing the dancers to move. The astronaut costume includes a compressive stretch base layer with multiple ‘armor’ elements, a customized skydiving helmet and a ‘life support’ backpack.
See Frontier costume renderings by Flora Gill and scenery designs by Dmitrij Simkin.
Company dancer Sona Kharatian and Apprentice Sarah Steele will perform the lead astronaut role for the two casts. Steele was promoted from the Studio Company on January 9, 2017.
“In rehearsals Ethan told us to imagine that exploring space is something we’ve wanted to do our entire lives and we’ve finally arrived at that moment,” says Steele. “I immediately thought the astronaut’s journey really parallels my own. I’ve been preparing my entire life to be a professional ballerina, and this role is like nothing I’ve ever performed.”
Frontier is Artistic Director Julie Kent’s first-ever commissioned work and will be presented along with Antony Tudor’s Lilac Garden (Jardin aux Lilas) and Sir Frederick Ashton’s
The Dream during the Kennedy Center’s JFK Centennial Celebration. All three ballets will feature live music by The Washington Ballet Orchestra under conductor Martin West.
Frontier (World Premiere)
Choreography Ethan Stiefel
Music Adam Crystal performed by TWB Orchestra under conductor Martin West
President Kennedy’s historic May 25, 1961 “urgent needs” address to the United States Congress serves as the impetus for this work. This speech launched what became a legacy in U.S. space travel and exploration with a determination for the United States to be the first to land a man on the moon. The President and First Lady focused national attention on the role of the arts in a country and the need for a nation to represent itself through its art. They also encouraged the development of Washington as a cultural center. The President was an advocate for America’s ability to educate and develop individuals in cultural, intellectual and artistic endeavors.
Choregraphy Antony Tudor
Music Ernest Chausson, Poème for violin and orchestra, opus. 28 performed by The Washington Ballet Orchestra under conductor Martin West
Set in the Edwardian period, a young woman is betrothed to a man she does not wish to marry. Tudor has been referred to as the creator of the psychological ballet.
The Dream (Company Premiere)
Choreography Sir Frederick Ashton
Music Felix Mendelssohn performed by The Washington Ballet Orchestra under conductor Martin West
Frederick Ashton’s The Dream is based on William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The ballet premiered in 1964 as part of a Royal Ballet program commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. This unique version is replete with imaginative choreography that provides additional insight into the characters. Dance affords a non-traditional staging of this beloved classic theater work and offers the opportunity to define a new imagery for the tale with intricate pointe work and a powerful culminating pas de deux. Mendelssohn’s lively musical composition serves as the perfect complement to Ashton’s exuberant choreography and magical staging.
ABOUT ETHAN STIEFEL: Ethan Stiefel is an internationally renowned dancer, instructor, coach, director and choreographer. He is currently the principal guest instructor at American Ballet Theatre. Stiefel was the artistic director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) from 2011-2014. Just prior to being appointed the RNZB’s artistic director, Stiefel served as Dean of the School of Dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA).
Stiefel’s guest appearances include The Royal Ballet, The Mariinsky Ballet, New York City Ballet, Australian Ballet, Zürich Ballet, Bayerische Staatsballett, Hamburg Ballet, The National Ballet of Canada, Teatro Colon, New National Theatre (Tokyo), Kings of the Dance and numerous tours in the United States, Japan, Russia and throughout Europe. He starred in the feature film Center Stage and returned to play the role of Cooper Nielsen in Center Stage 2-Turn It Up and Center Stage: On Pointe, which premiered on the Lifetime TV Channel in June 2016. Stiefel’s television and video credits include The Dream, Le Corsaire, Die Fledermaus, Gossip Girl and the documentary Born to be Wild.
Stiefel choreographed a new work for the top level of ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, Knightlife, which was performed at the Joyce Theater in New York in April 2016. He choreographed a collaborative work on the ABT Studio Company and the Royal Ballet School, See the Youth Advance!, which had its premiere at London’s Covent Garden in May 2016. Stiefel was the choreographer for Flesh and Bone, a 2015 limited edition television series for STARZ network.
Stiefel was invited to serve on the jury for the Paris Opera Ballet’s 2014 annual promotion examination and was on the jury of the 2015 Prix de Lausanne. His Royal Highness Crown Prince Albert of Monaco presented Stiefel with the Statue Award of the Princess Grace Foundation, the Foundation’s highest honor in October 1999. He received the prestigious Dance Magazine Award in December 2008.
ABOUT FLORA GILL: Flora Gill is collaborating on the costume design for Frontier. Prior to this project, Gill was a Founder and Creative Director of the ready-to-wear clothing label OHNE TITEL and before that, she was designer for Karl Lagerfeld. During Gill’s ten years at OHNE TITEL, she was a finalist for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund in both 2009 and 2011 and The Swiss Textiles Award. Her collections sold in Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue and luxury boutiques around the world. At OHNE TITEL, she designed dance costume collaborations for MOMAPS1 Move/Tauba Auerbach and AltOpera of Brooklyn. Working on Frontier is an exciting opportunity because she grew up dancing and finds it very inspiring. This marks the first collaborative creative project with husband Ted Southern.
ABOUT TED SOUTHERN: Ted Southern is the president and co-founder of Final Frontier Design (FFD). As an artist and designer, he began his career in aerospace by entering the NASA Astronaut Glove Challenge in 2007 as part of his MFA thesis at Pratt Institute. In 2009, Ted and aerospace engineer Nikolay Moiseev won second place in the subsequent glove challenge, and created FFD from the winnings. FFD has been awarded 8 space suit contracts with NASA since it’s founding, and is currently working with multiple private new space companies on protective gear.
Prior to aerospace, Ted’s work focused on technical garments for movies, theatre and television. Working both for Izquierdo Studios and independently as a freelance fabricator, Ted has created costumes for the New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theater, Washington Opera, Gotham Opera, Paramount Pictures, Disney Productions, Basil Twist, Julie Taymor, Victoria’s Secret, Saturday Night Live and Cirque du Soleil, in addition to others.”
ABOUT THE WASHINGTON BALLET: The Washington Ballet (TWB) was originally founded as The Washington School of Ballet in 1944 by legendary ballet pioneer Mary Day and incorporated as a professional company in 1976. The Washington Ballet is one of the pre-eminent ballet organizations in the United States. TWB built an international reputation presenting bold works by choreographers from around the world, including Choo San Goh, Christopher Wheeldon, Mark Morris, Twyla Tharp, Hans van Manen and Jiří Kylián, as well as neoclassical masterworks and fresh staging of 19th century classics. Under the leadership of Interim Executive Director Shakira Segundo and Artistic Director Julie Kent, TWB continues to serve its three-part mission: ensuring excellence in its professional performance company; growing the next generation of dancers through its Washington School of Ballet; and serving the community in which it resides through robust community engagement programs.