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Creating a TBT Fashion Show

Group of women on runway

By Mary Ashley Ray

If you were to walk through the TBT facility in the weeks leading up to the holiday season, you might be surprised to hear both the classical compositions of The Nutcracker and upbeat pop music coming from the studios. That energetic sound is a staple of TBT’s holiday season in its own right, as it indicates that the company’s signature fashion shows are on the way.

The Tutu Chic Fashion Show and Luncheon, held in Dallas, and the Caren Koslow Fashion Show and Luncheon, held in Fort Worth, are TBT’s biggest fundraising events of the year. They combine two fine arts, ballet and fashion, to create unforgettable and unique shows. TBT dancers model fashions curated by presenting sponsor Neiman Marcus and dance down the runway.

What you see on stage is in stark contrast to a traditional ballet performed by TBT. The jazzy and contemporary show comes from the mind of Tim O’Keefe, TBT’s Acting Artistic Director.

O’Keefe has a consistent template for the show each year, which helps him identify musical needs and select the songs he wants to use. He keeps a running playlist throughout the year so when it comes time to create the fashion show, he can look at his options and see what works together.

“The creative process starts with picking the music,” he says. “I like music that has accents and topography. It’s important that the music has the highs and lows you need so your choreography can have those as well. You have a short amount of time to catch people’s attention, as opposed to a longer piece in ballet.”

The style of dance and music aren’t the only things that set the fashion shows apart. The company members in the show both model and dance, and both happen on a runway ramp that’s only 8 feet wide.

“Everything is linear,” O’Keefe says. “Choreographically, you’re trying to make all your choices in lines. There is a ballet basis, but you try to be inventive when working on a ramp. Those limitations can make you try to find something to say in a new way, even though you’re in the same setup as the previous year. It’s always new.”

Something new to the shows this year? A second choreographer. Principal Dancer Alexandra F. Light is also a choreographer and is the only other artist besides O’Keefe to create a piece for the fashion shows.

“I am thrilled to be the first person to choreograph other than Tim,” she says. “I definitely kept his vision in mind when working on my piece.”

Like O’Keefe, Light also had to think creatively to accommodate the ramp’s dimensions.

“I love using a lot of traveling movement in my choreography, so finding a way to have the dancers travel in a linear space is a change from what I am used to, but I enjoy the challenge of working in a new geometry,” she says.

The fashion shows’ unique essence is felt by dancers, choreographers, and audiences alike. “The way Tim is able to convey the essence and edge of a regular runway show, adding on a mix of dance genres, is exactly what you would want to see out there – whereas in a traditional ballet performance, the vibe is totally different,” Principal Dancer Andre Silva says. “The proximity to the audience is definitely a remarkable highlight because we sort of become the yin and the yang. We’re interconnected.”

Interconnectedness is an underlying theme during the creation of the fashion shows as well. O’Keefe says his choreographic process is collaborative and even spontaneous, with a lot of inspiration coming from the dancers themselves.

“With talented people, they understand what you’re going for and can bring ideas,” he says. “I enjoy working with the dancers to the fun music and seeing their personalities come out, what they say and how they move to different music… it’s nice to have these relaxed rehearsals in the studio where you can experiment.”

“The creative process is my favorite part because you get to see what’s behind the choreographer’s vision and how they bring it to reality,” Silva says. “Tim is very open to collaboration and has moments where suddenly you do a different move that wasn’t meant to be there, and he likes it and wants it in the piece. That makes the process more fun and exciting.”

This year’s fashion show season isn’t first time Light has choreographed on her fellow dancers, as she has hired several for commissions she’s done, but it’s the first time she’s been on the other side of things for the fashion shows. Her piece will be danced by Soloists Adeline Melcher and Brett Young.

“I feel so fortunate to work with them; they are so talented and always give me everything,” Light says. “There is a bit of a mental shift between being ‘in the room’ as a dancer and being at the ‘front of the room,’ but I like using both experiences to enhance the other ones. In other words, I love seeing dance from both sides and find it very inspiring whether I am the dance-maker or the dancer.”

After weeks of rehearsals and fittings, the fashion shows come together in late November and early December. There are so many memorable elements that make dancers and audiences alike look forward to them each year.

“It’s fun to move to this music and dance to pop remixes,” O’Keefe says. “It’s fun to create that, and the dancers enjoy the diversity of being able to do something like The Nutcracker at the same time as something like this.”

“The fact that we get to dance a really fun runway show, wear fabulous designer clothing by Neiman Marcus, and raise money for our organization is a very enjoyable and rewarding experience,” Silva says.

“It truly is one of the most fabulous events we do every season at Texas Ballet Theater in the way it combines fine art and high fashion,” Light says. “Of course I enjoy walking in and dancing in the fabulous array of fashion, and I am so excited to be creating movement that highlights the art of fashion now too.”

The Tutu Chic Fashion Show and Luncheon is November 29, 2022, at Winspear Opera House. The Caren Koslow Fashion Show and Luncheon is December 8, 2022, at Bass Performance Hall. For more information, visit our Special Events page.