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All That Glitters

November 2013

  • Suzanne Fraser

Costumes from Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection.

Melbourne in November is a racing town – the season starts, the horses gather, the punters flutter, money, money, money. This year, as the climax of the racing calendar passes, Melbourne is aflutter with an altogether different, although similarly pricey, form of dynamism. Over the coming weeks, the Arts Centre is set to host the first complete production in Australia of Wagner’s mammoth Der Ring des Nibelungen. The month-long event will be elite, glamorous and not a little expensive.

From Rhinemaidens to rhinestones, this operatic milestone has inspired the Arts Centre to present a free exhibition of stage costumes from their own collection, which will be on display in the St Kilda Road building until February next year. All That Glitters includes a compact cross-section of the extraordinary assembly of around half a million pieces that comprise their Performing Arts Collection.

Included in the 30 garments going on display are an embroidered cloak worn on stage by Dame Nellie Melba (at one end of the cultural spectrum) and Dame Edna Everage’s brilliant gladioli dress designed by Bill Goodwin (at the other end). Such diverse forms of stage costume are purposefully presented alongside each other without any alternative theme or narrative. According to curator Margot Anderson, “Each costume has its own story; each has standalone significance in the exhibition.”

While operatic costume is the focus of this exhibition – with three elaborate gowns on display specifically designed for Joan Sutherland, for example – the Arts Centre has endeavoured to present a representative account of their extensive collection in this show; featuring pieces from both local and international designers, as well as the various companies from which the garments were acquired (including The Australian Ballet and Bell Shakespeare). This synopsis reflects the many sources that have fed into the collection, as well as highlighting the way the Arts Centre collects its pieces: “The majority of the costumes have been donated,” says Anderson.

Along with the principal high-culture notes of this display are distinct accents of pop culture glamour. Counted amongst these is Kylie Minogue’s indefatigably glittering gown designed by John Galliano and worn during her Kylie Showgirl: Homecoming Tour in 2006. In this piece we find a petite cocktail of textures and shiny surfaces, and a structure that appears to puff out and cinch in without restraint. For Anderson, the current exhibition displays the diverse ways in which garments are used to “project a performance in a large-scale venue.” Kylie’s tour de force cabaret-esque gown is a perfect example of such character amplification.

A number of costumes from musical theatre of the 1950s and 1960s are also included in All That Glitters, several of which have only recently been through the process of restoration. For Margot Anderson, seeing these pieces transformed through conservation is one of several highlights of the current project. Included in the exhibition is an example of John Truscott’s now famous designs for the stage production of Camelot (1963). After the success of the stage show, Truscott was subsequently invited to design the film version in Hollywood, for which he was ultimately awarded two Academy Awards in 1967 for costume design and art direction. This context highlights the importance of preserving and continuing to display his original costumes – which is the primary objective of the Performing Arts Collection.

For those cultural punters who were unable to acquire tickets for the upcoming Ring cycle production, the Arts Centre’s exhibition All That Glitters offers an alternative opportunity to engage with the intricacies of stage costume at close quarters. For the lucky ticket-holders, the exhibition provides this opportunity also, as well as serving to contextualise the current staging of Wagner – Rhinemaidens and all – within the history of performing arts aesthetics in Melbourne and beyond.


All That Glitters: Costumes from Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection is on display at the Arts Centre Melbourne, Gallery I, from November 16 to February 23. Admission is free.



1) Dame Edna Everage, 1987 Photograph by John Timbers Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection

2) Hugh Jackman as Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz, 2006. Photograph by Jeff Busby

3) Gown worn by Jill Perryman as Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly!, Gordon Frost Organisation, 1995. Designed by Tim Goodchild. Gift of Gordon Frost Organisation, Cultural Gifts Program, 2001. Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection

4) Arm band worn by Grace Angelau as Amneris in Aida, J.C.Williamson Grand Opera Company, Melbourne, 1932. Gift of the Australian National Memorial Theatre, 1979. Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts CollectionDame Edna Everage, 1987 Photograph by John Timbers Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection

5) Justine Rettick in Aida, 1948 Photographer Unknown. Gift of Justine Hall (nee Rettick), 2011 Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection




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