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California-born Willa Kim studied painting and illustration on scholarship at what is now called the California Institute of the Arts. After graduation she began working in studios and at the insistence of one of her instructors, began designing for the theatre. What has resulted is a most prolific career as a designer for dance, theatre, opera and television.
She was recently inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame, making her one of only a handful of costume designers so honored.
Kim won Tony Awards for Tommy Tune’s The Will Rogers Follies and Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies starring Judith Jamison and Gregory Hines and Tony nominations for Bob Fosse’s Dancin’, Peter Allen’s Legs Diamond, Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Song and Dance and Goodtime Charley starring Joel Grey.
She has designed over 150 ballets including Jiří Kylián’s Dream Dances and Nomads, Robert Joffrey’s Remembrances and Gamelon, Glen Tetley’s Daphnis and Chloë and Sphinx, Margo Sappington’s Rodin and Under the Sun, Michael Smuin’s Shinju, more than 50 works for Eliot Feld and ballets by Jack Cole, John Butler, Kenneth MacMillan and Erick Hawkins. Her designs for Michael Smuin’s ballets The Tempest and Song for Dead Warriors both received Emmy Awards.
Kim’s other credits include Jean Genet’s The Screens (Drama Desk, Maharam and New York Critics’ Poll Awards), Maria Irene Fornes’ Promenade (Drama Desk Award), Sam Shepard’s Operation Sidewinder (Drama Desk Award), the Robert Lowell trilogy The Old Glory (Obie Award), Woman Before a Glass, starring Mercedes Ruehl (Obie Award), the original Broadway production of Tom Stoppard’s Jumpers, Victor/Victoria starring Julie Andrews, Jonathan Miller’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night starring Jack Lemmon, Edward Albee’s Malcolm, John Guare’s Four Baboons Adoring the Sun and Lydie Breeze, Tommy Tune’s Grease and Busker Alley, and the operas The Stag King, The Magic Flute, Rossignol, Help Help the Globolinks, Tosca and Turadot.
She is a recipient of the USITT Costume Award, the Patricia Zipprodt Award for Innovative Costume Design and the TDF Irene Sharaff Lifetime Achievement Award.
For American Ballet Theatre, Kim has designed the costumes for Dennis Nahat’s Brahms Quintet (1969) and Ontogeny (1971) (for which she also designed the scenery); Glen Tetley’s Contredances (1979) and Sphinx (1977); Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s The Wild Boy (1981) and Michael Smuin’s Peter and the Wolf (1992).