Story by Rebecca Poynton-Murray

Photos provided by The Design Exchange

When Caroline O’Brien, resident designer and wardrobe supervisor of Canada’s National Ballet School from 1989 to 2007, commented that her current Masters thesis is titled ‘Between the seams: The making of a Princess’, no other words could be better suited to describe the Design Exchange’s (DX) new exhibition, 60 Years of Designing The Ballet.

Collaborating with the National Ballet of Canada (NBC) and curated by O’Brien herself, the museum has swapped its furniture, industrial design objects and housewares for a fairytale landscape of tutus, embellished costumes, set pieces, sketches and photography, all coming together to illustrate the process of designing for the company.

O’Brien is delighted to curate this exhibition because she strongly believes that ballet is a “collaborative art form between music, dance and design”, and that ballet costumes epitomize certain elements of what it means to truly design. “No matter who I talk too, when I ask them what is the first thing you notice while watching the ballet, they always say the costumes and the tutus,” O’brien notes.

Even if you have never visited the ballet, you will be familiar with the stories of Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, all productions which have trunks full of costumes and character masks on display at the DX. Also of interest at the exhibition is an interview with famed British designer Richard Hudson (Romeo and Juliet), whom O’Brien has also worked with; “I visited him in London and he is a true designer. He brings all this rich detail and colour to ballet costume design.”

In order to further recognize the anniversary (and celebrate the fashionable side of dance), the DX and NBC also commissioned ‘The Tutu Project’, a year-long process to create 60 original tutus made by a variety of Canadians. The tutus have been designed by community groups like SKETCH Arts Outreach and Word on the Street; artists like Julie Moon and Krista Eve Lomax; and Canadian fashion designers like David Dixon, Amanda Lew Kee, , Comrags, , Hoax Couture, , and .

Made in a variety of patterns (one tutu resembles a cowboy’s garb), the tutus illustrate the potential for design within such an iconic piece. O’Brien also created a stunning tutu for the exhibition out of natural flowers and twine; it took her 160 hours to make, but you will appreciate the splendor of these timeless costumes in an instant.

60 Years of Designing the Ballet & The Tutu Project
On now until September 2nd, 2o12
The Design Exchange, 234 Bay Street, Toronto
Special presentations as part of the exhibition include ‘Designing The Ballet’ on July 18th and ‘Talking Tutus with Caroline O’Brien’ on July 24th.

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