It takes two to tango, and without fashion there would be no dance. Yes, people could frolic around on stage in their birthday suit, but I don’t think your granny would appreciate that on her annual trip to the ballet now, would she? Stage costume plays an integral role when it comes to dancing. Before the first pirouette is spun, or a singular jeté is sprung, costumes can say a lot about a narrative. Over the years there have been many fashion and dance cross overs, with designers swapping London Fashion Week for the National Theatre in stellar displays of sheer brilliant design. To dress a whole chorus of dancers requires severe expertise; these clothes need to be as agile as the dancers wearing them. Here, Out of Step rounds up five of our favourites.
Gareth Pugh for Carbon Ballet (2012)
In signature Pugh style, the designer’s costumes for Carbon Ballet at the Royal Opera House were sculptural, highly charged and otherworldly, all under one rather spectacular umbrella. Gareth Pugh was a trained dancer himself before becoming a designer, who says he won’t make a return to his dancing shoes sometime in the near future?
Nasir Mazhar for War Requiem (2018)
Nasir Mazhar is not a designer who conforms. He has always done fashion on his own terms, even completely abandoning London Fashion Week altogether to open his own store Fantastic Toiles. He also has moved into costume design, creating the headwear for Mary Poppins Returns in 2018. In the same year, he designed 120 costumes for the English National Opera’s War Requiem, alongs ide the artistic direction of Turner Prize-winning photographer Wolfgang Tillmans. The piece was staged to mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War. In a colour palette consisting of greys and muted blues, Nasir wanted to show as many styles from the past 100 years as possible, from blacksmith aprons right through to tracksuits and caps.
Maria Grazia Churi for Nuit Blanche (2019)
For first of three ballets in homage to composer and musician Philip Glass, Dior’s creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri collaborated with Eleonora Abbagnato to design costumes for Nuit Blanche. With an excellent technique for draping, the designs mainly consisted of flouncy sheer dresses in putty neutrals, allowing each dancer’s technique to take centre stage. A subtle elegance was interwoven throughout.
Dries Van Noten for Rain (2017)
When appointed to design the costumes for the 2017 recital of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s Rain, Dries Van Noten swapped his usual acidic hues for a muted palette. The performance is of high altitude, where the choreography follows geometric patterns and numerical formulas, meaning the designer focused entirely on the cut of the garments to allow for as much movement as possible.
Cottweiler for Grey Matter (2018)
When Rambert – Britain’s oldest dance company – teamed up with contemporary dance institution Rambert School for a brand new production back in 2018, they needed a uniform perfect for the now. Who better to turn to than Cottweiler? The London-based menswear brand is specialists in technical sportswear, known for paying the same level of prevision to a tracksuit as a Saville Row tailor would a suit. Consisting of mainly transparent tracksuits, the uniform for Grey Matter was equipped with slits up the thigh to allow fluid movement and skin-tight, bodycon vest tops so dancers could move each arm without restriction.
By Paul Toner
Illustrations by Poppy Quy