Sally Smart

Sally Smart’s immersive installation, 'The Violet Ballet', continues the South Australian-born artist’s investigation into avant-garde dance company The Ballets Russes. Premiered at ACE Open as part of the 2019 Adelaide Festival, the exhibition presents a three-channel video work behind a curtain, inviting audiences to step inside a symbolic theatre into a surreal world of costumes, projection, shadow puppetry and dance-on-film.

For the installation, Smart engages with her long-held fascination with The Ballets Russes’ experimental choreography, costume and theatre design made in collaboration with avant-garde visual artists including Matisse, Picasso and Sonia Delaunay – a compellingly contemporary approach. Many of these costumes are held in the collection of The National Gallery of Australia (NGA), of which Smart consulted to create this installation. Drawing on her interest in cutting and collage, Smart created digital cut-ups of the costumes, reconstructed them as textile assemblage works and performed them.

The artist re-imagines one of the Ballet’s most macabre and visually complex works, Chout (Tale of the Buffoon), which was written by Sergei Prokofiev in two versions between 1915 and 1921. The tale follows the manipulative trajectory of buffoon, who tricks seven other buffoons into murdering their wives. Interested in the brutality and absurdity of this character, Smart explores the extraordinary costumes – designed by artist Mikhail Larionov – that accompanied this ballet.

To create the costumes, Smart worked with artisans in Indonesia, who embroidered her digital patterns and designs. This process prompted the artist to consider the visual parallels between Indonesian wayang kulit (shadow puppets) in Javanese dance and the European cubist depiction of space. Through research and the resulting installation, the artist forged parallels between the buffoon and the Indonesian Wayang character Punokawan (the clown), to examine ideas of identity politics, cultural hybridity, and the entwined legacies of colonialism and orientalism within historical and contemporary avant-gardes.

As part of the re-staging of Chout in the film component of The Violet Ballet, Smart has collaborated with the writer Maria Tumarkin to create spoken and sung word, with operatic vocals performed by Billie Tumarkin, along with choreography and performance by dancer Brooke Stamp.

‘This experiential installation is both highly sensual and keenly political. The curtain devices function as both a conceptual framework and as practical assemblage: hanging, dividing and revealing to articulate ideas as well as delineate space,’ explains Smart.

Sally Smart | The Violet Ballet
2 March – 27 April 2019
ACE Open, Adelaide


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