Krista Dowson has a little ritual she performs every time she steps onstage. Ever since joining The National Ballet of Canada in 2000 as an apprentice straight out of Canada’s National Ballet School, the corps de ballet member folds over at the waist and “greets” the stage with both hands. “It quite literally grounds me,” says Dowson, who admits to still being nervous right before a performance. “The difference between now and when I started is that I am able to acknowledge it.”
That insight has served Dowson, 31, well, both in her career as a performer, where she has danced the roles of the Stepsister in Cinderella, Baba in The Nutcracker and the Finger Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty, and in her emerging second career as a costume and clothing designer. “Five years ago, I started making my own dancewear,” says Dowson, who describes herself as “fuller-bodied” than many of her fellow dancers. “I had never even sat down at a sewing machine before, but I just couldn’t find a leotard I felt comfortable jumping in—the fabric is usually flimsy, the straps are too small, and when you move, they don’t stay in place.”
Her first effort was a struggle (“it took me eight hours, and my mother had to thread the sewing machine”), but the result was so successful, another dancer swiped it from the dressing room and left a pile of cash in its place. Today her Pretty, Fancy line of leotards (find them at tothepointedanceshoppe.com) and skirts, which she describes as “super-functional rehearsal clothing,” are worn by dancers in The National Ballet of Canada, Ballet Jörgen Canada, The Royal Ballet and Boston Ballet.
Even more thrilling for Dowson has been the opportunity to design costumes for works like Guillaume Côté’s Being and Nothingness (Part 1). Dowson started with Côté’s vision of lingerie, but without a sexy overtone. “Guillaume wanted it to look un-costume-y, like she was in her boyfriend’s shirt,” says Dowson. “The difficulty was that in the piece, Greta Hodgkinson moves a lot, and the costume needed to be able to reset itself every time she was still.” Dowson’s innovative solution was to seam the mesh fabric extensively over the body to give it the necessary combination of lightness and weight.
“Ballet is such a visual experience,” says Dowson, who, as a dancer, is uniquely positioned over the fashion-trained to understand what makes a costume really work. “If you walk onstage feeling beautiful, you are already halfway there.”
Favorite reading: Cooking magazines like Food & Wine
Listens to: CBC/Radio-Canada, because she hates commercials
Can be found wearing: Jeans and boots
Favorite fashion labels: Oscar de la Renta and Dior
Dance idol: Karen Kain. “For my 14th birthday present my dad got me a pair of her shoes.