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Inside the World Premiere of the Nuit Blanche Ballet, With Costumes by Dior

Inside the World Premiere of the Nuit Blanche Ballet, With Costumes by Dior 1

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Separately, Christian Dior and Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera are artistic institutions that create breathtakingly beautiful works—and when they join forces, the results are just short of magic. Their respective directors Maria Grazia Chiuri (artistic director of Christian Dior) and Eleonora Abbagnato (étoile at the Paris Opera Ballet and director of the corps de ballet at the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma) both live and work between the French and Italian capitals, so it would seem it was only a matter of time before their professional paths crossed. Last Thursday, the results of their alliance unfolded onstage at the famous Roman theater, in a triptych of ballets entitled Philip Glass Evening.

At the avant-première of Philip Glass Evening, a long red carpet crossed an elegantly cordoned-off section of the Piazza Beniamino Gigli; on it, a parade of celebrities and Dior muses who gathered to celebrate the minimalist American composer. The night’s program included three ballets: Hearts and Arrows, choreographed by Benjamin Millepied; Glass Pieces choreographed by Jerome Robbins; and the worldwide premiere of Nuit Blanche, a piece choreographed by young talent Sébastien Bertaud. The last ballet (in its 16 minutes, the piece spans all human emotions) stars Abbagnato opposite German dancer Friedemann Vogel with costumes designed by Chiuri.

“Sébastien and Eleonora came to us because they really wanted to make a story about the relationship between Paris and Rome,” Chiuri told Vogue during a private cocktail hour at the Roman Opera’s workshop and warehouse, where more than 50,000 balletic costumes are perfectly archived. “The choreographer is French, Eleonora is Italian, but in a way, she’s also French. She entered the Paris Opera’s corps de ballet when she was 18 years old before becoming an étoile [or principal dancer]. I am working in a very French maison, but I come from Italy. When they came to us with the idea of this collaboration, we immediately said yes!”

It’s not the first time Chiuri has dabbled in costuming the performing arts, and it’s certainly not the first time for Dior either. While at Valentino with Pierpaolo Piccioli, Chiuri and Piccioli collaborated with the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma on the Sofia Coppola–directed opera rendition of La Traviata. And Monsieur Dior himself, in the very year he debuted his “New Look,” realized the costumes for Treize Danses by Roland Petit (starring étoiles such as Margot Fonteyn). The house of Dior has long mined ballet for inspiration, and this most recent season saw a collection inspired by Pina Bausch, Martha Graham, and Isadora Duncan.

“Dance talks about the body,” continued Chiuri. “Sometimes we forget to be in contact with our body, and I think that that’s why it is so important to talk about dance; it reminds us that dancing is natural, it’s something we all do, not everyone dances as well as Eleonora and Friedemann do, but still, it reminds us where our body is.”

Sitting on the terrace of the theater, facing the ruins of the Roman Circus Maximus, Abbagnato couldn’t agree more: “One of the most beautiful feelings is when you have someone that creates a dress for you and that makes you feel beautiful. Costumes really help us; if you feel good with what you are wearing, you end up dancing even better.”

“It also gives us inspiration,” echoed Vogel. “In this ballet, I get on stage, and I have all these flowers on my costumes, and then I see my partner, and then we are flying around, and it is like a movie. Sometimes, when I drift around the stage with Eleonora, I can really close my eyes and just drift: That is the goal of our art form.”

That kind of emotion you can’t get from a TV screen. Before the curtains even opened, the audience partook in a 5-minute-long ovation, then the lights grew dim. The musical compositions by Glass are repetitive, such that you can get lost in them and it becomes a tough task for both the dancers and the musicians to know exactly where they are in the musical score. “Reiteration makes you free,” said Carlo Donadio, the conductor of the night. “If you are not more than conscious, then you get immediately out of time, and that is why it is so difficult to dance on this music.”

For the costumes, as the opera’s atelier premier Anna Biagiotti confirmed, 20 seamstresses worked for more than 3,500 hours and used over 1,600 organza flowers. “We had to find an elastic tulle to work with, and it is not that easy,” said Chiuri. “We are used to doing such creations in haute couture, but, with the movement required by the ballet, it’s another story. The idea for the costumes came from a very historical dress, the Miss Dior, completely covered in flowers. We worked on creating the right flowers, with the right color, the right positioning on the body for this ballet.”

“It was my first time, both in an opera theater and attending a ballet, and it was an incredible emotion,” commented Chiara Ferragni, who wore a magnificent jade green Dior haute couture creased-and-pleated chiffon dress. “I hope that this will inspire newer generations to try this kind of amazing experience, or even just to visit more Rome, as I did with Maria Grazia yesterday! We really need to improve our storytelling about who we are, as Italians, and what we have here to show to the world.”

In attendance, along with Chiuri and Dior’s Pietro Beccari, was Elena Radonicich in a white tulle dress; Frida Giannini; the young Italian actress Sara Serraiocco; and the poet who enchanted the audience at Dior’s last show, Tomaso Binga. There was also the Paralympic fencing champion Bebe Vio, Italian actress Isabella Ferrari, and Delfina Delettrez Fendi and Silvia Fendi. Most of the audience was in Dior, and while they were all visions in their own right, all eyes were onstage, where Chiuri’s romantic costumes stole the show.

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