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Church, Ann Rachel (1925–1975)

by Rex Reid

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Ann Rachel Church (1925-1975), set and costume designer, was born on 7 May 1925 in South Melbourne, daughter of Seymour Church, a merchant from New Zealand, and his Russian-born wife Michlia, née Osporat. As a child Ann travelled widely with her parents and boarded at an English school before completing her secondary education at St Catherine's School for Girls, Melbourne. She studied art privately with a daughter-in-law of Frederick McCubbin, and at the (Royal) Melbourne Technical College (1942-45) and the National Gallery schools (1946).

In 1949 Church was commissioned by the dancer and choreographer Rex Reid to design sets for Les Belles Creoles which was first presented by the new National Theatre Ballet Company at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne. For the company's 1950 season, she designed sets for Swan Lake (Act II), Peter and the Wolf and Prasnik. In 1951 she created decor and costumes for a full-length Swan Lake: her bold use of colour and fabric, and her attention to locale and period 'set new standards in Australian theatre design for ballet'.

That year Church left for London where she was commissioned by Pauline Grant as a designer for productions at the Palladium. On 30 August 1952 Ann married a medical student Raymond Hubert Michel Bury with Church of England rites at St Paul's Church, Knightsbridge, London; they were to remain childless. She visited Australia briefly in 1953 to supervise her decor and costumes for the premiere of Alison Lee's ballet, En Cirque, performed by the Victorian Ballet Guild. While in London, she also continued to design for Reid.

Returning to Melbourne in the late 1950s, Church created decor and costumes for two of the Victorian Ballet's productions, Fête de St Valentin (1957) and The Night is a Sorceress (1959): the latter was considered by many to be her most masterful work. She assisted Reid with numerous stage and television productions; from 1960 she designed for the Rex Reid Dance Players.

When the Australian Ballet was formed in 1962, Church worked for Reid on Melbourne Cup, creating bawdy and elegant costumes, as well as opulent, extravagant settings, to convey the rawness and romance of the running of the first race in 1861. Audiences in Australia, Britain, Paris, Copenhagen and Berlin, and throughout South America, delighted in the vitality of the production. During the 1960s Melbourne Cup and The Night is a Sorceress, both with Church's decor and costumes, were filmed for television by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Following Reid's appointment as artistic director of the West Australian Ballet in 1970, Church redesigned several earlier works for that company. In 1973 she designed Margaret Scott's Classical Sonata and Mary Duchesne's production of Grand Pas de Quatre for the W.A.B.

Theatrical and volatile, Church presented herself with as much drama and style as she did her sets, but she took her work seriously. She was moderately tall and slightly built, and wore her thick, blonde hair in a straight, fringed, Juliette Greco style which she later exchanged for a shaggy 'chrysanthemum' cut. Her clothes were chic and avant-garde. Proud of her exotic, Russian heritage, she included in her wardrobe a mink-trimmed, tapestry coat and several full-length furs. She lived with her husband on her beef-cattle property, Patterdale, at Main Ridge on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, in a home filled with antique furniture. Survived by him, she died of infective endocarditis on 17 May 1975 at Prahran and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • E. H. Pask, Ballet in Australia (Melb, 1982)
  • Ballet Annual, 1952, 1955
  • Age (Melbourne), 4 Aug 1962
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 19 Feb 1963
  • private information.

Citation details

Rex Reid, 'Church, Ann Rachel (1925–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/church-ann-rachel-9746/text17215, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 18 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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