Stories from the Australian Performing Arts Collection

Kylie Minogue’s iconic costume – The Museum Dress – is one of ten treasured pieces from the Australian Performing Arts Collection explored in a new series of digital feature stories published on Arts Centre Melbourne’s website. In the lead up to the opening of the Australian Performing Arts Collection’s new storage, research and education space this year the stories of rare objects from the Collection will be featured online each month.

The objects include:

  1. The Museum Dress that Kylie created specifically for the Australian Performing Arts Collection in 2004, featuring visual highlights from her career
  2. A make-up case packed with mementoes used by Barbara Angell, a Tivoli showgirl in the 50s, and pioneering woman in comedy in the 60s
  3. Pointe shoes from the Collection including those worn by Ella Havelka, The Australian Ballet’s first company member of Aboriginal descent
  4. A hand-decorated tribute presented to nineteenth-century musical theatre star Nellie Stewart in front of her adoring Melbourne public
  5. The sequinned Aboriginal Flag costume worn by First Nations performer Dale Woodbridge-Brown as Circus’ Oz’s Master of Ceremonies, 2016
  6. A model of the iconic bus from Brian Thomson’s set design for the stage musical version of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
  7. Dame Edna Everage’s New York dress, with illuminated city landmarks and yellow cabs, worn on Broadway in 2004
  8. A ‘Tiger Head’ costume from Peter Corrigan and Barrie Kosky’s famously controversial 1995 production of Nabucco
  9. A newly conserved costume brought to Australia by Gertrud Bodenwieser, Viennese modern dance pioneer in the 1930s
  10. Some of the biggest items in the collection – the signature L’Amour sign from Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin’s La Bohème (Opera Australia, 1990), and giant Dame Edna spectacles from Back With a Vengeance (2004)

Australian Performing Arts Collection Head of Curatorial Margot Anderson:

We’ve loved pulling these stories together and always enjoy the experience of working with performers, designers and makers to learn more about items in the collection.

Kylie telling the story behind the Museum Dress really sets the tone for this project and why the Australian Performing Arts Collection is so important as a means of preserving our performance history.

The stories that follow emphasise the breadth and depth of the Collection, from smaller more intimate items like a makeup case or a pair of ballet shoes to theatrical set pieces built to fill a stage and costumes created to provoke audiences or express a proud identity.

These items are a gateway to rich theatrical stories about people, taking us back in history to a much-loved Australian theatre star from the 1880s through to the onset of the Second World War and the arrival of a Viennese migrant who brought modern dance with her.

They also highlight present-day performers and include the voices of those who have formed their own deep connections to featured items. The Collection is a constant source of wonder and with over 700,000 items to draw on, the opportunities for storytelling are endless.

Each object provides insight into the Australian Performing Arts Collection (APAC) established in 1975, the nation’s largest collection documenting performing arts history and traditions. The Collection acquires material across the five key collecting areas of circus, dance, music, opera, and theatre.

The digital stories will be shared each month in the lead up to the opening of the Australian Performing Arts Collection’s new storage, research and education facility at Hamer Hall. The feature stories on Kylie Minogue’s Museum Dress, Tivoli showgirl Barbara Angell’s makeup case and pointe shoes from the Collection are now available online.

The new space is being completed with $2.2 million funding from the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria and philanthropists Virginia and Harry Boon and the Maxwell and Merle Carroll Bequest. It will feature upgraded and expanded storage to increase capacity for the Collection’s more than 780,000 items. These range from costumes and accessories, designs and set models to props, photographs and scrapbooks, posters, programs, archives and audio and visual material.

The new space also includes the Collection’s first ever conservation lab to preserve items onsite, and an enhanced photographic studio to continue digitisation and build on the development of online exhibitions.

The new facility will remain a permanent offer at Arts Centre Melbourne. The Reimagining Arts Centre Melbourne project, part of the Melbourne Arts Precinct Transformation. includes the Centre for Creativity at 1 City Rd. This centre will feature an Australian Performing Arts Gallery to display the Australian Performing Arts Collection and an expanded permanent home for the Australian Music Vault.

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