Clowning Around: The Art of Harlequinade

Posted on 16 June 2022 By Behind Ballet Editor

It’s vibrant, it’s boisterous, it’s a lively love story guaranteed to make the whole family smile. With its charming costumes and unforgettable characters, is there a ballet more fitting than Harlequinade to inspire its own illustrated synopsis? We think not! The Australian Ballet has commissioned Chicago-based artist AK Kidd of @goatPIERROT to create an exclusive illustrated synopsis for our Souvenir Program, a selection of scenes capturing the storyline of this timeless ballet inspired by centuries-old commedia dell’arte traditions.

A company-first expressing The Australian Ballet’s commitment to supporting the work of creatives across the global arts sphere, this collaboration exemplifies the storytelling magic that exists at the intersection of ballet and visual art. Here’s your exclusive sneak-peak at the commission series, which you can discover in its entirely inside our Harlequinade Souvenir Program. Behind Ballet also spoke to AK Kidd about the research and creative process involved in bringing this series to life.

Act 1, Scene 1

'Harlequin and Columbine are in love, but Columbine’s father, Cassandre, disapproves of the penniless Harlequin and is determined to marry his daughter off to the wealthy Léandre.'

BB: What was your knowledge of Harlequinade before working on this commission? Have you enjoyed the process of engaging more deeply with the ballet and the characters in this project?

AK Kidd: I have been doing Pierrot fashion history research since 2016, so when The Australian Ballet reached out I already had a file full of research spanning 1900 all the way to Ratmansky's production. To be able to engage with and contribute to this production was something I never expected and I am very grateful to have had this opportunity. 

Illustration by AK Kidd. Production image of American Ballet Theatre's 'Harlequinade'. Photo Erin Baiano.

Act 1, Scene 2

'​To keep the young lovers apart, Cassandre locks Columbine in the house and instructs his loyal servant Pierrot to keep watch and guard the key.'

BB: What is your favorite aspect of this ballet, and what did you find most interesting about working on this illustrated synopsis?

AK Kidd: Most of my research involves still images or text, so it is thrilling to be able to watch Pierrot's sleeves flop around like crazy! I believe many of the more recent productions keep Pierrot in a black skullcap as a nod to Deburau (Deni Lamont in Balanchine's 1965 Harlequinade, Mishutin in 2012) but Ratmansky's Pierrot has this fantastic mushroom-like cap reminiscent of the old Cointreau Liqueur mascot. It's wonderful.

Illustration by AK Kidd. Artistic Director David Hallberg as Pierrot in American Ballet Theatre's Harlequinade. Photo Erin Baiano.

Act 2, Scene 6

'Pierrot begs Pierrette to forgive him, and the festivities culminate with a grand divertissement depicting Columbine as a young lark and Harlequin as a hunter determined to win her heart.'

BB: What did your research and discovery process involve for this project with The Australian Ballet? Can you talk us through why you chose certain scenes or certain characters to focus on?

AK Kidd: My goal to include as many of the named characters as possible, in as many of their different costumes as possible - to give the viewer something to recognize and look forward to. I hope I have captured some of Harlequinade's joy and humor in my illustrations while keeping some of the historical grandeur this production emanates. 

Illustrations by AK Kidd. Production image of American Ballet Theatre's Harlequinade. Photo Erin Baiano.

Costumes and commedia

Designed by Robert Perdziola, the costumes of Harlequinade were a key reference point for AK Kidd in creating of this illustrated series. Inspired by the work of Orest Allegri and Ivan Vsevolozhsky who designed the costumes and decor for Harlequinade's world premiere at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in 1900, Perdziola's costumes reflect the traditional colours, patterns and silhouettes of commedia dell'arte characters with a sprightly modern twist. Perdziola designed these costumes for American Ballet Theatre's production of Harlequinade in 2018. 

Delight in a closer look at the colours, textures and details in the costumes you will see on stage in The Australian Ballet's Harlequinade HERE