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November 9, 2009 9:57 AM

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Designing for Dancing Stars

Karole Armitage dancers perform "Itutu" in costumes by Peter Speliopoulos. photo by Julieta Cervantes Typically, costume designers get into the trade hoping it will take them one step closer towards their ready-to-wear design aspirations. But Peter Speliopoulos, Donna Karan's...

Karole Armitage dancers perform "Itutu" in costumes by Peter Speliopoulos.
photo by Julieta Cervantes
Typically, costume designers get into the trade hoping it will take them one step closer towards their ready-to-wear design aspirations.

But Peter Speliopoulos, Donna Karan's creative director, is taking the opposite approach. Speliopoulos, who has also designed for Christian Dior, Carolyne Roehm and Cerruti, created the costumes for Itutu, choreographer Karole Armitage's latest production. Itutu premiered Friday at the dance company's Armitage Gone! annual gala held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Armitage has collaborated with Speliopoulos almost exclusively since 2000, when she asked her friend to design for her production of Aristophanes' The Birds. Nabbing talent from the high fashion world was nothing new: The dancer worked with big names such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Hugo Boss and Christian Lacroix.

"Karole has always had a history of working with many artists," Speliopoulos says. "For her, part of the process is engaging different artistic perspectives and different points of views to create a new kind of visual form."

"New" may be an understatement. Dubbed the "punk ballerina" by Vanity Fair in 1986, Armitage has gained notoriety through her inventive hybrid of classical ballet movement set to very nonclassical tunes, namely Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa and the Sex Pistols. "For me, the process really starts with the music because it's what really inspires me," Speliopoulos said. "It often inspires the shape, the color, the feeling of the fashion." In that case, theatergoers are in for a treat.

"Itutu is a combination of West Africa and electronica music," Speliopoulos adds. Accordingly, Speliopoulos was inspired by the iconic 1970s images of Malian photographer Malick Sidibe. To create the 30 or so looks for the company's dancers, the designer screened painter Philip Taft's prints on fabric after fabric.

"Dance is really a true art form with very few constraints," Speliopoulos says. "When you're creating [costumes] for dance, it has to be timeless because the piece endures throughout time and history."
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