Costume graduate to work backstage at the ballet

May 20, 2021

An outfit from the Aurora Collection by costume design graduate Alex Stephens. Photographer: Charlie Nicholson

TAFE SA graduate Alex Stephens is combining her interests in costume making and dancing with a work placement at the Australian Ballet this month.

Having made and worn her share of tutus, Alex says the opportunity to go behind the scenes at the Melbourne-based ballet company is a dream come true.

Alex, a graduate of the Bachelor of Creative Arts – Costume Design, spent 20 years dancing with the Duprada Dance Company in Alice Springs, and another six years working for the company’s dance academy.

“I used to do it all in Alice Springs; design, make patterns, make the costumes and look after them afterwards, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it all comes together in a much larger professional environment,” she says.

Earlier this year, Alex was named the 2020 HomeStart Graduate of the Year for the Costume Design course, which is offered by TAFE SA in partnership with Flinders University.

Her final-year collection, Aurora (pictured), featured costumes inspired by The Sleeping Beauty ballet but reimagined as a 1920’s film drama.

“I wanted to do something with a ballet connection but not ballet costumes, so I applied the stereotypes of The Sleeping Beauty characters to a different era,” she says.

“I learnt a lot about getting the base right, using the right fabrics and creating the silhouettes, so I could add the detail that I wanted.”

It’s the combination of sewing and problem solving that motivates Alex to work in live performance.

“If you’re trying to make things for shows for the theatre, it has to look great, but it has to be practical as well and that extra challenge is what I like,” she says.

Alex is furthering her skill development this year by studying the Certificate III in Scenery Construction, Props Making and Scenic Art at TAFE SA’s Adelaide College of the Arts.

“I’m really good at the sewing but there’s a lot of stuff nowadays like the armour in cosplay that requires a 3D approach,” she says.

“I want more experience so I can enhance those areas and make better costumes overall.”

She’s looking forward to her time at the Australian Ballet where the inspiration for her career in costume making really began.

“When I was dancing with Duprada, we went on several tours of Melbourne and I remember walking through the Australian Ballet’s wardrobe area and thinking, ‘Yep, this is what I want to do with my life’.”