Thursday 28 November 2019

Scylla & Charybdis

Solomon Islands commemorative silver coin of Strait of Scylla and Charybdis, 2018
Odysseus navigates through the Strait of Messina
Solomon Islands commemorative coin, 2018

Sometimes, Dear Reader, I feel as though an unseen hand gets in the way of any original thoughts that might otherwise circulate around our civilisation. I don't mean this in the dystopian 1984 sense, where the Thought Police are enforcing Newspeak; rather in the feeling sometimes that a Memo has been sent round that I only intuit by chance. Take the expression, "Between Scylla and Charybdis" - I think a Memo has gone round that it's the now the preferred idiom as the metaphor for a Dilemma.

Italian fresco by Alessandro Allori, "Charybdis and Scylla", 1575
Five men down but Odysseus soldiers on
Allesandro Allori, 1575

For a goodly while now, our as-yet unread copy of Homer's Odyssey has been sitting in one of the book piles about the place, so my rather unlettered self had not yet met within the sea monsters Scylla (the many-headed terror on one side of the narrow Strait of Messina) and Charybdis (the whirlpool-creating malevolence on the other) who gave Odysseus so much grief, nor had I chanced upon them as a variant on the expression "between a rock and a hard place" in my day-to-day life.
I know ... Where have I been?

William Bromley print after Henry Fuseli in Pope's translation of  "Odyssey", entitled "Odysseus between Scylla and Charybdis", 1806
Odysseus has a close shave with Charybdis' whirlpool
William Bromley print in Pope's translation, 1806

However, would three recent encounters in disparate references make you sit up and take notice? It did me, and although I've no idea who sends out these memos and how you receive them, I am tipping my hat in acknowledgement and dutifully entitling this post Scylla & Charybdis, even though I'm not caught between the devil & the deep blue sea about anything, really. So, job done.

Encounter 1:

Photo of book cover of "Unsheltered" by Barbara Kingsolver
Barbara got the memo in 2018

The best thing I can say about the much-anticipated Barbara Kingsolver book Unsheltered is that it features the hounds named Scylla & Charybdis that sent me on a quest to brush up on the literary reference. And to double check the pronunciation while I was at it. (Silla and Ka-ribdis, which of course you already knew). The glory that is The Poisonwood Bible is one of the absolute favourite modern books of both Mum and I, so she thought she'd made an excellent choice in Unsheltered as a birthday present this year, and I put it aside for the Winter reading with much anticipation. But, sadly, it was hard going. While the parallel world of the 19th Century residents of the house the story is set in was the better half for me, the contemporary issues many modern-day Americans are enduring are slathered on too thickly in the balancing and interwoven side and just makes for dismal reading.

I'm all for realism in literature but I like it dished up with sepia tones. Anthony Trollope is a fine Victorian example for me, writing mostly on the issues of the day in minute detail, but read through the lens of time his books are both an accurate window onto the past and still cracking good reads. Would Unsheltered stand up to the same sort of treatment? I can't imagine it, except as some grim litany of the ills of the 21st Century. Sorry, Barbara, but I'll have to reread The Poisonwood Bible in order to put you back on your pedestal and let's just forget your latest one all together.

Encounter 2:

Photo of book cover of "Jeeves and the Wedding Bells" by Sebastian Faulks
So did Sebastian

Now that I can recognise Scylla & Charybdis from one hundred yards as being the mythic monsters who so terrified the Grecian sandals off Odysseus and his sailors, I understand immediately that Bertie Wooster would have been alarmed when he encounters two varieties of Aunt flanking a doorway and has described them thus. But I was not reading this in a book penned by one Pelham Grenville Wodehouse's fair hand, for whom a solid grounding in Classics was a given, but Sebastian Faulks in his 2018 authorised homage to P.G.W., Jeeves and the Wedding Bells.

While I did indeed read a "Blandings" as the fast-acting antidote to the heavy wallowing in the slough of despond that B.K. dragged me through, as a fan of the Wodehouse œuvre I was a little sceptical when I saw this book innocently sitting in the informal book exchange of our condominio. But being curious,  I looked left and then right and saw no-one lurking nearby and so spirited it away to have a read. And I can say that I thought it not half bad! There are a couple of mostly plot quibbles, including the spoiler that Bertie and Jeeves both Pop the Question (not to each other!), when one of the most amusing aspects to Bertie is his close shaves with losing his perpetual bachelorhood. But in terms of catching the tone, S.F. made a good fist of it and while I didn't laugh out loud, I was amused.

Encounter 3:

Surrealist painting by Ithell Colquhoun, "Scylla, 1938"
Scylla, 1938
Ithell Colquhoun

Lo! Look what dropped into my email inbox last month and caught my eye. A short essay on the Surrealist artist Ithell Colquoun was adorned with her painting Scylla, 1938 which now lives in the Tate in London. I.C. seems unlikely to be the type to have taken direction from anyone, so her Classical reference is a mere coincidence to the topic at hand, in my opinion, and anyways predates my other random encounters by eighty years. But that I should read about it now surely suggests that she's become rather more fashionable, now that she's posthumously adhering to the Memo.

Image credits: Google - 1; Wikimedia Commons - 2, 3; Flying With Hands - 4, 5; Tate - 6

Thursday 21 November 2019

Sylvia - The Birthday Treat

Pre-performance photo of Sylvia at the Sydney Opera House with programme
Waiting for the lights to dim for
Sylvia at the Sydney Opera House

Over in the Pipistrello household, we realised the Ballet Season for this year was practically done and dusted and, for one reason or another, we'd not yet seen one performance. For shame! Luckily, the Scorpio-in-the-home had his birthday fall right about the time that Stanton Welch's Sylvia came to town so, Dear Reader, some last-minute tickets were bought and off we trundled to the Opera House. Fittingly, for a ballet featuring the cast of the Greek Pantheon, our seats were up with the gods!

Illustration of Rita Sangalli as imagined as Sylvia at the premiere of the Paris Opera Ballet in 1876
Italian ballerina Rita Sangalli - The Original Sylvia
As imagined at the Paris Opera Ballet's 1876 premiere

This seldom seen ballet has had a vigorous reworking since the days of Margot Fonteyn dancing the lead in Frederick Ashton's adaptation, and is a co-production between the Houston Ballet and The Australian Ballet. Australian choreographer Stanton Welch is artistic director of the HB these days and the Sydney season features two of its principals plus Misty Copeland but our performance starred all the home grown dancers*. Costumes and sets by Jérôme Kaplan have gone all Grecian for this production and are as minimal and muscular as we have come to expect from his modern hand.

Russian ballerina Olga Preobrajenskaya as Sylvia in 1901
Russian ballerina Olga Preobrajenska as Sylvia in 1901
The lady means business!

The eponymous nymph-warrior Sylvia has in fact been joined by two other female leads in this version and I shall not even attempt to explain the Very Complicated plot. We were well-primed by the ballet's advance publicity for the dominating presence of the female roles, what with their sword wielding, lethal bows and general smiting, and proactiveness in the romance department. However, we are no stranger to cranky Swans or sinister Wilis so are generally unfazed by girls Dishing it Out on the stage but, armoured up, the Sylvia dancers were a striking bunch. Bosoms & six-packs galore!

The Australian Ballet's principal artist Ako Kondo as Sylvia with fauns attending, Jeff Busby photo credit
AB's Ako Kondo as Sylvia today
Fussed over by  frolicsome fauns in furry ra-ra pants

We had three love stories: Sylvia and The Shepherd (Ako Kondo and Kevin Jackson for our performance), Artemis and Orion (Dimity Azoury and Nathan Brook) and Psyche and Eros (Benedicte Bemet and Marcus Morelli); some nasty sibling rivalry between Artemis and Apollo; an army of nymphs and some attendant slaughtering; some typical Olympic jealousies, betrayals, avengings, kidnappings and rescues. Plus some lighter moments with frolicking fauns, an unfolding Arcadian family tree and Happy Endings all around - save for all those smote earlier. And all set to the utterly delightful score by Léo Delibes.

Bronze plaque of Léo Delibes, c. 1870
Composer Léo Delibes c. 1870

Frankly, it was all very, very complicated and in spite of the handy colour-coding of the principals, we were baffled by the storyline. The first Act was particularly confusing and not made any easier by the lauded "chiaroscuro effects" with the lighting. Chasing dancers around the stage with spotlights didn't work so well from our lofty seats, and I must admit that ol' Pipistrello has reached the age when a pair of opera glasses would have been handy to make out what was going on in the shadows.

So essential when sitting up with the gods
... Next time

But one does not go the ballet to immerse oneself in the plot or learn a lesson or two, rather to be dazzled by the bravura of a most excellent ballet company and wallow in the beautiful music. Which we had in spades! It was athletic and for the leads, particularly, complex and executed brilliantly. So for a Remembrance Day evening out, we were memorably entertained and delighted.

* And a nice little coda: Dimity Azoury and Benedicte Bemet were both promoted to Principal Artist this week. Congratulations on this fine achievement for a couple of well deserving, fabulous dancers!

Image credits: Flying With Hands - 1; Wikimedia Commons - 2, 3, 5; Jeff Busby via Google - 4; Flickr - 6

Tuesday 12 November 2019

Things That Go Bump In The Night

Craft Queen came to visit us from America and went home last week. It had been a full twenty years since she was here last and it felt like it was only yesterday. Dear Reader, where does the time go??

Photo of Egor Zegura sculptures for Sydney's Sculpture by the Sea exhibition 2019
Yes, we too, have frayed a bit at the seams! 
Kore That Awakening & Colossus That Awakens 
Egor Zegura's contributions to Sculpture by the Sea this year

Needless to say, we had plenty to catch up on, so there was ample lounging about done and cups of tea drunk but CQ & The Pipistrellos still fairly packed in some impressive mileage as we marched hither and thither about our fine city, taking in the sights, soaking up the atmosphere & chasing Art.

Photo of Egor Zegura's sculptures on Sydney's Bondi to Bronte cliff walk, 2019 Sculpture by the Sea
A smoky haze on the horizon from bushfires hundreds of kms away
An ominous start to the season, sadly

One doesn't travel to Australia to have a Halloween Holiday, it's not really something we do, (notwithstanding the half-hearted attempts by some to get into the spirit of things). And yet without intending it, a Spooky artistic theme seemed to hang over this Sydney Sojourn.

Photo of Shen Lieyi's sculpture 'Rain, 2017' at Sculpture By The Sea, 2019
Hypnotic Granite Inkiness
Shen Lieyi, Rain, 2017

Alongside the Sculptures by the Sea (peppering the Bondi to Bronte cliff walk with a veritable glad bag of sculptural offerings), we tramped to the White Rabbit Gallery, where shows some rather diverse Chinese contemporary art from Judith Neilson's private collection. The current exhibition, Then, is work from the first ten years of this century and covers everything from joyful and exuberant to grim and shocking and various members of the Pipistrello colony who've seen the exhibition recently have given it Mixed Reviews (move along now, nothing to see, rubbish photos by Pipistrello only).

Photo of birdcages hanging at the White Rabbit Tearoom in Chippendale, Sydney
White Rabbit Tearoom

What holds universal appeal, however, is the Chinese tea and dumpling selection at the Tea House, whereupon CQ & I discovered the nearby Japan Foundation Gallery was having a manga exhibition. So off we trundled to Retro Horror - Supernatural and the Occult in Postwar Japanese Manga. The vintage genga drawings of classic, Japanese horror featured monsters, zombies, and the usual graphic dismembering of innocents who stupidly wander into lonely mansions in isolated places.

Photo of lethal axe genga drawing at the Japan Foundation Sydney exhibition of Retro Horror Manga
There was lots of attendant blood & gore in the exhibition -
So this is all the imagery you need to get the drift

The manga exhibition is held in parallel with the Summer Exhibition at the AGNSW: Japan Supernatural: ghosts, goblins and monsters, 1700s to now. A goodly poke about this latter exhibition was squeezed into a 17,000-step day for CQ's penultimate day in Sydney (those pedometers in our Smart(alec)phones have been rather compulsive viewing lately!).

Photo of the mural by Kentaro Yoshida, Night procession of the hundred demons, 2019, AGNSW
Kentaro Yoshida's mural
Night Procession of the Hundred Demons, 2019
Wreaking havoc on my beloved gallery

Woodblock prints, hand painted scrolls and netsuke from the Edo and Meiji periods depicting popular demons, paranormal beings and shapeshifters rubbed shoulders with their contemporary kith & kin in a very popular exhibition. As a refreshing change, This Correspondent went to the Opening Day and can actually report back the sights and smells from the Summer Exhibition before the paint is even dry!

Photo of detail from Itaya Hiroharu's 'Night procession of the hundred demons, c. 1860', AGNSW
Hand painted scroll detail of some curious haunted objects marauding through Kyoto at night
Itaya Hiroharu's 6 metre fantasy, c. 1860

For the Japanese, they've a suite of legends and characters as familiar to them as, say, those from the Brothers Grimm are to we Occidentals. Many dozens come from a legend of a nightly parade of yōkai, or supernatural beings, who frolic along the streets of Kyoto and vanish with the daylight. While I'm not sure what the pink blob above is supposed to be, my favourite is the instantly recognisable Umbrella. This little fellow is a type of tsukumogami - a haunted household object that comes to life at its 100th year, often seeking revenge upon humans who've been careless with them. A very early eco-message with a bit of a sting, to be sure!

Photo of Ryukei wooden netsuke of a demon sleeping on an umbrella
A tiny reminder to keep good care of your things!
C19th boxwood netsuke of a demon (oni) sleeping on an umbrella

While I sadly appear to have no photos of the many versions of the quaintly-named Hell Courtesan, I do hope you may enjoy some of the rich variety of delights on offer of the Superstitious Kind:

Photo of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi woodblock print 'Vanquishing the badger', 1860
The warrior Kusunoki Tamonmaru vanquishing Old Badger monster -
With his buddy helpfully holding the lantern and conveniently illuminating some yōkai hiding in the shadows
Tsukioka Yoshitoshi woodblock print, 1860

Photo of woodblock print by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 'Snow: Onoe Baikö V as Iwakura Sögen, 1890'
Unlucky in love, a disrobed priest will of course starve himself to death in a forest
Tsukioka Yoshitoshi woodblock print, Snow: Onoe Baikö V as Iwakura Sögen, 1890

Photo of woodblock print by Katsushika Hokusai, The ghost of Oiwa, c1831-32
When a wife haunts her husband, she'll pop up anywhere
Katsushika Hokusai woodblock print, The ghost of Oiwa, c.1831

Photo of Katsushika Hokusai woodblock print, 'The ghost of Kohada Koheiji', c. 1832-32
Master-class for when unsuccessful actors commit suicide and they need to zombie haunt their wives
Katsushika Hokusai woodblock print, The ghost of Kohada Koheiji, c. 1831-32

Hokusai's ghostly woodblock prints then inspired sweetly sentient beings to populate cemeteries as a pleasant change
Chiho Aoshima watercolour and pencil, Tree With Blue Bucket, 2009

Woodblock print by Mizuki Shigeru, '53 stations of the Yōkaidō, Odawara', 2008
Manga artist Mizuki Shigeru adding, ahem, menacing yōkai to the Odawara landscape
Woodblock print from the series, Fifty-three Stations of the Yōkaidō, 2008
Photo of Takashi Murakami's sculpture 'Embodiment of Um', 2014
Umm, a demonic channelling of Josephine Baker?
Takashi Murakami's Embodiment of Um, 2014

Detail from Takashi Murakami mural 'In the land of the dead, stepping on the tail of a rainbow', 2014
Detail from the 25-metre long Takashi Murakami mural
In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow, 2014

To end your tour of the exhibition is a still from a mesmerising and strangely beautiful video installation by Fuyuko Matsui, starring a blind Borzoi with an incredible tail, my favourite selection of the Moderns:

Video still from 'Regeneration of a breached thought', 2012 by Fuyuko Matsui
A serene and dignified finish
Video still from Fuyuko Matsui's Regeneration of a breached thought, 2012

We loved having you visit, Craft Queen!

Photo credits: Flying With Hands

Bats In The Belfry