Saturday, 16 June 2018

Huddersfield University's Graduate Costume Show


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University of Huddersfield  Graduate Costume Show 15 June 2018 17:00 Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield

I am often asked by friends who regard balletomania as an addiction how I came to be hooked. Even  though I saw a lot of theatre, attended a lot of concerts and visited a lot of art galleries and museums as I was growing up, I never had much to do with ballet.  That was largely because my father, a kindly and erudite man of letters, regarded it as slightly disreputable owing to its association with the Soviet Union and the tendency of the classical tutu and male dancers' tights to reveal more than many considered decent.

My interest in ballet was sparked by an exhibition of early 20th century Russian art at the Victoria and Albert Museum or possibly Royal Academy when I was about 16 or 17.  There I saw some of the work of Leon Bakst and was quite bowled over. I learned of his work with Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. I found that he was just one of many great artists who had been commissioned to design for the ballet.  When I should have been revising for "A" levels and Oxbridge scholarships in Hammersmith Library I was pouring over its massive collection of reference books on theatre design and ballet.  I watched what I could on television and became an early fan of Peter Darrell's Western Theatre Ballet. Eventually the London Festival Ballet staged a triple bill at The Coliseum that included the The Firebird, widely regarded as Bakst's masterpiece.

On the pretext of treating an elderly aunt I persuaded my parents to pay for me to see the show. It was better than I had ever imagined. The music, the colour, the movement and the drama absorbed all my senses.  It was the most thrilling experience that I had ever known.  The auditorium exploded at the curtain call.  The cheering, whooping and growling from the crowd, the thunderous applause, the mountains of flowers were theatre in themselves. Nobody with any soul could fail to have been moved by that experience.  Although I had to wait till I got to St Andrews with an independent income before I could afford another show or ballet lessons my passion for dance had been ignited.

I experienced a similar frisson  of excitement last night when I saw another costume for The Firebird .  That garment had been designed by Amelia Sierevogel who has just graduated from the University of Huddersfield with a bachelor's degree in Costume with Textiles. The costume was modelled by Erin Phillips who also reads Costume with Textiles at Huddersfield.  As soon as she came on stage I recognized her as a fellow adult ballet student. Erin did not simply display that costume. She danced in it.  Much of her performance was on pointe.  It was - or rather costume and dancing were - spell binding.

Amelia's costume was just one of several excellent works that I saw last night at the Graduate Costume Show at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield.   The students on that course learn to design costumes for theatres around the world as can be seen from the placements.  Amelia's were with the Australian Ballet and the Australian Opera last year.  Students pick characters from theatre, literature, film or television and create costumes for them. Last night we saw costumes for Cinderella and Ophelia as well as The Firebird and many other characters.  There were several designs for the ballet. Erin was not the only model on pointe last night.  The show opened spectacularly with a scene from Midsummer Night's Dream with a splendid Bottom dressed as an ass.

Although last night's show was filmed, it is likely to be some time before any of it is posted to YouTube.  Happily one can get some idea of its format from the above recording of Rhianna Lister's designs for characters from A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy from the 2016 show.

As I said above, I was led to ballet by Leon Bakst so I cannot stress too much the importance of theatre design. Over the years I have been impressed by other designers such as Nicholas Georgiadis, Osbert Lancaster and more recently Lez Brotherston   The course at Huddersfield is described in Costume with Textiles at the University of Huddersfield - Natalie Day. It is clearly an important resource for the theatre and thus for all of us.

Although it has nothing to do with costume design or fashion I must report another find.  On my way back to my car I passed an eatery called Rostyk Kitchen that advertised jollof rice. It is a delicacy from West Africa that my late spouse used to cook and I miss it so.  West African food requires a lot of preparation and the ingredients are not always readily available. I can cook simple dishes like plantains and sweet potatoes but not plasas, pepper chicken or groundnut stew. Now I no longer need to mither Vlad the Lad's mum and dad, my sisters in law in London or my relations by marriage in Freetown when I get a craving.  My feast of jollof rice and chicken completed a perfect day.

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