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The Secret Behind Alvin Ailey’s Night Creature Costumes

Posted March 15, 2023

Only one production house has the formula

Night Creature, Alvin Ailey’s bubbly champagne cocktail of a dance, shines not only for its movements, but for its exquisite costuming. British costume designer Jane Greenwood conceived the sparkly pieces saturated with splashes of color, but the original construction proved to be short-lived. 

From silk to spandex

“They were made from silk,” shares Jon “Jayte” Taylor, Ailey’s wardrobe supervisor since 1999. “Silk is beautiful, and everyone likes to use silk. It moves and lights so well. But when you wash and dry silk, it starts to break apart.” Costume Designer Barbara Forbes recreated the costumes with spandex and power net to make them withstand the wear and tear of being worn repeatedly on stage, “it holds up so much better,” says Taylor. 

The secret process

Famed production house Parsons-Meares Ltd. has been building the Night Creature costumes since the work's inception. “They start off white. The dancers will go in and they mark where the colors go on the fabric while the dancer is wearing the piece.” And that’s all Taylor can share about the actual design process. “[Parson-Meares] has a formula for their pigments that they will not give to anybody,” he declares. “They own it. Whenever we build the costumes, we must go there.”  

That construction includes painting the lead costume in exquisite shades of purple, pink, lavender, white, and blue, and adding rhinestones. “It takes three months to have the costumes custom made. All of it is hand-painted,” explains Taylor. “And they last. We build new Night Creature costumes every eight to ten years.” The name of each wearer is sewn into the costume; garments are passed down from dancer to dancer. “A new dancer will come in and say, ‘Wow, I'm dancing in Renee Robinson's costume, or I have one of Hope Boykin’s costumes,” he says. “It becomes a sentimental thing.” Taylor and his team touch up the paint by hand “every two months” when the Company is in season. 

It takes three months to have the costumes custom made. All of it is hand-painted.

A priceless investment

Because of the extensive work that goes into the Night Creature costumes, they are one of the Company’s most priceless designs. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater gratefully depends on grants and donations to help cover the cost.  

Night Creature features the music of Mr. Ailey’s cherished collaborator, Duke Ellington, whose jazz is used across three movements: “Blind Bug,” “Stalking Creature,” and “Dazzling Creature.” The syncopated sounds are in perfect harmony with the costuming, creating an imaginative collective of sound, shimmer, and joyful celebration.

More Night Creature

View video snippets of the work and learn more about Ailey's Night Creature in the repertory section of our website.

Check out the Company's tour schedule and see this bubbly work in a city near you.

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