The world of fashionistas and fine art devotees will find themselves hungry for a glimpse of innovative fashion designer Hussein Chalayan’s first theatre piece Gravity Fatigue at Sadler’s Wells this week. After experimenting on the catwalk and playing with the theatricality of the fashion world, Chalayan teams up with choreographer Damien Jalet, a group of imaginative dancers and a creative team ready to bend the minds of spectators, creating a piece of work that explores the body and its relation to space and identity in as many experimental ways as possible. It’s a strange mixture of overwhelming, mesmerising and disturbing sound, frantic movement of bodies in space and a design that is sometimes achingly clever, sometimes a snapshot of what can only be somewhere in a galaxy far, far away.
Chalayan and Jalet’s fascination with storytelling with the body in movement is tested in all shapes and styles, as the dance moves from something abstract and motoric, to an exploration of relationships, isolation and our search for identity. Jalet’s work is bold, sharp and painfully precise, with timing that’s impeccable. The dancers move with such accuracy and focus they seem tribal in their energy, but also strangely mechanical, moving the body in ways that seems humanly impossible.
Chalayan’s shapes and colours are fascinating in their abstraction as well as perplexing. The opening sequence has two dancers entrapped in some sort of fabric bubble, exploring shapes and timing, which is probably one of the weirdest but most wonderful parts of the performance. When costumes bend in strange shapes seemingly by their own accord, our fascination and curiosity are triggered, but unfortunately these dark comments on character and society become fewer as we go on, and are replaced by moments of just plain weirdness. The different moments seem too far apart in theme and story to connect and we are therefore left with a myriad of scenic images and choreography, some more powerful and successful than others.
MODE-F, the sound illustrators, create an unnerving, thrilling soundscape that fits perfectly with the frantic spectacle, and Nick Hillel’s video design hits brilliance as a dancer plays with his identity by interacting with his projected self.
Gravity Fatigue has some really interesting moments, something that brushes on abstract genius. Though it does feel like a dance piece with too many different visual ideas crammed together and jarring slightly, there are moments when everything comes together and takes your breath away for a second. It does feel like weird for weirdness’s sake at times, and you need to have the stomach for experimental, eccentric art – much of this doesn’t seem part of this planet, so if you’re expecting a piece of coherent storytelling through dance, Gravity Fatigue will frustrate you.
Gravity Fatigue played at Sadler’s Wells until 31 October. For more information and tickets, see the Sadler’s Wells website. Photo: Sadler’s Wells/Théâtre National de Chaillot.