Couture in motion: Maria Grazia Chiuri and Giles Deacon design for dance

Couturier-designed costumes bring a dazzling dimension to two new works at London’s Sadler’s Wells, by L-E-V and A.I.M by Kyle Abraham

Dancers wear costumes designed by Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri
Dancers wear costumes designed by Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri, for a new work by L-E-V, Chapter 3: The Brutal Journey of the Heart, at Sadler’s Wells, 27 – 28 May 2022.
(Image credit: Stefan Dotter for Dior)

A common thread runs through the work of couturiers and choreographers. Both study the body and its movement in minute detail, in pursuit of a perfect silhouette. In upcoming performances presented by Sadler’s Wells, we see two distinctive approaches to couture in motion, and the artistry in a partnership between fashion designer and dance-maker. 

Maria Grazia Chiuri and L-E-V

Chapter 3: The Brutal Journey of the Heart dancers at Sadler’s Wells. Photo Stefan Dotter

(Image credit: Stefan Dotter for Dior)

Dior Couture creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri is inspired by dance. She has created costumes for ballet and included dancers in the runway show for Dior’s S/S 2019 collection, which was dedicated to the art form. Her catwalk collaboration was with Israeli choreographer Sharon Eyal, whose company L-E-V, co-founded with Gai Behar, will be performing Chapter 3: The Brutal Journey of the Heart, the final part of a trilogy, 27 – 28 May 2022.

Sharing a fascination with the potential of the human body, Eyal and Chiuri came together again to create the costumes for the piece, a work for nine dancers with music by Ori Lichtik, themed around the trials and tribulations of love, and the array of experiences that it elicits. While Eyal prefers not to classify her movement style in any one genre – sometimes it’s inflected with classical ballet technique; sometimes rave- or club-style dance – L-E-V’s performances are always deeply expressive and utterly entrancing. 

L-E-V dancers in costumes by Dior's Maria Grazia Chiuri, Sadler’s Wells. Photography: Stefan Dotter

(Image credit: Stefan Dotter for Dior)

Chiuri’s flesh-coloured bodysuits for The Brutal Journey of the Heart (matched to the performers’ skin tones) are printed with labyrinthine illustrations of foliage, flowers and landscapes, which wrap around the costume, giving the dancers an ethereal aura when they are moving. A red heart on the chest, which suggested to Eyal a ‘bleeding heart’, unites the body inside the suit with the fabric, as if they are one. 

‘The costumes are a layer in the piece,’ says Eyal. ‘A layer of love. Maria Grazia sews the movement. Their dynamics, emotion, nobility and gentle power are like a wax that is peeling. The costumes are the body.’

Dancer for L-E-V, Sadler's Wells,in costume by Maria Grazia Chiuri. Photo: Stefan Dotter

(Image credit: Stefan Dotter for Dior)

‘Sharon Eyal and I have established a partnership that is pivotal to the focus of my work,’ says Chiuri. ‘Reflecting with her on what the choreography should convey, the bodies, and the movement of the dancers, become an exploration into the meaning of fashion, which produces objects that are, structurally speaking, closest to the body.

‘For The Brutal Journey of the Heart,’ Chiuri continues, ‘it was amazing to come up with the light and perfectly fitted costumes worn by the dancers, which act as atlases and maps that convey concepts such as desire, love and broken-heartedness, and combine with words that evoke natural elements, like water, earth and flowers, to bring this incredible vision to life. The costumes manipulated by the movements of the dancers form an emotional landscape that sets the rhythm of this work.’

Giles Deacon and A.I.M by Kyle Abraham

Illustration of dance costume by Giles Deacon for A-I-M by Kyle Abraham, Sadler’s Wells. Courtesy Giles Deacon

(Image credit: Giles Deacon)

In Requiem: Fire in the Air of the Earth, presented as a UK premiere, 31 May – 1 June 2022, couturier Giles Deacon has conceived the costumes. By American choreographer Kyle Abraham for his company A.I.M by Kyle Abraham, the piece for ten dancers is set to an electronic interpretation of Mozart’s Requiem in D minor by Jlin (Jerrilynn Patton). Deacon and Abraham have also collaborated before, on costumes for The Runaway, a dance for the 2018 New York City Ballet Fall Fashion Gala and on Abraham’s 2019 solo work Cocoon; and Deacon has previously created a tutu for an English National Ballet production of Black Swan, in 2011.

The couturier’s signature use of volume, colour and print and his strong sense of the theatrical all feature in his costumes for Requiem. Deacon describes his working process with Abraham as ‘a joy’, one that starts with ‘a visual conversation based on video clips of the dancers and the soundtrack. I then send first thoughts on colour palette, fabrications and quick drawings,’ he continues. ‘Once the narrative has been established, the individual dancers and their characters are considered and designed for accordingly. I love to work in this way, to create for the individual and the piece rather than a homogenised look.

Illustration of dance costume by Giles Deacon for A-I-M by Kyle Abraham, Sadler’s Wells. Courtesy Giles Deacon

(Image credit: Giles Deacon)

‘For Requiem, I wanted to explore a hand-drawn print on silk, which contrasts the precision of the choreography with pops of colour in daffodil and poppy, and in abstract elements of deconstructed period costume, such as the bustle and sleeve.’

Touching on ideas centred around death, rebirth, mythology and Black Futurism, Requiem: Fire in the Air of the Earth has a fantastical quality made vivid by Deacon’s costumes and the lighting and scenic design of Dan Scully. The elements harmonise beautifully with Abraham’s compelling choreographic style, which incorporates elements of ballet, modern and contemporary dance and hip-hop, bringing a quietly dazzling dimension to the dancers’ movement. 

‘Giles has such a brilliant imagination and sense of storytelling,’ says Abraham. ‘I was instantly inspired by his views on the choreographic themes serving the work.’


Chapter 3: The Brutal Journey of the Heart performed by L-E-V at Sadler’s Wells, 27 – 28 May 2022

Requiem: Fire in the Air of the Earth performed by A.I.M by Kyle Abraham at Sadler’s Wells, 31 May – 1 June 2022