The Tutu Project


Tutus made by participants at Family Day Fest in Downsview Park and Canada Day Celebrations in Ottawa. Photo by Setareh Sarmadi.

The Tutu Project


The National Ballet of Canada and The Volunteer Committee celebrated the company’s 60th anniversary in 2011/12 with The Tutu Project.

This interactive, community outreach project includes costumes from great moments in the company's history and original pieces created by artists, designers, community groups, audience members and staff.

See the tutus! 

  The Tutu Project was facilitated and curated by Heather Blom and Jennifer Zimmerman.

Special thanks to Joanna Lee, Marta Ryczko, Caroline Dickie, Caitlin Dyer, Setareh Sarmadi and Ryan Chan.

the Volunteer Committee 60th Anniversary Logo Grey   

The Tutu Project is generously sponsored by THE VOLUNTEER COMMITTEE, THE NATIONAL BALLET OF CANADA 

    OCAF logo    This event has been financially assisted by the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund of the Government of Ontario through the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, administered by the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund Corporation.

What is a Tutu?

The classical tutu is an iconic image of the ballet and remains among the most coveted and imitated articles of clothing in Western culture.  A tutu must be designed and fit to move with the dancer, providing both the mystique that we associate with the fairy tale and the constraint that is the remnant of women’s fashions in history.  The tutu becomes compelling for adults and children alike, evoking romantic ideals of beauty, strength and majesty.

As one of the last vestiges of courtly life, classical ballet expresses manners and gesture that are no longer a part of the modern world.  The tradition of ballet costume is rooted in history and has evolved in tandem with the dance and fashions of each period.

The tutu was first made popular by Marie Taglioni at the Paris Opera in 1832 in her performance of La Sylphide.  The costume consisted of a form fitting décolleté bodice of silk or linen and a bell shaped diaphanous skirt of tarlatan or muslin that reached to the calf muscle.  The tight bodice and masses of billowing skirt became known as the Romantic tutu.  While the bodice continued to reflect the existing fashions of the times, by the end of the nineteenth century the tutu had been shortened to knee length in order to reveal the virtuosity of the ballerinas' footwork. 


In the image of the ballerina we can witness the way the costume is worn, the gesture and facial expressions and the embellishments added to the form of the classical tutu; all of these collude to enact a performance about ballet culture.  The tutu as we know it today is composed of short stiff layers of nylon netting attached to custom knickers that project out from the hips parallel to the floor.  The layers are controlled with an intricate system of hand stitches and are supported by a 1/4” wire threaded through a mid layer of the netting.  The tutu skirt is then attached to a basque and a stiff bodice. Now, in the twenty first century, that tight little bodice and plate of frothy net combine to create one of the most evocative and provocative garments in history.  The dress moulds to the shape of the dancer, contouring the silhouette, conforming to the implicit form that balletic training has produced.   

Written by Caroline O'Brien - Contributing Artist, Assistant Professor at Ryerson Theatre School and PhD Candidate in Visual and Material Culture, National College of Art and Design, Dublin 

Learn more about how a tutu is constructed 

In the Media

"Don't Miss... 60 Years of Designing the Ballet" - House and Home Magazine, September, 2012
"The Tutu Project Auction" - Blog, August 28, 2012
"The Week Ahead" - The Genteel, August 24, 2012
"60 Years of Designing the Ballet & The Tutu Project - Till September 2, 2012" - Style, August 2, 2012
"The Tutu Project auction featuring a discussion with Karen Kain and Caroline O'Brien" - Neighbourhood Arts, August, 2012
"En Pointe" - FASHION Magazine, August, 2012
"Never Tutu much at Design Exchange" -, July 23, 2012
"The Tutu Project: Toronto Exhibit Brings Out the Ballerina in Everyone" - The Huffington Post, July 17, 2012
"Fashion Movement" - Plaid Magazine, July 16, 2012
"The Tutu Project" -, July 16, 2012
"National Ballet of Canada: Celebrating 60 Years of Designing the Ballet" - Toronto, July 16, 2012
"Talking Tutus: The National Ballet of Canada celebrates 60 years" - Elle, July 14, 2012
"Shinan: Belles of the ballet unveil the Tutu Project at the Design Exchange" - The National Post, July 14, 2012
"The National Ballet Fetes the Tutu Project" -, July 12, 2010
"The National Ballet of Canada Celebrates 60th Anniversary with Tutu Exhibition" - Backseat Stylers, July 12, 2012
"Inside the glitzy opening of the National Ballet's costume retrospective: Legendary ballerinas, magical sleighs and tutus for the try-on" - FASHION Magazine, July 11, 2012
"Elegance and style reign supreme at the 60 Years of Designing the Ballet gala" - Post City Magazine, July 11, 2012
"National Ballet of Canada celebrates 60 years with elaborate costume exhibit" -, July 11, 2012
"Hot Art: Designing the National Ballet" -, July 10, 2012
"The Tutu Project" - Verkade Design, July 10, 2012
"Inspired - Tulles of the trade" - The Globe and Mail, July 7, 2012
"Tutu exhibit at Design Exchange celebrates National Ballet of Canada's 60th birthday" - The Toronto Star, July 6
"When the National Ballet calls..." - Lululemon athletica Blog, July 2, 2012
"Planet Flare" - Flare Magazine, July 2012
"ELLE Style: The Lookbook" - ELLE Canada, July 2012
"Scene" - National Post, June 29, 2012
"The Tutu Project" - NYC, June 27, 2012
"The National Ballet of Canada & The Tutu Project" - Danza Ballet, June 2012
Scout Magazine - June 23, 2012
"Part pages: The Diamond Gala was packed with society types and tutus (many tutus)" -, June 22, 2012
"National Ballet of Canada: Art of the Tutu" - Canadian Art Junkie, June 21, 2012
"Avenue" - The Financial Post, June 14, 2012
"The Tutu Project: Ballet, Fashion and Art" -, June 14, 2012
"The National Ballet of Canada celebrates 60 years with an exhibit of 60 unique tutus. See them now!" - June 13, 2012
"The National Ballet 60th Anniversary; The Tutu Project" - World MasterCard Fashion Week Blog, June 2012
"The National Ballet of Canada & The Tutu Project" -, April 23, 2012
"The Tutu Project: Celebrating 60 Years with 60 Tutus" - National Ballet of Canada media release, April 23, 2012
"TIFF KIDS and the TUTU PROJECT" -, April, 2012
"Scene" - Flare Magazine, January 2012
"Dance Notes" - Dance International, Winter 2012
"Eco Goddess" - FAJO Magazine, September 28, 2011 
"The National Ballet of Canada Celebrates Culture Days" - Ballet News, September 27, 2011
"Tutu project a visual treat" -, September 23, 2011
"Tutu project combines visual art and dance" -, September 22, 2011
"Port decorates tutu" - Nanaimo News Bulletin, September 12, 2011
Dance Victoria Blog - September, 2011
Dance Victoria Blog - September, 2011
"The National Ballet of Canada's 60th Anniversary Tutu Project: '60 Tutus, 60 Years" -
"National Ballet commissions new Romeo and Juliet" - CBC, February 7, 2011

Thank You

Family Day Fest in Downsview Park 2011 
ArtHeart Community Art Centre 
Sketch Working Arts for Street Involved and Homeless Youth 
Stephanie Fortin in collaboration with participants of Take 2: Culture Days  
Pride Toronto 2011 
Jenn Woodall in collaboration with participants of Word on the Street 2011  
Official Canada Day Celebrations, Ottawa 2011 

Giles Deacon in collaboration with The English National Ballet, Odile tutu from 60th anniversary production of Swan Lake 
Lynette Liddell in collaboration with Lululemon Athletica 
Katia Ostapets in collaboration with FAJO Magazine
Molly Grundy in collaboration with the TIFF Kids International Film Festival 2012 

Artists - Magic Pony/ Narwhal Art Projects 
Edgar Wong Baxter Jr., Steve Reaume, Nicholas Aoki and Adam Bellevance for Metatecture
Noel Middleton
Julie Moon
Tania Sanhueza 

Artists - National Open Call
Alex Gilbert
Susan Rowe Harrison
Svetlana Lavrentieva
Skanda Lin
Krista Eve Lomax
Angel Wong
Louise Yu 

Designer - Fashion Design Council of Canada World MasterCard Fashion Week 2012
Sarah Stevenson & Eliza Kozurno
The Leather Atelier
Amanda Lew Kee
Klaxon Howl
Hoax Couture
Adrian Wu
Lundström Collection
David Dixon 
Rita Tesolin 

Paul Hardy Design
Shay Lowe Jewellery made with SWAROVSKI ELEMENTS
Thomas Collection 
Jameson Kane 
Cydelic by Choryin 
Clea Minaker 

The National Ballet of Canada Corps de Ballet Member Krista Dowson
The Lisa Farinaccio, Marnie King, Lily Messerhuber, Samantha Wyton, Myles Wyton-Fraser, Samara McAdam, Ava McAdam-Beder, Heather English, Ilana Harendorf, Lisa di Quinzio, Ruth Bartell, Sue Daly and Cindy Rusak on behalf of The National Ballet of Canada's Wardrobe Department
The National Ballet of Canada Assistant Wardrobe Co-ordinator Grant Heaps 
The National Ballet of Canada Special Events Manager Jennifer Zimmerman
Melanie Dowhainuk in collaboration with Imaginis Marketing and Tiny Paper Cranes
The National Ballet of Canada's young patrons group, Turnout
Nancy Zimmerman in collaboration with National Ballet of Canada Alumni
Natalie Leung and Sonia Dvorak with Canada's National Ballet School 
National Ballet of Canada Wardrobe Alumni Caroline O'Brien
Carole Sabiston in collaboration with Dance Victoria (Victoria, BC)
Liana O'Brien, Pat Piercy, Mary Parker, Jacquelyn Rey, Bessie Harvie & Marjory Hope in collaboration with The Port Theatre (Nanaimo, BC)
Shannon Lovelace, Roslynne Manson, Alena Zharska, Brenda Belmonte & Anne Armit in collaboration with Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet (Winnipeg, MB)
Pamela Kaye in collaboration with Alberta Ballet (Calgary & Edmonton, AB)
Deanna Brown in collaboration with Kids Corps and Share the Magic
Justina McCaffrey 

Display Venues
The Design Exchange
The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts