Marc Happel: “They are not specifically ballet bodies”

New York City Ballet Director of Costumes Marc Happel in our costume shop, during the recent wardrobe workshop. Photo: Kim Williams.

Marc Happel knows something about changing a person’s character by changing their wardrobe. Director of Costumes for the New York City Ballet, Happel was back at The Banff Centre a few weeks ago to teach one of our wardrobe workshops, on crafting ballet costume bodices. His first step was to get the program participants to use their imaginations. “A lot of them wanted to make the ballet bodice to fit themselves,” he says. ”And they are not specifically ballet bodies.”

Before he went to work for the New York City Ballet, Happel worked with a cabaret duo in New York called Kiki and Herb. This duo of young men played “deranged, drunken, old-school cabaret performers,” he says. He created their costumes for years in an array of cabaret styles, including high-end couture costuming. Eventually Kiki and Herb moved from performing at little clubs in New York’s East Village to a Broadway show.

The act’s success made Happel one of New York’s go-to people for drag costumes, and for 15 years he worked at transforming one body type into another through costume. It was a skill he later brought to NYCB, updating costumes that had been designed on a different type of body shape - classic costumes had to be altered to fit modern ballerinas. “(Dancers) were smaller, they were shorter,” he says. ”Now our dancers have gotten so tall, and some of them have gotten fuller bodies, which is great.”

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