Photography Paul Phung

13 of the world’s most exciting dancers wear cottweiler for rambert2

Design duo Cottweiler discuss creating brain biopsy inspired costumes for the debut performance of Rambert's new company.

by Steve Salter
06 November 2018, 10:22am

Photography Paul Phung

This week, dance company Rambert2 premiered Grey Matter, a new dance work by Rambert’s Guest Artistic Director Benoit Swan Pouffer. With original music by GAIKA and designs by Cottweiler, the work is a celebration of London youth. From Dior’s Sharon Eyal-choreographed spring/summer 19 show to Gucci hosting the latest work by choreographer Michael Clark in Milan, the worlds of dance and fashion have collided this season but this creative coming together is one of the most exciting to date.

A collaboration between Rambert -- Britain’s oldest dance company -- and Rambert School -- the Twinkenbased-based ballet and contemporary dance institution, Rambert2 brings together dancers with outstanding ability, creativity and individuality to form a dynamic new ensemble. Rambert’s Chief Executive, Helen Shute, approached internationally renowned dance artist and company leader Benoit Swan Pouffer to find the world’s most exciting new dance talent. An international casting call saw 800 dancers apply and 13 chosen.

Young dancers from Rambert2
Photography Paul Phung

“I loved the process,” Benoit told us in-between final rehearsals. “At Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, my previous dance company, we were known for our diversity, we had 16 dancers and they all felt like soloists but they all knew how to dance together and this was something we wanted to develop here.” The chosen 13 come from six different countries in Asia, the Americas and Europe, with nine having trained in UK dance institutions. “They’re young but super talented, they’re from all over the world and have different stories to tell,” he explained. “Now more than ever, it’s important to have a representation of the world. It’s crucial to have diversity, we want every audience member to be able to relate to our performance. It’s a step forward to make these connections at the very beginning, it helps the journey.

After the dancers were selected, Benoit and his team have cultivated a community to help bring Grey Matter, Rambert2’s debut work, to life. “It’s a very personal piece,” he said, “It’s about a person who loses their sense of memory, how she deals with it and how a supportive community grows around her.” Collaboration is at the heart of Rambert2. As is a desire to reflect the best of London youth. So, Benoit turned to Gaika for sounds and Cottweiler for designs. “When I arrived in London, I explained the subject matter of the piece to my frequent collaborator Edda Gudmundsdottir and she suggested Cottweiler,” he explained. “I was fascinated by the depth of their research and saw echoes in my own process. When I saw the work, I knew it was a good match. My dancers are young, they’re urban and when you wear Cottweiler, you feel cool.”

Dancers in Cottweiler
Photography Paul Phung

Cottweiler are used to being described as sportswear but, the truth is, although they orbit the everyday reality of tracksuits, they have always collaged and crafted an altogether different world. Ben Cottrell and Matthew Dainty are a concept-led design duo who respond instinctively to their social environment and in everything they do – in their designs there’s an intriguing tension between nature and technology, sport and fetish. With recent collections and collaborations that have built on a shared fascination of mind, body and performance, this challenge was the perfect next step. “The project appealed instantly because it was something purely creative,” they explained over email. “It was a great opportunity to develop a collection that has a different purpose to what we normally do.” Ahead of tonight’s London premiere at Sadler’s Wells, London-based photographer Paul Phung shot the dancers as the Cottweiler boys talked us through the collaboration.

Dancers in Cottweiler
Photography Paul Phung

How did this collaboration challenge you as designers and how different a design process was it for you? Were their echoes to your made-to-order beginnings?
The biggest challenge was developing the patterns for 13 different dancers. Every single garment is different and had to be tailored and fitted to compliment the choreography for each individual. It was definitely something we had experience with, having started as a bespoke business, but this was on a much larger scale with other things to take into consideration, especially the stress points where the dancers movements affect the garments.

What has this process taught you?
We’ve always had such a strong connection with sport and music so the progression into the dance world has actually been quite natural. Having said that it has taught us how to work with different body shapes especially the womenswear pieces we developed. Being able to collaborate with other people within the arts who have different creative backgrounds and expertise has opened our minds.

Young dancers in Cottweiler
Photography Paul Phung

What was it like working with the RAMBERT2 team?
We’ve spent the last six months between our studio and The Rambert building and have got to know the workings of a famous institution. During these months we held our spring/summer 19 catwalk show inside their main rehearsal space and spent many hours fitting each dancer, watching rehearsals and finally working on making all the costumes and testing them during a full week of show production in the build up to the premiere. The calm environment of The Rambert itself as well as the team and dancers of Rambert2 have all been really inspiring for us. We tend to design on a character basis anyway so it was important for us to get to know the dancers as best we could and to understand what they felt comfortable in or what accentuated their true characters.

What was the starting point for the costumes themselves? Could you talk us through your mood board?
We worked closely with Benoit and Edda on developing the concept. Benoit had a strong starting point that was informing the choreography which was about the memory and how the brain loses certain connections over time. We wanted the clothes to have membrane-like transparent layers where you could always see the dancers bodies and flesh. For the base layers and underwear we worked with visual artist Kit Mason to develop a print that was a hyper-realistic image of a brain biopsy – when blown-up in scale it engulfs the dancers’ bodies with deep fleshy tones. The transparent outer layers are purposely made to stick to their bodies as they sweat throughout the performance.

Dancers wear Cottweiler
Photography Paul Phung

What do you hope people see and take away when they watch your garments in movement?
It’s really about the whole performance. As with all of our own shows, we want people to feel the environment that’s been created. It’s exciting for us to show Cottweiler in a different context.

Rambert2 launches its inaugural UK tour this autumn with a London premiere at Sadler's Wells.

Rambert2 dancer in Cottweiler
Photography Paul Phung