Projected new set designs for the Australian Ballet, 1984-1986
Since its inaugural presentation at the Adelaide Festival 1970, The Australian Ballet performed Don Quixote with Barry Kay’s scenery and costumes so many times 1, at home and abroad, that both inevitably suffered heavy wear and tear. Ultimately, the sets were worn out beyond repair. As the production was to remain in the company’s repertory, The Australian Ballet Foundation invited Kay in 1984 to provide new designs. The new sets were to be introduced at the production’s revival scheduled for 1986 at the State Theatre, the Arts Centre, Melbourne.
Not long after Barry Kay’s death in April 1985, The Australian Ballet’s Administrator, the well-regarded Noel Pelly, paid the Barry Kay Archive a visit to return Kay’s new set designs for Don Quixote – displayed on this page. Pelly who, in conjunction with the company’s Artistic Director, Maina Gielgud, was instrumental in approving the designs, very much regretted that without Kay’s supervision the construction of the sets could no longer be considered – leaving the fate of the battered existing scenery open. As Kay’s erstwhile costumes suffered likewise, Pelly declared that for future performances they will be replaced with those of the 1973 Don Quixote movie version.
In consequence, the sets from the 1970 Adelaide production still continued to be repaired and staged until years later, in lieu of Kay’s new designs, Anne Fraser was commissioned to create the scenery. It was finally presented by The Australian Ballet in 1993, while retaining Kay’s film costumes.
Contrary to Kay’s precept of creating a harmoniously coherent entity of reciprocally complementing costumes and scenery, without sacrificing calculated tension between them for the sake of liveliness, ostensibly no effort was made to this end in Fraser’s designs, let alone comprehending as to why it is beneficial. As a result the sets appeared divorced from the costumes. In her review about the revival of the production during The Australian Ballet’s April 2007 season at the Sydney Opera House, Jill Sykes of The Sydney Morning Herald affirmatively observed that “Barry Kay’s costumes shone against Anne Fraser’s stolid set.”
These set designs unmistakably reveal Barry Kay’s ablity of working within the limits of a theatre’s financial budget, as much as of adapting to technical specifics required for mounting a production involving a fair amount of scene changes. While meeting the given criteria – astutely concealed by the drawings’ complexity – his approach of retaining diversity of ideas was nothing but innovatively fundamental, hence extremely economic – and yet without compromising his conviction and pursuit of three-dimensional stage design.
Perhaps easily overlooked at a glance, a close inspection of his airy, dramatically vibrant designs imparts a well-considered flexible, easily transmutable permanent core structure underlying the overall artistic concept to suit all acts and the smooth and swift transition of scenes. Kay’s drawings perfectly exemplify how much can be achieved with so little.