THE TEA SPELL: when fashion meets dance

“If well-tailored clothing makes the man”, then an elegantly crafted costume makes the on-stage actor. Fashion has often engaged with the theatre and many of the greatest couturiers have loaned their design expertise to the stage: Coco Chanel, Yves St Laurent, John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Comme des Garçons and Hussein Chalayan to name a few.

V&A-collected Chinese fashion designer Rui Xu, has created “Scarlet Infusion” – seven seductive and spellbinding costumes, one for each of the characters in The Tea Spell, the Rashomon style dance theatre directed by Zhao Liang (UK premiere on 13th August 2017 at Edinburgh International Conference Centre). Centred around the stunningly beautiful, scarlet clad, female lead and using the traditional Chinese tea ceremony as her stage, this fable reveals the heroine’s enigmatic encounters with her fellow tea-drinkers – a woodcutter, a noble man and a monk. Each figure dressed in the designer’s elaborately embroidered, austerely shaped and uniquely expressive creations.

The collaboration between internationally renowned choreographer Zhao Liang and Rui Xu started in 2012 when the show was premiered during The Chinese Culture Festival in Germany. The main theme of the dance theatre is about Zen and Tea – which was strongly influenced by Chinese Taoist philosophy, a subject that Rui Xu has returned to many times in her fashion designs, including her signature design series XIANG WANG YI exhibited at Royal College of Art and Zaha Hadid Design Gallery.

The costume design process involves a great deal of insistence and compromise between the two artists. “Although I and Zhao Liang have gone through countless arguments and alterations in the creative process, the final major piece of this Scarlet Infusion Series worn by the Tea,” says Rui Xu, “turns out to be very satisfactory and impressive for both of us”.

Image credit: Pinterest

Rui Xu chose the hue of the Tea Fairy’s head-to-toe robe to represent the secular glamour and overwhelming seduction incarnate in the character. In her sumptuous scarlet cloak made entirely from natural materials, the designer plays with well-known motifs from traditional Chinese culture – for example the nine red-crested cranes, suggests Taoist immortality and nobility.

Rui Xu elaborates: “Each of these elegant and fine birds, illustrated throughout the costume in various poses, wings flared, in flight, elongated necks, beaks fishing, legs crooked have been hand-stitched by two tailors and three embroidery specialists, hundreds of hours of meticulous work, depicting the low-relief embroidered cranes cascading down the long flowing train of the cloak with a sculptural effect.”

Although the rest of the characters in the dance – such as the woodcutter, noble man and monk, are narrative rather than imaginative, Rui Xu’s costumes eschew realism, giving them a timeless identity by using monochrome and dimensional silhouettes.

‘Chant of Breath’ Image credit: Rui Xu Studio

This is not the only time that Rui Xu has combined her fashion design with dance. In 2015, she partnered with Madaleine Trigg, performance artist from Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, presenting “Chant of Breath”, a performance art project at Saatchi Gallery, London, where dancers wearing Rui Xu’s conceptual costumes, moving as if they were the brush and ink to script Chinese calligraphic characters in rhythmic yet breathless movement.

But Rui Xu’s “Scarlet Infusion Series” carries the most emotional overtone amongst her fashion designs. A Fairy Tale, A Tale of Tea – Infusion, In Fashion, In Harmony.

The UK Premiere of the dance theatre – The Tea Spell is on 13th August 2017, at Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EH3 8EE, Scotland).

“Synergy – When Dance Meets Fashion”, a panel discussion with Rui Xu, Zhao Liang as well as Professor Christopher Bannerman, performance artist Madaleine Trigg and the actress from The Tea Spell Amy Grubb is being held on Thursday, 17th August 2017 at China Exchange London (32a Gerrard St London W1D 6JA), to explore the boundaries and possibilities when the worlds of fashion and dance meet on the stage. Lang Xiao, Art Consultant and Director of ARTouch Consulting will moderate the panel. The panel discussion is open to all.

To register and for further information click here