Stylos Dance Studios are presenting their new original show at the John Mackintosh Hall during the first week in April, involving close to one hundred dancers aged three years and up, aerial routines, handmade costumes and classic songs.
‘Coco’ is the brainchild of young school co-director Lauren Montero who is a staunch Coco Chanel fan, to the point she named her Pomeranian after her (or better said, after the dog the stylist got her signature tag from). Lauren’s been for a while musing about collating a tribute to the innovative thinker and feminist icon who freed women from corsets and got them into trousers and separates.
Together with her mother Lillian, Lauren has researched Coco Chanel’s life to stage its salient episodes in the context of the turbulent era she lived, between two world wars, and to recreate a sepia Parisian atmosphere with a selection of French songs by Edith Piaf, Cirque du Soleil, and others, on whose notes the school’s dancers will perform their routines in genres spanning ballet, jazz, hip hop, contemporary, aerial, acrobatics and song.
“We are alternating instrumental and flamboyant music by contemporary composers, adaptable to the story, like for example a song from Les Misérables used to portray the choral war scene,” Lillian says. “Of course this is taken out of context, but it is still about tragedy and France, and it sets the mood poignantly.”
After a few years without confronting themselves with the demands of an original production, the pair reckoned that they are ready to put together a storyline entirely told through dance performance, without narrators or dialogue filling the gaps, in the purest style they are appreciated for. And if this story is challenging indeed, it is also rewarding for the intricate choreographies that will see up to twenty dancers on stage at one time.
“Visually rich and musically catchy, this is the success story of someone who suffered harsh setbacks but never stopped believing in herself – and so doing, she revolutionised costumes for women. She brought fashion down from the pedestal and made it affordable, wearable, comfortable to working women in the constraints of war,” Lillian says. “We will portray Coco’s professional success as milliner and seamstress, woven with her tempestuous personal life, from her orphanage beginnings to the bereavement behind the invention of the LBD, her iconic little black dress.”
And if cabaret days are what earned young Gabrielle her moniker Coco, for she sang about her pooch Coco, according to the politest version of the story, a cabaret-like atmosphere is also one of the highlights and surprises in Stylos’ show, featuring a genre seldom displayed in Gibraltar, and made even more spectacular by the ‘acro’ routine.
Coco’s father committed her and her sister to an orphanage when their mother died prematurely. There, Coco learnt to sew and at eighteen she moved to Paris, boarding at a pension and making ends meet through her sewing skills and, determined to make a name for herself and showcase her talents, she surfed the nightlife. At the cabaret she met and fell in love with a soldier, an event central to her life and poetically recounted on stage by the academy’s star dancers.
Stylos started rehearsals by diving head first in perfecting the large group dance routines, followed by the refinement of duets and solo scenes. With few weeks to go to curtains up, the producers are still keeping under wraps the identities of the dancers cast in the protagonist’s role, young Coco and adult Coco, as well as the male dancers who will duet with her as love interests.
“We have good budding talent at the school and we aim to train employable dancers, so we teach them to be always ready on their feet, one show after the other, whether dancing will be their profession or not – this way we promote valuable skills applicable for any job. A production this size is perfect to showcase everyone’s talent and to motivate dancers to excel.” the directors claim. Shortly after it, dancers are bound to Los Angeles and Disneyland where they will probably showcase Coco’s excerpts.
The most welcome feedback is when male spectators (usually the dancers’ relatives) congratulate them, since some men are sometimes known to drag their feet to dance shows. “When they tell us they thoroughly enjoyed it, and perhaps return to the next one, it really means we’ve done something right.”
Stylos’ academic year will draw to a close with their in-house choreography competition, in which students direct their own dance routine, showcasing their creativity, because they are first and foremost artists.
Tickets priced £15 are available from buytickets.gi. Performances start at 7.30 on 3rd, 4th and 5th April at the John Mackintosh Theatre.