MEDIA RELEASE – 12 November 2010

Visitors to Canberra this summer can immerse themselves in the creative explosion of the Ballets Russes at the National Gallery of Australia?s major exhibition Ballets Russes: the art of costume.

Opening on 10 December, the exhibition features 150 costumes and accessories designed by renowned artists from the early 20th century including Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Natalie Goncharova, André Derain, Giorgio de Chirico and many other artists.

“This is a must see for anyone with an interest in the performing arts, dance, fashion, textiles, contemporary arts, or anyone with a love of rich, inspirational art exhibitions,”  said exhibition curator, the Senior Curator Decorative Arts and Design at the NGA, Dr Robert Bell AM.

“The exhibition recreates something of the world from a hundred years ago and this is the chance for modern audiences to understand this part of history,”  he continued.

The Ballets Russes (or Russian Ballet) revolutionised ballet with its sensational fusion of art, movement and music. Visitors to the exhibition can trace the story of the Ballet Russes as they wander through the 150 exquisite costumes and accessories which will largely be presented on mannequins in three dimensions. The costumes ? made of brightly coloured and quite elaborate silks, velvets, embroidery, appliqué and hand painting? demonstrate the visual richness of the original productions.

The sensory spectacle that was the Ballets Russes will be brought back to life with original design drawings for costumes and stage scenery, programs and posters, film and photography from 34 productions between 1909 and 1940.

Visitors can immerse themselves in the Ballets Russes as a total art form with a diverse range of experiences in the exhibition including a film showing original footage of performances featuring costumes from the exhibition, and music playing by some of the top composers of the era.

For families, the themed Family Activity Room will interest children with dress-ups and paper design activities, and there?s also a fun Children?s Trail to keep them busy. Special Children?s theatre performances are planned for February and March. Adult and Children?s audio tours are also available.

Throughout Summer the NGA will offer a series of public programs around the exhibition including the Sunset Sessions, free public performances, film screenings and talks, the Verve Cliquot Sculpture Garden Bar on Friday nights, and extended opening hours until 7pm on Saturdays throughout the exhibition. And of course there?s the themed NGA Shop to stock up on goodies!

This fabulous exhibition is another great reason to visit the Gallery and check out the „New Look? building which opened last month. Visitors can experience 11 new indigenous galleries, James Turrell?s outdoor Skyspace installation, the new NGA Shop and Sidewalk Café – the perfect sunny spot to sit and people-watch at the Gallery.

Accommodation packages to Canberra are available now via www.visitcanberra.com.au or by calling the Canberra and Region Visitors Centre on 1300 554 114. Exhibition tickets are now on sale and can be purchased online at www.nga.gov.au or at the NGA front desk. Ballets Russes: the art of costume is on show at the NGA from 10 December 2010 until 20 March 2011.


  •  Ballets Russes: the art of costume exhibition is open from Friday 10 December to Sunday 20 March 2011.
  • It is on show in Canberra only at the National Gallery of Australia.
  • The exhibition features 150 costumes and accessories as well as original drawings, photos, film and programs.
  • The NGA? collection of Ballet Russes costumes is one of the largest in the world, and the works are the most important group of works in the Gallery? International Decorative Arts and Design collection.
  • Costumes are designed by renowned early 20th century artists including Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, Natalia Goncharova, Giorgio de Chirico, and André Derain.
  • 50 of the costumes have never been displayed before – the costumes are very fragile and can only be displayed rarely.
  • Ballets Russes (or Russian Ballet) revolutionised ballet with its sensational fusion of art, movement and music and has engaged people for 100 years, ever since Russian-born Sergei Diaghilev created this dynamic avant-garde company.
  • Ballets Russes: the art of costume celebrates the centenary of the first Paris seasons with artistic director Sergei Diaghilev.
  • The Ballet Russes created a total artform – design, art, music and dance.
  • Tickets are on sale now: adults $20; member/concession $15; children (7-16) $5 (6 and under free). Tickets are available online at nga.gov.au.
The exhibition 

  • When the National Gallery of Australia was established, one of its central aims was to celebrate modernism and to show how arts across all media contribute to an understanding of its influence.
  • The Australian National Gallery at the time (now the National Gallery of Australia) was the major bidder at the Sotheby? London auction of Ballet Russes costumes in 1973, securing 47 lots comprising over 400 items for a little over £3000.The purchase was a major acquisition early in its collecting history.
  • This important commitment to forming a major Ballets Russes collection was reinforced with a substantial group of costumes purchased at auction in 1976. Since then the National Gallery of Australia has focused on further developing and conserving these pieces and it is now one of the world? largest premier collections.
  • The first group of costumes arrived in Canbera in the condition in which they had been consigned to storage 23 years earlier. Some were relatively pristinte, but most showed the effects of accumlated sweat, dried make-up, fugitive dyes, dirt, inset damage, mould or moisture.
  • The costumes presented a stimulating challenge to the NGA? newly recruited team of textile conservators as they began to prepare them for display. The conservation process is huge with costumes taking up to nine months to restore.
  • The exhibition has been five years in the making and has been curated by the NGA? Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Design, Robert Bell AM. It celebrates the centenary of the first Paris seasons of Sergei Diaghilev? Ballet Russes.
  • The National Gallery of Australia proudly presents Ballets Russes: the art of costume on show from 10 December 2010 until 20 March 2011.

The Ballet Russes 

  • Ballets Russes (or Russian Ballet) revolutionised ballet with its sensational fusion of art, movement and music
  • The Ballets Russes spans a revolutionary period of European design, creating potent links between decorative arts, craft, painting and photography.
  • At the beginning of the 20th century, art – whether visual or literary, music or ballet – had become a blood sport. At the 1913 premiere of Igor Stravinsky? Le sacre du printemps (The rite of spring), featuring Sergei Diaghilev? Ballets Russes dancing to a choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky, a riot erupted. The orchestra had barely begun to play when the audience erupted. Anarchy followed. Shouting turned into fist fighting. The police had to be called. Stravinsky retreated backstage; Diaghilev tried turning the lights on and off to quell the masses. Nijinsky continued bellowing counts to the dancers. Later it was revealed that it had not primarily been the music which had set the audience off – but the choreography and the costumes. Afterwards, Diaghilev claimed that the scandal was just what he wanted. Avant-garde is just too weak a term to describe these heady days, where art reigned supreme.
  • Sergei Diaghilev actively encouraged artistic collaboration between painters, choreographers and composers. And Diaghilev? new art-modern ballet came at a crucial time. All of the arts were in a state of turmoil. There was a new feeling – one of liberation, of freedom, of boundary breaking. Anything was possible. In ballet there was a conscious move away from the classical repertoire. Male dancers were featured in ways they had not been previously. Diaghilev harnessed the new powerful expressiveness of post-impressionism and the visionary elements of cubism and linked these to a new form of music – a music built around atonalism and primitive rhythms.



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