Costumes designed to be ‘lived and breathed on stage’

THE National Gallery of Australia’s big “Ballets Russes: the art of costume” is off to at the National Art Center, Tokyo, opening on June 18, running until September.

© Natalia Goncharova, Costume for a seahorse c 1916 from Sadko, NGA, purchased 1995

© Natalia Goncharova, Costume for a seahorse c 1916 from Sadko, NGA, purchased 1995

The exhibition will feature over 140 costumes and accessories from the renowned ballet troupe, as well as film, drawings, photography and original performance programs, all drawn from the NGA’s collection.

The Art Center, Tokyo, designed by architect Kisho Kurokawa, opened in 2007, a year before the National Museum of Australia’s Emily Kngwarreye exhibition travelled there. It is the centrepiece of Tokyo’s super-trendy ‘Art Triangle Roppongi’ district.

Director of the NGA, Ron Radford, says “In this exhibition you will see works of art by some of the greatest modern artists such as Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Natalia Goncharova, Léon Bakst, André Derain, Giorgio de Chirico and Pablo Picasso, but these works are costumes that were designed to be lived and breathed in on the stage.”

Henri Matisse, Costume for a mourner c 1920 from Le Chant du Rossignol, NGA, purchased 1973

Henri Matisse, Costume for a mourner c 1920 from Le Chant du Rossignol, NGA, purchased 1973

The Ballets Russes originated in Russia under Serge Diaghilev’s charismatic leadership, but they never performed in the country that gave them their name. Rather they throughout Europe and America and brought together the talents of composers including Igor Stravinsky (who launched his career with the Ballets Russes and was Diaghilev’s closest musical collaborator) and Claude Debussy; choreographers Michel Fokine, Leonide Massine and George Balanchine and dancers such as Vaslav Njinksy.

The Ballets Russes never toured to Japan, but it is believed to have exerted a strong influence on its dance and design culture during the 1920s.

Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Design and exhibition curator, Robert Bell, comments, “The costumes created for the Ballets Russes were conceived in the context of powerful and emotional artistic collaboration and command attention as persuasive works of art in their own right, long after they ceased to be worn on stage. Their ingenious design, cut and construction, innovative colours and patterns, the use of a variety of fabrics and trim materials, come together with the purpose of being worn in complex action by athletic dancers for maximum visual impact on stage.”

The Gallery is quick to point out that “Ballets Russes” is part of a broader international touring schedule that has seen the Ned Kelly series by Sidney Nolan travel to the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the “Australia” exhibition to the Royal Academy of Arts – and soon “Atua: Sacred gods from Polynesia” will go to St Louis Art Museum, St Louis, USA and “Roy Lichtenstein: Pop Remix” to Taipei.

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