All That Glitters is a free exhibition celebrating the most glamorous and breath-taking costumes from Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection and, says Curator (Dance & Opera) Margot Anderson, each costume in the exhibition has a story to tell.
The exhibition, which features couture-standard costumes, elaborate costume jewellery, costume designs, photographs and behind the scenes footage, celebrates the vision, creativity and skill of those who created them and the show-stopping performances that brought them to life. This sort of exhibition is a labor of love for all involved and to be successful requires the prowess of a number of talented individuals.
Anderson works with donors to develop the Dance and Opera Collection and helps to preserve this material and provide access to it through exhibitions and displays that celebrate Australia’s performing arts history. "All That Glitters showcases some of the most elaborate stage costumes from Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection," says Anderson. "As the curator, my role started with the idea for the exhibition which then needed to be developed into a curatorial brief and a comprehensive checklist. Since then I’ve been working with the exhibition designer to establish how the exhibition will look and a team of curatorial, registration and technical staff who take care of a multitude of tasks while I’m busy uncovering information about each costume and writing text."
Anderson developed an interest in costume as a ballet student over twelve years and worked for a theatrical costume hire company called J.C.Westend in the 1990s where this interest turned into a real passion. She completed a Graduate Diploma in Museum Studies at Deakin University while working as a volunteer at Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection and the Grainger Museum as well as OS museums. "I saw some amazing costume museums while travelling overseas and was lucky enough to work as a volunteer at the Bath Museum of Costume in the UK," she explains. "Although it was only a short placement, I learnt a lot about the role of a curator and that’s when I knew I wanted to work in the museum industry. I’ve had a number of highly skilled and very generous mentors along the way, but the things I learnt from Joan Rutley (who was working on the costume collection when I started here) continue to guide my approach to any costume-related tasks today."
Anderson has worked on a number of exhibitions which include: Kylie; Seamless: Where Costume Meets Dance; Creative Australia and the Ballets Russes and most recently, Time in Motion: 50 Years of The Australian Ballet. She tells me this is the first big costume exhibition she has worked on for a while and that it serves as a reminder about some of the logistics and challenges involved in bringing an exhibition of this size and calibre to the public. "I think I had underestimated how much effort goes into selecting the figures and mannequins that the costumes will be displayed on. It’s not just the size but the stance of the figures that is really important," she says. "The other challenge with displaying costumes is to keep them safe while making them accessible or fully visible for visitors. Costumes, particularly highly embellished ones, bring out the tactile side of all of us and we have to find ways of keeping them out of reach but close enough to be truly appreciated. Like most challenges we face during the development of an exhibition, a compromise has been reached, and the more fragile costumes will be in cases, while the majority will be displayed on large plinths."
"We’ve had a number of costumes conserved that were worn in the hit musicals of the 1950s and 1960s. As important as they are, they were in quite poor condition so were unable to be displayed until now. They are now back to their former glory and it’s been a fascinating and exciting process to watch."
"Each costume in the exhibition has a story to tell and there is a lot of research that goes into uncovering these and telling them accurately. There’s also a lot of picture research involved as each costume will be displayed with an image of it being worn in performance. This, of course, involves tracking down photographers and making sure we have their permission to use the images."
"There are so many aspects to consider including tracking material as it makes its way from storage to the gallery, mounting and framing and the logistics of moving thirty dressed mannequins from the prepping area in one building to the gallery in another."
"All these tasks are dispersed between an amazing team of people I work with and any challenges we face are overcome together. "
This stunning exhibition draws together a rich selection of costumes by leading Australian designers including Roger Kirk, John Truscott, Kenneth Rowell, Anne Fraser and Kristian Fredrikson. Many of the costumes have been created to form the centre piece for some of the most lavish productions ever staged by companies such as The Australian Ballet, Sydney Dance Company, Melbourne Theatre Company, Bell Shakespeare and Opera Australia. There will be something here for everyone and then it's just a question of choosing a favourite – if you can. Anderson confides that it’s hard to pick a favourite but there is something very special about the beautiful golden cloak worn by Dame Nellie Melba as Elsa in Lohengrin in the 1890s. "Melba journeyed to Russia at the command of Tsar Alexander III in 1891 and was requested to sing for the Tsar and Tsarina at the Imperial Theatre in St Petersburg," she explains. " Evidence suggests that it was for this special event that Jean-Phillipe Worth created the cloak. The cloak is rarely exhibited due to its age, but when it is on display, it literally glows and says so much about Melba and her super-star status at the time. It really is so exquisitely made that I could look at it for hours."
"On the fun stakes, Dame Edna’s iconic gladioli dress always brings a smile to your face as does the sheer extravagance of Kylie’s showgirl costume designed by John Galliano for her Homecoming tour in 2006. The silver pineapple shirt which is part of the costume worn by Hugh Jack man in The Boy From Oz is a fun one. It was designed by Roger Kirk for the finale number ‘I Go to Rio’ and reflects the flamboyant stage persona of Australian singer-songwriter Peter Allen."
So, if you’ve ever wanted to see spectacular stage costumes up close and learn more about the people who designed them, made them and performed in them, this is the exhibition for you!
Arts Centre Melbourne presents
All That Glitters: Costumes from Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection
November 16 2013 – February 23 2014.
A FREE exhibition