ICON: Celebrating 50 years of Karen Kain with the National Ballet of Canada

2020, Campbell House Museum
ballet costume, Campbell House Museum, iconic canadian women, karen kain, nbc, physical exhibition, the national ballet of canada
About This Project

Date: March 8th, 2020 – April 25th, 2020
Partner: The National Ballet of Canada (NBC), Campbell House Museum
Location: Campbell House Museum, 160 Queen St West, Toronto
Project Members: Elizabeth Colraine, Christina D’Agnillo, Judith Fernandez, Cassandra Hutt
2019 marked Karen Kain’s 50th year with The National Ballet of Canada, and Kain’s work will be forever tied to the company’s success. ICON: Celebrating 50 Years of Karen Kain with The National Ballet of Canada displays how this relationship produced an Artist, Leader and an Icon.
In this exhibition, visitors explore Kain’s impact on the art of ballet as a dancer, and her accomplishments as the Artistic Director of The National Ballet of Canada through costumes, photos, and videos sourced from The National Ballet Archives. The costumes on display showcase ballets that have defined Kain’s success throughout her career. They consist of both costumes worn onstage, and costumes from ballets she re-staged and directed. Many of these costumes have never been seen off-stage until now.
Using the three main rooms of Campbell House Museum, ICON takes visitors through Kain’s journey. Starting on the main floor, the Practice Room show cases costumes from three of Kain’s early ballets: the White Swan from Swan Lake, Peasant Giselle from Giselle, and Aurora from The Sleeping Beauty. Moving to the Performance Room, three of Kain’s most iconic performances are showcased here. Juliet’s Ball Gown from Romeo and Juliet, The actress tutu from The Actress, and red hat girl from Elite Syncopations. Before reaching the final room on the top floor, visitors must first make their way up the grand staircase, the walls of which are lined with several fan letters written to Kain during her time as a dancer. The Leader Room showcases Kain’s performances in which she was the star, the leader of the production. The Black Swan from Swan Lake, the Blue Bird from The Sleeping Beauty and the ghost from Giselle are stared in this room. Panels accompany each costume, detailing the performance each is from and when Kain performed it.
At first, our team started out in clearly defined roles: researcher, communicator, curator, writer. However, as more tasks came up and as our schedules overtook our lives, the lines between roles blurred and we each ended up doing a little bit of everything.
Starting in early October 2019, we spent most of October and November getting to know the research material, archive, and our contacts at both the NBC and Campbell House. It was also during these initial months that we met with our graphic designer, figured out our interpretive plan and intent for the exhibition and how we planned to execute it. On December 2nd we had a face to face meeting with Kain in which we talked about our plan for the exhibition and got a sense of her take on the exhibition, what she did and did not want. The rest of December and January were spent finishing research, writing text panels, timelines, and labels. February was spent revising those pieces of text and making test purchases for supplies needed for installation. Install started Monday March 2nd and continued on until right before opening on Sunday March 8th. Despite the time crunch and conflicting schedules, the exhibition pulled together beautifully, and the opening had an amazing turn out.
We give our thanks to The National Ballet of Canada, especially their archivist Katie Wilson, for bringing this project to the iSchool, giving us the opportunity to work with the amazing ballet team, and for helping with research, artifact gathering, and so much more. We give our thanks to Campbell House Museum for hosting the exhibition, for very valuable input and advice and for all the install help they gave us. We give our thanks to our graphic designer Jade Kosub for designing our vinyls, panels, and posters – they all turned out amazing. We give our thanks to the iSchool and the Museum Studies program for the opportunity of this project and our professor Agnieszka Chalas for her continued support and advice through the exhibition process. Lastly, we give our thanks to all of our friends and family who supported us for the duration of the project.