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Work / Exhibition

The futuristic world of Russian avant-garde theatre explored at V&A

For years I ventured no further than the hallowed halls of the lower floors of the V&A. And then, one day, like Lucy and Edmund tiptoeing upstairs to discover Narnia, I crept into the Theatre and Performance Galleries and found another magical wardrobe.

150 radical Russian theatrical creations go on display at the V&A this week; ranging from costumes to set designs and featuring sketches, paintings and audiovisual footage, the exhibition looks at the Russian avant-garde movement from a fascinating angle. Kazimir Malevich is best-known as a painter and originator of the Suprematist movement – and star of a major Tate show at the moment – but it is his sketches, costume designs and lithographs for the 1913 Futurist opera Victory Over the Sun which take centre stage here.

Other famous artists involved in this revolutionary era of Russian theatre design include film director Sergei Eisenstein, photographer Alexander Rodchenko and designer Alexandra Exter. Whilst some pieces look like they’ve been nabbed from the dressing room on the set of Doctor Who, others are a modernist take on traditional costumes. As an insight into lesser-known productions of leading artists and a perplexing era of modern European history, it’s brilliant, and also downright beautiful to look at.

Russian Avant-garde Theatre: War Revolution and Design 1913 – 1933 at the V&A runs from 18 October until 25 January 2015.

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Alexander Rodchenko: Costume design for Bedbug, 1929 © A. A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum

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Alexander Rodchenko: Cpstume design for We, 1919-1920 © A. A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum

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Konstantin Vialov: Costume design for Sten’ka-Razi, 1923 © A. A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum

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Vladimir Tatlin: Costume design for Life for the Tsaw, 1913-1915 © A. A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum

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Varvara Stepanova: Costume design for Tarelkin’s Death, 1922 © A. A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum

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Kazimir Malevich: Set design for Victory Over the Sun, 1913 © A. A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum

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© A. A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum

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© A. A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum