Ballets Russes 2.5D Workshop report!

At the beginning of the summer, the GFC was asked by the curators of The National Art Center Tokyo to do a workshop in tandem with their INSANELY GREAT exhibition of costumes from the Ballets Russes.  Professor Takagi, our first year students and myself brainstormed, researched and argued and eventually came up with the idea to create “Fashion Collections” based on the Ballets Russes – we would ask participants to work together to make collections of flat, wearable artworks inspired by elements of the illustrative works on display at the Gallery.


The title of our workshop was “Wearable illustrations:  a 2.5 D Tunic Dress Collection”.

The visionary of the Ballets Russes, Sergey Diaghalev, is famous for having been a passionate patron of the arts in his time, supporting musicians like Debussy, Stravinsky and working together with visual artists like Picasso and Leon Bakst. In order to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the pieces on display in the exhibition, we asked participants to work in groups to delve into the rich, evocative history of the ballets to seek inspiration, then make a “fashion collection” consisting of one paper tunic per person and existing on the boundary line between real and unreal. Their sources could be the fantasy realm of illustration or poster work, or 3D elements found in existing costumes. The results of the day were 4 collections of “2.5D” wearable illustrations that teased the line between flat and real, embracing the fantastic and unnatural elements of stageplay.


The day began with Professor Takagi and I giving a quick lecture on the history of the ballets, and how influential they were to the creation of some of the most iconic fashion items and images ever. Paul Poiret’s exotic party looks and Yves St.Laurent’s 1976 Russian peasant chic collection perhaps would never have existed had it not been for the evocative power of the Ballet Russes.  Most participants had never considered making a garment before, let alone working with strangers to make a collection, so I gave them a quick introduction to the process of making a collection, and gave them a few skills that could help them keep it together and keep it exciting. The groups were instructed to consider the rich archive of illustrations from the ballets, and the illustrative quality of the actual costumes to seek inspiration and create a collection of paper tunics based on their findings, all the while sharing their inspirations with one another to make sure they were on the same page.


Participants then had a chance to walk the exhibition together and make sketches (pictured above) and notes of what they saw. Since inspiration exists everywhere, these starting points could be anything – from trims to colours, mood or music. Most people were looking for flat elements that they could use as inspiration for motifs, or 3-dimensional elements that they could render in 2 dimensions, playing on the idea of flat illustrations and 3D reality.

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The National Gallery has a wonderful plethora of making supplies. We had everything on hand from markers to sparkles. Our students even prepared pages upon pages of motifs organized by geographic and cultural region in order for the participants to cut out and collage.


 This supergroup had a professional illustrator/ballet dancer as their leader, and spent most of the allotted time discussing how to approach the collection, rather than creating. By limiting their colour palette, they ended up with great variation and an overall cohesive and exciting theme, titled ‘Buffoons Closet‘, most likely referring to Mikhail Larionov’s Buffoon costumes for inspiration.


Once the making portion was over, we took group photos of everyone wearing their new 2.5D dresses. Did I mention that we gave everyone fake Russian names? We wanted them to really give themselves up to the experience for the day! Thank you to all of our participants, helpers and students! I would also like to thank the staff at the Gallery and the wonderful curators for being to open and supportive of our weird ideas. Thank you!


After only one action-packed semester at Bunka Gakuen, which included an internship at the National Art Center, our student  Athena Chen (picture with hat in front) will be tidying her desk and hopping on a plane to Hong Kong to pursue her career in the magazine business.  Athena has just been offered a position as Assistant Editor at Milk Magazine. We will miss you, Athena! I was looking forward to reading your thesis next year, but best wishes to you! <3