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The Rockettes and New York York Fashion Week are both NYC institutions, but their paths haven't crossed much...until now. In the dance troupe's first spring show in nearly two decades, the biannual event gets its own number, and the costumes take center stage. Here, Racked joins two Rockettes on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Radio City costume closet.
In August, a creative team was tasked with outfitting the New York Spring Spectacular in looks that are far more fashion-forward than toy soldier uniforms or fur-trimmed coats. "I got an email that said, 'Did I ever think I'd be interested in designing for the Rockettes,' and I almost dropped the phone," says costume director Emilio Sosa. "We're featuring them in a way they've never been seen before."
Billed as a "whirlwind adventure across New York City," the show, which closes May 7th, takes the Rockettes from the Met to the top of the Empire State Building, up to Yankee Stadium and of course, to New York Fashion Week, in a number that features costumes by three iconic New York designers: Diane von Furstenberg, Isaac Mizrahi, and Zac Posen.
Below, veteran Rockettes Kristin Jantzie, who has danced with the group alongside her twin sister for ten years, and Sarah Grooms, a Rockette since 2006, take Racked on a tour of the Radio City costume closet, where they discuss everything from their very first auditions to how they spend their precious little free time (sample sales!), and what it's like to perform for hours on end—in heels, no less.
Kristin, left, and Sarah, right, model the dresses worn in the show's finale.
Sarah, on auditioning for the Rockettes: "I don't think scary is the word—overwhelming, maybe. The very first time I auditioned, the line was wrapped around the block of Radio City, and they take you in in groups of 75 at a time. You're learning all the numbers—tap, jazz, and ballet—with all these other women, and then you have to perform three at a time. So there's five to seven hundred people wrapped around the block, and they make cuts throughout the day, so you're really auditioning for two days straight."
Kristin: "I actually had my audition in Los Angeles, and I kind of got lost on the way there! I decided I'd take the bus from Hollywood to Studio City where the audition was, and I didn't have heels or anything—I just had never really danced in them all that much before—so I just thought, ‘Well, I'm not going to just try to for the first time at the audition!' I feel like I had already kind of counted myself out, so I was like, ‘Okay, i'll just go for it, I'll just have fun!' and it kind of took the pressure off, I think."
"We started rehearsing the second week in January, six hours a day, six days a week. And then in between, we do special events," Kristin says. "But let's be honest, a lot of shopping happens during the break, especially on Fifth Ave. Everyone goes to Anthropologie. In our dressing room, the rule is that if you go out and make a purchase on the break, you have to come in and give everyone a fashion show!"
"A couple of the girls in our room are obsessed with DVF," says Sarah. "They'll go to her sample sale and come back with all these rompers."
"This is like my second family," Sarah says. "Being from Ohio, my immediate family's not here, but you work and train so hard with these girls, and they become your best friends. We start training with each other, and the next thing you know, we're all in each other's weddings."
"I grew up dancing barefoot for the most part," says Sarah, "So coming into the professional world was a little bit of a shock, but it's actually so much fun. And the heels we get to wear are gorgeous!"
Kristin shows off the headdress the Rockettes wear during the Easter Parade number: "There's a different posture we use, because when it's on your head, it's sitting up. They wanted to showcase the flower, so we do a lot of head-down movements."
Two headdresses hang in the costume closet.
Sarah and Kristin with one of the Easter Parade dresses.
One of the costumes worn in the "New York, New York" number, during which the Rockettes do the show's first traditional kick line. "This is kind of the quintessential Rockette number," says Kristin. "It's very vintage New York," adds Sarah. "We have a cane and a top hat, too!"
"I'm from Canada, so my brother only new the fleur-de-lys from the Quebec flag," Kristin says. "He was like, 'What's the dance where you have the French thing on your back?'"
The top hat worn in the "New York, New York" number.
The Rockettes show off the costume from the "Singin' In the Rain" number. "It actually rains on stage," explains Sarah. "It's not too slippery, but it's in the middle of the show, and we don't have any time to change our makeup or anything—we just dab and go!"
"All the boots are individually mic'ed," explains Sarah. "Each girl has two microphones, one in each shoe, and our tap dancing is all live-mic'ed, so you can hear it through the water. It's not tracked, so what you hear is actually what's happening on the stage. It's hardcore." Adds Kristin: "All the water is recycled—there's a whole filtration system. And it's heated!"
The Isaac Mizrahi-designed dresses are the first to debut during the New York Fashion Week scene, which features three iconic NYC-based designers. "In this number, Laura Benanti, who plays Jenna, the female lead, takes everybody to Fashion Week," Sarah says. "There are three designers, and we all do a little bit of a runway show, and each one has a different song. Isaac Mizrahi's is 'Come Get It Bae' mixed with Madonna's 'Vogue.' Once the music starts, a runway comes up from the orchestra pit."
Next up is Diane von Furstenberg and her famous wrap dresses (though the version the Rockettes wear is actually a romper). Fittingly, the music playing is Beyoncé's "Who Run The World (Girls)." "It's fun to be able to come out of your Rockette thing," Kristin, who's in the DVF number, says.
The Zac Posen look comes in two parts: a structured leotard topped with an architectural skirt, which is dramatically ripped off during the number. "What I love about this costume is that it doesn't need rhinestones or anything—the silhouette and the shape just really speaks for itself," says Kristin. "And the girls look amazing."
"The design team worked with each brand to ensure that they selected the most iconic design that represented them, and then our job was to make them Rockette dance-ready," says costume director Emilio Sosa on working with each designer. "Zac was amazing. He was really hands-on and really engaged with the ladies."
"The Fashion Week scene ends with Jenna debuting her own fashion line, and she's all about bringing technology to different aspects of life, so her design is this jacket that lights up," explains Kristin. "They have a ton of wires and a battery pack that gets charged every night," adds Sarah. "There are 31 different lighting cues and 152 lights per jacket."
Each jacket is pre-programmed to sync with the choreography and the special effects onstage. "The audience even gets involved in that too, because they get these wristbands when they come in which light up along with the jackets. At once point, the image of the audience is put back on the screen, so it's kind of like one big party!" says Kristin.
During a scene that takes place on top of the Empire State Building, the Rockettes wear long, graceful dresses while dancing in a grid-like waltz. "This is kind of a dream sequence," says Kristin. "It's one big sigh," Sarah adds.
The heels worn in the Empire State Building sequence.
A close-up of the dresses worn in the curtain call. "They're amazing," says Sosa. "We developed a technology for them to get as much shine and movement without making them heavy. We used a combination of ribbon, stone, and actual metal chains. That's why they shine so much—they are metal materials that catch the light separately."
When shoes arrive at Radio City, it's up to shoe specialist Jack McGroder (nicknamed the Shoe Fairy around the building) to paint the leather to match the exact skin tone of each dancer—and of course, to glue on each and every rhinestone.
"I didn't know I'd be able to have a career in dance for this long," says Kristin. "Of course, you can always be a dancer, but you can't always have a career on stage. I hope to live it out for a little bit longer still!"