Artistic Director and Designer Hussein Chalayan / Choreographer Damien Jalet
Sadler’s Wells Artistic Director and Chief Executive Alistair Spalding has done it again: created a buzz, bringing in a new crowd to the best dance house in London, the fashionista crowd… and they love Hussein Chalayan’s Gravity Fatigue.
Well, they would, wouldn’t they? I hear “it's the best thing I’ve seen”. But I also hear “a bit banal”. There’s the divide between catwalk and dance aficionados.
Nicosia-born Chalayan, who styles himself as a visual artist, is a big name in the fashion world. British Designer of the Year in 1999 and 2000, he has also created costumes for Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Faun, Michael Clark’s current/SEE and Sasha Waltz & Guests’ Passion with Pascal Dusapin.
He’s obviously more than a fashion designer with his own label; his international renown, his exhibitions and many awards attest to that. Interests range from fashion’s sculptural forms, to installations, film, technology and inevitably cultural identity.
These he brings to his conceptual proposition for choreographer Damien Jalet (frequent collaborator with Cherkaoui). But he is not a dance maker nor has he Alexander McQueen’s fluid sense of the dramatic; his strengths lie in mesmerising static tableaux, in fleetingly episodic visual scenes, playful parody and ironic self-awareness.
Two years in the making, in essence Gravity Fatigue is about bodies, clothed and unclothed, their potentiality and vulnerability. Here is where dance and fashion cross. These days, dancers often work as models. What better clothes horses can there be?
Staging both types of show requires theatricality, and curiously that is missing. Seventy-five long minutes; the pace is sluggish because each snapshot scene takes some technical setting up: blackouts and video projections interject. Gravity Fatigue gives way to plain fatigue for me.
Eighteen vignettes, each with a title as a guide: Intermission of Alterity (sic); Anticipation of Participation; Rise Disembodiment… I see Martha Graham in the first (Corporeal): two bodies in a stretch amoeba sack shroud; constructivism in the second (Spaces of Wilderness), bodies spinning like hands of a clock, making patterns on the floor.
What the synchronicity on either side of a wall is about I’m not sure (Omnipresence), nor what the rope pullers (Threading the Difference) are doing—ringing bells? The indifferently variable electronic sound track—or should I say the MODE-F “sound illustrators”—suggests bells.
The girl in a strapless red dress observed by three goddesses in elegant gowns leaning on soft top tables, elbows gouging deep, has a problem: there’s an alien in there struggling to get out. And what’s going on with the three runway models wearing dresses whose trains have a life of their own? Must be done with magnets… Aren’t we all children when all’s said and done? We love a bit of magic and sleight of hand.
Special effect dresses and stretch fabrics that give conjoined couples the look of Gerald Scarfe inkjet cartoons; airmail-light paper-doll cut-out dresses that wing across the stage (Delayed Presence); floors that echo to drum of feet and give way to trampoline bounce—performance art and the mosaics of Chalayan’s trade.
Was Chalayan thinking of Martin Creed’s Work No 850—the Tate runners—when he decided to have his ten dancers sprint in delayed relay across the stage and then rewind, again and again?
500 Years of Pleats speaks for itself and is beautiful, thirteen dancers kneeling and dancing with their hands as stitching patterns play above their heads. But much better fun is the ball play pit; it even entices two abaya-clad women to body surf.
Magnificent inventions: reversible coats that turn their wearers into glitter-ball whirling dervishes, and sparkling satellites; and a Dolce far niente (‘sweet nothings’) fashion house with multilingual voiceover announcing this seasons “fifties look seen through the eyes of the nineties”—good to see he can laugh at himself.
Is he saying the emperor has no clothes? Heaven forbid. But he is saying we are bodies and his clothes do make a difference to how they move. And what clever clothes, but only for the rich—if I read the Millionaire Dance and Hong Kong Heights right—lounging round the pool with its rotating lily pad...
Some snippets work, some don’t, some are boring, some raise a smile, and there’s little coherence or cohesion, yet Gravity Fatigue is not to be dismissed. Chalayan’s minimalist asymmetrical architectural cut of the cloth may not have transferred entirely successfully to the stage, more a thing of shreds and patches, but there is resonance, not least in the soundbox flooring.
Reviewer: Vera Liber