And so he became Dancer of the Year 2018 and in response to his nomination by the “tanz” critics’ jury for the award, he created the solo “Dancer of the Year.” The piece captures much of what makes up the art of Trajal Harrell, albeit in allusion or simply in the form of loosely associated ingredients. It is a dance born and developed from the imagination, an imagination that has been and continues to be inspired by various dance forms: American postmodern dance, voguing, Butoh, folk dances, and pop culture.
The Dancer of the Year enters the stage as an old man and leaves it as an even older man. Harrell wears a mask – bent, broken, a dead or dying man, who then manages his own show on the laptop and with it his artistic life: from Butoh and back to Butoh, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. In between are the dances that have moved him and inscribed themselves on his body. They change whenever the choreographer selects a new piece of music on his laptop. From meditative oriental-style dance reminiscent of Sufi or Loïe Fuller’s serpentine movements, to disco groove, from stillness and arm dances to minimal postmodern forms, and finally to the runway walks that made him famous, but from which the dancer keeps breaking out. And for each dance, a new dress. Harrell carries them onto the stage in a huge bag and puts them on. But doesn’t wear them.
Dresses are the most important props in Harrell’s art. They are changed in his shows a thousand times faster than we could ever order them online. And yet they do not end up in the Atacama Desert like the mountains of fast fashion we produce every day, but in collections in his studio in Athens, in his house in Charlottesville, in the prop room of the Schauspielhaus Zürich, where they wait to be reused on a new runway in another work.
“The clothes are part of a postcolonial feminist trajectory in my work. I always paid more attention to the costumes than I did to the sets. This goes back to this idea of the operation of fashion into movement. The runway is the main form that I use in my work – that’s the signature of my work. And of course, the runway is a place where people display clothing on bodies. So we display clothing on dance. This is something that becomes a huge part of my process. At the beginning, when I’m with myself thinking about movements for a new piece I often have the clothing to help my imagination. And then as I go into the studio with the dancers the clothing is there. So from the very beginning we usually start working with the costumes.”