Ballet & Fashion – Exhibition Design

The Ballet & Fashion exhibition marks a celebration of form, movement, colour, texture and design for dance and stage. The exhibition showcases 20 costumes created by major fashion designers for world-class performances. A union that can be enjoyed in part thanks to the montage projection inside the gallery.

Embracing these avant-garde collaborations between classical art forms suggested a design honouring those qualities that make them so distinctive. Developing a concept reflecting the dynamism of performance in a static environment was a chief concern. The desire to somehow simultaneously present a close look at the detailed craftsmanship while suggesting movement was central to the design, as was the notion of theatrical staging. Each case was designed to highlight the individual works displayed within. Achieved primarily through contrasting colour and form, a cohesive design aesthetic across the exhibition offers a new platform to enjoy these diverse works together, as one representation of the brilliance contemporary fashion and ballet have to offer.

The most challenging aspects of designing this exhibition lay in the sourcing, design and production of mannequins to support the delicate and complicated costumes. Standard mannequins tend to be based on ‘model’ proportions. Given the small stature of ballet dancers and the completely different dimensions of the ‘real people’ used in the Netherlands productions, a number of the costumes didn’t fit the mannequins we have in our collection.

Because loaned artworks must be kept safe, we were unable to remove them from the gallery. This meant very detailed documentation and careful designing was critical in creating new, costume specific mannequins. In one case (for Viktor&Rolf’s costume for Giacconda Barbuto) we ended up borrowing a Kylie Minogue mannequin from the Arts Centre next door, she has great ‘ballet’ proportions!

After watching the ballet performances featured, the scenography of Robert Wilson emerged as a strong reference for design inspiration. The exhibition design developed into oversized silhouettes treated 2 dimensionally in the 3rd dimension, a bold 1980s colour palette and dramatic lighting.

In capturing the vibrant mise-en-scenè of a functioning set design for each case, playing with colour, light and particularly depth of field and framing devices, movement is suggested despite fixed parameters. The decision to suspend some costumes on clear torsos further encourages one to engage their imagination, conjuring the idea of motion and dance without relying on literal or physical manifestations of it. Christian Lacroix’s Can Can costumes visually hint at kinesis by a lift of the skirt to the mannequin’s hand. While suspended head-pieces allow the imagination to fill in the gaps, to imagine the dancer, the body and performance, and wander into a world where dynamism clashes with quiet intricate detail and transforms this merging of the art forms.