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The New York Times

New York City Ballet Fall Gala

A Lofty Discussion on Ballet

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SCENE: In a dazzling Midtown apartment with views of New York City and beyond, Sarah Jessica Parker and Valentino Garavani are seated in a living room discussing the ballet. On Thursday night, Ms. Parker, a board member of the New York City Ballet, will be among the hosts of a party that brings together fashion and dance. And Mr. Garavani, who retired from his fashion house in 2008, has created the costumes for four works that will be presented that night.

Sarah Jessica Parker and Valentino GaravaniVALENTINO (wearing a brown check blazer, blue shirt, gray knit tie and ecru trousers) You know that Sarah Jessica was a ballet dancer when she was much younger?
MS. PARKER (in a strappy black dress with colorful spots, her hair up) I was a ballet dancer at the American Ballet Theater in the 1970s, but I started dancing in Cincinnati before I moved to New York. Eventually, I had to make a decision between acting and dancing. You can’t treat ballet as casually. You can’t dip in and out of it, so I think I was better suited to be an actor due to my own temperament. But I love ballet and I still dream I can dance. I am really, really gifted in my dreams, much more so than I was in my actual practice.
VALENTINO When I was 19 years old working in Paris for a big fashion house, I took two years of classic ballet classes. Ballet, I think, is really something to admire. Those dancers really do just this, from morning to evening. They think about moving and doing exercises to have their muscles very warm. It is a sort of religion.
MS. PARKER It is a discipline that is unmatched.
VALENTINO I am a fairly good spectator. For me, when I go to the theater, it is a very important to applaud. In Italy, there are ladies, when they are in their mink coats or seated in those chairs, who think it is very vulgar to applaud. So you know what I do? I kick the chair in front of me so they move. The effort they do on stage is amazing, so when you are in the audience you must appreciate and realize the effort that they make.
Q. What was the genesis of this collaboration?
MS. PARKER I started thinking about the future of the company, and what was most important was building the audience of the next generation of ticket buyers. Around that time the tents were moving from Bryant Park to Lincoln Center, and I thought that was possibly very fortuitous, because I know that fashion tends to have a younger audience, if we could somehow marry the two ideas.
VALENTINO By picking the oldest designer.
MS. PARKER No, by picking the most important one. I had this idea for an annual fall gala, to have an extraordinarily special designer, or two or three, who would build new costumes for new ballets. When we first spoke to Mr. Valentino about it, he wasn’t familiar with the atelier at our company, and they have a wonderful history of maintaining the Karinska costumes and a lot of others, but he has a history of working with the finest people in all of Europe. His first instinct was that they would be made in Italy. But we said come to the costume shop at the ballet and see what we have to offer.
VALENTINO I said I want this and I want that, and the answer was no problem, no problem. So I used pure silk. They asked how many layers do you need, and I said, I think, seven. One costume is all made by hand. Really, they were sensational. I could put those dresses in the runway of the couture show.
MS. PARKER I mean, there’s the headline!
VALENTINO What you will see on Thursday is not a ballet, it is a haute couture show. If you are a connoisseur of ballet, you automatically know the little tricks, for the hands have to move all the time, and when I design I know that she cannot stay all evening like a little statue without moving. You think about the color, and how it will look on the stage. I know the lighting is this pale blue, so the color can be very, very strong. Now I am so jealous of my dresses. At the last rehearsal, when the first three costumes came on stage, I was really full of emotion because they were very, very strong. I was hoping the dancers don’t sit on the floor, because the dresses are like soufflés.
MS. PARKER They will take good care of them.
Q. Years ago, at a New York City Ballet gala, Valentino said about Sarah: “She’s light as a feather. She was a dancer, you know. She’s a dream.” Will you both be dancing on Thursday?
VALENTINO I don’t want to mention names, but at the Vienna ballet, I asked the chief dancer to dance. They played rock music, also waltz, tango and rumba, and she couldn’t follow me. Classic dancers don’t follow.
MS. PARKER You have to have the right person leading.
VALENTINO I hate when I ask a woman to dance and she does not follow.
MS. PARKER Ask me on Thursday. I prefer a waltz.


This conversation has been edited and condensed.
September 19, 2012 
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