Tales from the Research Centre

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Up on level 7 of Hamer Hall at Arts Centre Melbourne, a room walled with books overlooks the river and a beautiful view across the bridge to Flinders Street Station, St Pauls’ Cathedral and the imposing city skyline.  But rarely is time spent appreciating this grand vista, as this small room is our Research Centre for the Australian Performing Arts Collection.   Anyone researching the performing arts can book an appointment to study our archival collections for their projects. It’s our own little mini reader’s room, if you like.  The view might be grand, but heads are down as researchers pore through extant documents to learn more about performers, directors, designers, productions, producers and theatre process from the nineteenth century to today.  The online service also facilitates use of collection images for publications, academic theses, television documentaries, genealogy and even the odd school project!

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The Research Centre is always a quietly busy place.  A snapshot from this year shows research on theatre architecture, pantomime, costume, company finances and performers such as Billy Maloney, a well-known child singer and vaudeville comedian during the inter-war period, who later headed up children’s performance troupes. Billy was known as “the man with the Silver Stick” – the titular item being presented to him by the Prince of Wales (the future but short reigning Edward VIII) in 1920.

The bright orange clown costume pictured below, was owned by Michael Horowitz, a famous circus clown in Warsaw in the 1930’s.  Sue Smethurst got in touch as she is currently researching the family tree. Consequently three generations of Michael Horowitz’s descendants came to visit the Collection to see the costume owned by their ancestor.

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Clown outfit worn by Michael Horowitz, a member of the USSR Circus, c 1925, Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

During their visit, the family told the story of Michael Horowitz who was a famous Polish clown. In order to escape the invading Nazis, Horowitz joined a Russian circus which was about to tour to Australia.  Michael made his home here and after working menial jobs, was employed at GTV 9 in the 50’s as one of the clowns on the children’s programme “The Tarax Show”, along with Alf Gertler and Norman Brown. He was very much a member of the channel 9 ‘family’ in the early days of Australian television.  Ernie Carroll, the man behind Ozzie Ostrich later on, supported Michael Horowitz’s application to remain Australia.

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Back row from L: Henry Horowitz, Meg Horowitz, Sue Smethurst, Paul Horowitz
Front from L: Charlie Horowitz, Alex Horowitz

Pertaining to the costume itself, the family believe that Michael might have done the exquisite embroidery as he was a great sewer.  However, the costume is dated around 1925 when Michael was only fifteen years old. Is this the costume of a 15 year old? Is it an appropriated costume from use elsewhere? If that date is accurate, why did he choose to take it with him years later when fleeing the country?

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Detail, Clown outfit worn by Michael Horowitz, a member of the USSR Circus, c 1925, Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

These are the kinds of questions which both frustrate and fascinate the researcher. The detective work our researchers do is painstaking. They read volumes of material and piece lives and events together from a line in a newspaper clipping here; a letter there, and in the case of Michael Horowitz, they also draw on generational memory passed down through the family.

Thanks to all our researchers for keeping us so busy and special thanks to Sue Smethurst and the Horowitz family for their permissions and images for this piece.

The Australian Performing Arts Collection Research Centre at Arts Centre Melbourne is open by appointment only on Mondays and Tuesdays.  researchservice@artscentremelbourne.com.au

Claudia Funder
Collections Coordinator, Online and Research.

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)

 

 

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.

Cutting The Collection & Thumb Through

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Two costume designs, one with gold trims and pink flowers, and the other with green sash and four strands of beads under the chin, by Attilio Comelli for act two from the musical The Girl From Utah, c.1913/ upon a photograph of the stage set for the musical comedy Follow Through, 1930 or 1932. Gracia Haby & Louise Jennison, collage from Cutting The Collection digitally printed zine, edition of 100, 2016

One of the most rewarding things about being custodians of this great Collection is seeing the surprising ways in which people engage with history to create new work. The Performing Arts Collection is a valuable resource for students, historians, writers, documentary makers, designers and other arts practitioners seeking to find out more about Australia’s rich performing arts history. Every once in a while someone comes along and re-imagines the Collection in ways we never thought possible.

Artists and avid theatre-goers, Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison visited the Research Service earlier this year and found a treasure trove of imagery ripe for digital re-interpretation. The result of their investigations can be found in two new zines, Cutting The Collection and Thumb Through which were recently launched at the Melbourne Art Book Fair at the National Gallery of Victoria. Gracia speaks eloquently about the thought process behind Cutting The Collection informed by ‘the ephemeral nature of dance; the thrill of a live performance and the trace it leaves; notions of recording what was, whilst not ever able to capture or document it fully; and the importance of such collections’. You can read more about the creative process and development here.

Not content with one remarkable publication, Gracia and Louise hit upon the idea of creating Thumb Through as both a flip book  and as a moving collage which re-energises the static images in new and unexpected ways. Both publications evoke the brilliant, always ephemeral energy captured (but not quite) in the objects left behind after the curtain has come down.

Ballet & Horses – Melbourne Cup, The Australian Ballet, 1962

Costume design for Rex Reid's Melbourne Cup, The Australian Ballet, 1962 Gift of The Australian Ballet Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998 Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection
Costume design for Rex Reid’s Melbourne Cup, The Australian Ballet, 1962
Gift of The Australian Ballet
Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998
Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection

Rex Reid’s Melbourne Cup was the first work to be commissioned by The Australian Ballet and premiered on 16 November 1962. Based on the inaugural running of the legendary horse race in 1861, the inclusion of Melbourne Cup in the company’s debut season fulfilled Peggy van Praagh’s wish to present new repertoire featuring Australian themes. The premiere performance featured Kathleen Gorham as Archer, Karl Welander as Archer’s Jockey, Leonie Leahy as the Debutante and Garth Welch as the Jackaroo.

The set and costumes were designed by Ann Church and featured ballerina “horses” in tutus with flowing headdresses. A selection of the original costumes were donated to Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection by The Australian Ballet in 1998 . You can see photos of the original production on The Australian Ballet’s website.

Costume for Archer in Melbourne Cup, 1962 Designed by Ann Church Realised by the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust Wardrobe Department Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998 Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection
Costume for Archer in Melbourne Cup, 1962
Designed by Ann Church
Realised by the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust
Wardrobe Department
Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998
Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection
Costume for Archer in Melbourne Cup, 1962 Designed by Ann Church Realised by the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust Wardrobe Department Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998 Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection
Costume for Archer in Melbourne Cup, 1962
Designed by Ann Church
Realised by the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust
Wardrobe Department
Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998
Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection
Costume for Tory Boy in Melbourne Cup, 1962 Designed by Ann Church Realised by the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust Wardrobe Department Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998 Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection
Costume for Tory Boy in Melbourne Cup, 1962
Designed by Ann Church
Realised by the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust
Wardrobe Department
Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998
Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection
Costume for Tory Boy in Melbourne Cup, 1962 Designed by Ann Church Realised by the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust Wardrobe Department Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998 Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection
Costume for Tory Boy in Melbourne Cup, 1962
Designed by Ann Church
Realised by the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust
Wardrobe Department
Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998
Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection

The Australian Ballet and The Sleeping Beauty

The Sleeping Beauty Now on display at Arts Centre Melbourne, Smorgon Family Plaza
The Sleeping Beauty
Now on display at Arts Centre Melbourne, Smorgon Family Plaza

In 2015, The Australian Ballet’s Artistic Director David McAllister will present his new production of The Sleeping Beauty. Considered a masterpiece of 19th-century dance, The Sleeping Beauty, with its traditional fairytale setting, has inspired many incarnations throughout the company’s history, offering a creative challenge of majestic proportions.

The Australian Ballet’s founding Artistic Director, Peggy van Praagh, introduced the work to the company in 1964 with Aurora’s Wedding, a one-act ballet drawn largely from the elaborate marriage feast in The Sleeping Beauty’s third act. Designer Kristian Fredrikson was in the early stages of his career when he created the costumes for this production.

The Sleeping Beauty Now on display at Arts Centre Melbourne, Smorgon Family Plaza
Costumes from The Sleeping Beauty, The Australian Ballet, 2005 & 1973 Now on display at Arts Centre Melbourne, Smorgon Family Plaza

The Australian Ballet first performed a full-length production of The Sleeping Beauty in 1973 in the newly built Sydney Opera House. Under the direction of Robert Helpmann designer Kenneth Rowell took a more abstract approach to the sets and costumes for this production. Maina Gielgud’s 1984 production of The Sleeping Beauty marked the opening of the State Theatre at Arts Centre Melbourne. With lavish sets and costumes designed by Hugh Colman, the production reflected the opulence of the original, first staged in Russia’s Mariinsky Theatre in 1890.

Fairy headdresses for Fire, Canari and Water in The Sleeping Beauty, The Australian Ballet, 2005
Fairy headdresses for Fire, Canari and Water in The Sleeping Beauty, The Australian Ballet, 2005 Designed by Kristian Fredrikson Realised by The Australian Ballet Production Division

Stanton Welch presented a new version of the traditional fairytale in 2005, working with Kristian Fredrikson to explore the ballet’s central theme of good versus evil. Fredrikson’s set design helped communicate this battle through striking transitions between light and dark and a bold use of colour.

David McAllister’s concept for his interpretation of The Sleeping Beauty evokes the splendour of the Imperial court and the magic of fairies, nymphs and visions. Designer Gabriela Tylesova has also been inspired by the grand theatricality of the ballet’s origins. She has designed hundreds of costumes using the Baroque period as a starting point and adding a 21st-century twist. In collaboration with McAllister she has created a rich palette for the set that incorporates deep reds, blues, golds and greens.

Detail of costume for Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, The Australian Ballet, 1984 Designed by Hugh Colman Realised by The Australian Ballet Production Division
Detail of costume for Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, The Australian Ballet, 1984
Designed by Hugh Colman
Realised by The Australian Ballet Production Division

The Australian Ballet’s new production of The Sleeping Beauty premieres at Arts Centre Melbourne from 15 – 26 September: https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/ballet/the-sleeping-beauty-2015