Edward BurraEdward Burra

Painting the Stage: Burra and Performance

Burra’s love of theatrical spectacle, film and ballet was exuberantly expressed in his depictions of music halls and Hollywood movie stars such as Mae West (1934-5), and his illustrations for Humbert Woolf’s book The ABC of the Theatre (1932). He was one of the greatest British designers for the stage in the twentieth-century and designed striking décor and costumes for several notable ballets and operas.

The exhibition will showcase a selection of Burra’s best costume designs that capture the personality of the individual performers as well as demonstrating a flair for dress and movement. The set designs on show include Frederick Ashton’s ballet A Day in a Southern Port (Rio Grande) (1932) which he based on the dockside at Toulon in France, Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen (1947) which drew on his experiences in Southern Spain, his macabre vision for Frederick Ashton’s ballet Don Juan (1948) and Ninette de Valois’s ballet Don Quixote (1950). With his aptitude for depicting ordinary people in the streets, Burra also produced atmospheric set designs and costumes for Robert Helpmann’s ballet The Miracle in the Gorbals (1944) and the American poet Langston Hughes’ comedy Simply Heavenly (1958), which was based in Harlem.