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.
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.
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.