Dance and fashion are not so far apart. Both use the body as their source of inspiration and so a collaboration between award winning fashion designer Hussein Chalayan and Franco/Belgian choreographer Damien Jalet is not so unusual. The twist is that for Gravity Fatigue Chalayan has taken the artistic lead on the creation of this new dance show for Sadlers Wells.
Chalayan’s work is known for its artistic flair – he is famed for his coffee table that transformed into a skirt, part of his 2000 autumn/winter collection Afterwords showcased at Sadlers Wells – and innovative costumes are again the focus in Gravity Fatigue. The show is part dance performance, part fashion show, complemented by a set design that repeatedly steals the attention.
The performance begins in the vein of a contemporary dance piece. Two bodies are cocooned in a sheet of fabric, their movements stretching the material into distorted shapes while projected images intermittently splutter into life on its surface. The throbbing beat of the soundtrack places you in the environment of a runway show (the usual haunt of “sound illustrators” MODE-F) and it’s not long before the brilliance of Gravity Fatigue’s set design and costume takes precedence over its premise as a dance show.
There’s much to absorb as we race through the echelons of the fashion world in a series of tableaus that take us from production (at one point paper pattern costumes are pulled out of the set), to runway, to after-party (the performance ends in a pool party filled with posing models). The most memorable moments are when costume and movement become one. In his typically inventive approach to design Chalayan has created costumes that can seemingly move of their own accord. A red dress expands and wraps itself around its dancer’s body, her subtle movements following its twisted shapes. It’s an image revisited in a later trio where delicate dresses seem to control their dancers’ movements. This clever trick creates a fascinatingly blurred line between Chalayan’s artistic direction and Jalet’s choreographic choices, it being unclear whether dancer or costume takes the lead. Another scene sees duos of dancers push the counterweight of their bodies to extremes as they stretch an elasticated sheet of fabric between them achieving a membrane-like effect.
The programme notes suggest that Gravity Fatigue explores themes of displacement and migration, although these are hard to find. The closest connection is when two female dancers, dressed in niqabs, join a group of dancers in casual western clothing in a ball pit. As the dancers throw themselves across the pool with pure abandon and zero inhibition their differences matter little. It’s a scene of high energy – and one that looks an enormous amount of fun.
Projections and filmed sequences are repeatedly used to bridge scenes. However, watching a projected version of what you’ve just seen live feels excessive and, with the segmented nature of the work, not altogether necessary (aside from allowing time for a set change). Yet, on the occasions when these films lead smoothly into the next section we are reminded of the intelligence and uniqueness of the collaboration behind Gravity Fatigue. As the projected dancers fall backwards out of sight the scene switches into one of the strongest choreographic sections of the performance. The dancers drop and rebound off a trampoline flooring, the rhythms of their falling bodies providing the soundtrack in a tightly choreographed spectacle.
The design and concept of Gravity Fatigue is undeniably impressive and there are some visually striking moments that stick in the memory. Sadly, with no strong thread to hold Gravity Fatigue’s whirlwind of ideas together this innovative outing can sometimes become difficult to engage with and there are moments that simply drift by.