Barry Kay 1932-1985
Kay went to Paris, where he studied design at the Académie
In 1956 Kay moved permanently to London. His first British assignment was the set for Pulcinella, one of several commissions for Western Theatre Ballet.
Kay’s masterpiece is generally considered to be Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet Anastasia.
It was on Gore’s suggestion that Kay went to Paris, where he studied design at the Académie
Julien. On his return to Melbourne he renewed his association with Gore, who had established his Australian Theatre Ballet. It lasted only a few months, but it did provide Kay with one of his first commissions – the décor and costumes for Gore’s ballet Soft Sorrow. This premiered in Adelaide on 4 July 1955 and was later restaged at the Union Theatre at Melbourne University. Gore also opened an exhibition of Kay’s designs at the Peter Bray Gallery in Melbourne. Later that year Kay assisted Anne Fraser on the designs for the premiere of Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. He also designed for Laurel Martyn’s Ballet Guild.
In 1956 Kay moved permanently to London. His first British assignment was the set for Pulcinella, one of several commissions for Western Theatre Ballet. With these he pioneered a new style of set design for dance, replacing the traditional ‘back cloth and wings’ with three-dimensional sets.
Soon Kay was busy with a succession of operas, ballets and plays. By 1966 Kay was dividing his time between London, Berlin and Vienna, juggling major commissions from the Royal Ballet, the Royal Opera, the Ballett der Deutsche Oper Berlin, and the Vienna State Opera Ballet. In 1966, commissioned by Rudolf Nureyev, he designed a stunning new Raymonda for the Royal Ballet. In January 1969 his grand new production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnburg premiered at Covent Garden.
Kay’s next major commission was Rudolf Nureyev’s new production of Don Quixote for the Australian Ballet. This premiered on 23 March 1970 during the Adelaide Festival of the Arts. It was subsequently seen throughout Australia and was a feature of the Australian Ballet’s tours of the United States in 1971 and Europe in 1973. It was filmed in Melbourne in 1973 with Robert Helpmann as the Don, Nureyev as Basilio, Ray Powell as Sancho Panza and Lucette Aldous as Kitri/Dulcinea. In 1971 Kay designed a second Don Quixote, this time for the Ballet National de Marseilles.
Kay’s masterpiece is generally considered to be Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet Anastasia. This originated as a one-act ballet for Berlin in 1967, but MacMillan expanded it to three acts for the Royal Ballet in 1971. For it Kay devised a swirling aerial screen on which Anastasia projected her memories. It was breathtaking.
Kay did his finest work with MacMillan; they shared a profound musicality and a fascination for the irrationality of human expectations. This can be seen in many of Kay’s works, from the Shakespearean ballet Images of Love to the satirical Solitaire. To this inventiveness Kay invariably added elegance and refinement.
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