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Posts tagged ‘dance’

Michael Jackson’s costumes by Michael Bush

Watching Michael Jackson’s Thriller (Landis, 1982) for the first time at a friend’s birthday party as a kid must rank as one my earliest cultural treats.

Videos were much more of an event in the 1980s anyway, and with music videos still in their infancy, there was an aura of anticipation of watching this extended horror pastiche. Primarily it was the dancing that we loved, but with Jackson, the style is as stage-crafted as the moves.

Michael Jackson costumes at Michael Bush talk

So I was intrigued to hear more about the man behind the King of Pop’s costumes, Michael Bush, who was interviewed by Ali Vowles as part of Bath in Fashion. Bush (as the other Michael called him) has just written, The King of Style: Dressing Michael Jackson – the first art-driven book about his costumes. Although it was Deborah Nadoolman Landis who derived the iconic red jacket from Thriller, Bush along with his late partner, Dennis Tompkins created 800 to 900 costumes for Michael Jackson over a 25 year period, and was the only person whom the iconic pop-star would allow on stage with him. Indeed Bush and Tompkins’ names have been sewn into all the costumes at Michael Jackson’s insistence.

Back in his childhood home of Ohio, Bush used to watch his grandmother dress-making, thinking it was the last thing he wanted to do with his life. However it must have been in his blood, albeit with a showman’s twist, as he headed to Las Vegas to work in show business, which gave him valuable experience in creating fashion designed for performance.

Dressing Michael Jackson was a constant challenge to combine elaborate show-stoppers with functionality. Jackson wanted outfits that were ready for ‘showtime’ and matched his performance on stage, with his outfits “as entertaining on the hanger as they were on him”. Complex dance moves necessitated costumes that could absorb sweat without damaging the fabric, and multiple versions of his outfits were created as during a stage performance Jackson could lose four to five pounds, so needed different-sized trousers for the beginning and end of the show. It was also useful as Bush admitted that Jackson would often give his outfits away to fans or friends. Costume changes were designed to fit in with the songs and energy levels, so they might start with a lightweight piece for the vigorous numbers, heavier jackets for ballads, and returning to lighter fabrics for the finale. The belt pictured above may look too heavy to dance in, but Ali Vowles picked it up for the audience to prove it was actually lightweight, created from thin gold.

Michael Jackson red heels boots

A regal fashion influence was only fitting for the ‘King of Pop’, for instance pearls nod to King Henry VIII’s, while red heels are drawn from Louis XIV (pictured above). During Louis XIV’s reign, red signified wealth and power as the cost of red dyes was high, but he went further and created an edict so that only nobility could buy red heeled shoes. Emphasising strength and masculinity, military styles with embellishment and wide shoulders are another Michael Jackson staple. Authenticity was important to Jackson, so Bush sourced originals such as military buttons. He once discovered 300 military buttons from a dealer in Camden Lock without name-checking Jackson. The dealer would have been pleased with the final owner as he confided in Bush, “if only Michael Jackson could see them!” Bush told of how he and Tompkins were paid by Jackson to visit the UK to get inspiration from the Crown Jewels – it was important to soak up the aura of majesty. Movie influences are also evident from gangster films, hence the fedora hat and spats shoes (pictured below) as well as taking inspiration from street style.

The costumes were also part of the ‘Michael Jackson’ performance. Short trousers (which grew shorter and shorter) helped draw attention to his dancing feet and rhinestone socks which sparkled under the stage lights, and he liked to ensure that people at the back of large auditoria could see the tiny details too. Jackson also wanted to illicit a questioning response from the audience, by adding quirks, such as a band on one arm.

Michael Jackson shoes

The craftsmanship and technical effort that went into creating the costumes was immense, such as the single glittering, sequinned white glove, or the anti-gravity shoes. These high-tech shoes, which were patented by Jackson, Bush and Tompkins, allowed Jackson or his dancers to lean beyond their centre of gravity via a special heel which slotted into the stage. Despite all this fancy footwear, he always wore loafers to practice dancing – an everyday brand called Florsheim.

At the end of the interview, an audience member asked Bush where he’d got his cowboy boots. (I’m sure we’d all been wondering… ) He answered London, and asserted it was the best place to buy them. There, I have to disagree – it’s Bath. My boyfriend bought my trusty cowboy boots in The Yellow Shop, and they have been re-heeled and re-heeled. It will truly be a sad day when the cobbler finally says, enough.

Over 1,000 lots of Jackson items were auctioned last December, and 55 of them caught the eye of Lady Gaga, who is keeping them Stateside in the public domain. You can find out more about Michael Jackson’s costumes by reading Michael Bush’s book, King of Style: Dressing Michael Jackson. There is also a interesting piece on the influences on Jackson’s style in ‘Worn Through‘.

Who’s your fashion pop idol? Let me know in the comments box below.

A young dance troop gave a surprise performance before the interview to a mash-up of ‘Thriller’ and the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs’, ‘Heads Will Roll. But I’ll finish with the original Thriller moves…

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Awa Odori at Tokushima: dancing in the street

Energy and elegance take to the streets of Tokushima each August for the Awa Odori. This summer, we were lucky to be able to join over one million people to enjoy Japan’s largest dance festival.

Awa Odori is one of the most famous celebrations which makes up the Buddhist Obon festivities where people return to their home towns to welcome the dead’s brief return to Earth.  The streets in Tokushima on Shikoku island are filled with people of all ages dressing up and dancing together from 12 to 15 August.

Dancing in the rain 

On arrival at Tokushima, we were greeted by the first rain that we’d seen in Japan throughout the two weeks of our travels. We were told that the dancing was in the balance and they would make a decision at 5pm…

But as soon as we drifted into the streets of Tokushima it was clear that the dance was on.

Woman dancing at Awa Odori in Tokushima

Women and men dance at the Awa Odori Festival.

We did not realise that the Awa Odori would be the same repeated dance from each troop or ren. Rather than being dull however, the repetition was enthralling. Before the end of one performance, we were cranking out necks for the next ren to come along, picking out the subtle changes in the movement. Hours passed without us noticing…

Man dancing at Awa Odori in Tokushima, Japan.

A man carrying the lantern at the Tokushima Dance Festival.

Woman dancing Awa Odori in formation, Tokushima, Japan.

What are the origins of the Awa Odori dance? 

There are a few theories on the origins of the Awa Odori with Awa being the old name for the Tokushima prefecture and Odori meaning dance. The one that seems most prevalent is that it was invented during the celebrations on completion of a new castle for the Lord of Awa in the sixteenth century. During the party, revellers’ inebriation caused them to stumble back and forth with their arms moving in the air.

women at Awa Odori on the streets of Tokushima, Japan

The dress defines the dance

The women’s traditional costumes were stunning, notably the striking amigasa (semi-circular hats) which were so eye-catching as the women moved in unison. Yukata (summer kimonos), beautiful obi often containing fans, and geta (wooden sandals) were also part of the show. The kimono restricts movement encouraging a graceful dance as participants stretch upwards on tiptoes in formation with the triangular hats forming patterns as they dance down the street.

Women's hats, Awa Odori dancers, Tokushima, Japan.

Wooden sandals or geta dancing.

Women dancing at Awa Odori in Tokushima, Japan.

Women in traditional hat at Awa Odori.

Whilst the kimono-clad women are choreographed to reach upwards, the men move down in a squatting motion with much more freedom. Many women and children took on this dance too and dressed in the men’s costumes of happi jackets, shorts and split-toed socks. The men wear the scarves around their heads which are tied under the nose and the women wear little scarf crowns.

Man dancing Awa Odori, Tokushima, Japan.

Women in Awa Odori men's dress at Tokushima, Japan.

A woman dancing in traditional dress at the Awa Odori in Takushima, Japan.

Only fools don’t join the dance…

The lyrics, “Odoru aho ni miru aho; onaji aho nara odoranya son son!” rang out across the city. In other words, it’s a fool who dances and a fool who watches; if both are fools, you might as well dance!

So throughout the event, freestyle dancers from the crowd joined in. This beautiful woman in the blue and white yukata with green obi was sitting just along from us and I was pleased to catch her on camera as she joined the dance procession.

Dancers from the crowd join the Awa Odori.

The beat is created by shamisens, gongs, taiko drums and flutes.

Woman playing the shamisen at Awa Odori Tokushima, Japan.

“Yattosa, yattosa” was called out throughout the performances. This is a hayashi kotoba call and response pattern stays in your head long after the dance has ended.

Woman at Awa Odori in traditional costume.

How to join the Awa Odori dance festival

If you’re in Japan from 12 to 15 August, I’d highly recommend checking out the Awa Odori. If you want to stay in Tokushima itself, you need to book accommodation several months in advance. When we looked a month before, we had to widen our search and stayed in Takumatsu, just over an hour’s train journey away. There are other Obon dances around Japan, including the second largest in Tokyo. You can also get in touch with the organisers in Tokushima and join the fools’ dance! If you’ve been to Tokushima’s Awa Odori or know any more about the traditions behind the dances, please feel free to comment and share your experiences.

I’ll leave the last note to the performers…

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