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4

Costume design in gouache and pencil on paper with card backing, showing an Aboriginal woman wearing a feathered pubic apron and wristbands

1997.0047.0065

Costume design in gouache and pencil on paper with card backing, showing an Aboriginal woman wearing a feathered pubic apron and wristbands

Object information

Physical description

A costume design in gouache and pencil on cream paper with a pale brown card backing, showing an Aboriginal woman wearing a feathered pubic apron and wristbands. Tassells, made from plaits of human hair and feathers, have been stuck with sticky tape to the costume design.

Statement of significance

The Beth Dean-Carrell archive and collections 1, 2 and 3 comprise a vast array of costumes, photographs, tapes, videos, documents and letters relating to the development, choreography and staging of a number of ballets dealing with Aboriginal myths and legends, including Corroboree, Kurdaitcha and The First Boomerang. As well, the collections contain a large number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Pacific Islander (e.g. Cook Islands and New Zealand) and Papua New Guinean cultural objects.

An early concern for, and appreciation of Aboriginal culture, led dancer, choreographer and writer, Beth Dean, and her husband singer, writer and film maker, Victor Carell, to spend several months researching dance in Aboriginal societies in the Northern Territory in 1953, and later, in the Pacific Islands and Papua New Guinea. Their research was assisted by anthropologists such as A. P. Elkin, T.G.H. Strehlow and C. P. Mountford and by traditional elders. Although based on cultural values and customary costume, Dean's ballet performances were interpretations, rather than literal representations, of Aboriginal ceremonial dances. Dean's was the second stage version of Corroboree in 1954, which was set to composer John Antill's musical score, Corroboree, which he completed in 1946. Antill was inspired to incorporate Aboriginal rhythm and melody into symphonic music following meetings with Aboriginal communities at La Perouse in Sydney. Both Dean's and Antill's productions reflected a post- World War II national trend by Australian composers and choreographers towards an intentional Australian cultural identity or national style which incorporated either actual or impressionistic interpretations of Aboriginal music, dance and culture. It is ironic, nonetheless, that Aboriginal people at that time were not considered to be Australian citizens, lacked many basic human rights, and were largely absent, not only from the lives of most urban white Australians, but from the concert performances through which only selective versions of their culture were portrayed. However, while these performances would be considered unacceptable today, Beth Dean's intention was not to further marginalize Aboriginal people but to sensitively and considerately convey to Australian audiences "the ethics, wisdom?discipline [and] harmony of Aboriginal customs and culture.

Object information

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