Posts Tagged ‘Nijinsky’

first days in Canberra

October 1, 2011

From Nelson to Canberra takes three flights – change in Auckland and Sydney – to arrive exhausted, late in the evening, into the infinite hospitality and kindness of friends from way back.  Such a good feeling to be back in Canberra, where suddenly the whole world is sharply focused in that desiccating air.  It must be so good for the brain – or even the soul – to live in this clear purity.
My good friend – I’ll call her V. – was bubbling with enthusiasm for the exhibition of costumes from the Ballets Russes, at the National Gallery of Australia, so we trundled off to see it, conscientiously navigating the once-familiar circles and avenues.  It turns out that, over the years, the Gallery has collected these stage costumes as they have come on the market, often in a state of radical disrepair.  The Ballets Russes were great in the early twentieth century, but seem to have spent a long time going downhill: variously revived and reconstituted, too broke to replace or repair things, and wearing the costumes to a ravelling. But Serge Diaghilev’s original company commissioned costume and stage designs from amazingly eminent and interesting artists: Bakst, Picasso, de Chirico, Dali, Matisse, Braque – the list goes on and on.  The exhibition, too, was enormous and remarkably detailed, including many costumes worn by the amazing virtuoso, Nijinsky.

sketch for the Blue God costume

The ballet of the Blue God was choreographed to show off Nijinsky’s extraordinary talent, through a narrative sequence of stories about Krishna, the creator.

Nijinsky dancing the 'Blue God'

Krishna piping the world into being

There are still traces of Nijinsky’s blue body make-up to be seen inside the neckline of the costume. 
Over the years more pieces were added to the collection.  Restorers and conservators meticulously replaced the fabrics that the original artists had specified.  They did an absolutely wonderful job, as the perfectly renewed pieces below demonstrate.

costume for a Sea Princess

costume for a squid

The squid costume was one of the most substantially repaired pieces. Previous botched repairs had to be undone, the fine fabric supported wherever possible and replaced where it had completely worn away.

designed by Matisse - unmistakably

All these things are wonders, but perhaps the strangest and most incongruous sight at the Gallery is the ladies’ loo.  It is a vast and austere chamber, and a challenge to interpretation.  An armchair and a bed/bench remarkable for sheer gigantism, are awkwardly posed – not quite together, but not separate either – and enigmatically marooned in the huge pale space.   Luxurious padding on the chair is contradicted by the functional floor and the spare militarism of the stretcher – Perhaps the designer imagined large numbers of ladies, overstimulated by art, all needing a little rest, and supplied surroundings more rigidly blank than any imagined by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.  Or perhaps the designer was overwhelmed into this stammering visual silence by the proximity of great art?  This strange atrophy of taste co-exists with a kind thought: the ugly dark lump of a chair looks as if it might be comfortable.  Someone is trying to be both artistic and caring – and, touchingly, misses on both counts.

Facilities for ladies at the National Gallery


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