The new ballet McGregor + Mugler premiered at the weekend at London's Coliseum, the headline of a triple bill of performances showing exclusively for two nights only. A partnership between the legendary 80s couturier, Manfred Thierry Mugler, on art direction and costume design, and dance innovator Wayne McGregor, on choreography, the ballet was a celebration of the animalistic freedom of the human being. Mugler commented: 'We play with the frontiers between real and unreal, masculine and feminine, past and future, nature and cosmos.'
Manfred Thierry Mugler's involvement comes at the end of what could be considered a comeback year for him in pop culture. While the brand bearing his name is now headed by Casey Cadwallader, thankfully Mugler has not completely left fashion by the wayside: 2019 saw him designing Kim Kardashian's wet look gown for the Met Gala and seeing his archive pieces worn by Kardashian and rapper of the moment Cardi B. With interest in Mugler's 80s collections and their theatrical glamour peaking, the ballet visuals couldn't have come at a more opportune time for maximum Mugler interest.
This was no typical night out at the ballet: after Edward Clug's Radio & Juliet set to the rock music of Radiohead, came Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's Faun (a remake of a contemporary classic) and finally McGregor + Mugler closed the evening. Bolshoi Ballet prima ballerina Olga Smirnova and Royal Ballet principal Edward Watson took to the roles of two gods, clashing with emotion, for an abstract 15-minute duet.
Mugler's designs transformed human beings into celestial animals based on 'divine bestiality'. Bodysuits were adorned with gold and black embellishment and lined with hand-dyed horsehair by Michael Asman , which flew with the dancers through the air, as emotions reached new heights. Metallic crosses on both of the dancers' stomachs alluded to the familiar iconography of the Mugler design cosmos - cross symbols can be seen again and again in archive Mugler designs - and they shimmered in full glory under Lucy Carter's lighting design.
Choreographer McGregor described the piece as '...unexpected, extreme and transformative', and the costumes came to reflect this - later making a futuristic transformation of their own. The embellishments hardened into armour, with Smirnova in silver and Watson in gold, their helmets and breastplates rendering them almost superhuman and cyborg-like. The denouement came when the dancers revealed their faces to, in fact, be masks, which they then removed and alternated, confounding the audience and playing with gender and identity.