Kinoscope outside the Ballets Russes Exhibition

Independent of, and yet extending the Ballets Russes exhibition, a Kinoscope, a contemporary re-imagining of the Kinetoscope peephole projector invented by Thomas Edison and W.K.L. Dickson in the early 1890s, has been placed in Gallery 33 close to the entrance of Diaghilev. It is also close to the V&A’s photography gallery.

Kinetoscopes were one of the first devices for the public to view short films and they were the first to exhibit, for example, serpentine dances à la Loïe Fuller. Designed by Mark Garside, the Kinsocope uses digital technology to allow the viewer to control the speed of film projection: you simply turn the wheel to animate the costumes. Six have been placed around London for the duration of the 3rd Fashion in Film Festival which runs until 14 December and the V&A’s striking black and white machine will remain in situ until 15 December.Although in the late C19th kinetoscopes were often arranged in ‘parlours’ we only have one. At present there is no Fuller on the screen.

The short films which can be viewed in the V&A’s kinetoscope are Le Trobadour a French stencil- coloured Pathé Frères film in the style of Georges Méliès. This is followed by Danse de l’éventail (1902) by Gaston Velle performed in a floral setting. In this the dancer’s butterfly costume becomes a fan manipulated in Fuller style. The main feature, so to speak, is The Dancer’s Dream(1905) directed by JH Martin for Paul’s Animatograph, in which a woman falls asleep by the fire. In her dream she is by the sea and changes into a bathing belle stalked by a photographer with a portable box camera. She dives below the sea and comes up into a snowy landscape. Her bathing costume is transformed by her ‘fairy godmother’ into skating attire for a scene closer to Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! than Frederick Ashton’s Les Patineurs. She is then transformed again wearing a dark brief costume (an apparent change from white to black) with a net cape before waking in her chair her day dress having caught alight. The dancer uses pointe work but her posture is very different from that of a modern dancer and the whole sequence is indicative of popular ballet in the decade before Diaghilev. The final sequence is from the Topical Budget newsreel of 1922 showing the women who arrived to take part in the Daily Sketch’s Rush for Fame when Norma Talmadge was to select a potential new film star. From vamps to Mary Pickford look-alikes it is a delightful display of feminine fashion with a superb collection of millinery at the time when the cloche was just taking over from wide-brimmed hats. This is what Diaghilev’s audience looked like in the early 1920s.

It is well-worth pausing to view before entering the exhibition.