Thursday 22 November 2018


Spartacus! A household name, courtesy of Kirk Douglas, and a masculine, earthy 1950s Russian ballet for the balletomanes among us. Aram Khachaturian's story of the Thracian gladiator's slave revolt of 73 BCE has had a vivid reworking for the Australian Ballet's 2018 Season by choreographer Lucas Jervies and renowned costume and set designer Jérôme Kaplan, and Mr. P. and I had a chance to see for ourselves at the Sydney Opera House. Another ballet not previously seen by this Correspondent but I am pleased to report it was a very entertaining night out for all, and for we, of a particular vintage, surprisingly nostalgic.

When the curtain rises on Crassus' triumphal march into Rome, parading the Thracian captives, including Spartacus and his wife Flavia, I was transported straight back to the age of 11. The flag-bearers in their white mini togas and what looked like white bobby socks and plimsolls dancing around the stage in formation, put me immediately in mind of my participation in the Opening Ceremony of the 1977 Pacific Conference Games in our nation's capital. I was one of 1600 ten and eleven-year olds who ran about the stadium in our matching white outfits and waving a coloured ribbon in a choreographed ballet of our own, to the surging tune of "Fanfare to the Common Man", followed by the very convict-reminiscent folk ditties, "Bound for Botany Bay" and "Waltzing Matilda"*. Rousing stuff!

Third Pacific Conference Games 1977 Canberra

But, lo, the 1970s nostalgia didn't end there! Khachaturian's lovely score, beautifully performed as ever by the Opera Australia Orchestra, includes the Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia (a.k.a. Flavia), instantly recognisable as the theme music to the long-running BBC drama, The Onedin Line.** While I cannot for the life of me remember anything of this popular maritime series, my guess being that the show probably coincided with bedtime, the music was a bolt from the past. It may need adding to the growing list of televisual viewing, as we do love a good Costume Drama around these parts.

Speaking of telly, the hat trick of reminiscences came in the form of Jérôme Kaplan's sleek and spare sets and costumes. While the gladiators were mostly clad in skimpy nothings and were even beefed up a little beyond the usual danseur's physique, (to the great delight of the Older Ladies sitting beside us; there was even a little bit of "Phwoar"-ing as they took in the programme before the curtain rose and a veritable frisson rushed around the dress circle at times), the Patricians wore precisely the sort of outfits that were the staple costume of all the Sci-Fi programmes from the glory days of the Space Race. M. Kaplan's formative years were evidently spent watching the same shows as the Pipistrello's.

Australian Ballet Spartacus 2018 photo credit Jeff Busby
Photo Credit: Jeff Busby
Throw in some gladiatorial fighting, a bath house Orgy and massacre, bloody crucifixions and lots of flinging about of arms to signify High Drama and Despair and you have a neoclassical balletic imagining of the Third Servile War of Ancient Rome. Mary Beard may have a wry comment to make about the Artistic License but it made for a jolly night out for us.

Spartacus 2018 Australian Ballet photo credit Jeff Busby Bath house
Photo Credit: Jeff Busby

Our principal dancers for the night were Jarryd Madden as Spartacus, Robyn Hendricks as Flavia, Andrew Killian as Crassus and Valerie Tereshchenko as Tertulla. Well danced, all!

Bonus Treat: For any dear Reader so inclined, I'm attaching the link to the Australian Ballet's very good website, where they have a short video on the costume design, here, and a tantalising snippet of the costumes in action, here.

* Australia didn't abandon "God Save the Queen" as our national anthem until 1984, prior to which Pipistrello fondly remembers school assemblies cycling through all the candidates for years, enjoying singing characterful folk ditties about our convict forebears before being saddled with the turgid "Advance Australia Fair".

** I was surprised to read on Wikipedia that The Onedin Line contributed to the fall of the Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceauçescu.

Monday 12 November 2018

The Colour of Sydney

Jacaranda blooms against blue Sydney sky
Jacaranda Time!
There's a magical purplish-blue hue dotted across Sydney's skyline at the moment. Yes, it's Jacaranda Time! The Jacaranda mimosifolia, a tree introduced to these shores around 150 years ago, for a short period during spring (a.k.a. Michaelmas Term* in the Olden Days) generously gives most of us the treat of a regal display of their purple blossoms. I say most, as for some, (and I'm not naming names, Mum), they are not a treat but a nuisance, dropping their showy petals and carpeting otherwise tidy lawns and driveways and even playing merry havoc with their swimming pools. Tiresome! 

But for the rest of us, tourists and locals alike, they are much beloved and when they put on their splendid display, it's worthy of celebration. The Pipistrello's are particularly lucky to live in an older part of the city, where the trees are abundant and well-established, and as we aren't tasked with the job of cleaning up after them, we are quite happy to Make a Fuss over their seasonal glory. Even a grey and wet day is made brighter by their pop of colour peaking out over rooftops and across vistas.

Woolloomooloo rooftop view if Sydney Harbour Bridge and jacaranda in rain
The Harbour Bridge glimpsed across rooftops
Mr. P. and I walked with J through the rain over to the Art Gallery of New South Wales the other day to catch the end of the John Russell exhibition, taking in the grand floral display through the old suburb of Woolloomooloo, where the harbour foreshore and naval base rubs up against Victorian terraces and narrow streets, public housing and chic modern developments. Eclectic, maritime, but oh-so-leafy, too, this little suburb is what separates the Pipistrello roost from the City and is home to J&P and is a far cry from the plague-ridden slums of its past, a mere hundred-odd years ago.

Springtime jacaranda blooms in Woolloomooloo
The spring streetscape on a sunnier day

The exhibition John Russell: Australia's French impressionist**  was the first survey of this artist who spent forty years from the 1880s in Europe, studying first at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, then under Fernand Cormon in Paris. There he settled into the avant-garde set and experimented with emerging styles and the exhibition is thusly broad and ranges wide. Along the way he formed close friendships with Van Gogh and Rodin and had an influential encounter with Monet in Brittany, which is evident in some of the works which I did prefer (unsurprising, as my taste, as mentioned before, is so very Pedestrian). Alongside Russell's work there were pieces from his friends and contemporaries and a series of Rodin's busts of his wife, Marianna.

Behold, some of my favourite paintings of John Russell's, a former resident of our 'hood come good:

John Russell painting, The Garden, 1887, AGNSW exhibition 2018
The garden,
Longpré-les-Corps-Saints, 1887

John Russell painting, Antibes, 1892, AGNSW exhibition 2018
View from Hotel Jouve, 1892

John Rusell painting, Rough Sea, Morestil, 1900
Rough Sea,
Morestil, Belle-Île, c1900

John Russell painting, Stormy weather at Belle-Île, 1904, AGNSW exhibition 2018
Stormy weather at Belle-Île, 1904

Perhaps it was the seasonal joy of the Jacaranda-Fest working its magic on my subconscious, but the preceding four choices of painting did leap out at me as worthy of a photographic attempt. Because I am unsubtle and need to push my palette point, here are some more gratuitous photos of the same streets walked on a sunnier day:

Jacaranda blooms in Woolloomooloo with street sign
Beneath the canopy

Jacaranda blossoms under blue sky in Woolloomooloo
Painterly palette in Cathedral Street

East Sydney Hotel with jacaranda tree in bloom on sunny day
Classic old pub on Cathedral Street
And a couple more of Russell's painting, for good measure and to show I'm not entirely fixated on purple at the moment:

John Russell painting, Mrs Russell among the flowers at Goulphar, 1907, AGNSW exhibition 2018
Mrs Russell among the flowers in the garden of Goulphar,
Belle-Île, 1907

John Russell watercolour, Pear blossom in grey, 1920, AGNSW exhibition 2018
Pear blossom in grey, 1920

Rainy day outside AGNSW with view to Potts Point and Woolloomooloo in springtime
Rainswept view from the AGNSW across to Woolloomooloo
You could take the man out of Sydney but its colours remain in his work!

* In the unlikely event a Youth is lurking about these pages, Get Back to your Studies!

** If this exhibition is News To You, sadly, you have now missed it.

Bats In The Belfry