Ballet & Fashion at the NGV

Posted on February 19, 2013

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For someone who’s never seen a live ballet performance in her life, I’ve always had something of a fascination with ballerinas (are they even actually called “ballerinas”, or am I just illustrating how little I know about the art?). Anyhow, from slavishly emulating (or shall I say attempting to emulate) the works of Degas, who had a similar yet better documented obsession, in my year 12 Art assignments, to an irrational soft spot for leg warmers, ballerinas have captured me from an early age. Their lithe, seemingly fragile yet deceptively powerful physique, the dedication to push through excruciating pain barriers in the name of their beloved art. And the costumes. The costumes! Since the 1920’s when Coco Chanel collaborated with Sergei Diaghilev of the Ballet Russes, costume design has blurred the line between costume and art, to create a world where fashion and movement intertwine.
In celebration of it’s 50th birthday, the Australian Ballet has joined with the National Gallery of Victoria to present “Ballet & Fashion”, showcasing works from the past three decades from the likes of local heroes Collette Dinnigan and Akira Isogawa to international legends Valentino and Christian Lacroix. Curator Roger Leong has created a collection that brings a contemporary magic to the collaboration of fashion and dance which also tips it’s hat to the historical without slipping into “historical costume” category, a distinction Leong was acutely aware of in putting the show together.
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The joy in seeing these pieces close up is in relishing the intricate details one would never usually have the opportunity to see when these garments are in full flight on stage. The delicate lace and bead work of Collette Dinnigan’s Tutu 2003 for the Australian Ballet, and the delectable detail of Isogawa’s Dress 2005 for Grand, Sydney dance Co., are mere examples of the kind of craftsmanship that forms a piece of both beauty and function, but largely go unseen by the audience.
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Another standout for me was Christian Lacroix’s Costume for Lead Can Can Dancer 1988 for Lorca Massine, American Ballet Theatre 2011. The showgirl – inspired, almost cartoonish piece with it’s vaudeville stripes, polka dots and vivid colours, evoke the days of the Moulin Rouge as warmly as any Toulouse-Lautrec painting.
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Being a lover and sometimes creator of outrageous headwear, I was taken with milliner Richard Nylon’s collaboration with Tony Maticevski on the Costume 2011 for Aviary: A Suite for the Bird, Phillip Adams BalletLab. Maticevski’s take on the traditional tutu cuts a dramatic figure in this tribal/gothic fusion, set off by incredible feathered headdress by Nylon.

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In a strikingly modern take on the traditional tutu, Vanessa Leyonhjelm’s Tutu and Headdress 1994 for Divergence, The Australian Ballet, stood out from the crowd. Featured alongside the Dinnigan piece in a previous NGV exhibition Designing for Dance, the tutu is made from airconditioning mesh and stands at a 90deg angle from the dancer’s body; the accompanying brassiere is vacuum moulded from thermal plastic!
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HUH?!?! This image in the skirt of Ralph Rucci’s Costume 2007 C. to C. (Close to Chuck), for the American Ballet Theatre, was not visible to the naked eye. Not my naked eye anyway! It only came out in the photograph and almost gave me a heart attack! Can anyones tell me who its is? May have to pay another visit just to find out! Sorry to my girl ZK for including your reflection in this pic!

Has anyone else seen this exhibit? Would love to know your thoughts!

M xxx

Photo credits:

Good ones: NGV website

Bad ones: The Author!

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Posted in: Mad Fashion