Help the performing arts recover

23 June, 2020

In this illustrative sweep of the Australian Performing Arts Collection we pay tribute to the kimono and some of the ways this traditional Japanese garment has been represented across different performing arts' forms, including opera, ballet, theatre and music.

Some interpretations are more traditional and have been designed for productions with an historic Japanese setting. Others step away from tradition while maintaining aspects of the kimono’s shape, fabric or ornamentation.

 

Installation image of “Costume designs by Ann Fraser for (from left) Katisha, Pish-Tush and Yum-Yum in The Mikado

 

Costume designs by Ann Fraser for (from left) Katisha, Pish-Tush and Yum-Yum in The Mikado, J.C. Williamson Theatres Ltd, 1962.
Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996.
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

 

In 1962, Anne Fraser designed a series of kimonos for Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera The Mikado. Her designs reflect the opera’s traditional setting in the imaginary Japanese town of Titipu in the 1880s. The collection contains 38 of Fraser’s designs for this production and together they provide a strong sense of Fraser’s overall vision for the work. The lead characters share a similar palette of muted colours with highly patterned fabrics while the kimonos for the chorus are less traditional and brightly coloured, echoing fashion trends of the 1960s, when this production was created.

 

Costume design by Desmond Heeley for Tsukiyomi, the Moon Goddess in Yugen

 

Costume design by Desmond Heeley for Tsukiyomi, the Moon Goddess in Yugen, The Australian Ballet, 1965.
Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998.
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

 

Yugen was choreographed by Robert Helpmann for The Australian Ballet in 1965 and was adapted from the Japanese Noh play Hageromo. The lead role of Tsukiyomi, the Moon Goddess, was performed by Kathleen Gorham - who made her entrance wearing a less traditional version of the kimono. Designed by Desmond Heeley, the costume itself is made simply from several metres of white stiffened net covered with swirls of metallic trim. On stage and under the masterful lighting design by William Akers, the net base disappeared, leaving shimmering silver clouds that appeared to float around the Moon Goddess.

 

Costume designed by Michael Stennett for Cio-Cio San in Madama Butterfly

 

Costume designed by Michael Stennett for Cio-Cio San in Madama Butterfly, The Australian Opera, 1977.
Purchased with funds donated by Frank Van Straten OAM and Adrian Turley, 2017.
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

 

Madama Butterfly has been a favourite with Opera Australia audiences and has been re-visited in many ways throughout the company’s history. The kimono has played a major role in each interpretation. For John Copley’s classic production in 1977, Michael Stennett designed a kimono for the role of Cio-Cio San festooned with flowers and butterflies, an effect that was created through a painstaking process of silk screening, applique and hand-paintwork. The vivid colours of Peter England’s silk kimonos were a highlight of Moffatt Oxenbould’s staging from 2000 and Jennifer Irwin’s black leather kimono from the company’s most recent version reflects the contemporary themes devised by Graeme Murphy in 2019.

 

Cloak designed by Tadashi Suzuki for Banquo’s Ghost in The Chronicle of Macbeth

 

Cloak designed by Tadashi Suzuki for Banquo’s Ghost in The Chronicle of Macbeth, Playbox Theatre, 1992.
Gift of Playbox Theatre, 1997.
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

 

Japanese theatre director Tadashi Suzuki is celebrated for his minimalist approach to theatre and his ability to strip-away superfluous detail from productions to create a focused purity in his work. For the 1992 production of The Chronicle of Macbeth,Suzuki was both the director and designer. He sourced antique Japanese kimonos embroidered with gold and silver imagery of landscapes and birds in flight, then covered them in black spray-paint. Having dulled the sheen of the heavy garments, they then melted smoothly in and out of the dramatic shadows Suzuki created on stage.

 

Costume designed by Jean Paul Gaultier for Kylie X2008 tour

 

Costume designed by Jean Paul Gaultier for Kylie X2008 tour, 2008.
Gift of Kylie Minogue, 2015.
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

 

For Kylie Minogue’s X2008 tour, French designer Jean Paul Gaultier drew on Kylie’s long-held fascination with the Japanese geisha, which she has revisited in different ways throughout her career. Using sections of de-constructed obi (a broad sash worn round the waist of a kimono), gold French lace and glomesh sleeve panels, Gaultier created a response to the kimono that Stylist William Baker considered “more of an anime multicultural geisha”. Kylie Minogue’s collection in the Australian Performing Arts Collection also includes the heavily embroidered traditional kimono she wore in a performance for the 25th Anniversary of Mushroom Records in 1998.

 

Margot Anderson
Curator, Dance and Opera
Australian Performing Arts Collection

 

Australian Performing Arts Collection logo

 

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