Last night held a whole lot of mixed feelings for me.
I finally made it to the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art, thanks to a sort-of ticket-only pre-show viewing. The crowd wasn’t so thick and I could soak in all the edgy, avant garde work by the designer, as well as the innovations used in the exhibit — mannequins with animated faces, two-level displays and an automated runway showed the museum really upping their game. It made me proud of the place. And the exhibit itself was full of energy.
But then came the reason we were there.
Fashioned Forward was billed as “a musical exploration of the creative spirit of fashion icon Jean Paul Gaultier.” I was fascinated by the idea of pairing music with fashion, like wine with food. With punk rock skirts for men and ornate corsets made of straw, I could only imagine how the side-by-side would be.
I did not expect what happened.
A cast of four singers, a guitarist and a pianist made up the cast for the night, led by artistic director Ryan Taylor (not onstage). The Horchow Auditorium was packed with a diverse crowd and the show opened with Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” followed by John Duke’s “Morning in Paris.” Unfortunately, it started the show on the completely wrong stiletto. American standards aren’t what I picture as augmenting the hard edges and spiky textures of Gaultier. Not. At. All. Foreign language songs like “Chiome d’Oro” disengaged the show even more, and poems about (or merely mentioning) fashion were peppered in without much effect while slides of fashions acted as backdrops for works intended to relate to that look.
That was the first half.
The second half fared better — but only toward the end, and not by much. Baritone Chad Sloan’s midway performance of “Masochism Tango” finally put energy into the show although it was negated by soprano Angel Mannino’s buzzkill offering of “Bird in a Gilded Cage.” A contemporary suite of music was expected to be the big bang finale. Instead, “Imagine,” “Born This Way, “Express Yourself” and “Lady Madonna” played like out-of-touch karaoke versions. What it had going for it was the modern energy that complemented the JPG’s work, or maybe that it was ending.
Ultimately, the show felt more like an ego trip with “look what I picked” songs that had no link to the brilliance on exhibit down the hall. What do you say to “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens” with a slide of one of JPG’s models donning a dazzling rooster on her coat sleeve or a reading of Kim Addonizio’s poem “What Do Women Want? that opens with I want a red dress. I want it flimsy and cheap? They were insulting and hard to imagine JPG having something like those in his head amidst creation. I could be wrong.
As if to make matters worse, the singers couldn’t be bothered with fashion-forward costumes. A hip, print tee under the men’s suits could have expressed a lot more connection than their button-ups and Mannino’s school-marm black dress (with pearls!) which screamed a young Laura Bush.
The power of JPG’s work is remarkable, though. Some of the exhibit can be seen from the main hallway and upon leaving, I got to savor his work a bit more which helped me forget what I just experienced.