Image courtesy of Michael Stewart; photography by Andrew Nuding (2017)
The opera has always been a place where fashion and art come together for a moment of visual splendour. Those preparing for a night out at the box usually take care to put on their finest – richly-coloured cocktail gowns and crisp suits – making the audience just as much of a spectacle as the performance taking place on stage. There’s an art to the opera experience. And while fashionable attendance is considered practically synonymous with the opera, fashion doesn’t always make it centre-stage.
Changing the key and putting the fashion in focus of the opera is Robe, a new performance having its premiere in London this week. Written and composed by Scottish composer Alastair White, it tells the story of a post-human society in which virtual reality, and A.I. cross with high fashion, contemporary dance and, of course, the opera. Irish designer Michael Stewart was behind the costumes, which are taken from his 2017 RCA Graduate Collection that examined the body within the landscape. Two elders, Neachneohain and Beira, desperate to keep a society in which the real and virtual are one in tact, task Rowan, a cartographer to enter into the mind of a super-intelligent being. Named Edinburgh this creature hosts an abstract world of data and dreams. It’s within Edinburgh that the elders wish to create a living city, full of human life.
The opera goes on to tell the story of how Rowan and Edinburgh come to forge a union of thirty years, built on love and Rowan’s mission to forge a map that will grant the elder’s wish. However, there’s a secret Rowan is keeping, one which could threaten the future of the world as they know it. Produced by UU Studios, the production company founded by White and Gemma A. Williams, Robe wants to shed light on the little discussed topic of virtual reality being as much a futuristic tool as it is an ancient one.
“Virtual reality has existed since the dawn of time. Books, theatres – even the clothes we wear – are examples of machines which transform and augment our perception of the world,” shares White. “Robe uses the intersections between dance, fashion, and opera to explore how the implications of mind-bending future technologies such as A.I. and cyberspace may have their origin in ancient, forgotten pasts.”
The costumes designed by Stewart were inspired by the notion of ancient futures, further elaborating that there is little difference between remnants of the distant past and the future. To further make fashion central, Williams, who is the curator and author of Fashion China, partnered with choreographer Max Gershon, who has previously worked with Burberry and Tate Modern, to explore the theatrical language of fashion and dance. If you want to delve into the world of cyberspace in which fashion forms a bridge across two seemingly distant worlds, book your tickets asap. Robe premieres tomorrow, August 6th at The Place as part of Tete-a-Tete: The Opera Festival.
The ‘Robe’ performances will take place on Tuesday, August 6th at The Place. You can find more information and purchase the tickets here.