Friday, 6 May 2022

Kunstkamer: An Extravaganza

De Rariteitkamer van Levinus Vincent, Gerrit Rademaker drawing 1680 - 1711
The stage is set for a Cabinet of Curiosities

I can tell you how I felt, Dear Reader, about our night out this week at the Sydney Opera House to watch The Australian Ballet's performance of Kunstkamer. Overwhelmed. Stunned. Captivated. When I thought at one point it was finishing I was bereft it was nearly over. Then I was overjoyed when it kept going. And we joined in rapturous applause with the rest of the audience when it did finish.

But how does one go about describing the sensory extravaganza that is the treasured gem of Nederlands Dans Theater? Others have described it as "monumental", "a beautiful monster", "an experience of dance on another frequency", "an expression of the endless possibilities that exist at the intersection of art and science." 

Geboorte van Christus sculptures (anon.), c. 1850-1900
Flights of fancy

To start somewhere is to say that its eighteen component parts are the brainchildren of four renowned choreographers whose imaginations have taken flight - Sol León, Paul Lightfoot, Crystal Pite and Marco Goecke. But that's no help. 

Portrait of Albertus Seba, Jacob Houbraken, after Jan Maurits Quinkhard, engraving 1731 - 1780
Albertus Seba considers his Curiosities
and inspires a Ballet

Next, that the whole, Kunstkamer, literally Art Room, is inspired by the 18th-century book by Albertus Seba, Cabinet of Natural Curiosities, and Maria Sybilla Merian's C18th scientific illustrations of the natural world, and is reflected in the stage set of a dark grey contemporaneous gallery space wherein these images and objets might have once been housed by eccentric collectors. Again, you are none the wiser.

Bloemenrand met insecten, Maria Sibylla Merian etching 1657 - 1717
O, the Natural World as seen by Maria Sybilla Merian

How about enumerating the roll call of composers from whose works were plucked extracts from operas, symphonies, polkas, even recordings: Ludwig von Beethoven to Ólafur Arnalds, via Henry Purcell and Benjamin Britten, Christoph W. Gluck and Joby Talbot, Johann Strauss Jr and Arvo Pärt, Franz Schubert and ... Janis Joplin.

It then needs to be said that showcased against the luscious backdrop of the gorgeous music, which includes piano, violin and tambourine (!) solos, is contemporary dance exquisitely and precisely executed, gracefully and movingly alongside spoken words, singing (!!) and even film, with costumes elegant and sleek.

Finally, that The Australian Ballet is the first dance company to be entrusted with staging it outside of The Netherlands goes some way to indicate how rare a treat it is to have seen it, with pieces danced variously by the full ensemble, solos and pas de deux, and David Hallberg taking to the stage for the first time since becoming Artistic Director to dance the rôle of the spirit or caretaker, or ghost, of the Kunstkamer.

Rariteitenkabinet, Jacob van der Schley etching 1725 - 1779
Oddities and wonders in order

While none of this can even hint at what kind of ballet should be expected, it does indicate its extraordinary ambition. And, like a Cabinet of Curiosities, Kunstkamer's discrete and disparate choreographies are each beautiful and sometimes strange, hinting at art and science and nature and all belonging together. And altogether rather mysterious. And fabulous.

The Phoenix, Cornelis Troost oil on canvas 1720 - 1750
A fabulous Phoenix

So what did see? 

Glimpsed through the kaleidoscope I saw Mandelbrot sets and fractals emerging from the chaos; DNA strands zipping and unzipping; swimmers in a pool; murmurations of starlings; tableaux vivants à la Delacroix's Liberty; Courtly dancing; puppets and paper cutout animation; moths and butterflies, both fluttering and pinned in their collection drawers; the slightly fast-motion of early silent film; preening and courting birds, and maybe even a phoenix.

But that's just me.

I see Murmurating Starlings
Merlyn Chesterman woodcut

Image credits: 1-6: Rijksmuseum; 7:

Thursday, 21 April 2022

Many Impertinent Questions & A Dozen Mere Trifles

Even NASA must have looked for answers to impertinent questions.

Have you ever wondered, Dear Reader, if you may have crossed paths with Your Correspondent?  How could you know?

Maybe we stood on the same train platform at Frankfurt airport, you en route to Milan, me waiting for the following train to Prague, perhaps? 

Or did we bob about on foam noodles in the same swimming pool of a timeshare apartment complex on the Big Island of Hawai'i? 

Or perhaps we just passed on the escalators in David Jones department store in Sydney, me on the way up to Haberdashery, you on the way down to Small Electricals. 

Or, more likely, you overheard me Carrying On about a pet topic on the adjacent bench in a park, anywhere really. Stranger things have happened. 

Is it not time, then, to acknowledge that we've known each other long enough now for me to come out of my customary shell, cosy as it is, and so shed some anonymity? 

A flyer advertising long-haired women, to be sure.
But how to tell whom here is Pipistrello?

Forthwith, I shall provide you with some trifles (beyond the unhelpful description of tall, slim, greying long brown hair, spectacles & presently clocking in at age 56) that may help to identify me in the wild, so to speak:

  • I do not drive a car: The woman [insert unhelpful description above] shaking her fist at you as you sail through a pedestrian crossing without stopping could be me**.
  • I have a peculiar sense of humour: The only person (read: woman) laughing in the darkened cinema at odd times could be me.
  • I am allergic to horses: If you own a harras of horses and it is rustled in the night, it won't be me.
  • I was once expelled from a packed lecture hall in front of the other First Year Pure Mathematics students for the mistaken Crime of Flirting (!!): If you recite Miss Ann Elk's Theory on Brontosauruses, with emphasis on the throat clearing, at a woman who then weeps with uncontrollable laughter such that she needs to be removed from a 1000-seat public forum, that could be me. Nota bene: I have more recently discovered Mr. Frank Key (dec.), formerly of Hooting Yard, and believe the same result would have occurred if the interwebs had been at our disposal in 1984.
  • I have convict ancestry: If you have as a skeleton in your family's closet an Anthony Steel or a Margaret Irwin, themselves expelled from Ireland in the early 1800s for Crimes requiring Transportation, we are probably related.
  • I have Swedish ancestry: If you have in your family tree one Augustus Lindberg AB, who may have jumped ship from the barque Choice in Sydney in 1879 (sailing from the Port of Takis in Lithuania, bien sûr), we, too, are probably related.
  • I once travelled on the Concorde: The woman weeping silently behind you on a long and tedious subsonic aeroplane journey could be me.
  • I have never been rescued from a crisis except in the medical sense: If you are a fireman and you carry a woman fireman-wise down a ladder during a conflagration and she perhaps babbles to you that on a scale of 1 to 10 she is not sure if the titanium in her head will set off a metal detector, it could me me.
  • I might occasionally make things up: The woman overheard at the table next to you in a café reminiscing about the time she kissed a (Lesser European) Prince, might make you pause to wonder both if it could be me and is this is one of those occasions? (How will you ever know? ...)
  • I am law-abiding to a fault: The woman who flashes a fake Sheriff's badge at you after having first shaken her fist at you as you sail through a pedestrian crossing without stopping could be me.
  • I believe exceptions always prove the rule: viz.:
  • I once (accidentally) travelled from England to Holland and back without a passport: If you work for Interpol, I shall not divulge my home address.

This dozen mere bagatelles should be enough to be getting on with as a handy taxonomic guide to identifying Pipistrello when out and about. So, if you think you have spotted me, don't be shy and do say Hullo!

* These so-called little known facts are quite likely to have been spoken of before around these pages, or will sometime in the future.

** Both you and I know this is a mere fiction for that would never happen when you are behind the wheel.

Image credits: 1: via: Mr. P but long forgotten and thus unattributable, possibly NASA; 2: Nathaniel Russell's Fake Fliers

Sunday, 17 April 2022

Easter Tidings ...


... of the fantastic sort, Dear Reader.

Pipistrello x

Image credit: Hybridizer

Bats In The Belfry