Obsidian Tear Outfitted

Boston Ballet Staff

Roddy Doble, Photo credit: Lauren Pajer

Boston Ballet Soloist Roddy Doble

Photo credit: Lauren Pajer

Obsidian Tear is the first ballet to be styled instead of costumed—ever.

Boston Ballet Principal Dancer Paul Craig

Photo credit: Lauren Pajer

Boston Ballet Principal Dancer Junxiong Zhao being fitted for Obsidian Tear by Charles Heightchew

Photo credit: Jill Goddard

Boston Ballet Principal Dancer Paul Craig

Photo credit: Lauren Pajer

Boston Ballet Principal Dancer Junxiong Zhao being fitted for Obsidian Tear by Charles Heightchew

Photo credit: Jill Goddard

Nine male dancers will take the stage on Nov 3 for the North American premiere of Wayne McGregor’s Obsidian Tear in ready-to-wear designer clothing—the first-time a ballet has been "styled" instead of "costumed."

Typically, choreographers work with costume designers to create what the dancers will wear for new ballets. One of today’s most innovative choreographers, Wayne McGregor instead asked Katie Shillingford, renowned fashion editor of London’s AnOther Magazine, to style Obsidian Tear. "I knew it was a piece that shouldn't have costumes but clothing," said McGregor in AnOther Magazine. "And what I wanted to explore with Katie was: what is maleness? Gender definition, around classical ballet particularly, is very stereotyped, but my material has always been much more fluid, and so I wanted to work with her in order to reinforce that."

Shillingford approached the project like a fashion shoot by selecting pieces from the Spring-Summer 2016 collections by fashion designers including Vivienne Westwood, Craig Green, Hood By Air, and Assaf Reeb.

"It's an interesting collection of names, some new, some more established, and I wanted to try to make it inclusive—like a slice of the best, most interesting men's fashion from that time. Something that was interesting to me was that pretty much all of the garments were available for the general consumer," said Katie Shillingford. "Fashion is a business as well as an art. There is a range of designers used and although it is a more avant-garde edit, they were still all designs that were produced and sold. Of course, movement of clothing and functionality was also important, but the challenge was in the idea itself."

Lawrence Rines Photo credit: Lauren Pajer

Boston Ballet Second Soloist Lawrence Rines

Photo credit: Lauren Pajer

Obsidian Tear, a co-production with The Royal Ballet, premiered in London in May 2016. At Boston Ballet’s Costume Shop, Charles Heightchew, manager of costumes and wardrobe, now faces his own challenge of fitting dancers into the different pieces without making significant alterations.

"We can put some elastic in to make the waist a little tighter, or let out the back a bit to make the trousers a little bit bigger, but we can’t actually cut into the fabric because then it can’t go back to what it was," said Heightchew. "They’re not traditional ballet costumes, which is good because it gives you a little bit more freedom."

Shillingford’s selections reflect the duality of the title of the ballet, where "tear" can be interpreted as both destructive and vulnerable. Each piece—from an asymmetric vest to a shirt dress to chiffon skirt—straddles the edge of feminine and masculine.

"I suppose the overarching theme that I was looking at in designers' work was gender ambiguity—playing with codes of masculinity and femininity and making those worlds collide," Shillingford reflected. "Some of the pieces, although incredibly simple are quite provocative, perhaps a cut more known to a female garment, but worn on a man's body for instance or a cut-out that reveals a provocative part of the body. We also used a very graphic color palette; it's a simple, quite stripped back collection of clothing, but it's quite loud. It might not be everyone's cup of tea!"

Spoken like a true Londoner.  Yet whether you prefer Earl Grey or English Breakfast, there’s no doubt you will savor McGregor’s and Shillingford’s collaboration.  

"I hope that people enjoy watching this collection of clothes in motion and find our overall idea interesting—creating a kind of time capsule with these garments as well as something visually engaging to watch in movement," said Katie Shillingford. "It's an exciting and very unique idea which I'm very thankful to Wayne for dreaming up!"

The illusion we create is intended to deepen your understanding of reality.

Mikko Nissinen, Artistic Director
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