Dressing for a ballet

An interview with Dries Van Noten

By Delphine Roche 10 July 2017

© John Nolan

Dressing for a ballet

Until July 15, the Paris Opera is performing Drumming Live, by the choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, with costumes by Dries Van Noten. Our partners at Numero.com talked to him about that collaboration. 

Numéro: Many fashion designers hate to create stage costumes. What did you find so appealing about it?

Dries Van Noten: When I work on my collections, I alone make my decisions without external constraints. Thinking about the movements the garment will allow, working for another creative individual and sharing their vision is really highly instructive. I’m not young anymore, but I always like to meet new people and discover their way of thinking.

You’ve collaborated with several choreographers in the past. How was working with Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker different?

Anne Teresa’s vision is highly specific because she doesn’t like stage costumes, which makes my work all the more difficult: we need to give the impression that the dancers are wearing their own clothes. To a certain degree, it’s the way I work on my own collections: I don’t like to think in terms of a total look, I prefer to visualise pieces you can mix with the rest of your wardrobe. With Anne Teresa, that idea became all the more radical, because the shape of the garments had to be ultra-simple. 

Dries Van Noten
Dries Van Noten © John Nolan

The costumes that you created for Drumming Live are very much in line with your own aesthetic, with fluid, loosely-fitting forms, and graded colour tones evocative of the paintings of Mark Rothko…

I wanted to add colour to express the positive energy inherent in Drumming Live. With the orange garments, you get the impression that you’re watching little flames dancing on stage. And those graded colour tones reminiscent of Rothko interact with pure white.

You also created the costumes for Rain, which, with Drumming Live, constitutes a diptych in the work of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. Was working on that piece similar to this?

The two pieces were created within a short space of time. Generally speaking, Anne Teresa prefers to work on the movement first and introduce the costumes later. In Drumming Live and Rain, the costumes are indissociable from the choreography and the movement; they reinforce each other.

Drumming Live - Juliette Hilaire
Drumming Live - Juliette Hilaire © Agathe Poupeney / OnP

In Rain as in Drumming Live, what is the role of the costume changes?

We worked on a progressive change in colours seeing them as variations of energy. For Rain, we go from nude to pink to fuchsia, and then from light grey to silver. For Drumming Live, it was the same process. The interplay of light adds to these variations by radically altering the perception of the colours.

The word “minimalist” is often used to describe the ballets of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. That term is also characteristic of the Belgian school of the “Antwerp Six” of which you are a part. And yet, your creations also reflect a taste for ornamentation. Do you consider yourself to be a minimalist?minimalist?

My fabrics are maximalist, but my cut remains fairly simple. For Drumming Live and Rain, I found it interesting to tone down the richness of the fabrics I choose in order to focus on the interplay of transparencies and on the different shades of white. That impulse to move towards greater purity and simplicity, to extol the movement of the body, was fairly natural for me.

Drumming Live - Marc Moreau, Awa Joannais, Takeru Coste
Drumming Live - Marc Moreau, Awa Joannais, Takeru Coste © Agathe Poupeney / OnP

Is there such a thing as a spirit, a heritage or a Flemish aesthetic which connects you to Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker ?

I would say that we share a direct and rather down-to-earth mindset. Also, in a small country like Belgium, and a medium-sized city like Antwerp, the creative minds from every discipline are more inclined to collaborate with each other. Dance, theatre, fashion, film and music intersect and interact more easily.

Has your work with Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker influenced your own creations?

Of course! For spring-summer 2015, I imagined a menswear collection inspired by dance. I would never have done that if I hadn’t collaborated with Anne Teresa, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Justin Peck.

Interviewed by Delphine Roche Delphine Roche is editor in chief of Numéro, a magazine devoted to fashion and art. She is the brainchild behind artistic performances that fuse dance with other disciplines and she also makes films for online platforms.

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