Hussein Chalayan has always pushed the boundaries of fashion, embracing new materials and with a progressive attitude to technology. In his latest project, Gravity Fatigue, Chalayan uses his Fashion as the grammar for the theme of a piece of dance at the Sadlers Wells. The theme looks at migration, displacement and freedom.
The costumed dancers ventriloquize Chalayan’s own experience of no fixed locality, which stands also as a locus that sets one free. They interrelate between them and, the places and non-places they drift to and from, transform the stage into a series of oneiric containers.
Variations of bodies wear out as they play and struggle with the forces of gravity - leitmotivs that counterbalance the act of falling and rising up and that of concealment and revelation. Starring thirteen dancers, and a pageantry of 110 items of clothing constructing the narrative in eighteen sections over 75 minutes, with a non-stop electronic music designed by MODE-F, “Gravity Fatigue” took two years to create.
The choreographer/costume designer relationship is here reversed: choreographed by the French-Belgian Damien Jalet in collaboration with the dancers and in response to the clothing and sets designed by Chalayan. In a similar fashion to the autonomy of the ballerina’s slippers in the “Red Shoes” (1845) the performers are possessed by the clothing, for it usually takes over the – rather thin – dance, acting as a parergon and social prosthetic.
The first section, “Corporeal,” casts a couple of performers dehumanised under a translucent shroud as they sculpt a series of poses, with Natasha Chivers’s lighting, both concealing and revealing their wriggling limbs; the rhythms of the shroud’s folds divesting what the reverie of the legendary “Veiled Christ” (1753) by Giuseppe Sanmartino would have been like.
In “Word Dictators”, a woman in a red dress walks upstage and writhes as her wandering womb begins to twist the garment that envelops her through the use of hidden mechanics and remote control. She takes on convulsive movements whilst three women in the background rest and bounce their arms on the elasticated desktops in a gesture recalling Chalayan’s glass sculpture “Frozen Monologues” (2013).
The idea of home is here suggestive of the organic and the familiar – womblike, cocoonlike and maternal – but is to shift paradoxically to other spaces, the heterotopias of everyday life, as a response to the experience of the unfamiliar, or uncanny.
“Elastic Bodies”, explores the borderlines of the body through the unhomely, perforated fabric of reality, with paired dancers casting dysmorphic features by extending elastic bands across the stage. They distort their poses, with lighting blackouts offering different vantage points. For the ending sequence, the two pairs join together with a performer constantly altering our viewing slant as she runs circularly. Spatial transformations bring forth an animated linear anamorphosis.
A moment of meditation arrives with “Arrival of Departure,” set in a Turkish classical singing of Chalayan’s mother. Three girls move their hips and knees mechanically in a girlie fashion similar to De Keersmaeker’s “Quatuor n°4” (1986), with three more performers, garbed as travellers, joining what was akin to the dance of the Whirling Dervishes. As they revolve, they undo their jackets, which transform into shimmering sequin dresses, arms to the sides and torsos bent forward, figuring airplanes in flight as a metaphor of migration resulting in cultural disorientation. A truly spiritual moment and one you deeply associate with the ripped roots of the man behind it.