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Catherine Martin amps up the 'fun and silly' in Strictly Ballroom's costumes

A bra featuring two big pineapples, shirts with ludicrously big ruffled sleeves and countless bucketloads of sequins are helping to continue the "marvellous preposterousness" of the Strictly Ballroom legacy as it morphs into its stage version, says costume and set designer Catherine Martin.

Speaking at the launch of an exhibition of the film's costumes and other memorabilia at Sydney's Powerhouse Museum, Martin said she had been reminded how of "profoundly fun and silly" the costumes are while working on designs for the musical, which is being helmed by her husband Baz Luhrmann.

"One of the great joys of this production is that it's impossible not to have a smile on your face when you're in the wardrobe, because it's just so enjoyable. Everyone is happy because a sequin makes you happy."
Forty costumes are on display, including the Spanish-inspired red dress and sequinned gold jacket worn by Tara Morice and Paul Mercurio in the 1992 film, and multiple other flamboyant costumes. With just a handful of preview shows to go before opening night on April 12, she said audience reaction so far had been positive and the show had received a number of standing ovations.

"People come out with smiles on their faces and are happy and cheering, but it's a brand new musical so obviously there is still work to do. It's exciting, it's intense, it's rewarding and there is a beautiful young cast who are great to work with," she says.

"The experience has exceeded my expectations, certainly, because you're always a bit trepidatious revisiting something that you've done before. Baz has done something really fantastic, which is that he's kept the essence of the movie, so you can see images that you recognised from the film, and at the same time it's completely reinterpreted for the stage."

One example of the shift is the pineapple-bra outfit is to be worn by the character Tina Sparkle in the musical. While the film features a elaborate "fruity rumba" outfit with multiple tiny fruit pieces, this works as a close-up but not viewed from the back row of the theatre, she says. Martin said one of the catch-cries from Luhrmann in synthesising the film and musical was "amplify".

As well as the costumes, sketches and other items such as the toupee worn by Bill Hunter as Barry Fife as the villainous head of the Australian Dancing Federation, Martin's four Oscars and five Baftas will also be on display. Also on display are Martin's custom-made Prada outfits worn through the last awards season, including her dress worn to the Oscars in March when she picked up two awards for best costume design and production design for The Great Gatsby.
The Strictly Ballroom Story is at the Powerhouse Museum from April 5 until November 9.


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