A conversation with Robyn Clarke: Head of the National Ballet School’s Wardrobe and Costume Department.

Ballet has held the title of being the most poised and elegant, yet physically demanding style of dance for centuries now. Its grace and beauty are equally matched with a sense of determination and raw athleticism. This year, Toronto’s prestigious National Ballet School hosted the Assemble International, a prestigious and exciting event that brings 21 ballet schools from around the world to Toronto for a chance at experiencing one another’s curriculum. The most interesting and rewarding aspect of the event is an intermingling of international students under one roof, allowing for strong relationships and wonderfully beautiful collaborations to take place.

Recently, Novella had the chance of speaking with Robyn Clarke, head of the Canada’s National Ballet School wardrobe and costume department on just exactly what it means to be a ballet costume designer in a world hell bent on moving away from tradition.

Photos courtesy of Canada’s National Ballet School and Eighty Eight Agency

Christopher Zaghi: The first question I’d like to ask you is about the Assemble Internationale itself. The Assemble Internationale takes place every four years, can you tell Novella’s readers a bit more about the event itself?

Robyn Clarke: Our part in the Assemble is to prepare for all of the performances with international schools and NBS, so, they all arrive over the weekend and classes start on Sunday. Each brings two to eight students and they partake in classes and workshops. They also bring their own repertoire, and that’s what we’ve been working on for the last few days. AT the end of the week we’re having a choreographic workshop with returning NBS alumni, there are some pretty cool people on that list, and that’s going to be with a blended cast. SO international and NBS students.

CZ: I saw that there are 11 countries being represented at this year’s event. Do you find that different countries and schools place the importance of their wardrobes differently?

RC: No, I think that’s the nice thing about ballet is that it’s really similar. I mean we might have schools that do more things themselves, but wardrobe plays a very important role and they take care of it.

Photos courtesy of Canada’s National Ballet School and Eighty Eight Agency

CZ: Ballet Fashion has always popped up throughout the years. You have designers like Lacroix who are inspired by ballet. Recently bodysuits and leotards have become a very big thing in fashion. Why do you think that is?

RC: Personal opinion. I think it’s because leotards are pretty breathable girls like it that their shirts don’t ride up so it’s nice when they stay tucked in. And the nice thing about leotard is that you’re able to move in any way that you need to. I think that’s what brought it back. Also, it was kind of big in the 90’s.

CZ: Does designing costumes for ballet differ from high fashion design or haute couture design?

RC: I think so because at the end of the day functionality is the most important thing. If they can’t dance in it, they aren’t going to use it. So you’ve essentially just wasted your time. But beyond that, aesthetics are still very important, but functionality overall.

Photos courtesy of Canada’s National Ballet School and Eighty Eight Agency

CZ: What do you find most rewarding about costume design itself?

RC: It’s just really nice to see your work on stage and to see it working with dancers. One time, one of the dances here said to me “I really appreciate the work we’ve done together.” They talked about it being a collaboration being performer and costume, so for me, that was a really special moment. Knowing that work that I do helps them and that we work together to make what you see on stage possible.

CZ: Could you through a typical day of what you would do here at NBS?

RC: Sure, everyday kind of differs. Ever since I’ve started working here, it’s always been challenging in new and interesting ways. But usually, I’m just working on certain projects at certain times of the year. Sometimes I’m making tutus, sometimes I’m shopping, sometimes I’m designing, sometimes I’m making lists, sometimes I’m doing fittings, it just depends on the time of year. But for an average day in the fall, I’ll spend doing tutus. I’ll measure the students, and then I figure what we need to build, then I’ll order all the supplies.

Photos courtesy of Canada’s National Ballet School and Eighty Eight Agency

CZ: How much time generally goes into the construction of a costume?

RC: A really great way to answer that is with a practice tutu. It’s a half tutu, so it’s just the net and the knickers and the Basque which is the belt that attaches it to the waist. So that itself takes about 20 hours to build so you can just imagine a fully decorated costume, which can take 150 hours or more depending on the design.

CZ: Are most of the National Ballet school’s costumes made entirely by hand?

RC: It’s a blend of purchasing and designing. Often you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for in the size, colour, and quantity that you need. So often I do make a lot of our leotards and costumes.

Photos courtesy of Canada’s National Ballet School and Eighty Eight Agency

CZ: Do you think the ballet world has moved towards contemporary costume as opposed to historical costume?

RC: No, I think there’s a nice blend. This year we’ve seen a lot of nudes and mesh, a lot of mesh. Mesh T-shirts, mesh tank tops, mesh leotards, you name it, it’s in mesh.

CZ: Personally, what do you prefer, historic or contemporary?

RC: I feel like I like both. They both have their place. The shows are a perfect example of the blend. We had a lot of the schools doing classical works and the other schools doing new repertoire. So there’s a lot being stored in our wardrobe.

Photos courtesy of Canada’s National Ballet School and Eighty Eight Agency

CZ: Do you have any particularly favourite costumes in the wardrobe department?

RC: That’s a hard one. A few years ago we did a piece called chalkboard memories, which we’re doing again this year, the girls wear these kilts with nude leotards while the boys wear these kinds of grey uniform pants. There’s a couple that is the chalk couple, so they’re completely made of chalk. Their school uniforms are done in black with the chalk outline, which is really cool. I think that’s one of my favourites.

CZ: Do you think someone in the fashion industry could transition into the ballet world as a costume designer?

RC: Yes! A lot of them actually do.

Photos courtesy of Canada’s National Ballet School and Eighty Eight Agency

CZ: With major fashion houses like Carolina Herrera and Rodarte making costumes for the New York City ballet, do you think schools and dance companies will over towards designer costumes?

RC: Often the difference between schools and dance companies is that they have different funding structures, so never say never, but those costumes that the New York City Ballet have are pretty expensive in relation to things that are made in house.

CZ: Do you think it’s important to keep the detail-oriented and intensive design process of ballet costume design alive rather than looking for more cost effective methods?

RC: Absolutely. I think at the end of the day, performance costumes like tutus and tunics all look the same for a reason. I mean it’s years of development to make them look like that and once we kind of lose that detail and handcraft, they’ll be no getting it back.

Photos courtesy of Canada’s National Ballet School and Eighty Eight Agency

CZ: Do you have any advice for future costume designers that may read this article?

RC: I guess I’d say take every opportunity you can. Even if it’s not necessarily a well-paying gig, often just learning more about the body is totally worth it in the end. Making connections with choreographers and with dancers will really take you places.

Photos courtesy of Canada’s National Ballet School and Eighty Eight Agency

Continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Novella’s June Art Guide

Ahmad Moualla’s People and Power. Image source.

As we move into another summer, this time a big one for Canada, we remember to think outside of the box — to delve deeper and consider perspectives outside of our own. Our picks for art exhibitions in the month of June bring you everything from Queer intersectionality to examining Canada’s honest history and considerations on what art can do for nations at war. We ask this month that you take some time from work, from planning vacations, and reading magazines to consider, to think, to engage.


The newest exhibition at the Aga Khan Gallery combines music, paintings, and multimedia installations by prominent Syrian artists. Much like a symphony, the exhibition is divided into movements, each unique but linked by overarching themes on the presence and purpose of art in conflict. Together, these artists explore the difficulties in preserving their heritage and culture, and fortitude in the face of war. Artists showing include Ahmad Moualla, Malek Jandali, and Kevork Mourad.

Find more information here.

THE BILL BURNS SHOW: PART 3 (May 27th — June 24th)

Prominent Canadian artist Bill Burns shows the third and final part in his series on truth and the art trade at MKG127 this month. In the show, Burns accompanies his watercolour paintings with goat’s milk and Gregorian Chant. Sounds intriguing, if a little confusing? Burns will also be reading from his new book on June 17th to help give insight into his career and perspective.

Find more information here.

CONTESTED LANDS: CANADA AT 150 (May 28th — June 30th)

As we grow closer to the Canada 150 celebrations, celebratory Canadian propaganda is cropping up everywhere, boasting being a nice, multicultural, and inclusive nation. While Canada certainly has its good points, this exhibition at the MLC Gallery at Ryerson is looking at those silenced and ignored in the Canadian Confederation. The exhibition uses art and artifacts from the Ryerson Special Collection and MLC Research Archives to highlight the achievements of and horrors faced by Indigenous peoples and Canadian women.

Find more information here.


Just in time for Pride, the John B. Aird Gallery brings us an LGBTQ+ focused exhibition. Unlike many of the Pride parties, however, the real focus of this show is on intersectionality. Artists from across Ontario will show their works that engage with LGBTQ social issues and intersect with issues of race, class, religion, ability, and sexual and mental health. The purpose of the exhibition is to spark conversation and action that will build toward equality and diversity.

Find more information here.


English artist Clara Bacou comes to the Robert Kananaj Gallery with an exploration of the boundaries between the real and virtual, the physical and digital. Bacou uses light projection to display her digital art in a 3D way, the exhibition itself representing her own questions on the way we present ourselves online versus the people we are in the real world. If you’ve ever embellished any truths about yourself to seem more desirable on a dating app, this is probably an exhibition you should see.

Find more information here.

Continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Bruno Ledyet’s TABLEAUX VIVANTS at Montreal’s Galerie Youn

Bruno Ledyet is a Montreal-based painter whose works are concerned with introspection, beauty, and certain kinds of intrigue. Nudity is common in Ledyet’s work yet it is approached as a way to deeper feelings. Through June 29th, Montreal’s celebrated gallery, Galerie Youn will be hosting TABLEAUX VIVANTS, a public and free exhibit of his works. Here, Ledyet explains aspects of his works and his creative process:

Portrait de Juno Youn et Lloyd — Bruno Ledyet (Acrylic on canvas, 48” x 72”, 2017) Image courtesy of Galerie Youn

In most paintings, the figures are not engaged in a particular activity. They’re in a contemplative state, perhaps thinking about the beauty in their surroundings. They’re almost hedonistic, away from the craziness of the outside world, creating their own aesthetics.

Everything starts with a pattern, a combination of colors. Inspiration can come from a film, a video, a painting, bit of paint on a wall somewhere, etc. But it also comes from the model. There has to be something that captivates me about the person, something I find so beautiful that I have to paint it.

My portraits are like tableaux vivants: they’re not scenes from everyday life, but are inspired by it. They are landscapes of my mood when I painted them. Often, a figure is a starting point. Patterns and juxtapositions in colors appear almost organically. Or I have something in mind already and it happens to fit. For instance, in ‘An-devant le Rideau Chinois,’ I wanted to capture the figure’s flesh, his gaze, his style; then the red shades and the pattern became obvious to me.

An devant le rideau chinois — Bruno Ledyet (acrylic on canvas, 20” x 30”, 2017) Image courtesy of Galerie Youn

The models’ faces and their gazes are crucial. Most often, they look out — they know they are being looked at and they stare back. In a way, they are presenting themselves to the viewer. ‘Portrait of J’ is a good example. It has a few symbols — my symbols —, clues I left here and there that hold parts of the meaning of the piece.

Very often, the meaning of a work relates to my own life. But this occurs on a subconscious level. I realize it only long after I’ve finished a piece. Often, the models are, in fact, me. The works are dream-like, stylized versions of my life and the feeling it entails.

‘Toile de Jouy Dream’ started with Samuel. He has posed for another painting and had told me that he had this suit made with a Toile de Jouy pattern. I knew I had to do a painting of him wearing it. Two years or so passed and I had this dream — I often have these weird dreams of strange landscapes and places in crazy Technicolor, or ones with great big old houses filled with objects — where I saw a prairie with a row of odd-looking houses with huge storks made of green tiles in the front. And I thought of putting Samuel in that place and using the greens and blues to give it this unreal nighttime feel and depth to the surroundings.

Toile de Jouy Dream — Bruno Ledyet (acrylic on canvas, 48” x 72”, 2017) Image courtesy of Galerie Youn

‘Adrian Odalisque’ exemplifies my approach. It is a take on art history, namely the female nudes from the 17th to the 19th century. The figure in ‘Adrian Odalisque’ seems to be offering himself to the gaze of the viewer, but he’s not. Even though my paintings often have male nudes, or are nude portraits, my art is not erotica. My figures’ faces often display melancholy, not desire. They speak more about revealing the self, about being vulnerable, about taking risks. There is quite a bit of irony in my paintings — a romanticism that doesn’t take itself seriously and a subtle surrealism.

Continue following our  arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Novella Picks the Realest ‘Best Of Toronto’

Artwork by Michelle Cheung for Novella Magazine

There are Best Of.. articles everywhere these days — the best brunch, the best shops, the best bars, the best theatre, not to mention the best restaurant for a particular dish like pizza, ramen, etc. Despite the information overload in the internet, some categories, also essential to getting the most out of the city, have been egregiously left out. Hence this somewhat tongue-in-cheek but in all honesty a well-curated list picked by Novella’s motley contributors! Take notes.

Best Place to Get Shitfaced

Every crazy drunken night has started and ended at Sweaty Betty’s located at 13 Ossington ave. The bartenders are really cool, it has a nice patio, and the drinks are cheap enough to make you ask yourself the next the day “how the hell did I get home?”. — Drew Brown, Editor-in Chief

McQueen’s Pub on Queen East is a great place for a series of afternoon pints. Start at three and by the time dinner bell rings, you’ll be well into conversations with the barkeeps — whose names I, naturally, forget — and the nice usually older regulars around the bar (shout-out to the older gentleman always on a tablet, drinking pinot-grigio and the PBR tall boy lady), and find it hard to leave. Order another pint, some wings, and sit around some more. — Hoon, Managing Editor

When you need a place to chill out with your friends, have a good drink, and take your epic dance moves for a spin, you need to get yourself to The Beaver (1192 Queen Street W.). The atmosphere is warm, the bartenders are friendly, and the drinks are cheap. After dancing the night away, the bar has a back patio where you can get some air and cool off before catching your second wind and starting the boozy dance party all over again. – Michelle, Social Media Coordinator

To be honest, I feel like you can get shitfaced pretty much anywhere. But, if I had to choose, I tend to enjoy getting shitfaced at The Ballroom on John Street. The atmosphere is chill, the dress code is casual, the decor is creative, and there are two floors to choose from, including a bowling alley on the first floor and a large restaurant, bar, pool table, ping pong table, and dance floor upstairs. The best part? Live music. — Claire Ball, Contributor

Best Place to Get Over a Hangover

Caplansky’s Deli (356 College St) With all day breakfasts full of eggs, smoked meats, and loads of lovely carbs, Caplansky’s is the perfect place to nurse that raging hangover. The atmosphere is nice and cozy, the service is excellent, and the prices aren’t terrible. Not to mention, compared to other weekend brunch spots, there are never any huge crowds or lines to ruin your day. I’ve spent many a weekend morning/afternoon gorging myself on challah french toast and smoked salmon eggs (and endless cups of coffee). — Adina Heisler, Contributor

Wake up, get dressed, and look up a pho joint closest to you; the fresh noodles soak it all up; the broth flushes everything out; the tai (rare beef, eye of round), nam (brisket), gan (tendons) rejuvenate. In my case, the neighborhood go-to is Pho Linh in Brockton Village. There’s one closer, on Bloor, and we won’t name names, but there are reasons for the extra hungover ten minute’s walk down to Pho Linh. If you’re in Leslieville, where I used to live, Com Tam 168 was always a solid choice. And if any champion out there knows of oxtail pho in the city, please give me a shout-out. — Hoon, Managing Editor

Clinton’s Tavern (693 Bloor Street West) — Let’s get real, no one really makes it out for hungover brunch before 12 pm. That’s why I ask, why restrict myself to breakfast foods? The club area at Clinton’s may be the place that did the damage the night before, but allow it to be your spot to replenish and you will be widely impressed by the chill atmosphere and massive amount of delicious and creative pub food. Other bonuses include it being affordable and any dish can be altered for a vegetarian! — Meg, Contributor

Last year I went to an event at Starving Artists located at 810 College St. and I am still dreaming about the waffles. This west-end all day brunch restaurant serves delicious stuffed waffles or just waffles with the ingredients on the side. I had the waffles with bacon inside and it was sooo good. Yes, after a night of drinking there is very little that can drag me out of bed but the food at Starving Artists is great motivation. -Drew Brown, Editor-in Chief

Recently I went to Insomnia on Bloor Street West and now I am obsessed. Their brunch menu is what dreams are made of. With a variety of benedicts to choose from, and the best coffee I’ve ever tasted. This place is a must try! Once you’re finished with your daily coffee dose, they have $5 mimosas! What better way to cure a hangover? — Claire Ball, Contributor

Best Place to Take Your Date When You’re Broke but Want to Look Rich

This really depends on how rich you want to look and how broke you actually are. But if I am to err on the side of optimism, let’s say you’re broke in the sense that Becky literally has no money but Ubers four blocks to a spa. In this case, consider Kintaro near Church and Wellesley. The dishes are conducive to sharing, the atmosphere feels cozy, if not swanky, and is nicely decorated, and pints of Sapporo are cheaper than glasses or a bottle of wine. A good night at Kintaro will set you back around $50~60 for two people. Not cheap, but not French bistro prices either. — Hoon, Managing Editor

I feel like this situation all comes down to the proper execution of the date. Going to any restaurant that’s not on the pricey side might just give you up right away, so why not play the “I’m too fly to want to go to nice places card” and maybe take the opportunity to show off the little places in Toronto you like to go to for fun. Some of my favourites are, hitting up Pancho’s Bakery in Kensington for a signature $1 churro and looking through the stores, putting some Baileys in a cup of coffee and heading up to the top of Casa Loma, or teaching your date your favourite card game over a tall can in Trinity Belwoods. Any of these will make a memorable date that will show them that you are a keeper despite your ever shrinking bank account. —Meg, Contributor

Best Place to Take Mirror Selfies

Nordstrom, The Eaton Centre — This is weirdly specific but the Nordstrom bathrooms are hella nice and are the perfect size and length to take full outfit pictures. The lighting is decent and it’s not too shabby to post a pic with a fancy af bathroom in the background. Maybe people will assume you shop at Nordstrom. You’re welcome. — Natasha Grodzinski, Contributor 

In the privacy and coziness of your private domain, be it the living room, bathroom, or kitchen countertop. Doing so also gives you extra good karma points for saving other people from having to see you try multiple times to get that shot right. As they say, way to hell is paved with publicly taken selfies then posted on Instagram. — Hoon, Managing Editor

Locals Only on King Street West has exceptional mirror selfie potential. Honestly, I don’t really take mirror selfies frequently, but I’ve already planned my next one to be taken here. The bathrooms have decorative wallpaper that makes for a great background, and the mirrors have a soft light around them so the lighting is on point. Mirror selfies from the Locals Only bathroom are definitely Instagram worthy. — Claire Ball, Contributor

Best Place to Buy Art When You’re not a Art Snob

Museum gift shops always have good selections of nicely printed posters, either framed or not. They also have puzzles that can be glued afterwards and framed, if you’re into that sort of thing, which I unashamedly am. So next time you visit the AGO or ROM or wherever, don’t skip on the gift shop! Mingle with the tourist group and discuss best bargains. — Hoon, Managing Editor

Once you walk into Kid Icarus (205 Augusta Avenue) in the eclectic Kensington Market, you will see beautifully well-designed posters plastered on the walls, handmade cards, and stationary goods. They are a design shop that specializes in printing, and if you feel like stretching your own artistic muscles, they offer workshops in screen-printing and linoleum carving. Be sure to give yourself at least thirty minutes to explore this little shop — it will be worth your time. — Michelle, Social Media Coordinator

Best Neighborhoods for Thrift Shopping

Bloordale — The strip along Bloor St. in the west-end between Dundas West and Ossington is filled with tons of thrift stores. You’ve got everything from Value Village and Vintage Depot to smaller independent stores all within a fifteen-minute-walks of one another. My personal recommendations are the Odd Finds General Store and Ransack the Universe. Perfect for spending a Saturday afternoon browsing away. —Natasha Grodzinski, Contributor

Parkdale — Personally, I’ve always been an avid Queen West vintage buyer (usually between John and Bathurst). However, the other day I sat on the 501 streetcar a little longer and was in absolute clothing bliss. From Public Butter to House of Vintage, my Levis collection has doubled in size and expanded in quality! A definite must go! — Meg, Contributor

Best Thing to Buy at LCBO When You’re Hosting

Jive Elderflower Pearl Edition Sparkling Wine $8.30 — Not only is this one of the LCBO’s  best-kept secrets, it clocks in at just about $9.40 after taxes. Making it unbelievably cost effective when hosting a party. But don’t let the price fool you, this stuff tastes like citrus, flowers, Paris, and sunshine in a bottle. The stuff is so good you could probably bring loved ones back to life by just sprinkling this elixir of the Gods over their grave. I stand behind Jive sparkling one so much that if it was socially acceptable, I’d pour some into a travel mug and start my day with it. — Chris Zaghi, Fashion Editor

Bulleit Rye is $40 and that may seem like a lot until you consider that it’s a multi-awards winning Rye and that you can make Sazeracs, Old Fashioneds, and Manhattans, drink it on the rocks, drink it neat, drink it out of the bottle, cook with it, and still have some left over for the day after in case you need the hair of the dog. You may ask, I like it fine but what if my friends don’t like whiskey? Well, nothing wrong with a party of one. — Hoon, Managing Editor

This may sound strange but Twisted Tea Original is a great go-to drink to have stocked in your fridge if you’re hosting. They’re refreshing, delicious, and, just in case things get a little rowdy, they go super easy if you need to start chugging or shotgunning. So make sure you buy the cans instead of the bottles! You never know when you might need them. — Claire Ball, Contributor

Best Place to See a Band You’ve Never Heard Of

I don’t know that many bands, so I’m not sure if the bands I’ve never heard of are necessarily bands everyone’s never heard of, and I’d hate to frown and have malicious thoughts at someone who’s supposedly known the said bands since they were in utero. But the last couple of times I’ve been to REX on Queen West, the bands, some of them student bands, were really great. — Hoon, Managing Editor

The Hideout (423 College Street) — I was personally offended when the Hideout closed the doors of their always bumpin’ Queen West location but ecstatic when learning that they’d be just down the road at a new location on College! The venue does a really great job at hiring bands that will play for the people in the bar. Even if you’ve never heard of the band, you’re bound to join the dance floor and hear a great mix of the bands personal songs and covers! —Meg, Contributor

Self-claimed as the best place for live music and cold beer, it’s hard to argue with The Dakota Tavern (249 Ossington Avenue). When I feel like visualizing myself in an indie folk music video, this is my go-to. The bar, with low ceilings and Christmas lights strung on stage all year around, offers a more intimate experience with bands. Order a few beers with your friends and you might even find yourself belting out some tunes. – Michelle, Social Media Coordinator

Best Underrated Festivals

TURF (Toronto Urban Roots Fest) — I wouldn’t necessarily call TURF underrated because it is quite popular, but it’s definitely not on the level with other music festivals you see come through the area. The headliners get attention but the rest of the festival is low key. The line up is a mix of bigger names and small bands touring around the country – some of those smaller bands draw small crowds, but those shows are a blast to be at. You can absolutely find one of your new favourite bands here and take in some of the amazing food options they have at the same time. — Natasha Grodzinski, Contributor

Corn Fest on St. Clair, happening later this year in August, is just something I’d like to attend. I expect a lot of varieties of corn, cuban corn, grilled corn, popcorn, tortillas, tamales, and more. Apparently there will be free BBQ as well. — Hoon, Managing Editor

Best Place to Workout and not Feel Judged

The YMCA — There’s a reason there’s a song about it. You get your regular gym nuts at the Y, but there are also so many people of all ages that go for so many different reasons. We have seniors chilling, kids running around and everyone in between just trying to do their thing. Everyone’s going at their own pace. Just avoid those in the middle of a personal trainer session. They can get intense. — Natasha Grodzinski, Contributor

Sully’s Boxing Gym is an old school boxing gym up on Dupont by Dufferin. You might get yelled at and pushed to do better but nobody will judge you, as long as you keep trying. The crowd is always friendly and Tony and Winslow, the two beyond fantastic coaches, are always helpful. — Hoon, Managing Editor

Continue following our fashion, lifestyle, and arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

A Conversation with Gaëtane Verna, the director of the Power Plant Contemporary

Power Ball, the notorious art party and fundraiser, is back this year with Stereo Vision. Power Ball XIX, hosted by the Power Plant Contemporary and Max Mara, will once again transform the renowned gallery into an immersive artscape with works by architecture and design studio Pedro&Juana and artist Francesco Pedraglio, among others, alongside performances, cocktails, hobnobbing, chit chatting, admiring, and more!

In anticipation for the big event, Novella had a chance to speak with Gaëtane Verna, the director of the Power Plant regarding not just the Power Ball, but also what she has to say about our contemporary art scene.

Hoon: Tell us about this year’s Power Ball theme, Stereo Vision.

Gaëtane Verna: For this year’s 19th edition of our major annual fundraiser, we wanted to move away from our previous years’ themes of pleasure and excess. The TV series Stranger Things had just been released around the time we had started to brainstorm for this year, and we loved the idea of the Upside Down world. We were also inspired by similar elements from works such as Cronenburg’s films Videodrome and Stereo and David Lynch’s TV show, Twin Peaks. This led to the idea of seen and unseen worlds, which ultimately became Stereo Vision. The beauty of Stereo Vision is that it can be interpreted in many ways: our art installations will reflect the theme in different ways through various interpretations, and immersive environments. We want the party to really transport guests, and be this otherworldly space where visual art, music, food, fashion, community and society intersect.

H: How did you come across Pedro & Juana and Francesco Pedraglio? What drew you to their work and led you to work closely with them for Power Ball XIX?

GV: For our Power Ball VIP Party we always feature insightful living international artists; artists who have never been seen before in Toronto and Canada – in all, the best of the best in contemporary art. Collaborating with an internationally recognized artist to present a one-night-only project is an essential part of our annual fundraiser.

For this year’s theme of hidden worlds, parallel universes, we thought, who better to build and realize this vision of an entirely different world than an architecture and design studio? Pedro&Juana is completely unique and a departure from the types of work we had previously highlighted for the VIP Party. Their ability to cleverly design and redesign a space, and the thought they put into how that space affects the relationships between those present in an environment is certainly what drew us to them. Not to give too much away, the Mexican architect and artist duo will be working in collaboration with Italian performance artist Francesco Pedraglio to create a room where the real and the represented will be questioned by creating a mirroring play of vignettes.

H: Aside from being a notorious art party, the Power Ball is also an important fundraising event. Tell us what the fundraising is for.

GV: The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery is Canada’s leading non-collecting public gallery dedicated exclusively to contemporary art and culture. This is, in fact, our 30th Anniversary Year and we pride ourselves in delivering the best in contemporary Canadian and international arts in everything we do.

Power Ball is, of course, no exception and we always deliver a not-so-ordinary fundraising gala (and art party!) experience for two reasons. First and foremost, and very simply, we aim to raise funds so that we can continue presenting new works by living Canadian and international artists and have our audience visit us and see these artworks for free – our gallery is admission-free, all year. We also provide opportunities for audiences to engage with the work in alternative ways, and this is where our public programs and educational events come in. The donations from Power Ball are crucial in helping us produce these as well, and many of these programs are free. Power Ball is the engine that powers The Power Plant and we could not deliver our many commissioned works and public programs without the support of all our guests to this annual event.

Secondly and equally important, this event helps us showcase the work of local artists to an audience that may be different from those that visit us during the regular exhibition seasons. Part of our mandate is to present the work of diverse artists to an equally diverse audience, and to be a forum for the advanced artistic culture of our time. Our aim is to encourage visitors to engage, ponder and interact with the artwork presented within the walls of The Power Plant and through the years we’ve understood that this is an important exercise that does not have to centre solely on our shows: we can do this through outreach programs with youth, workshops with children and their parents, and yes – even a unique art party, once a year, featuring the best in contemporary culture for our many patrons and supporters. Our mandate drives all of our choices here at The Power Plant and this fundraiser is key in allowing us to continue those important conversations at the intersection of art, culture, outreach, society and much more.

H: Contemporary art is a broad term. The term itself and/or its ethos is often misunderstood, parodied, or simply looked over. How would you define the term?

GV: In my mind contemporary art is the art of our time. It is the work that artists all over the globe to shed light on blind spots – perhaps one could say, the hidden and unseen aspects – in our ever-changing world and society. Contemporary art does not have one unique form. It is a multi-disciplinary practise and combines equally diverse sources and contexts that are current to our world. Contemporary art is both lyrical as well as disturbing. It is poetic while exposing the worst possible expressions of the human injustices of today and the past.

H: What would you say makes Canadian art exciting?

GV: In 2017, within the context of Canada’s Sesquicentennial, Canadian contemporary art is forced to break many barriers and establish a visual arts discourse that is as complex as the world in which we operate – within Canada and beyond. As a country of indigenous people and immigrants we are forced to take a closer look at our 150-year legacy. The best contemporary artists are not afraid to tackle important local and personal stories, whether they are current or whether they explore histories that go beyond 1867. These stories, often hidden, are key to understanding who we are as a country and how our stories and artworks are relevant within our country as well as within the rest of the world. The multidisciplinary nature of Canadian contemporary art is what makes our strength. Many of our artists are practicing simultaneously in Canada as well as abroad, confronting their work to the rest of the globe and connecting their practice across borders and topics.

H: You’ve spent a lot of time in Montreal and Paris, two centers of francophone culture. Had this influenced you in the way you think of and look at art? Or do cultural backgrounds and geography have little to do with way one approaches art?

I was born outside of Canada and this has always made me a citizen of the world. I was raised in Montreal and I studied and lived abroad for close to ten years. My time in Paris, where I could encounter various aspects of the world converging in this city on a daily basis, has been critical in building my approach towards the arts. I see no borders between people or disciplines and in my world I am constantly searching for artists that are able to expose universal themes that will connect with a local – local to Toronto, that is – perspective, national perspective as well as global perspective. The Power Plant is located in Toronto but it is also a national institution that is respected all over the globe. My past years in Quebec and France have given me the outlook and the curiosity to explore all the angles that the best artists bring to their work and present it to Toronto audiences, show its relevance to all of our perspectives and continue building on to our 30 year legacy.

H: You’ve been deeply involved in the art community for over two decades as a director, curator, publisher, teacher, etc. How have contemporary art and society’s relationship to it changed over time? And where do you see it going in the near future?

GV: Contemporary art is now on the forefront of society. The increase in the number of art fairs around the world, as well as Biennales is an indicator of a new role of contemporary art, whether as an investment, as a catalyst for change or as an expression of social innovation. Since the end of the Second World War we have seen a constant increase in biennales, arts programs and curatorial programs in universities. As a result, we are producing more artists than ever before and more curators. Art plays an important part in the economy of Canada and of Toronto. Arts institutions like The Power Plant have many roles within our society. We are a place that promotes and presents the work of contemporary living artists. Additionally, we also function at times as an active cultural centre or a forum – a place of ideas and debate that affects our society as a whole. The role of museums and cultural institutions has evolved and artists are more so on the forefront of socio-political change and action. This convergence between the areas of art and activism will certainly carry on into the future.

H: The Power Plant is dedicated to, among other things, showcasing emerging talent. Could you tell our readers about a few exciting artists you’ve come across recently?

GV: At The Power Plant we develop and showcase talents in both artists and curators. Through two fellowships sponsored by RBC and TD Bank we have been able to contribute to the next generation of curators. I am looking forward to seeing what our alumni Fellows like Clara Halpern, now at Oakville Galleries, and Adrienne Costantino, now at Lakeshore Arts, accomplish next in our arts community. In terms of Canadian artists, I am excited by many, but a shortlist includes Brenda Draney, Jen Aitken, Patrick Bernatchez, Jacynthe Carrier, Howie Tsui, Maria Hupfield, Dawit L. Petros, Hajra Waheed, Brendan Fernandes, Tony Romano, Chih-Chen Wang, Marvin Luvualu Antonio, and Kapwani Kiwanga – who we just presented in our Winter 2017 Exhibition – amongst others. We can see great diversity in their types of practice and the sources they draw from, but the strength of their work is the diversity of perspectives that they bring to our Canadian landscape. There are many more artists which makes this an exciting time for our field.

H: Are you working on any new creative programs for the Power Plant at the moment?

GV: Needless to say, we’re incredibly excited about Power Ball XIX on June 1, as we outdo ourselves year after year. It is as much part of our creative work as the exhibitions that we develop throughout the year. But what perhaps is most exciting is just that, the programs that we have upcoming after Power Ball XIX on June 1. They are simply the work that we do on a daily basis and that we’ve been doing for the past 30 years: presenting the work of the living artists of our time regardless of generations and provenance. I’m thrilled to be presenting the first major institutional exhibition of Ydessa Hendeles this summer. Opening with a free public party on June 23, this will be her first retrospective show in Canada, and as an important figure in Toronto’s contemporary art scene we are honoured to have her collaborate with us on this occasion. Following that, for the last exhibition season of our 30th Anniversary Year in 2017, in our Fall 2017 Season we’ll be presenting two solo show by Amalia Pica, from Argentina, and Sammy Baloji & Filip de Boeck, from Congo and Belgium respectively; along with a site-specific installation in our Fleck Clerestory by British artist, Michael Landy. Finally, to kick off 2018, visitors to our Winter 2018 Season in January will view solo shows by French-Algerian artist Kader Attia and Nigerian artist Emeka Ogboh.

H: Anything else you’d like to add.

GV: All I can say is we will continue to present the world in one place at The Power Plant, but further to that…you’ll just have to follow us and see!

We are constantly traveling the world to bring it back and present it within our gallery walls to all Toronto audiences. We are an institution where all are welcomed through our ALL YEAR, ALL FREE admission-free program thanks to BMO. We are so excited to continue the journey with our staff, our board of directors and our audiences that represent all that Toronto has to offer to the city and the world. We take seriously our responsibility to contribute to breaking the barriers that too often exist between contemporary art and its public. I invite everyone to join us on June 1 as well as throughout the year. We have programs for everyone and everyone is always welcome.

Continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.