For a choreographer, dance is the only form of expression. The movement of the body delivers a message to be interpreted. But in the same way for fashion the body does the same, the only difference is that it is draped in someone else’s art and tailored to your style. Untransferable, dance and fashion have always made efforts to communicate with each other.
For dancer Gabe Stone Shayer, fashion and its sometimes fleeting trends have been his closest ally in promoting the ephemeral art of dance. Representing a small number of black men in the ballet arena, Shayer is a creative director and soloist who brings up the concept of black men in ballet which is something to see from the great classical choreographer Alvin Ailey, and those who are. came after – as well as before.
Taking a look at the course of fashion amidst dance culture in America, it seemed fitting that Shayer was dressed by Dapper Dan himself, known for dressing rappers, b-boys and d- boys, in the early days of hip hop. For the American Ballet Theater gala, Shayer wore an Indian-inspired silk robe, with a honey-colored tone, named King Coat by Dapper Dan.
Breaking trends and into popular culture, once again ballet was democratized by great modern dancers like Misty Copeland, James B. Whiteside and Isabella Boylston, all high-ranking members of the American Ballet Theater, founded in 1939. Gabe Stone Shayer creates a path for ballet in the mainstream. Fashion and personal style are Shayers’ saving grace, especially at a time when world stages were closed amid a global pandemic.
While the 2016 Data USA figures for ballerinas favor white women at nearly 65.9%, white men ballerinas account for 13.6% of the overall turnout. It may leave an enthusiast in dismay, but only 4.45% of the dancers are African American men and just 2.27% are African American women, which shows a great lack of representation.
Quite difficult, what is or was a trend in ballet is the perception of whiteness as the proverbial “Prince Charming” or the ideal stereotypes of the “Black Swan” for these traditional roles. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1993, Shayer grew up learning dance at an early age. At 14, he traveled to Russia to join the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow to train in ballet at the 250-year-old institution, becoming the first African-American man to graduate from the prestigious academy.
. Although his training is strict, he would become aware of his ethnicity under the gaze of Russian society. In 2011, he will join ABT and from 2020, he is considered as a soloist by the organization and the non-profit institution.
Fashion became an ascent to the visibility of Shayer’s craft and took him on a trip to the runway. Ambassador of Lululemon, the sportswear brand, Shayer was recently the creative director of the film project “PAS DE DEUX” which is presented in collaboration with the legendary French fashion house CHANEL, for the salvation of the arts during the confinement of 2020. It was noted that Gabrielle [Coco] Chanel was a big supporter of ballet. An impromptu lunch meeting with the creative Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev of the famous Ballets Russes essentially turned into a presentation to Coco Chanel of her ballet The Rite of Spring, which she happily financed.
PAS DE TWO exemplifies the interdisciplinary talents that can come together and collaborate with the American Ballet Theater and the art of ballet. The four-part series hosted video chats between ABT dancers and 4 talented creatives from other industries and disciplines. These included lead dancer Isabella Boylston with conductor Marcus Samuelsson, lead dancer Cassandra Trenary speaking with artist AR Kat Sullivan, soloist Luciana Paris with artist Chloe Wise.
Shayer sat across from Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Alicia Keys in a video chat, wearing pearls and a CHANEL cardigan. He would explain to her his feelings towards the ballet industry and how he would restrict his personal style and his trajectory as a black dancer. Times of quarantine help him find the courage to express who he is.
At the height of the discussion between the two, Shayer would perform on Alicia Keys’ song “Love Looks Better” in an empty Apollo theater, known for its cultural roots in black theatrical performances. Shayer’s journey would include the discovery of his own hair. He wore cornrow braids for the first time, a style he hasn’t worn and one that hasn’t been widely accepted, obviously until now.
Style is the expression of the individual and that is what fashion does for Shayer as well as other members of the ballet and craft community. Collaborate with conscious brands like PANGAIA on their loungewear collection and have worked with Bloomingdales for their “Shop for Good” campaign. This is what fashion has done to the world and how Shayer sees a future in ballet. A future that respects the relevance of culture and appreciates the diversity of the arts.