The Genteel
April 22, 2021


Designed by Canadian fashion designer, Adrian Wu. Photograph by Setareh Sarmadi.
The Tutu Project National Ballet of Canada

Proud as a Peacock - Pride Toronto. 
Created by participants at Pride 2011.
Photograph by Setareh Sarmadi.

There were black swans and white swans, swans in coral with gold detailing, swans in vintage, and swans in couture. Graciously, yet meticulously, chiffons and silks floated throughout the rooms of Toronto's Design Exchange. Wine glasses clanged, designer stilettos tapped and Russian-red lips smacked as the crème de la crème of Toronto's culture scene sang with adoration. The opening reception for 60 Years of Designing the Ballet and The Tutu Project buzzed with excitement, so much so that the gracious welcoming speaker, Shauna Levy, President of Design Exchange, was competing with the crowd for the spotlight.

The new exhibit (running from July 11 to September 2, 2012) hosted by the Design Exchange and the National Ballet of Canada offers a glimpse into the private world of ballet design. The exhibit is curated by seasoned costume designer and educator, Caroline O'Brien, who recently discussed the exhibit, ballet design and the cult of the ballerina with The Genteel here.

With a main focus on The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet and Emergence, and additional archival items from Cinderella, Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, The Firebird, Don Quixote and Giselle (to name just a few), the exhibit features props, design books, costume illustrations, maquettes and all elements of the costumes themselves.

...from Sylph's (Les Sylphides, 1954) knee-length, puffy, white costume to Kitri's (Act III, Don Quixote, 1985) short-skirted, structured, fiery red and black costume, there was a tutu for every taste.

From behind a glass casing, The Nutcracker doll calls out to all ballet aficionados to awe over its craftsmanship; the pointe shoes used in Romeo and Juliet on display attest to the labouring of the National Ballet's dancers; and the detailed maquettes (set models) and costume illustrations reveal the creative minds of the company's set and costume designers.  

Naturally, the crowd flocked to the costumes - from Sylph's (Les Sylphides, 1954) knee-length, puffy, white costume to Kitri's (Act III, Don Quixote, 1985) short-skirted, structured, fiery red and black costume, there was a tutu for every taste.

The exhibit even comes complete with a try-it-yourself component; guests are welcome to try on one of the practice tutus, walk up to the ballet barre and attempt to imitate the ballet instructors in the video projected onto the back wall.

After an hour of exploration and schmoozing, everybody was led into the Historic Trading Room, a large, carefully-lit space that displays 60 custom-made tutus as part of The Tutu Project. The room magnified everybody's excitement. At first introduction, my eyes leapt from one tutu to the next, and it quickly became apparent that tutus excite females past the age of five, too. Standing beside me, a woman with blunt, shoulder-length grey hair clasped her hands together, beaming with enthusiasm: "It's just so puffy and beautiful, makes you want to put it on and never take it off!" she exclaimed of Canadian fashion designer, Adrian Wu's, tutu. Crowd favourites included Svetlana Lavrentieva's Hudson's Bay Co. brand design and Antonia Ianmartino's (lead designer for Lululemon) multi-textured, black and nude tutu.

The Tutu Project National Ballet of Canada

Designed and built by Molly Grundy in
collaboration with the participants of
TIFF Kids International Film Festival.
Photograh by Setareh Sarmadi.

The Tutu Project also featured community collaborations, such as the extravagant peacock-esque tutu created by participants of Pride Toronto, as well as award-winning Canadian costume designer, Molly Grundy's, creation in collaboration with participants of TIFF Kids International Film Festival.

Standing beside Noel Middleton's wooden tutu skirt, Fashion Television veteran Jeanne Beker was asked by a Toronto-based lifestyle blog She Does The City contest winner which tutu was her favourite. Looking around the room, Beker smiled and concluded that she liked them all, but that she especially enjoyed the one constructed by 800 children participating in Family Day Fest at Downsview Park because it was "so joyful."

The Tutu Project truly captured Canada's national and unique diversity; the submissions illustrate the country's abundant creativity and strong communal support. The evening - filled with tulle, red lipstick, crystals and the romanticism of ballet - pushed me to reflect on one of my favourite childhood past-times (that still surely lingers in my young adulthood): playing dress-up in my mother's closet, discovering the world of elegance and beauty. 

60 Years Designing the Ballet and The Tutu Project exhibit from July 11-September 2, 2012 at the Design Exchange.



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