This exhibition of costumes from the National Gallery of Australia collection marks the centenary of the Ballets Russes, the company that revolutionised the world of dance and stage design during the tumultuous decades of the early 20th century. Driven by the vision of its founder, Serge Diaghilev, the work of its accomplished designers and artists, choreographers, dancers and composers generated excitement, critical discussion, technical innovation and glamour wherever it appeared.
The original productions now exist only through costumes and sets, photographs, music, choreography, published memoirs and the direct memory of a dwindling few performers and collaborators. One hundred years after those first performances the term ‘Ballets Russes’ signifies not just the history of this particular ballet company but also the triumph of artistic audacity and creative vision.
The surviving costumes of the Ballets Russes offer some of the most tangible links to these endeavours. Intimate, intricate, sensuous in material and form, the costumes bear the evidence of hard and continuous use. They are poignant reminders of the visions of their designers, the experienced hands of their makers, and their wearers’ physicality and performances. Diaghilev showed that creative collaboration and cultural inclusiveness was the future. From the vantage point of the Ballets Russes’ centenary we can see how its legacy and legend continues to challenge and delight.