In the short span of four months, recently retired New York City Ballet principal dancer Janie Taylor has gone from an emotional farewell onstage at Lincoln Center to cruising the streets of Los Angeles in her rental car, poised to build a life as a newly-minted Angeleno. Ballet dancers careers are finite, and Taylor, 33, and her husband, fellow NYCB principal Sébastien Marcovici, felt the time had come to move on from the company where each had spent half their lives performing. "We both had gotten to the place of 'OK, what's the next thing? We were ready to take that step," she said the other day during a downtown conversation at Il Caffe on Broadway. Their final performance was March 1.The couple have a years-long relationship with choreographer Benjamin Millepied (formed during their time together in NYCB), founder of the Los Angeles Dance Project. Millepied's need for a new ballet master presented an opportunity for the pair to start fresh in a new place — with Marcovici at LADP and Taylor free to concentrate on a different creative path.
They officially arrived in Los Angeles in mid-June. Although Taylor is still transitioning from dancing (she's not ready to say 'never, ever again') and definitely plans to guest teach, she wants to build on what has been up until now a side vocation: costume and dancewear design.
Originally from Houston, Taylor started taking ballet seriously at the age of 4. After studying at the School of American Ballet (NYCB's training school), she joined the company's corps de ballet in 1998. She learned to sew at the age of 14, just before moving to New York. The endless need for something comfortable to wear to class and rehearsals motivated her to start making her own leotards. "If that's all you wore all day, every day, you'd do it too!" she said laughing. Taylor also made leotards for some of the girls in the company. "I've always had an interest in fashion, always very experimentally made clothes for myself, and I'm kind of self-taught. I would cut stuff up and figure out how to construct things."
Taylor in 2013 talking about and performing Stravinsky Violin Concerto, one of George Balanchine's leotard ballets.
She recalls being influenced as a young girl by Alicia Silverstone's costumes in Clueless and later on by the look of the dancers in the classic 1948 film, The Red Shoes. Her taste and style influences are eclectic. "I tend to navigate toward graphic things," she says. "I like mixing patterns — especially plaids and stripes. People are always making fun of all the stripes I wear." She's drawn to the silhouette of 1950s women's fashion and loves to search for vintage brooches at flea markets. Hours spent being fitted in the NYCB costume shop were a learning experience. "I guess I was totally annoying — looking at every costume that wasn't for me, and asking questions."
She admires the work of Barbara Karinska, the Russian designer hired by George Balanchine to create many of the iconic costumes for NYCB. "All of her pieces were so beautiful and detailed," Taylor says. "I loved wearing them and analyzing every little thing." Taylor received her first big post-dance commission shortly before leaving New York. NYCB soloist and choreographer Justin Peck asked her to design the costumes for his new ballet, Everywhere We Go, which premiered at the company's spring gala. She had created costumes for a few smaller pieces before, but this was a new challenge. Peck liked one of the leotards she designed for class (striped of course) and wanted looks based on that. "Everywhere We Go" features 25 dancers, both men and women. Taylor had to conceive costumes that complemented Peck's choreography and also stood up to tough performance standards. "There's another mind that has to feel what you're making will express their art," Taylor says, alluding to Peck. "It was fun being on the other side but still involved. It's great to make a little world on-stage."
Still settling into her Los Feliz home, Taylor is already busy with new projects. She's been asked to design fabric and wallpaper. Costumes for L.A. Dance Project are a definite possibility. She's also still finding her way around the city, learning neighborhoods and adapting to all the driving she now has to do (Marcovici doesn't drive.) Although she got her license as a teenager, Taylor never drove in NYC. She only used a car once a year when the company would travel upstate to Saratoga during the summer. Mostly she seems to be enjoying her freedom.
"I've done one thing since I was 2 years old so it feels good to do a bunch of different things," she says. "It's not like I felt suffocated while I was dancing, but it controls a lot of other things in your life. You're always thinking — well, I have a performance tomorrow, or something's hurting and I should rest tonight. Everything you do is about that. It is liberating not to have that stress."