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: MerlynChesterman.com


23 comments:

  1. If I had lived in the 18th century, and the family had tons of money, I would have definitely allocated one of the rooms as a Kunstkamer. I may have read the 18th-century book by Albertus Seba, Cabinet of Natural Curiosities years ago, but I only remember all the visual arts, not performing arts of any sort. I also loved ballet as a child and still do now, but I wonder if Albertus Seba believed his Curiosities would one day inspire a Ballet

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. oops sorry, it is Hels, Art and Architecture, mainly

      Delete
    2. You and me both, dear Hels, would be showing off one another's Wunderkammers to the admiration and astonishment of our C18th neighbours!

      Delete
  2. The Kunstkamer ballet must have been thrilling to see - I have heard it described thus:-
    The Australian Ballet's “beautiful monster” is dance perfection.
    I can also imagine how delighted you must have been to witnessed it especially as you have a penchant for your own cabinet of curiosities. I share your love of curiosities too and have many small items collected or inherited from around the world.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was indeed all that, dear Rosemary, and doubly so since it was an unexpected perfection!

      Delete
  3. I have never heard of this BALLET!Is it AUSTRALIAN?What a beautiful SET and the drawings are MAGNIFICENT!I follow a few ballet sights on INSTAGRAM and find myself tearing up at the sight of THE BEAUTY and its takes me back to my days as a WANT TO BE DANCER!
    I should have been BORN years ago..........XX

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kunstkamer is a Dutch ballet, dear Contessa, created to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Nederlands Dans Theater. The Australian Ballet is soon to celebrate its 60th year, so it was a nice ballet to "borrow". xx

      Delete
  4. Beautiful is 'the ballet' wherever and whenever in its many forms, classical, modern, and this one, which I'm not familiar with, perhaps 'out of this world.' I read a review and saw photos. . . . . . and as the writer said, "Kunstkamer is dance genius" - just wish I could have been there!
    Happy weekend Pip - Mary x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, and you too, dear Mary! I hope you might get to see this one day - I think NDT will bring it to London at some point and you never know ...! (Shhh ... I'm off for a second helping this week. Such gluttony!)

      Delete
  5. Perhaps unfortunately, I just cannot "get" ballet. It joins quite a list of such things that others enjoy. They leave me feeling somewhat disappointed in myself, but I will cope. Your enjoyment leaves me somewhat envious.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Horses for courses, dear Andrew? I, too, can cope with a list as long as your arm of entertainments and whatnots that I cannot "get" and which I shall not enumerate here for I have silverware to polish. Except to note that technically speaking, ballet dancers are athletes but they must be the exception to prove my rule that I have nil interest in sporting types and their amusements.

      Delete
    2. Indeed, and am guessing then that you would be disinterested in joining me for a game of golf?

      Delete
    3. Happy to join you in most any enterprise that does not include balls or point scoring or whooping and hollering and certainly not teams!

      Delete
    4. I don't whoop, I never holler, and I am not a team player... Balls can get involved though.

      Delete
    5. Oh, sounds generally perfect to me, so I shall book that overdue holiday to Scotland and one day we can sit in companionable silence together overlooking a loch and imbibe on some beverage yet to be decided. (I know what you'll have but I'm going to hum and ha about it first and probably ask a couple of tiresome questions of the waiter that will require further consultation with the guy behind the bar. Luckily you'll be sitting at another table and can pretend you're not with me.) But if you start juggling balls in my peripheral vision I shall have to up sticks and walk away as we all know about the slippery slope to penurious misery that ensues from that little vice.

      Delete
  6. We just saw the ballet - quite different than this one here. How marvelous both.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 'Tis the season for such delights, dear Ur-spo and so glad you had a topping time, too. We have also recently seen a storybook ballet, in the form of "Anna Karenina", and about which I have yet to wax hereabouts. Too busy sorting tea-towels, I fear.

      Delete
  7. WOW …. I adore the drawings. … I shall look out for it in London. Many dancers from The Royal Ballet were our patients when I was at work many years ago and we used to get complimentary tickets …. now we have to pay an arm and a leg for them !!!!! It’s Jackie here ….. even though I’m signed into Google it calls me anonymous …… XXXX

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Jackie, keep your eyes peeled then run, don't walk to the box office when it pops up! You will love it!! xx

      Delete
  8. Maybe I need my eyes checked, but upon first glance I read the title of your post as 'Kunsthammer'. I thought, art hammer?! What is that?!
    Duh. :D

    The portrait of the phoenix is stunning. Fractals never not intrigue me as well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Bea, isn't that arte moderne? Taking a hammer to a canvas and standing back in wonderment and admiration?

      Delete
  9. Dear Pip, I seldom say "I envy you!" because normally I am absolute content with what I have - but reading this it is one of the rare moments I do say it.
    As an ardent student at the Freie Universität Berlin for Dutch I noticed that it must be Dutch, because in Germany one would write "Kammer".
    So: now I have a wonderful answer to the Flying Dutchman's question (often chaperoned by an accusing under-tone: "Your birthday - 29.December - is so near to Christmas - what do you want?")
    Thank you for that, and your wonderful blog, Pip!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! And now, dear Britta, our fingers must be firmly crossed that NDT will be performing their "beautiful monster" around the time that a treat ought be coming your way! I'm very pleased I could give you a firm answer to the perennial question and I'm confident, yes, bravely confident, you (and the FD) will not be disappointed. Contemporary dance can divide the masses but the magic of Kunstkamer is even too extraordinary for that.

      ps: I had a second helping this week and though it didn't throw out surprise like when new, it was fabulous all over again. I bumped into a great friend in the interval on his first night and we gabbled non-stop about it all the way home together. Then lo! he scrounged a seat the very next night for round two, too!

      Delete

Thank you for commenting, it is greatly appreciated.

It can be a challenge to persist in the matching up of street signs and other exciting pastimes this comment feature may send your way, so if it gets too annoying, feel free to email your comment to me at pipistrello (at) flyingwithhands (dot) com and I'll post it for you.

Bats In The Belfry