Dance and Fashion
Daring Beauty

“Zero” by Nanine Linning at the Theater Heidelberg with costumes by Iris van Herpen; © Kalle Kuikkaniemi
“Zero” by Nanine Linning at the Theater Heidelberg with costumes by Iris van Herpen; © Kalle Kuikkaniemi | © Kalle Kuikkaniemi

Since antiquity, costume has been an important element of the theatre. The costume in stage dance has often anticipated more revealing fashion trends. Nowadays choreographers seek the tension of their body art with haute couture.

In Greek amphitheatres the actors, dancers and choristers wore cothurns, thick-soled plateau shoes, to appear more exalted and to be visible from a distance. They thus proved to be an inspiration for current shoe fashions, including ultra-high stilettos, which one also encounters in dance and performance. At the beginning of the 20th century, expressive dancers such as Isadora Duncan enthused over the voluminous, flowing robes of antiquity. They offered the greatest possible freedom of movement. The formation of the folds gave each arm movement and each step an aesthetic sophistication, as is shown by the enchanting figurine of an Ancient-Greek mantle-dancer in the German Dance Archive in Cologne.

The museum of this specialist library is hosting the exhibition Faltenwurf und Walzerschritt (Drapery and Waltz Step) until August 9th 2015. A selection from the 700 artefacts in the archive casts a fascinating light on fashion, dance and fashionable dance, connecting dance in society and on stage in an ingenuous and entertaining manner. The topic of fashion and dance is currently en vogue - as can also be seen in the presentation of the collection by Rudolf Nureyev’s long-time costume designer Martin Kamer in the newly opened Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin.

Tantalising and athletic

In classical ballet the tutu became shorter and shorter, it seemed ever more tantalising and also more athletic. Only at a much later date were women were allowed to show so much “flesh” on the streets. Since the 20. century, performing artists and fashion designers have often collaborated with dance. Pablo Picasso created costumes and sets for the Ballets Russes. Coco Chanel designed the costumes for Serge Diaghilev’s dancers in Jean Cocteau’s Le train bleu. John Neumeier engaged Giorgio Armani, the favourite designer of many Hollywood stars. For the American’s Bernstein Dances in Hamburg the Italian designer created delicate, pastel-coloured dresses with spaghetti straps and idiosyncratic men’s suits like those we know from his collections. For years Benjamin Millepied, the new director of the Paris Ballet, has been a great fan of the fashion artistry of Yves Saint Laurent. At the Ballett am Rhein Merce Cunninghams Scenario is simply amazing: the dancers perform the weirdest and trickiest balance acts in the balloon-like creations of the Japanese designer Rei Kawacubo from the label Comme des Garçons, which are very reminiscent of Niki de Saint Phalle’s Nanas. Instead of streetwear modern hip-hoppers favour characterising outfits like those worn in contemporary dance.

Daring beauty

The costumes for Pina Bausch’s pieces form an exception. Marion Cito’s designs for the Tanztheater Wuppertal are a perfect theatrical haute-couture collection. Nevertheless, they are “really clothes for everything”, as the Parisian dance critic Dominique Frétard observes in the magnificent photo-book Daring Beauty – Dance Costumes by Marion Cito, 1980-2009. In these clothes you could “love, weep, cook spaghetti, wipe the floor, carry bricks, swim, have a bucket of water thrown in your face … be beautiful. And of course – dance.” Pina Bausch once said that in her pieces she wanted “to carry on dreaming the yearnings for eternal beauty.” She spoke of Cito’s “feeling for airiness that comes close to what I like.”

In Osnabrück Nanine Linning caused quite a stir when she engaged fashion designer Iris van Herpen for her piece Synthetic Twin. Here the issue was not fashion but haute couture, she explains, since it concerns itself intellectually with material and body as does performing art. “That’s where autonomous artists who don’t come from the theatre are working. They are pure, not so ministering. I really like it when they look at our work with their eyes. That creates a good tension and friction” – even though this makes the logistics more difficult, she adds. For they have no idea that one has to wash dance costumes twenty times or that a mask is not practical if it weighs five kilos or one can see virtually nothing through it. “But I work around this. I adapt myself. The costume always has a secret – just like the body.”

Ahead of any kind of luxury and all fashions

But how much art is allowed? “Each dose and overdose. It’s about art-material-form-content and always about inventions,” answers rosalie. For decades the Stuttgart-based artist has also been designing sets and costumes for all theatre sections.

How fashionable may a costume be? “Beyond all fashions – ahead of any kind of luxury and all fashions”, rosalie answers. Asked, how a stage costume differs from everyday clothing, she replies: “Obviously in its long-distance impact. In the best case, the stage costume still has an impact in the last row of the third circle. With a dance costume factors such as bodyline and choreography are important. It has to allow each movement and give its own commentary to this – give the figure maximal presence in every respect. But for me it’s also about the alphabet of beauty, the art of the cut and always about the special material in its own particular fashioning, effect and impression. Art versus convention, avant-garde versus outfitter.”


Schönheit wagen – Tanzkleider von Marion Cito, 1980-2009 (Daring Beauty – Dance Costumes by Marion Cito, 1980–2009), Tanztheater Wuppertal 2014
Dance and Fashion, published by Valerie Steele, Oxford University Press 2014
Reclams Mode- und Kostümlexikon (Reclam’s Lexicon of Fashion and Costume) by Ingrid Loschek, 6. edition 2011