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Designing Dance – At the Costume Store

by Jenny Butler
Friday 29th October 2010

Thank you to Kate Scott from The Australian Ballet for pulling together this week’s excellent Designing Dance guest blog!! DON’T FORGET to leave a comment on any of this week’s guest blog posts to be in the running to win a double pass to Madame Butterfly AND a Chip Chop ‘Pavlova’ tote! – Jenny x

Ruby Red Tutus. The tutus are stored upside down to keep the skirts buoyant! Photo by Jess Bialek

If fashion is the last repository of the marvellous, as Christian Dior once declared, costume archives might just be the last repository of the sublime.

For almost 50 years The Australian Ballet has been creating costumes and, like dancers, they need somewhere to rest between shows. That somewhere, since the 80s, has been a hundred-year-old wool store in Kensington, a space that exudes an almost magical air and exerts a magnetic pull over its visitors.

Storage crates, bags, boxes and wicker chests full of costumes. Photos by Kate Scott and Jess Bialek

Giant tutus!! Photos by Jess Bialek

Productions are stored with library precision by the store’s redoubtable Barbara Langley, but everywhere there’s something unexpected to surprise and delight. A handpainted ballet plate in the apple-green kitchen; bright yellow character shoes waiting to dance off a shelf; a simple shrine to ballet great Margot Fonteyn; a leather codpiece lying suggestively on a table; a storey-tall white tutu billowing from the rafters.

Photo by Jess Bialek

Clockwise from top left: Fonteyn Shrine, Kate’s favourite yellow shoes and ballet plate in the wonderfully old-school kitchen. Photos by Kate Scott and Jess Bialek

It’s a place we’ve returned to time and time again for photo shoots, despite the store’s charming and not-so-charming impracticalities (no lifts to move costumes between floors; no heating in the winter). On the recent Madame Butterfly and Merry Widow shoots, the dancers had to be bundled into coats, scarves and slippers between takes as frost formed on the portable furnace, but no photography studio can match its ambience.

So cold that the gas bottle froze! Photo by Kitty Walker

Photos by Kitty Walker

It’s a place that makes adults exclaim with childlike delight; a dress-up box of epic proportions where the trinkets are designed by some of theatre’s greats. The very quotable Mr. Dior keenly observed “the designer is the last possessor of the wand of Cinderella’s fairy godmother”. Perhaps that’s what makes this humble store a castle.

Kate Scott

PS. For more photos of the store do visit The Australian Ballet Blog, Behind Ballet

Photo by Jess Bialek

by Jenny Butler
Friday 29th October 2010

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