Image: English National Ballet's Isaac Hernandez in Fantastic Beings by Aszure Barton (C) Laurent Liotardo

Aszure Barton’s Fantastic Beings will be available to watch for free from Wednesday 13 May 2020 at 7pm BST on Facebook and YouTube, for 48 hours.


Designer Michelle Jank has been working with choreographer Aszure Barton for nearly 9 years. They team up once again for Fantastic Beings.

Aszure’s brief for Michelle? “Strange amorphous hairy insect-inspired monsters”. Now how is she making that happen? She told us by email.

Tell us all about your designs for Aszure Barton’s work and what was the inspiration for the costumes?

Aszure always leads the creative team with a few words at the start of our projects together. This is so key, as it’s a very strong instinctual feeling that starts the work…I think it was something like “strange amorphous hairy insect-inspired monsters”!

The music is a big inspiration. The score is big and dark and light and wonderful and leads us all… it’s some kind of sonorous fantasy land where the creatures come to life.

Costume design for Aszure Barton's Fantastic Beings, part of ENB's She Said Costume design (Female Skeleton) for Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's Broken Wings, part of ENB's She Said © Michelle Jank

So how do you go about realising those ‘monsters’?!

The brief was hairy/insect/monsters contrasted by streamlined animal/bird-inspired unitards…a strange, genetic hybrid of all animals, in a way.

I worked with English National Ballet’s costume department researching fur and hair and what would be the best materials to create these hairy animals. After much trial and error we settled on human hair wefts for the costumes: it had the most interesting movement.

It was so exciting to see the movement of the hair on the first toiles, the dream being realized. They are not pretty costumes – quite the contrary! – and rather brutal, but I love the way they come to life with the dancers’ every move. The smallest gesture is magnified.

The unitards were inspired by the black oily bird feathers of the black cockatoos in Australia. We worked from a cockatoo photograph from one of my favorite Australian artists, Leila Jeffeys. I worked with the very talented textiles specialist Simone from ENB’s wardrobe department: she hand painted feathers for the print which we applied to the curves of the body, and she hand dyed the fabric base cloth. We needed to create depth through colour and light refraction to replicate the feathers. This was achieved through a combination of colours and tones, metallic paint and foil. Simone is hand applying black foil to the feathers on all the completed unitards to finish!

There are so many clever and dedicated people here at ENB who help the costumes come to life. I live for and love creative collaboration. It’s the sum of us that make the dream come to life.

Is this your first collaboration with Aszure?

Aszure and I were connected by the Sydney Dance Company in 2007 to work on a new commission, Sids Waltzing Masquerade. I have known and collaborated with Aszure for nearly 9 years now. These have been some of the happiest creative times I my life. She is an inspiring collaborator and a very dear friend.

In this time working together we have done some truly inspiring projects together, presented new works in Santa Barbara and at the Baryshnikov Dance Theatre in NYC, the Netherlands Dance Company, the Bolshoi Ballet, Munich State Ballet and now English National Ballet. What a great creative joy it has been.

Do you find designing for dance more challenging?

In my day job I work in fashion and I step out to work with Aszure and her collaborators into the world of dance. It is such a great inspiring, creative life that has opened up to me. I am always so grateful to Sydney Dance Company for introducing me to that. Aszure really changed my life in such a wonderful way.

I love the change of view, the change of energy and the change of intention with fabric. In one world it is about the commerciality of the fabric, in the other it’s about the emotion.

A bunch of beings who were fantastic #fantasticbeings #myview

A photo posted by @amberdowerhunt on

How do you feel once you first see your designs on stage?

I think it’s always a little confronting: Aszure and I always speak about the moment where you take the dancers, the costumes and the work from the intimacy of the rehearsal rooms to the vast space of the stage. It’s a bit of a shock at first. Everything looks and feels different.

Saying that, I have been sitting in on rehearsals this week watching the incredible dancers and have been thinking about the hairy creatures on stage. I am excited to get them on to the stage, to see the costumes come to life under lights. That’s where the real magic happens.

Aszure Barton’s Fantastic Beings will be available to watch for free from Wednesday 13 May 2020 at 7pm BST on Facebook and YouTube, for 48 hours.