Fashionable Dance? Danceable Fashion? Either Way, It Works!

There’s an exciting fashion trend happening: dance! The dance and fashion industries seem to be increasingly joining forces, with dance companies commissioning high profile designers and fashion labels turning to dancers to optimally show off their clothes. This was evident recently during New York’s famed Fashion Week, where “a string of in-demand models with serious dance backgrounds literally had a leg up… Professional dancers are influencing fashion in ways never seen before, ” writes the New York Times. The Times article goes on to explain that an increase in the numbers of models has made the profession more competitive. Additionally, fashion photography has been developing into a higher-concept art form involving narrative. Dancers, with their finely tuned understanding of how to physically convey aesthetics and stories, intense discipline, and stamina have an edge over the merely beautiful. Designers who utilized dancers to animate their concepts in this year’s NY Fashion Week included Venus Williams, Altuzarra, and avante-garde Thom Brown, whose use of a “psychedelic backdrop of monochrome swirls and demonic ballet dancers” evoked “realms of fantasy,” according to Financial Times’ Vanessa Friedman. Fashion photographers have been hiring dancer-models as well. You can catch ballerinas in recent issues of American Vogue, Teen Vogue, Pop, and Purple, to name a few. Dance companies have been commissioning designers a lot lately as well. Here is a great slide show of Valentino, who was invited by Peter Martins to create costumes for New York City Ballet’s fall gala, working with dancer Theresa Reichlen. “It became obvious in the fittings that this huge hair was not possible to dance in,” says NYCB costume director Marc Happel, describing some initial kinks in the partnership. “I think he realized it was too much.”
It seems like the dance side of the dance-fashion duet has been the quicker partner to initiate the pas de deux, as it were. Ballerina extraordinaire Sylvie Guillem, in 2009, dawned creations by icon Alexander McQueen in Eonnagata, a ballet choreographed by Russel Maliphant about the life of Chevalier d’Eon, a cross-dressing 18th century French soldier and secret agent for Louis XV. Guillem liked that McQueen’s "elegance, refinement, and talent” can be “a bit crazy," reports The Guardian. This fun article by Dance Magazine describes collaborations between choreographers Karole Armitage, Melissa Barak, Jorma Elo, John Neumeier, Brian Reeder, and Stephen Petronio with designers like Armani, Benjamin Cho, Manolo, and Christian Lacroix. “The collision of the worlds of fashion and dance creates an alchemy beyond the reach of either one alone,” says Petronio in the article. “Fashion is made to move in the world, and dance is extreme motion.” New Zealand Royal Ballet dancer Katherine Grange was asked by designer Mary-Ellen Prendergast, of the Shen label, to model a line inspired by Grange’s performance in The Sleeping Beauty. There is a film about the process, titled “Naïve Romance,” to be released soon, but in the meantime you can watch this lovely behind-the-scenes documentary about the collaboration. The interaction between dance and fashion inspires new ideas for stories and forms of expression, and brings new audiences to both art forms. Chris Hassall, director of the English National Ballet, recently staged a catwalk event featuring ENB dancers and tutus created by leading fashion designers including Moschino, Oldfield, and Erdem. Hassall describes the intention behind the show: “In France or Spain, going to the ballet is not seen as so elitist. It's more like going to the football. It's part of the culture. That's what I want for ballet here. The point is to make young people realize that ballet is fun and glamorous—that it might be for them, after all."