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review: ‘ballet & fashion’

Toni MATICEVSKI (designer),Richard NYLON (millinery designer), Rennie McDougall in Costume 2011, Aviary: A Suite for the Bird, choreographed by Phillip Adams, Phillip Adams BalletLab, 2011, Collection of the designers and Phillip Adams BalletLab, Melbourne, Image: Jeff Busby with 3 Deep for Phillip Adams BalletLab

The world of the ballet meets high fashion in the sumptuous new exhibit at Melbourne’s NGV International, Ballet & Fashion. Celebrating the close relationship between renowned local and international designers and ballet, the exhibit explores the blurred line between the costumes and haute couture. Launched in conjunction with 50th birthday celebrations for the Australian Ballet, and sponsored by Vogue Australia, Ballet & Fashion combines the romantic with the radical. It includes pieces by designers such as Collette Dinnigan, Christian Lacroix, Valentino, and Akiro Isogawa, and traces the last 30 years of artistic collaborations between renowned fashion designers and ballet companies.


Akira ISOGAWA (designer), Amy Harris in Costume for Lady Capulet 2011, Romeo & Juliet, choreographed by Graeme Murphy, The Australian Ballet, 2011, The Australian Ballet Collection, © Akira Isogawa, Photo: Jo Duck, makeup courtesy Napoleon Perdis


One of the most engaging aspects of the display is the intricacy of the costumes. The pieces are detailed to emphasise both the nature of the characters who wear them, and the thematic content of the ballet performances. Isogawa’s Romeo and Juliet collaboration uses spiked silk to dramatise Lady Capulet’s prickly nature, while Lacroix’s gaudy works from the late 1980s embrace the clichés and traditional folklore surrounding the Moulin Rouge and Hollywood glamour. These costumes show how the world of ballet and fashion combine to create works of art, which inform the viewer’s understanding of the performances’ narrative.


Christian LACROIX (designer), Robyn Hendricks in Costume for the Lead Can Can Dancer 1988, Gâité Parisienne, choreographed by Léonide Massine, staged by Lorca Massine, American Ballet Theatre, 2011, American Ballet Theatre Collection, New York, © Christian Lacroix, Photo: Jo Duck, makeup courtesy Napoleon Perdis


Further into the exhibit is ‘Designing for Dance‘, a showcase of costumes designed with the word ‘tutu’ for inspiration. This section of the exhibit ranges from the delicate to the mesmerizingly bizarre. Dinnigan’s gorgeous ensemble that heralds her history in lingerie, with delicate pink lace and intricate beadwork, is a noticeable highlight in this section.


Vanessa LEYONHJELM (designer), Justine Summers in Tutu and headdress 1994, Divergence, choreographed by Stanton Welch, The Australian Ballet, 1994, The Australian Ballet Collection, Melbourne, Photo: Jim McFarlane

Vanessa Leyonhjelm’s costume from Stanton Welch’s Divergence for The Australian Ballet was one of the most stunning pieces of the exhibit. The tutu is crafted from air-conditioning mesh, and stands out from the body at a sharp 90 degrees. The accompanying brassiere is made from thermal plastic and vacuum formed using industrial techniques. The result is a strikingly modern take on traditional ballet wear.

Ballet & Fashion provides a fascinating insight into the artistry involved the dancers’ costumes, and celebrates the significant and reciprocal relationship between ballet and high fashion. Not just for balletomanes, Ballet & Fashion is a must-see for any fashion enthusiast.

‘Ballet & Fashion’ runs until May 19, 2013, at NGV. Free entry. See the NGV website for more information –


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