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Current Obsession: Desmond Heeley spins dollar store dross into gold with his National Ballet costumes

Current Obsession: Desmond Heeley spins dollar store dross into gold with his National Ballet costumes
(Image: Cylla von Tiedemann)

Current Obsession: Desmond’s Tutus
Greta Hodgkinson in Giselle, with the vengeful ghost brides (Image: Cylla von Tiedemann)
Current Obsession: Desmond's Tutus

Desmond Heeley is stage royalty. The 81-year-old designer has created sets and costumes for major theatre, ballet and opera companies around the world. He’s even done work for actual royals—he helped design the 1969 investiture of Prince Charles. For the National Ballet, he has presided over seven iconic productions, beginning with Swan Lake in 1967, meticulously attending to every detail of each of them. “I like to be around for the beginning, the middle and the end,” he says. “One doesn’t just do the frocks and the sets and then bugger off.” But don’t be fooled by the perfectionist streak. He’s not above dumpster diving to get the materials he wants—he has fashioned chandeliers from coat hangers and plastic wine glasses, and he once used dollar store pool noodles for the ribs and arches of Gothic architecture. For Giselle, a National Ballet staple since he first designed it in 1970, he used bargain basement fabrics to create the illusion of shimmering gossamer. Not that he wants audiences thinking too much about what the dancers are wearing. “People don’t pay to see how things are done,” he says. “They pay to be enchanted and beguiled.” Here, some scenes from his most enchanting and beguiling creations, along with his original sketches.

DANCE
Giselle The National Ballet of Canada Four Seasons Centre Dec. 5 to 9

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Current Obsession: Desmond Heeley spins dollar store dross into gold with his National Ballet costumes
Current Obsession: Desmond Heeley spins dollar store dross into gold with his National Ballet costumes
Current Obsession: Desmond Heeley spins dollar store dross into gold with his National Ballet costumes
Current Obsession: Desmond Heeley spins dollar store dross into gold with his National Ballet costumes

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