Bold and Beautiful: The Creative Vision of Ann Church

A new acquisition capturing the creative vision of Melbourne born designer Ann Church joins Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection. In a career spanning the late 1940s to the early 1970s, Church designed the set and costumes for companies such as the National Theatre Ballet, Victorian Ballet Guild, The Australian Ballet and the West Australian Ballet. This new acquisition  features set and costume designs, notebooks, photographs and newspaper clippings that provide a valuable insight into our early dance repertoire.

Set design by Ann Church for Les Belles Creoles, National Theatre Ballet, 1949 Gift of the Estate of Ann Church, 2017. Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection. Reproduced courtesy of Mrs Collins.

There are vibrantly coloured set and costume designs for one of Ann Church’s earliest commissions for the stage, Les Belles Creoles. Presented by the National Theatre Ballet in 1949, this production was choreographed by Australian dancer Rex Reid and was the first of many ballets on which they collaborated.

Church continued to design for the National Theatre Ballet’s following seasons.  A selection of costume designs from Margaret Scott’s production of Peter and the Wolf (1950) and the full-length version of Swan Lake (1951) are also represented and show the designers bold use of colour. They capture a sense of movement that makes her designs so in tune with the needs of dance.

Notebooks compiled by Ann Church during the 1950s and 1960s. Gift of the Estate of Ann Church, 2017, Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection. Reproduced courtesy of Mrs Collins.

Notebooks containing fabric samples and working drawings provide a rare glimpse into the creative process Church followed when developing new designs. In some we see whimsical ideas for future  ballets, while other pages tackle the practicalities of fabric selection, measurements and garment construction.

Set design by Ann Church for Melbourne Cup, The Australian Ballet, 1962. Gift of the Estate of Ann Church, 2017 Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection. Reproduced courtesy of Mrs Collins.

The costumes designed by Ann Church for the production of Melbourne Cup were donated by The Australian Ballet in 1998, as treasured pieces from the company’s inaugural season of 1962. This recent acquisition provides further representation of Melbourne Cup through a selection of set designs that formed the backdrop to these costumes. Based on the very first running of the famous horse race in 1861, Melbourne Cup presented a number of challenges for the designer. One of these was to capture the historic setting of the event on stage. A carefully compiled scrapbook of newspaper clippings and articles reveals the depth of research she conducted to recreate this spectacle. The scrapbook also includes photographs that capture the magical journey from page to stage.

Margot Anderson
Curator (Dance and Opera)

 

 

AN INTERACTION BETWEEN MUSIC AND PAINTING

This year Arts Centre Melbourne celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the creative collaboration between abstract painter John Peart (1945 – 2013) and composer Nigel Butterley (b. 1935). In 1967 the pair took to the stage of the Sydney Town Hall, along with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, to present the collaborative performance Interaction as part of the Last Night of the Proms.

Peart and Butterley conceived the performance as a creative interaction between music and painting, a live ‘happening’ where each could act in response to the other. Prior to the event, Butterley, a pianist and an established composer, wrote a work of five movements, each more energetic than the last. On the evening of the performance Butterley was seated at the piano and divided the orchestra into five sections. This allowed him to direct the various sections of the orchestra to come in and out, responding to Peart’s evolving painting.

Peart, who was only 22 at the time, was establishing a name for himself as an innovative abstract painter. During the performance he worked on the stage above the orchestra, with long-handled paint rollers on a large canvas stretched before the audience. For each of the five movements Peart painted with a different colour, the intensity of which increased as the performance unfolded; the palest used during the first, gentle movement and the darkest during the final, most vigorous movement.

The performance is fondly recalled by Peart’s close friends and directors of Watters Gallery, Geoffrey Legge and Frank Watters, who looked on with “amazed admiration at the way the vast painting came into marvellous and inevitable being as Peart proceeded”. They remarked that “he couldn’t step back and survey the work as it developed, he just flowed with the music. His application of black during the final exciting movement made it hard not to believe he was under the spell of an out-of-body intelligence so inspired did each new mark seem”.

Interaction, 1967, a recent donation to Arts Centre Melbourne’s Art Collection, was a preparatory study created during rehearsals. Although smaller in scale, Peart’s lyrical and direct brushstrokes capture the rhythm and movement of the improvisation on canvas. Produced at the beginning of Peart’s career, the work also signalled his lifelong commitment to an exploration of abstraction and experimentation. The addition of this artwork to the Art Collection enriches the historical interpretation of our Foundation Collection, particularly in the artistic connections with Peart’s abstract contemporaries, Yvonne Audette, Roger Kemp and Donald Laycock.

An Interaction between Music and Painting is currently on display in the Smorgon Family Plaza (May 20 – June 25), featuring Interaction, 1967, alongside the award-winning film, Interaction – music and painting, 1967 (directed by Gil Brealey, reproduced by permission of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation – Library Sales © 1969 ABC TV). This film, produced in the same year as the performance, captures the essence of the creative partnership between composer and painter.

Kylie On Stage Tour

Ever wondered what it takes to send an exhibition on tour? In this behind-the-scenes post, you can get a glimpse of staff from the Performing Arts Collection busily preparing Kylie On Stage for tour.

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Gold boots and stiletto heels worn by Kylie Minogue in the On A Night Like This tour packed into their travelling box with custom inserts to prevent movement and damage while travelling.

The Kylie On Stage exhibition wrapped up in January and is now being meticulously prepped and packed for a regional tour to the Mildura Arts Centre, Geelong Gallery, Ararat Regional Art Gallery and La Trobe Regional Gallery in 2017 and 2018. The exhibition allowed visitors to explore the creative processes behind the costumes and production of Kylie Minogue’s concert tours, but for the objects themselves, the show doesn’t end when the exhibition lights go dark. Instead, a team of registrars, curators, conservators and other museum professionals go to work preparing each object for travel to the next exhibition venue.

This lengthy process involves careful photography and documentation to record the condition of each object, creation of handmade supports, and fitting out or building customised boxes to fit complex objects such as headdresses. Exhibition objects risk damage ranging from packing materials and handling through to vibration caused by transport vehicles, so each one is carefully packed with conservation grade materials and dedicated supports to provide the best possible protection. The intricacy of the craftsmanship on many of the Kylie On Stage costumes has inspired clever solutions to protect delicate beading, diamantés and fabrics. Photos of the packing process are then used to guide installation and prevent handling-related damage during unpacking at the next venue.

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Fitting custom supports in a box tray to support a headdress.

While all objects are treated with the utmost care, sometimes you can’t avoid having a particular favourite. Some of the team’s favourite items from the packing process include a pair of yellow Dolce & Gabbana stilettos worn in the encore of Kylie’s 2002 KylieFever tour, a kimono-style mini dress worn in Act Five of the X2008 tour, and two pairs of gold shoes worn in the On A Night Like This tour (2000/2001). Shoes and accessories are not always very visible in performance, so being able to see the detail and craftsmanship of smaller items in the collection up close is a particular privilege.

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A standard box which has been fitted out with customised foam and Tyvek supports for a pair of shoes worn by Kylie Minogue in the encore of her 2002 Fever Tour.

Visitors can look forward to getting their own close-up view of these and all the other objects featured in Kylie On Stage when it arrives in Mildura this August. To learn more about the exhibition and regional tour, visit Kylie On Stage or explore the Kylie Minogue Collection online through the Arts Centre Melbourne website.

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Left: The textile conservator fits a padded Tyvek belt around the Jean Paul Gaultier bodysuit worn in Act Six of the Kiss Me Once 2015 tour.
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The bodysuit also has a fitted internal support to preserve its shape and prevent crushing of structural decorative elements.
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PAC curatorial and collection management staff pack the silver crystal-mesh costume worn by Kylie during Act One of the KylieFever tour in 2002.

Vale Frederick Parslow 1932-2017

 

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Frederick Parslow in Hotel in Amsterdam, Melbourne Theatre Company, 1969. Photograph by Bruce Postle. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

This week the Melbourne theatre community farewelled stage legend Frederick Parslow from the stage of the Union Theatre, University of Melbourne. Fellow actors Anne Phelan, Don Bridges, Gary Down (and the ghost of Frank Thring channelled by Michael Carman) remembered him for his wit and elegance, his immense theatrical range and for his wicked sense of humour both on and off stage.

Parslow made his acting debut in Peter O’Shaughnessy’s Hamlet in 1954. Talent-spotted by Union Theatre Repertory Company (UTRC) director John Sumner he joined the touring production of Twelfth Night alongside cast members Barry Humphries, Zoe Caldwell, Ray Lawler and Malcolm Robertson in 1955. In a career spanning almost 30 years and 300 roles Parslow became the quintessential leading man moving effortlessly between tragedy and comedy.

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From left: Frank Thring, Googie Withers and Frederick Parslow, The Cherry Orchard, J.C. Williamson Ltd, 1974. Photograph by Newton & Talbot. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

His performance as Richard II in the 1963 UTRC production of the same name set a new benchmark for the industry and throughout the 1970s and 1980s he gave memorable performances in productions including The Caucasian Chalk Circle (1970), The Revenger’s Tragedy (1975), Einstein (1981), On Our Selection (1982) and A Fortunate Life (1984).

A theatre actor at heart, Parslow appeared in the films Alvin Purple (1973) and The Last Wave (1977) and on television as the Friday Night host of In Melbourne Tonight.

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Frederick Parslow, Mark Twain Down Under, Playbox Theatre, 1988. Photograph by Luzio Grossi. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

Frederick Parslow was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his services to the performing arts in 1987. He is survived by his son Justin Harris Parslow, his wife, actor, teacher, mentor Joan Harris Parslow having predeceased him in September last year.

 

Perfect Portraits

One of the treasures in the Performing Arts Collection is a album containing 160 carte de visite photographs of Australian performers from the 1860s and 1870s. A carte de visite is a small photograph, usually a portrait, presented on a piece of card 6.5 cm x 10cm. The size of carte de visites made them an economical and extremely popular format as they could be easily shared and mailed to friends and family.

The beautiful photograph above is of one of the Wiseman sisters, most likely Fanny Wiseman (1846-1933), an actress who performed on the Australian stage for over four decades in pantomime and melodrama. Her theatrical family included sisters Emily (1844-1881), Alice (1850-1940) and Laura (1857-1943).

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Laura Wiseman 1992.079.001-136. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.
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Emily Wiseman 1992.079.001-133. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

These photographs show an exquisite level of detail, capturing the intricate costume decorations and elaborate hairstyles of the actresses. Their photographer achieved such perfection by using a headrest; a metal frame that prevented the sitter from moving and blurring the photograph. The base of the headrest has been carefully hidden beneath draped fabric, but is visible in Fanny and Laura’s portraits.

Not all photographers during the period used headrests. This lively photograph of Benhamo and Zebrediah of Burton’s Circus (1877) gives some idea of the extraordinary balance and strength of circus performers who could remain still during the long exposure time.

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Brothers Benhamo (William Benham) and Zebrediah (Zebediah Benham), 1877. 1992.079.001-190 Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

Another striking portrait from the album is of Lena Carey, dressed in costume for the production “Pygmalion and Galatea”. Carey appeared as ‘Galatea’, a statue come to life, in the very successful 1873 production with George Coppin (1819-1906) and Hattie Shepparde (1848?-1874). The State Library of Victoria have two portraits of Hattie Shepparde in the role of ‘Cynisca’. When Shepparde died the following year in childbirth, Lena Carey was among the famous actresses to be pallbearers at her funeral.

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Lena Carey, c.1873. 1992.079.001-29. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.
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Hattie Shepherd, 1873, by Charles Hewitt. State Library of Victoria, H9476. http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/273170

Can you help?

There are a number of unidentified photographs in the album. If you know the names of any of the performers below we’d love to hear from you. As a hint, the handwritten notes around the edges of the photographs are mostly misleading. Please post any suggestions in the comments field below or contact us via our Research Centre.

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1992.079.001-128. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.
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1992.079.001-191. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.
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1992.079.001-195. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.
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1992.079.001-196. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.
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1992.079.001-128. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

Christmas in the Collection

Merry Christmas everyone. We hope that just like the young fellow pictured with Father Christmas at the Shell Club party (December 1960), you have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.

2016 was a big year for the Performing Arts Collection. There were 6 exhibitions, dozens of displays, a design forum, hundreds of research enquiries, 35000 catalogue records created and updated, and the Australian Music Vault was launched.

To celebrate this great year, we’ve assembled a special ‘more-is-more’ collection of Christmas in the Performing Arts Collection. Please enjoy!

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A radio 3DB Christmas party c.1960s. DB 4443 Laurie Richards Collection. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne