The final dress for Larry Keigwin

By Zoe Walker

Prestigious choreographer Larry Keigwin heads Downunder to create a ballet.

Larry Keigwin is here to create a ballet for the Royal New Zealand Ballet. Photo / Matthew Murphy
Larry Keigwin is here to create a ballet for the Royal New Zealand Ballet. Photo / Matthew Murphy

The runway is a type of dance, an idea that choreographer Larry Keigwin has examined through his work before, drawing inspiration from the Christian Dior runway and staging Vogue's Fashion Night Out runway show in 2010.

The native New Yorker is currently in New Zealand creating a new work for the Royal New Zealand Ballet, premiering in Auckland next week as part of the production of NYC, featuring three short ballets from the Big Apple. (Keigwin's own New York involves living on the Upper East Side, working on the West and being out five nights of the week seeing various productions of art and theatre.)

Dubbed Final Dress, Keigwin describes his new commission as "mirroring the idea of a final dress rehearsal and the anticipation of that". Going from the final dress rehearsal to the show, Keigwin looks at ideas of dressing up, like a costume change, and "trying to draw parallels with trying on a relationship".

Final Dress follows an earlier work called Runaway, two works Keigwin describes as being "like sisters".

Commissioned by the prestigious New York performing arts school, Juilliard, Runaway was created with 24 dancers and continues to be part of his dance company's repertoire (Keigwin founded Keigwin + Company in 2003).

"I was influenced by ideas of escaping and, I guess, animal behaviour.

"Also playing on this mannequin aesthetic that runway models can look like.

"I was flipping through a magazine and saw a picture of a Christian Dior runway show, and the women had such incredible high hair - so all the dancers wore these huge wigs; to me they looked like lions."

The piece was the catalyst for Final Dress, which has its own sense of style: the costumes, dresses from the 1950s-60s, were all sourced from vintage stores on Cuba St in Wellington.

But while fashion appears in some of his pieces, Keigwin believes it is pop culture that is more influential to his work.

"At times my eye goes to fashion, or a runway show, but it's not necessarily high fashion that I'm thinking about. It's more pop culture, people I see on the street."

People on the street played a part in another important job: staging the opening show of Vogue's Fashion's Night Out in 2010, the biggest public fashion show seen in New York that showcased Vogue's top trends.

Keigwin got the job with the help of a "little champion" in his life, Damian Woetzel, a former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet and current cultural ambassador who sits on a committee with US Vogue editor Anna Wintour.

"She asked him, as a dancer, who he would recommend to choreograph this fashion show, and he suggested me."

After attending a few of his rehearsals, Wintour commissioned Keigwin to produce the mammoth public runway show that launched Fashion's Night Out, held outside at the Lincoln Centre and featuring 175 high-end runway models (think Naomi and Giselle; top models he describes as being "very playful"). His job involved creating the walking patterns on a circular catwalk, rather than the traditional straight up and down runway.

"Everyone is very real; they're all stereotyped but people can break their stereotype," he remembers.

"Anna Wintour had a wonderful sense of wit; was a great decision-maker and a great business mind. She was very punctual, but also creative and willing to collaborate."

After attending the premiere of this new production in Auckland next Wednesday, Keigwin will fly to Washington DC for a new show with his company at the Kennedy Centre before heading back to New York to create a new show to premiere in June.

* Final Dress, part of the Royal NZ Ballet's production of NYC. From February 29 to March 3 at The Civic, Auckland. Tickets $28-$90 from The Edge, ph (09) 357 3355 or 0800 BUY TICKETS.

- NZ Herald

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