This month marks the 60th anniversary of The Australian Ballet. To celebrate, we collaborated with artistic director David Hallberg to revisit the wardrobe archives and photograph dancers in some of their most beautiful and historic costumes.
When The Australian Ballet was founded in 1962, Swan Lake was its first production. The world’s most famous ballet will be reimagined in 2023 by Hallberg.
“Swan Lake has stood the test of time for a reason,” he says. “Every major ballet company needs to have their own version of this classic story and I am not shying away from the beauty of ballet. It’s time to [revive] a beloved version, where we look back a touch to inform where we are today.”
The rich archive of costumes is overseen by head of wardrobe Musette Molyneaux, who has been with the company for 15 years.
“I love working on the revival productions. To keep it as true to its original form but also bring a freshness is a true privilege for me. And I think that’s what keeps people coming back to the ballet, as well as keeping the job exciting for all of us here.”
As costumes are reworn over the decades when particular productions are revived, it’s become a tradition for the names of the dancers who have performed in a costume to be listed on a tag sewn inside the tutu.
“If it has certain dancers’ names listed, we like to say the costume has good juju in it,” explains Benedicte Bemet (right, in a tutu from the 1992 production of The Nutcracker).
“When I started in the company, I would see some of the dancers I admired wearing them. Now I’m in some of those tutus, which I can’t quite believe!”
Some of the earliest costumes from the archive can only be worn by soloist Yuumi Yamada, including this black swan costume (here) from an early production of Swan Lake. Most costumes from the 1960s are so small that Yamada is the only dancer in the company who can fit into them.
“Shape, size, height – all of that has changed,” says Hallberg. “As a form, ballet is constantly evolving. To see the dancers now in a group shows the beautiful diversity we have in the company.”
For Molyneaux and her team, reviving the vintage costumes is a true labour of love. When a costume is too fragile to be fully restored, they find new ways to give it another life.
“We like to reuse the trim and the decoration if we can. Or if that is too fragile and needs replacing, we’ve had to make a version of the trim or decoration to add in. We try to add things and utilise as much of the original as possible.”
When Hallberg visited the costume archives to prepare for the 60th anniversary celebrations, his goal was to not look back too much but instead focus on where The Australian Ballet is headed today.
“But when I started digging, I noticed they weren’t dusty old costumes. They had this patina to them that looks so lovely in photographs when shot and lit well. And when you put them on today’s dancers, they just look so beautiful.”
The story originally appeared in the October issue of marie claire Australia.