Globe Head Ballerina

Artist: Yinka Shonibare
Location: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
Completion: 2013

With the vertical wall of the Royal Opera House as her stage, this life-size ballerina pirouettes gracefully, inside her own private bubble, parallel to the pavement below on one, impossibly small pointed toe.

The snow-globe style bubble is formed from two hemispherical acrylic pieces bonded together along a vertical seam. A circular cut out at the back truncates the sphere to form an opening for the ballerina and also creates a perimeter to fix the piece back to the building.

A specially designed steel frame was hung off the existing main frame to receive the piece. The outer face of this incorporated a stainless steel ring, with a curved face, machined from a solid block to form a rigid three-dimensional gasket that could provide a tight fit between the acrylic and the support frame. This tight fit was essential because the nature of acrylic as a material meant that if had to be clamped to the support frame instead of using a more traditional bolted connection where the supported piece bears down onto the bolts.

The internal environment of the sphere is air conditioned, not for the ballerina's comfort, but because the acrylic forming the sphere is essentially a plastic so can distort and weaken under extreme temperatures. The air conditioning also eliminates the risk of condensation inside the sphere.

The fibreglass ballerina was cast from a sculpture of an actual dancer replicating a pose from a well-known photograph of legendary ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn. Her tutu is made of African Dutch fabrics, inviting us to explore the artist's trademark questions on the ambiguities of heritage and identity. Instead of a head, the dancer has a Victorian-style globe, reflecting the international work of the Royal Opera House and the universality of ballet as an art form.