`I like the Idea of Telling a Classical, Religious Story and by the End It's Become a Fairytale, Almost like the Muppet Show.' ; Walter Van Beirendonck Is a Legend, the Giant Haystacks of Fashion Who Pioneered Streetwear and Dressed U2. Now He Has Transferred His Flair for Fantasy to the Stage in a Ballet about the Life of Rubens. Liz Hoggard Talks to Him about Dance, Art, Sex and Fashion Main Portrait by Carl De Keyzer
Hoggard, Liz, The Independent (London, England)
THE SOUNDTRACK flooding the darkened auditorium is part Pentecostal choir, part techno club mix. Thirty figures in helmets and red tulle bikinis, designed by Antwerp fashion king Walter van Beirendonck, cavort around the stage, as Satan (looking suspiciously like a female Spiderman) throws Adam and Eve out of paradise. This is a postmodern Fall like you've never seen before.
It's everything we've come to expect from a lavish, catwalk spectacle; except this isn't fashion, this is ballet. Belgium's premier classical dance company, Royal Ballet of Flanders, have taken a huge leap of the imagination and commissioned a wild neoclassical piece, based on the life of the Antwerp-born painter Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640).
Moving through a colour palette of white, blue, gold and red, the ballet references more than 40 Rubens paintings including the Adam and Eve tableau, which is taken from Rubens' The Fall, a monumental work of baroque art. But don't worry if religious allegory isn't your strong point. Not Strictly Rubens is a dazzling fusion of dance, art, sex and fashion - and who better to flesh out the master's canvases, than Van Beirendonck, the bad boy of Belgian fashion?
As one of the original Antwerp Six, the group of designers who took fashion by storm after they graduated from the Antwerp Royal Academy in 1980, Van Beirendonck is the stuff of legend. While the work of his compatriots, Dries van Noten, Martin Margiela and Ann Demeulemeester tended to be dark and deconstructed (based on the noble tailoring tradition of Flanders), Van Beirendonck pioneered streetwear - graphic pop-art clothes, vivid colours, bold slogans and futuristic fabrics. In 1992 he launched his label Weird and Lethal Trash, which became an underground cult. He dressed U2's Popmart tour and is regarded as a pop star in his own right in Japan. Even his dog briefly launched his own perfume, ExcessMc2m. The international fashion world still raves about Van Beirendonck's 1996 catwalk show, Killer/Astral Traveller, where Paris's Lido night club was taken over by 120 muscular black models in coloured space wigs, who "fell off" the stage in spectacular fashion. No wonder the f choreographer of Not Strictly Rubens, Marc Bogaerts, felt Van Beirendonck would be the perfect person to bring a brand new audience to classical ballet.
There is a long history of fashion designers working with top dance companies - Chanel and Diaghilev, Halston and Martha Graham, Ossie Clark and Sir Frederick Ashton, Ralph Lauren and Mark Morris. And naturally dance feeds back into fashion. Paul Poiret and Yves Saint Laurent were hugely influenced by Leon Bakst's designs for Ballet Russes, while Versace's mini-crinis are tutus in all but name. But most dance fashion is really couture for the stage. Few artists (apart from honourable exceptions like Michael Clark's work with Hussein Chalayan and Leigh Bowery) actually create something radically new.
But I'd hazard that Van Beirendonck's extraordinary 3D costumes - constructed from more than 175,000 hand-stitched tulle rosettes - will be regarded as works of art long after the production has ended. They certainly showcase the talents of the dancers. After witnessing the spectacle of the opening scene, where 10 male dancers appear in swanlike white tulle breeches, one costume-maker from the Royal Ballet of Flanders admitted: "I didn't know we had boys so beautiful in our company. And I see them every day."
Van Beirendonck was an inspired choice to recreate the movement, the dynamism, the sheer lusty exuberance of Rubens' paintings. Modern classical dancers have skinny, muscular bodies - a far cry from Rubens' 17th-century fleshy nudes - so Van Beirendonck's solution was to pad out the dancers' bodies with voluptuous layers of tulle. "I remember Walter put down this piece of completely pink underwear on my desk and said, `That's …
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Publication information: Article title: `I like the Idea of Telling a Classical, Religious Story and by the End It's Become a Fairytale, Almost like the Muppet Show.' ; Walter Van Beirendonck Is a Legend, the Giant Haystacks of Fashion Who Pioneered Streetwear and Dressed U2. Now He Has Transferred His Flair for Fantasy to the Stage in a Ballet about the Life of Rubens. Liz Hoggard Talks to Him about Dance, Art, Sex and Fashion Main Portrait by Carl De Keyzer. Contributors: Hoggard, Liz - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: March 22, 2003. Page number: 14,15,17. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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