Happel’s professional ascendance really can’t be re-created nowadays. Whereas any aspiring costume designer would have to cut his teeth at an FIT or similar school, Happel left the Universit of Minnesota for a job at Minneapolis’s Guthrie Theater. Two years into that apprenticeship, he was told that Bob Fosse was hiring, and he packed up his stuff into a station wagon bound for New York. Happel comes from a background dressing the cabaret. As the personal costumer for a duo of cross-dressing stars in Kiki & Herb, he went from small stage to Broadway. Now, he’s one of the most sought after costume designers in the world, utilizing stretch fabrics and tutus to not only impress the audience but to influence the atmosphere of the story on stage. “At New York City Ballet it’s all about movement,” he says, “and you’re constantly aware that what you’re doing has to be danceable,” says Happel. Whether designing costumes or watching them, Happel says to pay attention to how costumes amplify our understanding of the on-stage action.
This season, Mr. Happel and his staff are hard at work preparing for seven different major premiere performances. And the buzz is, there will be many surprises this year! Faye Arthurs, who was being fitted for a new “Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet” costume, exclaimed with pleasure over the subtle range of colors in her new tutu. Also, in store for this seasons costumes are A Prabal Gurung (staff of Marc Happel) costume design for the new Justin Peck work to premiere at NYCB’s fall gala, and we will apparently be seeing a lot more glamorous haute couture being featured this fall. Ballet, after all, is a visual format. From the iconic tutu to leotards, pointed shoes to tights, the choice of what to wear is every bit as important as to how much time is put into designing the costumes each year.