Hussein Chalayan: Gravity Fatigue at Sadler’s Wells Digital Stage
Streaming theatre at home is an experience new to us all. Unlike watching TV, it can feel like the “rules” of theatre still apply: we have to sit quietly in our living rooms, watch the show from start to finish and clap at the end. Obviously this is not true, but even from the living room, the energy of a live show feels much higher than film and TV. Theatre can come across as more alive – the pace is quicker, the movements are bigger, and even if we are not watching it live, the performers are experiencing the thrill and the risk of a live show, and that exhilaration still comes through, even on a screen.
Gravity Fatigue was created in 2015 by Hussein Chalayan, an internationally renowned fashion designer whose work is often performative and sometimes called “wearable art”. Gravity Fatigue is his debut in theatre, and the performance is an intriguing insight into his mind, in the form of dance theatre. The show is a patchwork quilt of independent dance pieces, connected to each other only in theme.
The standout performers are the costumes. The show centres around textures, patterns, and movement, which form the spectacle in and of themselves. There is not always an obvious narrative but rather a focus on the show’s imagery. Chalayan and choreographer Damien Jalet create a visual unit out of the ensemble of dancers, combining the detail of the choreography with lighting, fabrics, and sound to create complex textures. It is like a theatrical exploration of clothing.
There are some very innovative moments. One sequence plays with dissociation between upper and lower body through the differences in the dancers’ jackets and skirts. The movement works beautifully in sync with the clothes and the music, and creates some very exciting visual illusions, honed and given breath by the accomplished ensemble. The final scene is wonderfully comical, and the show features some very inventive solos and duets. In general, Chalayan and Jalet’s areas of expertise fuse together gloriously. The material is original for the stage and fascinating to watch.
But while much of the show is exciting, some of the early scenes could be developed further. Some of the choreography marries well with the music; the trampoline sequence, in particular, is wonderful. But sometimes it could link up better, and at times the music is jarring and detracts from the show. It could also use more transitions rather than blackouts, as they break up the flow of the action and bring the audience out of the experience.
Still, while some things could be developed, Gravity Fatigue is a beautiful and groundbreaking piece. There is much to celebrate in Hussein Chalayan’s theatrical debut.
Photo: Hugo Glendinning
Hussein Chalayan: Gravity Fatigue is available to view online on Sadler’s Wells’ Facebook page and on YouTube from 29th May until 5th June 2020. For further information visit the theatre’s website here.