Looking at Dress in Contemporary Dance Performance in London

 

Last week I saw two contemporary dance performances: the world premiere of Wayne McGregor’s ‘Autobiography’ at Sadlers Wells and The Michael Clark Company’s ‘to a simple rock n roll…song’ at Barbican. Both McGregor and Clark collaborated with iconic fashion designers for their wardrobes: McGregor with Aitor Throup and Clark with Stevie Stewart.

Throup created adaptable costumes for McGregor’s ‘Autobiography’, a dance of 23 dance sections in response to the choreographer’s individual genome sequence. Each night the dancer’s performed a random sequence of these sections, and the lightweight mesh clothes designed by Throup equally contained this unpredictable and interchangeable energy. A monochrome wardrobe of – what is also historically what McGregor’s own aesthetic consists of – shirts and shorts with fastening ties worn in a multitude of ways by the dancers, such as shirts tied around the waist, or with ties being left to hang loose.

 

The Michael Clark Company worked with Stevie Stewart, one-half of the influential 80s fashion label BodyMap for the costumes for his triple bill ‘to a simple rock n roll…song’. Clark and Stewart have worked together on the costumes for his dances since 1984, and for this triple bill of music-focused pieces, Stewart responded in collaboration with Clark to create costumes that reflected the energies of each choreographed embodiment of the different musical influences. For the first dance, which was to a stark piano piece by Erik Satie, the dancers’ costumes reminded me of piano keys where full-bodied longsleeve unitards of white torsos and black legs were worn. The following dance was to Patti Smith’s ‘Land’ and the dancers wore patent black flared leggings and white tops, with the lead dancer wearing a net-patterned top. For the David Bowie section of the performance, the costumes consisted of shimmering silver high-necked unitards and later on peach and orange glittering ones. One dancer wore all black (wide leg linen trousers and a longsleeve top), and a black pleated cape to cover her face for some of the dance to Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’, and she then twisted the cape around her and over her arms while she danced.

In Clark and McGregor’s collaborations with designers to create the costumes for their dances, we experience different approaches to how dancers interact with what they wear when they perform in line with the different focuses of the choreography: ‘To a simple rock n roll…song’ on music, ‘Autobiography’ on variation and McGregor’s own self.

By Evie Ward

Gravity Fatigue: Hussein Chalayan’s Foray into Dance

 

Gravity Fatigue - Image 1

Gravity Fatigue, directed by Hussein Chalayan was at Sadler’s Wells from the 28th-31st October 2015

Enter: three dancers, each wearing a white, pleated, knee-length skirt and a boxy jacket with a high collar pulled up to the nose. In step, they make their way around the stage in a manner that can only be described as hula-like – their hips moving in short jerking motions, sending the skirts swishing from side to side, their legs moving as if independent from their bodies.

Soon, they are joined by another trio wearing long black coats. Slowly, but picking up speed, the dancers begin to spin, three at a time, on the spot; the hulas become whirling dervishes. The jackets are unzipped and left to fall. As they do it transpires that they are attached to the skirts and an underbody, with the inside of the jacket covered in multi-coloured sequins. The jackets whirl around the dancers as they spin, creating a mesmerising, hypnotic effect.

This is Gravity Fatigue at its finest – the title of a new performance created by fashion designer Hussein Chalayan for Sadler’s Wells, London. The designer was commissioned by the contemporary dance company and worked alongside choreographer, Damien Jalet, to produce the 1h 15minute performance that showed over four days from the 28th-31st October 2015. Although this was the first time that Chalayan – known for his inter-disciplinary practice – had directed a dance piece, it was not the first time he had shown his work on Sadler’s stage, having used the venue for his famous 2000 A/W show, Afterwards: a commentary on the horror of displacement in wartime that saw models transforming furniture into clothes.

A page from the official programme showing sketches by Chalayan for each of the short tableaux.

A page from the official programme showing sketches by Chalayan for each of the short tableaux.

Officially the ‘hula-dervishes’ were Body Split, dance number 7 out of 18 tableaux that made up the performance, each undeniably stamped with Chalayan’s – aesthetic and thematic – mark. As one might expect, fabric was a central element of the show, in terms of both costumes and set design. The possibilities or restraints provided by fabric formed the starting point for the dancers’ movements, as Chalayan played on themes such as gender, religion, technology, migration, and the self in modern reality.

Photographs in the official programme of dancers in rehearsal

Photographs in the official programme of dancers in rehearsal

Despite these weighty topics the dances never strayed far from a playful humour. Fabric was made to perform alongside the bodies of the dancers, pushing the boundaries of what might normally be expected from material, in classic Chalayan innovation. One tableau, for example, saw the dancer’s dress itself appear to dance. As she stood rooted to the spot it moved and mutated autonomously, and disconcertingly, around her hips.

The fact that Chalayan was entrusted with the role of director, despite his previous lack of dance experience, is a testament to his abilities to cross disciplines in a meaningful and thought provoking way. Significantly, he refers to the experience of creating the show as ‘one of the most important projects in my development as a designer/artist.’  Certainly, Gravity Fatigue brought together two media in a way that created an exciting and enthralling perspective on fashion, material and its relationship with the body.