Saturday, December 12, 2015

Costumes Designed for The Australian Ballet
Wearable Art

Author: Marie-Therese Wisniowski

In 1961, J. C. Williamson Theatres Ltd and the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust received federal subsidies towards the establishment of a national ballet company. These organizations established the Australian Ballet Foundation to assist with the establishment of a new company, which in 1962 became the Australian Ballet.

The Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust.

The Australian Ballet gave its first performance in 1962, building on a strong and rich tradition of ballet in Australia and the efforts of many dedicated pioneers in ballet and dance. The first performance by the Australian Ballet was Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake staged at Her Majesty’s Theater, Sydney, on 2nd November 1962.

Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney (December, 1884).

The founding Artistic Director of the Australian Ballet was Peggy van Praagh, who brought with her initiative, exacting standards and dedication, enabling The Australian Ballet to flourish and achieve international status early in its life.

Dame Margaret "Peggy" van Praagh, OBE was a British ballet dancer, choreographer, teacher, repetiteur, producer, advocate and director, who spent much of her later career in Australia.

The Principal Artists in The Australian Ballet's first season were Kathleen Gorham, Marilyn Jones and Garth Welch, all stars from the Borovansky Ballet. The Ballet Master was Ray Powell, on loan from The Royal Ballet. The ballet teacher was Leon Kellaway, who first came to Australia with the Pavlova company. The repertoire was based firmly on a mixture of the popular classics, other international works of proven quality and a proportion of ballets created especially for the company.

The Australian Ballet’s first production – Swan Lake (1962).

In fact, the oldest ballet company in Australia was the West Australian Ballet company, which was established by Madame Kira Bousloff, a Ballerina with the Ballets Russes, who had travelled to the east coast of Australia in 1938. After completing her commitment with the Ballets Russes she travelled west to Perth on holiday and fell in love with the city, declaring that the beautiful coastline reminded her of the French Riviera.

Madam Kira Bousloff.

Peggy van Praagh ran the Australian Ballet Company for its first 12 years, with Robert Helpmann as Artistic Director for much of the time. Anne Woolliams was Artistic Director from 1976 to 1977 during which time she produced two of John Cranko's greatest works for the company, Romeo and Juliet and Onegin, which she brought with her from the Stuttgart Ballet. Dame Peggy van Praagh returned as Artistic Director for 12 months in 1978 and was followed by a former ballerina of the company Marilyn Jones in 1979. Jones founded The Dancers Company as a second company, comprised of graduating students of The Australian Ballet School and dancers from The Australian Ballet. It tours Australia annually to this day.

Maina Gielgud was The Australian Ballet's Artistic Director from 1983 to 1996. Under her guidance the company extended its contemporary repertoire and grew in strength and international reputation. She also strongly encouraged works by Australian choreographers and appointed Stephen Baynes and Stanton Welch as Resident Choreographers in 1995. Then in 1997 Ross Stretton returned to his alma mater after working in key artistic posts in the USA.

The company's present Artistic Director David McAllister was appointed in 2001 following Ross Stretton's move to The Royal Ballet, Covent Garden. A former student of The Australian Ballet School and Principal Artist with the company, David McAllister moved from Principal Artist to Artistic Director.

Renowned dancers such as Sonia Arova, Erik Bruhn, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev were guests of this young company. Nureyev so enjoyed working with The Australian Ballet that he regularly toured with the company. In 1972 he directed and performed Don Quixote with The Australian Ballet, described by many critics as the finest classical ballet film ever produced.

Rudolf Khametovich Nureyev was a Soviet-born dancer of ballet and modern dance, one of the most celebrated of the 20th century.

Alongside an established body of the great ballet classics, the company presented modern repertoire created by Australian and major international choreographers. The works of Australians Stephen Baynes, Stanton Welch, Graeme Murphy and Natalie Weir are presented alongside those by major international choreographers Jiří Kylián, Nacho Duato, Glen Tetley, Maurice Béjart, Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine, Twyla Tharp, John Cranko, William Forsythe, James Kudelka, Christopher Wheeldon and Kenneth MacMillan.

Graeme Lloyd Murphy AO is a well-known Australian dance choreographer.

Today the company is based in Melbourne; its Southbank headquarters is the Primrose Potter Australian Ballet Centre, named after its long-term supporter Lady Primrose Potter. The company regularly tours to all the major cities within Australia, with lengthy seasons in Melbourne at the State Theatre (accompanied by Orchestra Victoria) and in Sydney at the Sydney Opera House. For one week in alternate years, the Australian Ballet performs at the Lyric Theatre at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (Brisbane) and one week each year, at the Adelaide Festival Centre (Adelaide). The company also occasionally tours internationally, and performs annually in an intimate outdoor setting in Hamilton Island (Queensland, Australia).

The Primrose Potter Australian Ballet Centre (2010) - a six-level building, built as the company's home at a cost of $22 million and opened in 1988.

The Australian Ballet works in close cooperation with the Australian Ballet School of which many of the company's dancers are graduates. Giving approximately 200 performances a year, the Australian Ballet is the busiest ballet company in the world. With a vast repertoire, which includes the major classical and heritage works as well as contemporary productions, it follows its artistic vision of "Caring for Tradition, Daring to be Different". Each year, the company also presents an extensive national education program, run by Colin Peasley a former Principal Dancer with the company, to further inspire and educate its audiences.

Australian Ballet School 40th birthday gala (2004). The motto of The Australian Ballet is – “Art that moves”.

Costumes Designed for The Australian Ballet
Below are images of some costumes specifically designed over the years for various productions of The Australian Ballet.

Dance troop of The Australian Ballet in 2002.

1964 – The Display

Madeleine Eastoe in a costume designed by Adele Weiss for Robert Helpmann’s The Display (1964), which was also featured in Beyond 40 - The Australian Ballet 40th anniversary (2002).

1973 – Gemini

Felicia Palanca and Milos Mutavdzic in costumes by Nadine Baylis for Glen Tetly’s Gemini, which was also feature in Beyond 40 - The Australian Ballet 40th anniversary (2002).

1977 - Swan Lake

Robert Curran and Simone Goldsmith in costumes by Tom Lingwood for Anne Williams’ Swan Lake.

1978 – Spartacus

Olivia Bell and Steven Heathcote in costumes by Tivadar Márk from Lászó Seregi’s Spartacus

1986 - Checkmate

Lynette Wills with Camilla Vergotis and Leanne Stojmenov in costumes by Edward McKnight Kauffer from Ninette de Valois’ Checkmate (1986) which was also featured in the Beyond 40 - The Australian Ballet 40th anniversary (2002).

1992 Season – Nutcracker

Mathew Trent and Miranda Coney in costumes by Kristian Fredikson for Graeme Murphy’s - Nutcracker

2002 Season – United

Jacinta Ross and Campbell McKenzie for United - various designers. United is a program of three ballets: Black Cake (by Hans van Manen), Mercurial Manoeuvres (by Christopher Wheeldon) and a new work (by Adrian Burnett).


2013 Season - Cinderella
Alexei Ratmansky, formerly artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet and now resident choreographer of American Ballet Theatre, created a new version of Cinderella for The Australian Ballet's 2013 season. Set to Prokofiev’s beguiling score and featuring Surrealism-inspired sets and costumes by French designer Jérôme Kaplan, this new Cinderella is a fantasyland of 1940s glam. The costumes below give a glimpse of his work.

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