When we arrived at Amanda Phelan’s Fall 2016 show on Saturday at La MaMa theater—her first runway endeavor, building off the dance performance-cum-presentation that introduced her eponymous line last season—we weren’t yet prepared for the intense pull of her production. “I think some of our industry becomes for very conditioned eyes,” reflected Phelan. “So [I’ll do] anything that [I] can to disrupt that.”
The show, which drew inspiration from concepts of coastal storms and wearing weather, was as much an explosive dance performance as an opportunity to examine Phelan’s alternative, ‘60s (the minis) meets ‘20s (more than a few jazz age silhouettes and modern metallic mirrored embellishments turned up) cum ‘90s skater (the plaid, for one) high-tech knit apparel.
Five dancers from Shannon Gillen’s Vim Viggor studio writhed, leapt, and fell into each other’s arms, climbing and reaching over three skate-style ramps, as integrally knit, hand painted, coated yarn and silk gowns, weaving lava-hued leather dresses, warn to look weather beaten, and ultra-fine sheer fine knit sweaters floated down the runway. The dancers were wearing loose, gender-neutral blue-grey wide legged knit pants—well sold for movement and ease—and the music, made electronically using intentionally scrappy and debris-reminiscent sounds meant to evoke a natural storm, brought the viewer into a full immersive whirlwind environment.
Phelan suggests that the performance aspect allows for a more conceptually encompassing understanding of the clothes—as well as a real celebration the body.
“One of the things that attracted me to working with Shannon from Vigor is that her work is really filled with this electrical emotional life,” said Phelan, who was herself a dancer at one point. “And her work is about seeing the body in a heroic state. That's not something we always see in this industry.”
The result? A moment that is hard to shake, and a look into a collection that is based in much more than straight analysis of materiality and looks down the runway.
Some have suggested that the drama of the dancing may have taken away from the message of the clothes. But given our tired eyes, those few short moments of sensory overload and conceptual care might be the message indeed. There's nothing like this in NYC right now, save perhaps Opening Ceremony's continuously meta, collaboration-based productions, and people--at least the very young--are watching.