Keiko Voltaire - A TORCH for her mother illuminates the path from dancer to costume designer

Evidence, A Dance Company in "TORCH"                                                                                                      photo: Ayodele Casel

Keiko Voltaire has had a long career in dance. A Japan native, Keiko was a dancer and dance educator (serving as the director of the dance department at Tokyo School of Music prior to relocating to New York City. Keiko trained  at The Ailey School and performed with Earl Mosley among other choreographers before transitioning into wardrobe supervision and costume design.

Recently, thatgirl caught up with Keiko as she prepared for the premiere of Ronald K. Brown's TORCH, for which she created the costumes.

thatgir006: How did you transition from dancing to full-time wardrobe supervisor and costume designer?

Keiko Voltaire: In 2004 Derrick Minter, who was the Rehearsal Director for Ailey II, called and asked me to help with wardrobe for the touring company. I went to the interview and got the job! I didn't go to school for fashion design, my mother taught me how to sew when I was a young girl so I could make things and I knew how to take care of clothing. Everything else about the job I learned on the road with Ailey II.

TG: What other companies have you worked with?
"TORCH" costume for male dancer
KV: After Ailey II, I started getting lots of work through word of mouth. I worked with Martha Graham, David Parsons and Elisa Monte during their seasons at The Joyce Theater. I have been doing this for 9 years now, working non-stop. I am currently the resident wardrobe supervisor for Lar Lubovitch Dance Company and Jose Limon as well as working with Evidence.

TG: Your clients must have been very happy with your work to recommend you to others.
KV: You have to be good. You must be on time. No complaining. If you're not good, you're done. Not that I am saying I'm perfect, I have made my mistakes! Like with Earl Mosley. He is another person who has given me lots of opportunity and helped my career a lot. In the beginning, I made some costumes for Earl that weren't exactly right to say the least but he kept calling me and asking me to design over and over again. That was invaluable.

TG: How does it feel to work with dancers and not be dancing any longer yourself?
KV: I am happy. I don't want to go back to that life. My lifestyle is more comfortable now. When you are auditioning, your life is in the hands of others. I didn't like the way I felt when I wasn't picked. But, having been a dancer helps me when picking fabrics and when dealing with different body types. When there are challenges I think, "I can make this" because I know how it feels. I love fashion as well so this is perfect for me! 

TG: Let's talk about TORCH. 
KV: Ron (Ronald K. Brown, Artistic Director, Evidence, A Dance Company) told me about the piece. It's very deep. Beth (Beth Young, dancer, Evidence supporter and friend of Ronald K. Brown),  Mrs. J (Denise Jefferson, former director of the Ailey School), and Dr. Johnson (Dr. Sherrill Berryman Johnson)founder of the Howard University dance program), everyone passed away from cancer. Right away I said, "I can do this". He looked at me (as if to say you haven't even seen the piece yet). I said, "My mother passed away from cancer."

TORCH costume detail: 神:God / 美:Beauty / 悼:Mourn
TG: How did you create your designs?
KV: He told me the colors were white, yellow and green. Then I just started drawing. But the piece was hard for me, I didn't know exactly what to make. I didn't want to make costumes like the other designers that have worked with the company but I wanted to keep Ron's taste... but I wanted to put myself into it. Then, one day in DC it came to me at 4:00am. I decided to add Japanese characters. These characters are very natural for me. I chose the characters for God, Beauty, and missing someone.

Keiko (left) and her Mother
On the Amtrak coming back from DC I was drawing the sketches (my mom taught me how to draw and to sew) Dahlila (Evidence Technical Director, Dalilah Kee) took a picture of me. When I got home I looked at the photo and I realized that I look just like my mom. Her spirit is in me now!

TG: Thank you Keiko, we are looking forward to seeing your costumes on stage! Now we have a few thatgirl006b quick questions for you.
"TORCH" costume for female dancer

TG: Brooklyn or Manhattan?
KV: Brooklyn

TG: Trains or Airplanes?
KV: Airplanes

TG: Who's most fashionable, Gwen Stefani or Rhianna?
KV: Rhianna

See Evidence, A Dance Company perform TORCH this weekend at The Joyce Theater. For tickets: or call Joyce Charge 212-242-0800. For more information about Evidence, A Dance Company visit