Thursday 15 July 2021

Looking Back To Our Salad Days


Party Of Two -
Them's The Rules Right Now

Well, Dear Reader, it seems that the Good Times weren't to last, for we've been enjoying a bit of "Soft Lockdown" lately in this neck of the woods. It was all lovely at the time and at least we got about and Did Things for a bit. In the way of such things, we didn't squeeze in all the joy available at the time as the expectation was that it should last a bit longer, so there's a lesson there for those keen to find such things. Anyhoo, shall we have a little look back at those Salad Days?

First up, a bit of Family Time via a couple of trips on the train down the coast to visit Dear Parents, where we got to generally loll about and take in some invigorating sea air, which are always top priority pastimes. Dear Mother is pretty cracking at Scrabble, by the by, so the least said about that the better.

On a fine day, three hours south of Sydney
Behold the white sands of Jervis Bay

More recently, the drenching and windy coastline
Where I failed to photograph an obliging pod of dolphins

Apart from the novelty of be-masked train journeys beyond the perimeter of Sydney, which are presently deemed verboten, our gallivanting was of typically local fare: dancing classes for Your Correspondent; lunches and dinners with friends and family; a Greek-flavoured wedding; a couple of lectures at the Art Gallery on the "collision of art and fashion" -viz., Impressionism & C19th Fashion and Oppositional Art & 1920s Fashion; and a short architectural walking tour poking around some new/old city corners. E.g.:

Kan Yasuda marble scultpure, Touchstones, fore
Victorian-era sandstone Lands Department Building, aft

The fresh facade on Sydney Hospital
A Plague Year sandstone cleaning project

When indoor socialising went off the agenda again, walking with friends became the de rigueur opportunities for airing the activewear* on the able-bodied and ant-trails of Sydneysiders could be seen marching hither and thither around the beauty spots. And sometimes getting carried:

No mask required for this hitchhiker

[Nota bene: If you've no interest in the abridged theatrical reviews which follow, avert your gaze now!]

It may be recalled that the Pipistrellos had a musical night out a few months ago, but that was not our only visit to the same concert hall, for we had another glorious night in Angel Place listening to the Pinchgut Opera's first concert for over a year, Claudio Monteverdi's Vespers

Pinchgut Island (sans gibbet & encircling sharks), 1840
Sydney Harbour's island of banishment for incorrigible convicts

Pinchgut (named for the island), under the masterful guidance of artistic director Erin Helyard, ordinarily frolics in the dustier corners of the Baroque period, so the 8-member Cantillation chorus and the Orchestra of the Antipodes, by celebrating a return to the stage with something better known, took the opulent Vespers back to its 1610 roots with one voice to a part, all the better for social distancing, one guesses.

Pre-performance tuning
Harp, lirone and a lion-headed bass viola da gamba

Then we went not once but twice! to the Opera House to see the ballet.  For we delight in bargains - almost as good as Free Stuffs - the first performance was to the full dress rehearsal of the triple bill New York Dialects. After the retirement last year of Artistic Director David McAllister, there's a new face in charge, hailing from Phoenix in Arizona via the American Ballet Theatre and Bolshoi Ballet and finally Resident Guest Artist of the Australian Ballet ... dancer David Hallberg!

Such beguiling Classical danseur good looks,
Disguises David Hallberg's avant-garde contemporary taste

DH is looking to shake things up a bit and used the launch of his first season to commission a new work by American contemporary choreographer Pam Tanowitz to sit between two works by the late George Balanchine: the romantic and exquisite exercise in classical technique Serenade and the modernist and abstract neoclassical favourite The Four Temperaments. 

Early birds, again, to the Opera House

The new Watermark proved not to be to our taste, although composer Caroline Shaw's piano concerto of the same name was really lovely, and I'm afraid to say that the flimsy white jumpsuits and jazz shoes adorning the dancers were a bit, well, interesting and the whole brought to my mind androids with a computer glitch trying to dance. There was a fair bit of bouncing about and shaking of feet and I'm sure the dancers had fun, and a diet of story-book ballets can be rather unadventurous when Ballet Dancing is your Day Job, but Mr. P and I are made of old-fashioned stuff and like our contemporary ballet to be less kooky. DH will no doubt hope to wear our stuffiness down with time.

All in all, Serenade was the hands-down favourite. And then we had the bonus of sharing our bus home (cheap night out!) with some of the lissome dancers who were heading back to their temporary Sydney digs somewhere beyond our casa.

Then for proper pesos we got some top shelf tickets for a Saturday night in May when the Melbourne-based Australian Ballet came back to Sydney for another triple bill, Counterpointe. Thrilling and delicious entree-main-dessert this time with Act III of Marius Petipa's Raymonda; George Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux; and a first for the AB, William Forsyth's Artifact Suite. 

A staple in the Australian Ballet's repertoire, Raymonda was taught to them by newly-defected Rudolph Nureyev in 1965, and he and his (reputedly platonic) partner Margot Fonteyn originally danced the leads as guest artists. For our performance, we had real-life husband & wife principals Chengwu Guo and Ako Kondo dazzling as the leads, and who dance so beautifully together I can't imagine when they don't use any opportunity to practise, including dancing down the path to their letterbox each morning.

AB's original Raymonda pairing of Nureyev and Fonteyn
Opening night Baalbeck Festival, 1964

This is a proper glamorous tutu and brocade jacket affair, with Raymonda and Jean de Brienne donned in white, and the other dancers in a (tricky) mustard, and straight out of the AB's late 1990s costume box, and a charming counterpoint to the Kermit-the-Frog-green unitards of Artifact Suite. AS is itself a display of hyperflexibility and snappy footwork, and amazing precision between dancers on the annoyingly cramped stage of the Opera Theatre**.

Sandwiched between, we had Principals Benedicte Bemet and Brett Chynoweth dancing the Tschai Pas, and they might be my new favourite partnering, dancing this energetic and challenging short piece with its lifts and swooping fish-dives and pirouette competitions with such verve and evident fun. And Benedicte was perfectly full of beans, too, after dancing the rôle of Raymonda for the matinée.

Who else stood out? Soloists Jill Ogai and Nathan Brook, who has won both the recent Telstra Ballet Dancer Awards and was perfectly partnering a fortunate Isobelle Dashwood from the Corps in Raymonda. But it was just wonderful to see everyone again, and who knows if they'll return to Sydney for the rest of the season later this year, so we were pretty lucky to get to two performances. And that's something to crow about!

This extraordinary bit of Garden Art
Found (thankfully) not too near the parentis domo
Hopes you had a Happy Bastille Day!

* Never on the Pipistrello bods, mind!

** And no doubt will never be addressed since $200 million is presently being spent on renovating the larger Concert Hall of the Opera House.

Image credits: 1: via sidebar blogger Gods and Foolish Grandeur; 7: Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences; 9: Daniel Boud via The Australian Ballet; 11: via Pinterest; all else: Flying With Hands


  1. Interesting to see the Australian coast under a cover of heavy rainclouds. Not what I associate with Oz (I have never been and almost certainly never will get to be there)

    1. Dear Andrew, this is a land of droughts and flooding plains, as the poem says. It's pretty wet along the eastern fringe and Sydney averages around 1200mm of rain a year - that's about 47" in old money. When it rains in this city, it can bucket!

      Darwin in the tropics is the wettest city, but it has proper wet and dry seasons, and all the other major cities average half to two-thirds that of Sydney. Despite this, (and the ahem, unsolicited climatology report), I still own suede shoes and have unobliging hair for the mostly persistent humidity.

  2. My beloved was a student at Royal Prince Alfred while his close friend was a student at Sydney Hospital. They argued for decades about which hospital created the best medical graduates, but I can tell you one thing. The Sydney Hospital architecture that you showed is beautiful.

    1. I agree, dear Hels, Sydney Hospital is a beauty. Mind you, it looked a fright with its caking of grimy makeup, so you can imagine our surprise and delight when we saw it in its fresh state! RPA is more of a hodgepodge of styles, although the old redbrick Victorian main building has a charm of its own.

  3. Hello Pipistrello, We are under semi-lockdown too, but I have not been able to attack the long list of places I have wanted to visit. Since it is summer, it is either blazing hot or pouring rain!

    1. Seize the moment when you can, dear Jim! Tricky weather is usually my excuse for not getting amongst it all, too :)

  4. Ballet is definitely something that I have missed, but your post has triggered special memories for me. I was fortunate enough to see Nureyev and Fonteyn dancing MacMillan's Romeo & Juliette to Prokofiev's fabulous music when I was just a gal.

    1. What a wonderful memory, dear Rosemary! I've never seen any of the greats, although who knows what trajectory the careers of some of these young dancers will take, but Romeo & Juliette is supposed to be coming later in the year - fingers crossed!

  5. How lucky you are to have such a rich program. Ballet here is excellent but too infrequent.
    Speaking of Monteverdi and interesting ballet, back in 1998 I saw Monteverdi's opera "Orféo" at la Monnaie, with dancing by the Trisha Brown company. The dancers acted as the set/scenery on the starky bare stage. I don't think I've ever seen hell as vividly and terrifyingly depicted as those writhing bodies, augmented only by lighting, no props. There are a few photos from that performance online but I haven't found any videos. But what a two-fer! Opera AND ballet!

    1. I was so thrilled to read you were also seeing some ballet, too, dear ToF! A nice bit of synchronicity. And your two-fer sounded like such a charged experience, it's no wonder you can still remember it. I'm going to go off to investigate ...

  6. I miss going to the ballet. I am a novice at this art, yet to figure out 'what is really happening' other than a general 'it looks nice"

    1. That's all you need to know, dear Ur-spo. Plot sometimes helps with a story-book ballet but often makes no sense, anyway! I'm quite content to just enjoy lovely dancing accompanying lovely music.

  7. I met Nureyev back in about 1966 (?). He was dressed in fur, with fur trimmed leather boots, and matching fur hat. Quite a sight!

    1. Dressed as I should only expect. Such an exotic figure, he was, and it would have been quite a buzz to meet him fresh off the boat, as we might say. How lucky you were, dear Cro!

  8. How wonderful to have been able to travel and enjoy pursuing your interests in theater, ballet, art and culture. A perfect holiday combination. The white sandy beach with lovely blue/green sea is very picturesque as well. The sea air is always refreshing.

    1. Yes, it was a very enjoyable window of "nearly normal", dear Susan. How quickly these things can change again ... The beaches are truly amazing down where my parents live, but as it's not the tropics, the water is usually capital-c cold!

  9. Wow, Pipistrello, Sidney and surroundings are so lovely - if there is a chance to travel far (unmasked) it will be Australia!
    And yes, that I learned that too:
    "... we didn't squeeze in all the joy available at the time as the expectation was that it should last a bit longer, so there's a lesson there for those keen to find such things. "
    And then again I think of Japanese Art and the way to keep some air and place around things and events - maybe it is just right not to gulp it down all at once?
    Your undecided reader, Britta

    1. That's so very well put, dearest Britta, a bit of air and place around things. Ordinarily, we take the approach that things will always be there and that's perfectly fine to put off today what can be done another time - we are not quite the frenzied activity-chasers! But I was a tad disappointed to have missed some golden opportunities when our long window of near-normality was open. In any event, we still made some hay!


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