The Art of Glass

The island of Murano in the Venetian lagoon is most famous for the art of glassblowing which has been practiced there for centuries without any major interruptions and has survived the many and varied vicissitudes of Venice’s long history.

Glass manufacture in the Venetian lagoon has its roots in the remote past: the first document in which a dominicus fiolarius, or glassmaker, appears dates from 982 (the term fiola denotes a globular glass bottle with a long neck). By 1224 a flourishing industry must have existed, since in that year the Venetian glassblowers formed a gild, or arte. In 1271 its statutes, the Capitulare de Fiorlariis, also known as matricula, or mariegola, set standards and regulations for production. A new version in Italian was produced in 1441, followed by others, the last dating from 1776.

Museo Vetrario, Murano

In 1291, by decree of the Maggior Consiglio, all the furnaces still in existence in the city of Venice itself were destroyed. We can suppose that by this stage glass production was concentrated on the island of Murano. What little evidence of have of medieval glass reveals an industry geared to the production of everyday items such as bottles, glasses and bowls, which were already being exported to German-speaking countries as well as England and France.

The art of glassblowing reached new levels of artistic expressiveness in the refined products of the Renaissance, thanks largely to the technical innovations of Angelo Barovier, the most famous glassblower of the 15th century. Through a series of complicated operations he succeeded in obtaining a particularly pure glass which, on account of this quality, became known as crystal. Between the end of 15th century and the beginning of the 16th, the most refined Murano glass, whether coloured or not, after having been shaped, was entrusted to painters who specialised in the art of decoration with polychrome fusible enamels and gold leaf. Two other varieties of glass date from the second half of the 15th century: chalcedony, which imitated striped agate, and white opaque milk glass, which was decorated with fusible enamels and imitated the Chinese porcelain that had first arrived in Venice in the mid-1450s.

Amethyst glass plate decorated with fusible polychrome enamels, 1470-80
Museo Provinciale, Castello di Buonconsiglio, Trent

The art of glassblowing continued smoothly into the 16th century, with many major technical and decorative innovations. In formal terms, there was a clear preference for simplicity. Colourless glass assumed a crucial role and there was a move away from painted decoration and forms copied from ceramics or metallurgy. The most significant expression of the elegance characteristic of Murano glass of that time was the crystal chalice or goblet, with its pure lines in which measured harmony regulates the relationship between the various parts, the base, the stem blown in the form of a small balustrade and the bowl.

Pitcher decorated with polychrome fusible enamels and gold leaf, end of 15th century
Museo Vetrario, Murano
Barovier wedding cup, blue glass decorated with polychrome fusible enamels and gold leaf, c. 1470
Museo Vetrario, Murano

The complex technique of filigree, still in use today, dates from 1527 and is linked to the name of the Serena glassblowers who obtained a ten-year franchise for producing glass a facete con retortoli a fil: crystal decorated in parallel bands with threads of milk glass or coloured glass twisted to form spiral patterns. The generic term filigree covers the different types of glass decoration that incorporate glass threads. From the 16th century onward, one of the most famous and successful versions was vetro a reticello in which slender canes of opaque white glass were laid in a crisscross pattern to form a fine netting, with a bubble of air in each lozenge.

Another type of glass typical of the 16th century was known as ice glass, from its rough translucent – but not transparent – surface. In the field of decoration, Vincenzo di Angelo del Gallo, toward the middle of the century, introduced the technique of diamond-point engraving, which enabled delicate and elegant patterns to be incised on the surface of the glass.

The technical innovations that Murano glassblowers developed spread rapidly and the fame of their products increased, especially after the frequent departures of master craftsmen whose skills were in great demand throughout Europe. Attracted by the possibility of higher earnings, these craftsmen developed, beyond the confines of the Republic, a type of product based on the art of Murano which became known as glass à la façon de Venice (in the style of Venice). This exodus of craftsmen placed the Venetian trade in great danger since Murano had had a near monopoly on the art of blown glass and its trade brought not only great wealth but also prestige to the city. The rigid regulations and harsh penalties enacted by Venice in order to punish those who transgressed the laws forbidding them to leave the island did not hamper the emergence of numerous glass furnaces in France, Austria and the Netherlands, where Murano glassblowers passed on their skills to local craftsmen, adapting the resulting products to local style.

In contrast to the formal rigor of the 16th century, 17th century glass reflects the influence of the Baroque. Purity of line, typical of the Renaissance, was abandoned in favour of free creativity, especially in search of illusionistic effects. The colourless glass was replaced by glass decorated with coloured threads in yellow and red while from the formal point of view fantasy and superabundance led to a product that was less and less functional – one created with purely ornamental aims. Once again, it was the chalice or goblet that exemplified the stylistic changes. In contrast to the preceding century, alette (little winglike forms) were now applied to the stem, while the sometimes asymmetrical bowl was frequently decorated with fine chains.

Museo Vetrario, Murano

Despite the uninterrupted activity of the furnaces, the 17th century was a difficult period for Murano. In addition to natural disasters such as famine and plague, and the consequent economic crises, there were also major problems following a fall in demand for Murano glass. Two new types of glass had appeared and were competing directly with that of the Venetians. Bohemian and English crystal, with their deep cuts and brilliance, were rapidly taking over the market. On the whole, the 17th century revealed, despite the now consolidated skills of the glass masters, the first symptoms of a major crisis that would become fully apparent during the following century.

18th century glass is characterised by a wide variety of forms, techniques and materials. In addition to the traditional vitreous materials, which were reworked with great ingenuity, the prevailing fashion for colour expressed itself in the use of vitreous pastes such as aventurine, which was often, like hard stone, cut to form boxes, snuffboxes and buttons, and chalcedony and other mixtures tinged with various colours.

The production of milk glass was also widespread. It employed 16th century decorative techniques with polychrome fusible materials and aimed at imitating porcelain, especially Chinese porcelain, extremely fashionable at the time in Venice. The Miotti family, famous for this type of glass, were the first on Murano to mark their products, which had until then remained anonymous, with a symbol that allows us to recognise their work even today.

Murano glassblowers concentrated their efforts on imitating Bohemian crystal, competition from which was strong, even within the Republic itself. One of the most successful was Giuseppe Briati, responsible for several original creations for which Murano became famous. The most celebrated of these was the Venetian candelabrum with several branches known as ciocche, to which was applied a wealth of decorative detail, usually floral, in coloured glass.

Murano glass chandelier
Large chandelier with glass polychrome flowers on the branches, Giuseppe Briati, mid 18th century
Ca’ Rezzonico, Venice

Giuseppe Briati is also credited with transforming the Venetian mirror into a refined element of interior decoration. He placed the old lacquered or gilded wooden frame with one composed of elements of carved, engraved or enamelled glass, which was then fixed to a wooden backing.

Contemporary sources also indicate that Briati was the inventor of the great table centrepieces known as deseri (from the French for dessert), made up of many elements which formed complex compositions and decorated the doge’s banqueting table on important occasions. Despite this intense activity, however, problems remained unsolved, even after a radical revision of the gild’s statutes. The fall of the Republic in 1797, the dissolution of the various gilds and the series of foreign governments dealt a fatal blow to the art of glassblowing.

The first signs of a rebirth appeared during the 1840s, thanks largely to two glassblowers, Domenico Bussolin and Pietro Bigaglia, who began to produce filigree glass. The various interlacing patterns of these filigree differed from the traditional 16th century ones in the chromatic vivacity of their fabric, highlighted by the formal simplicity of the object itself, with a slight hint of Biedermeier influence.

Bottles and vases of polychrome filigree, Pietro Bigaglia, c. 1845
Museo Vetrario, Murano

The rebirth of Murano is marked by various important events. The furnaces began to reopening. Among the first to do so was that of the Fratelli Toso (Toso Brothers). In 1861 an archive was begun in which documents relating to the history of the island were preserved. Examples of glassware were also included. This formed the beginning of the museum which during these early years also functioned as a guide to the recovery of the styles, techniques and skills of the great masters of the past. Two exhibitions were mounted, in 1864 and 1869, both of which stimulated further efforts on the part of the new generation of glassblowers.

In 1866, the year in which the Veneto region became part of a united Italy, Antonio Salviati opened a furnace on Murano. He was keenly aware of the popularity of the island’s products abroad, especially in Britain, and a few months later formed a company with a group of Britons, Salviati & Co., which in 1872 became the Venice and Murano Glass and Mosaic Company Ltd.

A search for technical and formal perfection characterises the late 19th century. Small cups, large chalices, opalescent vases and bottles all tended to be modelled on the past but strove for greater constructional precision, reviving a tradition that only a few years earlier had seemed doomed. Another problem that occupied this new generation of glassblowers was reproducing ancient glass, from pre-Roman glass with a friable core, the so-called Phoenician glass, to Roman pieces, known in general as murrini, and on Murano itself as glass-mosaic.

The intense activity that characterised Murano during the later 19th century, concentrating as it did principally on the recovery and study of the past, isolated the island from the cultural climate of the rest of Europe and North America, where Art Nouveau was dominant. A certain amount of innovation, with quotations from Art Nouveau, can be seen in a group of extremely delicate goblets in the form of flowers produced during the early years of the 20th century by Fratelli Toso, in the decorations on very fine glass by Francesco Toso Borella, and, especially, in the glass-mosaic creations by another artist, Vittorio Zecchin.

Fratelli Tosso, c. 1920
Vase by Vittorio Zecchin

In the years immediately following WWI, the furnaces stepped up production. From a stylistic point of view, they followed the rationalistic trend with its principles of simplicity and functionalism. At the same time new companies were opening up on the island and an increasing number of designers were working there. In the years between the two World Wars, artists such as Vittorio Zecchin, the sculptor Napoleone Martinuzzi, the painter Guido Cadorin, the architect Carlo Scarpa, and the etcher Guido Balsamo Stella, were collaborating with Murano glass manufacturers, contributing to stylistic and formal innovations and creating new vitreous materials and mixtures.

After the enforced lull during WWII, the furnaces reopened with renewed vigour, concentrating mainly on the study of the chromatic effects of glass and on emphasising its sculptural qualities. These new refined colours and their crucial role in the composition of original and often sophisticated vitreous materials, constitute the distinctive element of the many new companies which sprung up in the 1940s and the 1950s. During this period, a reinterpretation of the traditional Murano techniques was combined with a strong predilection for simple forms, in harmony with the criteria of functionalism.

Today, the Murano glassblowing industry is facing another crisis. The current slump, glass impresario Adriano Berengo suggests, has not simply been occasioned by the influx of Chinese copies in recent decades; it is also due to the fact that many of the surviving glass factories have pandered to the demand of tourists for objects that represent a historical idea of Murano. Where the forms of the past galvanised the 19th century glass revival, in other words, now they might be said to hold back contemporary work by clinging to an opportune market for pastiche.

Berengo has looked to counter this by introducing international artists to the properties and practicalities of glass, pushing them to experiment with this uniquely ductile, transparent material. The extraordinary Murano marionettes that feature in the final film of Wael Shawky’s Cabaret Crusades trilogy were developed at the Berengo Studio; artists taking part in the 2017 Glasstress exhibition, which Berengo has mounted at Palazzo Franchetti every two years since 2009, included Ai Weiwei, Thomas Schütte and Laure Prouvost.

Cabaret Crusades: The Secrets of Karbala (film still), 2015, Wael Shawky
Glasstress 2017

It is heartening to see contemporary artists exploring a traditional material that requires so much patience and care, and for which chance as much as conceptual precision plays such a role. Something comparable – and equally welcome – is perhaps happening in the growing prominence of contemporary ceramic art at leading international museums and galleries. Also to be praised are those dealers, such as Adrian Sassoon, who have worked so hard to promote the place of historical materials in the production of contemporary pieces.

The future of Murano also requires sustained attention to its past. That means well-curated museum displays and exhibitions to illuminate the skill of historical glassmakers and the variety of their working methods, as well as the originality of 20th century designers. It requires the clean presentation of individual objects (or groups of objects), ensuring that they are no more relegated to crowded cabinets with poor lighting (although there is of course value in looking at glass in the context of other types of object).

In Venice, thankfully, the Stanze del Vetro on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore has now been creating this kind of exhibition for several years. Since its inauguration in 2012, the gallery’s displays of modern and contemporary glass have offered a lucid reminder of the recent strength of glassmaking in Venice – and as such, as a rejoinder to those who would give up on Murano altogether.

Qwalala by Pae White at Stanze del Vetro, Venice

And then there is the Museo del Vetro in Palazzo Giustinian on Murano, which reopened in 2015 with refurbished and expanded exhibition spaces that feature a chronological display focusing on the island’s production. Though the museum has been in its current location since 1861, it now has a greater responsibility than ever: inspiring visitors to Venice to value Murano glass correctly, while encouraging the maestri to innovate afresh.

Museo Vetrario, Murano

We brought home Murano glass… in the form of cherries, what else?!? Miss Honey shows off the cherry necklace we got from Pauly & Co. in Piazza San Marco. One of the many stores that stock authentic Murano glass pieces, not the cheap Chinese copies.

Pauly & Co, Piazza San Marco
Pauly & Co, Piazza San Marco

We Love Libraries

Little bears know that libraries can be really interesting places!

Mortlock Wing, State Library of SA

And Travel and Leisure has conveniently catalogued the 20 most beautiful libraries in the world.

Clementinum, Prague

Clementinum, Prague
The baroque Library Hall, with its rare gilded globes and spectacular frescoes depicting science and art, is just one building in the vast Clementinum complex. Legend says the Jesuits had only one book when they started building the library in 1622; when they were done, the collection had swelled to 20,000 volumes. Labels on the bookshelves are original to the library’s opening, as are volumes with “whitened backs and red marks,” markers left by the Jesuits.

The Royal Library Copenhagen, Denmark

The Royal Library Copenhagen, Denmark
Known as the Black Diamond, this neo-Modernist building was built in 1999 as an addition to the Royal Library’s original complex. Its striking steel, glass, and black granite structure contains a concert hall, a popular café, and exhibition spaces. The Black Diamond treats visitors to spectacular harbor views and a ceiling fresco by one of Denmark’s most famous artists, Per Kirkeby.

George Peabody Library, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore

George Peabody Library, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore
The Peabody Stack Room’s five-tier soaring atrium has wrought-iron balconies and columns so graceful that Nathaniel H. Morison, its first provost, called it a “cathedral of books”. It’s one of America’s most beautiful college libraries, with a setting so gorgeous that weddings and special events are often held here. Bibliophiles come not only for the design but to browse 18th and 19th century volumes of archaeology as well as British and American history and literature.

Royal Portuguese Reading Room, Rio de Janeiro

Royal Portuguese Reading Room, Rio de Janeiro
A group of far-from-home Portuguese immigrants banded together to create a Portuguese library in 1837, although construction on the Real Gabinete Português de Leitura didn’t get going until 1880. The neo-Manueline building’s limestone façade showcases Portuguese explorers like Prince Henry the Navigator, Vasco da Gama, and Pedro Álvares Cabral in sculpture. The cathedral-like reading room has a stained-glass dome and wooden galleries. Its ornate bookshelves hold the largest collection of Portuguese literature outside of the motherland.

Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
When the original library burned down in 1814, Thomas Jefferson seeded a new one with his own much broader collection of books. Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, stands guard in mosaic form above the main reading room, and scrolls, books, and torches pop up throughout the Library of Congress. Highlights include the main reading room, the Gutenberg Bible (one of 42 left in the world), and free classical concerts.

Central Library of Vancouver, Canada

Central Library of Vancouver, Canada
Architect Moshe Safdie’s creation resembles a modern-day Colosseum. You enter the Central Library through a huge skylit concourse, which contains shops and cafés and acts as an urban gathering point. Bridges inside the library connect to reading and study areas in the outer walls. Plans are under way to reclaim two of the building’s top floors from other tenants in order to expand the rooftop garden and make it accessible to the public.

Musashino Art University Museum and Library, Tokyo

Musashino Art University Museum and Library, Tokyo
Presenting the most library-like library ever: Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto designed the Art University’s 26,900-square-foot space to be constructed from light-wood bookshelves walled in with glass. Even the stairs have built-in shelves, though they’re currently empty. Compared by Fujimoto to “a forest of books,” the building stands as a powerful visual testament to the bound book’s enduring power. The museum and library are open to visitors; hours vary.

New York Public Library (Stephen A. Schwarzman Building)

New York Public Library (Stephen A. Schwarzman Building)
A grand hall lit by massive windows and imposing chandeliers, the Rose Main Reading Room stretches approximately two city blocks. It’s a required stop for visitors, who can also peek at murals by New York artist Richard Haas in the Periodicals Room. Rotating exhibitions have included an original Bill of Rights and “Why Children’s Books Matter”.

The Rose Main Reading Room was inconveniently under restoration when little bears visited!

New York Public Library
Marciana Library, Venice

Marciana Library, Venice
The Renaissance-era Marciana is one of the earliest surviving libraries in Italy; construction began in 1537 and continued for more than 50 years. Works by Venetian artists like Alessandro Vittoria, Titian, and Tintoretto adorn the walls and ceilings. The library counts more than 750,000 books, 13,000 manuscripts, and 24,000 prints in its collection, many of which were the result of a 1603 law that required printers to donate one copy of every book published to the library. English-language tours are available on request. We will request!

Trinity College Old Library, Dublin

Trinity College Old Library, Dublin
The 200-foot Long Room is the most striking element of this library; marble busts of famous writers like Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels) line the walkway, and a barrel-vaulted ceiling arches overhead. Many visitors come first and foremost to see the Book of Kells, a lavishly decorated manuscript containing the four Gospels of the New Testament. Originally founded by Queen Elizabeth I in 1592, the current structure was built beginning in 1712. The Old Library and the Book of Kells Exhibition are open for self-guided tours daily.

Stuttgart City Library, Germany

Stuttgart City Library, Germany
From the outside, the nine-story building can appear as a monolithic cube. But at sunset the façade’s glass bricks take on a glow, and after dark they are illuminated with blue lights. Inside, the dramatic all-white interior has a five-story reading room shaped as an upside-down pyramid, plus meeting rooms, a café, and a rooftop terrace. The arresting building was designed to become the city’s cultural heart. Patrons are welcome to settle in with a book or turn up after hours for the “Library for Insomniacs”, which keeps a small selection of material available all night long.

Library of Birmingham. England

Library of Birmingham, England
Birmingham’s new library, composed of a stack of four rectangular blocks (offset to create terraces), makes an ultramodern first impression. The façade nods to the city’s jewelry quarter with a pattern of 5,357 metal rings. One of its treasures is the more traditional wood-paneled Shakespeare Memorial Room. Originally built in 1882, it was painstakingly reassembled on the top floor to house the library’s Shakespeare collection, which includes copies of the Bard’s first editions. The Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai was on hand to officially open the library in September 2013. Open daily.

Library of Birmingham – Shakespeare Memorial Room
Library of Birmingham
Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Alexandria, Egypt

Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Alexandria, Egypt
Alexandria’s original library was destroyed by fire or battle more than 1,600 years ago. Today’s Bibliotheca Alexandrina seeks to recapture the original’s spirit of public learning. Opened in 2002, the massive disc-shaped building has a huge reading room that tilts toward the sea while the façade is covered in letters and characters from more than a hundred different languages. The building also contains a planetarium, four museums, academic research centers, and a multimedia presentation of Egypt’s heritage.

Coimbra Library, University of Coimbra–Alta and Sofia, Portugal

Coimbra Library, University of Coimbra–Alta and Sofia, Portugal
The ornate 1717 Biblioteca Joanina is a baroque fantasy of exotic carved wood, intricate arches, and gilded patterns. Be sure to look up to the ceiling for art by Antonio Simões Ribeiro and Vicente Nunes. And keep an eye out for the Chinese motifs on the gilded and lacquered wooden bookshelves. One of the most beautiful buildings in Coimbra’s university complex, it also has a darker side. It’s perhaps the only library with its own prison, where scholars and students were once confined (follow the steps down from the main floor). And at night, a small colony of resident bats comes out from behind a painting to feast on manuscript-munching pests.

Bodleian Library, Oxford University, England

Bodleian Library, Oxford University, England
Duke Humfrey’s medieval reading room stood in for the Hogwarts library in the Harry Potter movies. And the wood-paneled room—with its low, ornately worked ceiling and somber lighting—looks like the perfect place to brush up on ancient spells. Before it was made famous on the big screen, generations of scholars including kings, Nobel Prize winners, and British prime ministers studied here. Access to the reading rooms as well as the Radcliffe Camera and the Divinity School are by guided tour only.

Seattle Public Library’s Central Library

Seattle Public Library’s Central Library
The philosophy of architects Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus of OMA/LMN was to let the interior function dictate the exterior’s design. The result is a futuristic glass façade and a unique book spiral: bibliophiles browse the library’s nonfiction collection by following the gently inclined floor as it spirals up four stories. Ample daylight, inviting spaces to read and work, hundreds of computers, and bold interior design elements make this a decidedly 21st-century library.

Connemara Public Library, Chennai, India

Connemara Public Library, Chennai, India
Part of a cultural complex that includes a theater, a museum, and an art gallery, Connemara Public Library was established in 1896. It continues to receive copies of all books, periodicals, and newspapers published in India. Designed by H. Irvin, the consulting architect to the government of the time, the majestic building has a circular entrance that opens into a stately reading room with an elaborately decorated ceiling, teak balconies, and stained-glass windows.

Austrian National Library, Vienna

Austrian National Library, Vienna
Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, stands guard over this commanding baroque library, dating from 1723. The sumptuous interior is fit for royalty—which makes sense, as this was the palace library until 1920, when it became a possession of the state. It may take you time to focus on the books, given the frescoes and gilt adorning the main hall. Don’t miss the Globe Museum: it includes terrestrial and celestial globes made before 1850.

Mortlock Wing State Library, Adelaide, Australia
When this two-story library opened in 1884, officials were pleased by its majesty, yet felt it was missing something — a timepiece. The Dent and Sons clock still holds pride of place at the end of the reading room, high up on the wrought-iron and gold ornamented balcony. (A staff member winds it once a week.) One feature that’s been replicated in more modern libraries is the glass roof; its dome lets in natural light and enhances the warmth of the beautiful room.

Beitou Branch of the Taipei Public Library, Taiwan

Beitou Branch of the Taipei Public Library, Taiwan
With its rooftop gardens, park setting, and airy, sunlit interior, the Beitou Branch feels like an oasis in the midst of skyscraper-filled Taipei. The eco-friendly library, which has won numerous awards since its 2006 opening, features water reclamation, solar panels, and natural ventilation. It’s a green space that is also gorgeous and invites visitors to curl up with a book on open-air balconies.

Mortlock Wing

Little bears were looking for a quiet spot to read and while away an afternoon, and they found it at the State Library of South Australia. It wasn’t just reading, it was reading in style in the Mortlock Wing!

This is the perfect spot!

The State Library was opened on 18 December 1884 as a public library, museum and art gallery for the colony of South Australia with 23,000 books and a staff of three.

The Mortlock Wing was designed by Colonial Architect E.J. Woods. Construction of the building took over 18 years to complete after the initial foundations were laid in 1866. The foundation stone was laid on 7 November 1879 by Sir William Jervois and the building was constructed by Brown and Thompson at a cost of 43,897 pounds.

The building is French Renaissance in style with a mansard roof. The walls are constructed of brick with Sydney freestone facings with decorations in the darker shade of Manoora stone.

Now known as the “Mortlock Wing”, it is predominantly an exhibition area and popular place for hosting library functions. It features an example of a 19th century gentleman’s library.

The interior has two galleries, the first supported by masonry columns and the second by iron brackets. The balconies feature wrought iron balustrading ornamented with gold while the glass-domed roof allows the chamber to be lit with natural light.

Wrought iron balcony hand rails with gold highlights

The Mortlock Wing is considered one of the finest examples of a late Victorian library in Australia. The reading tables sit amid ornate wood carvings, wrought iron balustrading and the original Dent and Sons clock, gifted by astronomer, meteorologist and electrical engineer Sir Charles Todd in 1887. Todd was responsible for linking much of Australia together by telegram line, including overseeing the 2897 kilometre Adelaide to Darwin line in the 1870s. The clock still stands sentry over the main hall, hand wound and adjusted weekly by library staff.

The Dent and Sons clock, gifted by Sir Charles Todd, is still hand wound and adjusted each week by staff at the Mortlock Wing

Reconstruction of the building began in 1985 as a Jubilee 150 project by Danvers architects. Taking months to complete, restoration work included fine decorative finishes such as scumbling, painted wood grain finishes, French polished tables, as well as general painting and decorating.

In honour of a substantial bequest from John Andrew Tennant Mortlock, the Libraries Board of South Australia resolved that a percentage of the South Australiana Collections would be housed in the wing and named the Mortlock Library of South Australiana in 1986.

The ground floor is devoted to a permanent exhibition area of 14 bays reflecting themes of cultural or historical relevance to South Australia and displaying items reflecting wider collections held by the State Library.

The SA sporting display on the ground floor features Donald Bradman’s bat and items from the Bodyline Tour

The ornate wood carvings, rich Australian history and the atmosphere of a forgotten time were all features that placed the South Australian State Library’s Mortlock Wing in a list of the top 20 most beautiful libraries of the world, compiled by Travel and Leisure in 2014.

The Blue Mountains Treehouse

The Wollemi Wilderness Treehouse is the jewel of the Wollemi Wilderness Retreat, on Lionel Buckett’s huge property in the Blue Mountains, just 1.5 hours drive from Sydney. The Treehouse is build 12 meters off the ground and set above the deep and spectacular Bowen’s Creek Gorge.

The floor to ceiling windows provide an amazing and unique Blue Mountains experience. You can admire the view while soaking in a puff of bubbles in the corner spa. The Treehouse is completely private and only native animals can see you. It’s an oasis of nature and solitude.

A native spying on the bears 🙂

The property is in the Wollemi Wilderness National Park World Heritage Area. Among other things this means Australian bush with bugs, mozzies, spiders and lots of other insects! Thankfully, they were all sleeping the winter away. Mental note: don’t book any of the cabins in summer! Or spring, or autumn…

The property now boasts eight cabins, all different, with a ninth one under construction. There is an Enchanted Cave (on top of the list for our next visit… in winter!), a Dream Cabin, and a Tee Pee. For the full list you can check the Wollemi Wilderness website. On a Sunday afternoon, you can book a two hour tour that visits all the cabins.

The Treehouse is a sustainable dwelling. It’s been constructed from recycled materials and in all respects is an architectural marvel that took more than a year to construct. It faces northeast to catch the sun (you can watch the sunrise from bed 🙂 ), has a solar hot water system and a composting worm toilet.

Sunrise photo from the balcony of the treehouse

There is a kitchen with a gas cook top and there is also an outdoor BBQ. The Treehouse is fitted with a sprinkler system that cools the house in very hot weather (and is also used if there is a bush fire). A wood-burning stove warms the cabin in winter. The large, comfy bed is covered in animal skins, locking in the warmth during cold winter evenings. The electric blanket helps as well!

Strong winds create a concert of a thousand creaks and screeches of the branches around, but the Treehouse is in a sheltered position, safe and stable.

Once you’ve climbed up the long ramp and ladder into this secret Treehouse high off the ground, cosy up, relax and enjoy… It is a special experience.

Another native marvelling at the bears 🙂

You can add to the experience by exploring the rugged and beautiful canyons, raging rivers, towering cliffs and much more in the Wollemi National Park. The park covers more than 500,000sq.km and is home to 235 bird species, 46 mammals and 55 butterflies. Though much of it’s impenetrable to all but the most intrepid bushwalkers and climbers, there are plenty of opportunities for trekking, camping, canoeing and kayaking.

Australian Geographic has a photo gallery of the amazing landscape, flora and fauna in the park. Here is a taste of it.

Rocky Creek Canyon, towards the south of Wollemi National Park. The route starts with several dimly lit swims and climb-downs, followed by a waterslide.
A spectacular view of Wollemi National Park’s cliffs and gorges from a sandstone overhang.

Wollemi National Park is home to an absolutely unreal gift of nature, the one-of-a-kind Glow Worm Tunnel. Once part of a railway line, the spectacular tunnel stretches 400m, and is packed full of glow worms putting on an incredible light show. This region is home to a huge number of these little sparklers, who mostly hang out in caves and old mines. However the tunnel is special, as it’s completely dark, it’s one of the only places you can see glow worms during the day. Note: You’ll need to bring a torch but be super careful not to shine your light directly on to the worms or they will turn out their lights and ruin the show for everyone. Don’t be that person!

Glow Worm Tunnel, one of two now abandoned tunnels on the Newnes Historic Railway. This tunnel curves around sharply and often has a small creek flowing through it. The conditions are suited to glow worms which are found on the walls and roof.

We have these adventures on the list for our next visit. Someone had the flu during this visit (hint: it wasn’t the bears!) 😦

In September 1994, NSW National Parks Wildlife Service officer, David Noble, discovered some trees he didn’t quite recognise. In a deep, narrow canyon of the rugged Wollemi National Park, he discovered what we now call Wollemia nobilis or the Wollemi pine.

National Parks and Wildlife manager David Crust uses GPS to record the position of each Wollemi Pine.

Dubbed “a living fossil”, the distinctive pines captured the world’s attention because it was thought they had been extinct for at least 60 million years.

The Wollemi Pines are about 40 metres tall and are hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. Their trunks are more than a metre in diameter and they have distinctive bark which resembles bubbling chocolate.

But the last two decades have taken their toll on the prehistoric pine and its future is now under threat from a soil-borne pathogen called Phytophthora, which most likely walked in on the boots of uninvited visitors!!! The introduction of Phytophthora has caused root rot in several of the pines.

To ensure the species survives, an insurance population of young Wollemi Pines has been planted at another secret location in the Blue Mountains, a site specially chosen for its similarity with the original site. Access to the insurance site is strictly controlled and each piece of equipment taken in has to be washed down with fungicide to stop the spread of Phytophthora. The location of each tree is recorded using GPS and they are regularly measured to track their progress.

The locations of the insurance population and the wild population are top secret and they need to stay that way if the species is to survive. So no bear photos with the pines!

The Secret Treehouse

It’s picnic time!

How about a game?

This is a treehouse game…

This game is for a treehouse of horrors… not our treehouse!

There are more games here…

This is much better!

Hmmm…

Look what I found!

There is wilderness outside the treehouse!

All that wilderness exploration made little bears hungry, and the local apple pie is yummy 🙂

Shhh, little bears don’t want to be disturbed…

Little Puffles Big Birthday Adventure

The birthday bear 🙂

Puffles, did you have an exciting adventure?

It was beary exciting!

We had to sit still for two and a half hours…

But then we had lunch at a dessert bar! Hee, hee!

You’ve been grilled and Waffle No 5 at 50SixOne, Adelaide

And we went on a dinosaur safari.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Gold Class, Adelaide

On Tuesday we had lunch in Hahndorf…

Bavarian mixed grill
German Arms, Hahndorf

and did a bit of reading…

Mortlock Wing, State Library of SA

before dessert 🙂

Cherry & custard strudel and apple & custard strudel
German Cake Shop, Hanhdorf
Adelaide city lights from Windy Point Lookout

On Wednesday we found a secret treehouse!

How beary exciting!

We had a picnic and played games!

On Thursday we watched the sunrise and we found the outside of the treehouse! 🙂

Can you spot us?

I can!

On Friday we found a bears’ world at Bellsridge Cottage.

And had a bit of lunch at the Archibald hotel.

The Archibald, Kurrajong Heights

And we went to see the Book of Mormon!

Book of Mormon, Lyric Theatre Sydney

We started Saturday with French toast for 14 Juillet.

French Toast at 485 Café

We saw The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney

And then enjoyed the sunshine 🙂

Sunday we went out for birthday dinner and they gave us four donuts for dessert! 🙂

Garum, Perth

And best of all, now we have cakes with our beary friends!

Happy Birthday Puffles!

Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty

In 1882, Alexander III appointed Ivan Vsevolozhsky to the directorship of the Imperial Theaters in Russia.

Ivan Vsevolozhsky (1835–1909) in traditional costume, 1903

A cultivated aristocrat and ardent Francophile, intelligent and with a keen sense of humor, Ivan Vsevolozhsky had worked at the Russian consulate in The Hague and in Paris and his tastes were distinctly European. His small office in the Winter Palace was crammed with paintings and sculptures from French, Italian, Spanish and Dutch masters. “Everything around Vsevolozhsky,” the Ballets Russes artist Alexander Benois later recalled, “breathed that high-born taste, that parfait goût” of the French 18th century. Even his bows “were marked by a special elegance and even complexity,” and to him “dance was not something frivolous or absurd” but a necessary and supremely cultivated art.

Yet Vsevolozhsky was also a strong advocate of Russian art. He pried the ballet master Marius Petipa away from Minkus and the predictable rhythms of made-to-order ballet music and pushed him toward the far more complex and Russian voices of Tchaikovsky and (later) Alexander Glazunov. Tchaikovsky, whose prominence in Russian musical life was by then well established, shared Vsevolozhsky’s interest in ballet and was a willing collaborator. When he was a child his mother had taken him to see Giselle with Carlotta Grisi in the title role, and as a young man he had attended the theater frequently. His brother, Modest, later recalled how Tchaikovsky enjoyed demonstrating the proper balletic form, teasing Modest by likening him to the undistinguished Russian ballerina Savrenskaya—and himself to the elegant Amalia Ferraris “because of the fluidity and classicism of his movements.”

Marius Petipa (1818-1910)

In 1888 Vsevolozhsky proposed a new ballet: The Sleeping Beauty. He wrote to Tchaikovsky: “I thought I would write a libretto to Perrault’s La belle au bois dormant [The Sleeping Beauty]. I want to do the mise-en-scène in Louis XIV style,” and he went on to suggest that Tchaikovsky might consider “melodies in the spirit of Lully, Bach, Rameau …” Responding in French, Tchaikovsky enthusiastically agreed. Indeed, this was not his first ballet, but it was his first, and only, sustained collaboration with Petipa and Vsevolozhsky. And it was a genuine and engaged collaboration: Vsevolozhsky and Tchaikovsky’s graceful and beautifully mannered correspondence reveals the respect and warmth they felt for each other, and the three men met frequently to exchange ideas (always in French). Tchaikovsky also often appeared at Petipa’s home (the ballet master’s daughter later recalled the excitement of these visits) and played what he had written on the piano while Petipa shifted his papier-mâché figurines around a large round table.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Today, we like to think of The Sleeping Beauty as an elevated artistic landmark, but at the time of its premiere in 1890 many critics and observers saw it as a sellout to low popular taste. They were not entirely wrong. As a consequence of Alexander III’s theatrical reforms and the explosion of popular musical theaters in and around the city, audiences were treated to a whole new array of performances — not just Russian fare, but lavish mime and dance spectacles mounted by Italians with (as one critic complained) “masses” of performers and fantastic effects. These were Manzotti’s Excelsior dancers, and the spectacles were known as ballets-féeries for their fairy-tale magic and emphasis on the merveilleuse. In 1885 Virginia Zucchi set the trend when she danced at the Sans Souci in St. Petersburg in a lavish six-hour-long féerie entitled An Extraordinary Journey to the Moon (after Jules Verne), which had already had successful runs at music halls in Paris, London and Moscow. Shortly thereafter, the Italian dancer and mime Enrico Cecchetti mounted his abridged version of Excelsior, which played for over two years in the Russian capital.

This “Italian invasion” touched a sensitive political nerve. The suburban theaters catered to a burgeoning urban populace created by industrialization and the movement of peasants and workers, fleeing crushing rural poverty, into towns and cities. Ostrovsky enthusiastically welcomed the change and saw the ballet-féerie as an “appealing” people’s art that might “replace” outmoded court ballets with a more modern and accessible form. Others, however, were mortified and complained that the féerie represented a decadent and democratizing Western culture. It was nothing more than “ballet as circus” and its performers moved like “machines” with “steel points” and “sharp” gestures. Their flexibility, one critic bristled, was an affront to “correctness and beauty of line” and unfit for a “self-respecting stage.”

Partly this was a matter of technique. Italian dancers had developed an arsenal of remarkable stunts such as multiple turns and extended balances on pointe, whereas dancers at the Imperial Theaters still favored the softer and more fleeting movements of the French Romantic school. One Russian dancer later recalled his shock at seeing the new Italian style: Russian men, he noted, generally confined themselves to a restrained three or four pirouettes, whereas the Italians brashly spun out eight or nine. More alarming still, the Italians seemed to throw themselves from step to step with anarchic abandon. Their school, one critic glumly concluded, represented “a confused nihilism in choreography”. Tchaikovsky, Vsevolozhsky and Petipa stood firmly with the skeptics: Tchaikovsky had seen Excelsior in Naples and thought its subject “inexpressibly stupid”, and Petipa and the “old titans” (as they were referred to) at the Imperial Theaters, including Vsevolozhsky, were equally unimpressed. One dancer recalled seeing Petipa at a féerie slumped in the stalls with his head hung in despair.

Yet The Sleeping Beauty was itself a ballet-féerie — not a “sellout” but an astute artistic counterattack designed to beat the Italians at their own game while at the same time affirming the aristocratic heritage of the Russian ballet. It marked a sharp departure from the exotic and Romantic ballets of the past and had none of the charming village boys or ghostly, spirit-like ballerinas coveted on the St. Petersburg ballet stage. Nor was Beauty a slavish reprise of Perrault’s fairy tale, for although Perrault had originally written it as a tribute to Louis XIV’s “modern” France, it was Vsevolozhsky who introduced the lavish grand siècle setting. The ballet opens in the 16th century with the birth of a young princess who is cursed by an evil fairy and condemned to death upon her coming of age. The good (Lilac) fairy, however, softens the sentence and when the princess pricks her finger on a spindle the entire French court falls into a deep sleep, only to be awakened one hundred years later to the glorious reign of the Sun King. As a story, it was thin (one disgruntled critic complained, “They dance, they fall asleep, they dance again”), but that was the point: The Sleeping Beauty was not a narrative pantomime ballet in the old sense at all. It was about the court and its formal ceremonies — a royal birth and coming of age, a wedding and celebration. It was a sympathetic ritual reenactment of the courtly principles of classical ballet and Imperial Russia alike.

Petipa took seriously the 17th century setting: he studied pictures of the Sun King and made careful notes about Apollo and the “fairies with long trains, as drawn on the ceilings of Versailles.” He read about old court dances and pored over Perrault’s works, carefully cutting out and saving illustrations. Vsevolozhsky spared no cost in the sets and costumes (the ballet absorbed more than a quarter of the 1890 annual production budget for the Imperial Theaters) and brightly colored silk, velvet, gold and silver embroidery, brocade, furs, and plumes were all in abundant display, giving the production a vibrant, candy-coated appeal. This impressive pomp and pageantry was never stuffy or bombastic, and the ballet had many entertaining fairytale characters drawn from other Perrault stories, such as Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, and Puss-in-Boots, whose whimsical dances lightened the last act. The apotheosis, however, struck a high note: against a backdrop of Versailles with terraces, fountains and the grande pièce d’eau, audiences were given a vision of “Apollo in the costume of Louis XIV lit by the sun and surrounded by fairies.” The ballet ended triumphantly with a musical quotation from the French popular tune celebrating an earlier French king, “Vive Henri IV!”

Just as the fairies in the prologue endowed the baby princess with gifts of beauty, wit, grace, dance, song and music, so The Sleeping Beauty civilized and refined the ballet-féerie, bringing it up to meet the elevated standards of a classical art. Tchaikovsky’s music set the tone, and its sophisticated, graceful classicism and eloquent Russian sweep presented Petipa with unprecedented choreographic challenges. Many critics found the music too operatic, and the dancers complained bitterly that it was difficult to move to. Accustomed to the predicable rhythms and simple, programmatic structure of Pugni and Minkus, Petipa pressed himself — and his dancers — to find newly suitable movements. Ironically, when searching for material he drew precisely on the Italian techniques he had so lamented. Indeed, the title role was performed by the Milanese dancer Carlotta Brianza (a veteran Excelsior performer), and Enrico Cecchetti was cast as the evil fairy Carabosse and in the difficult Bluebird Variation.

Petipa, however, did more than just repeat the tricks he learned from these Italians. He had a concrete, technical mind — he was interested in the mechanics of the steps and readily grasped the Italian innovations, particularly in pointe work — but he also had a deep appreciation of the architecture and physics of ballet, and he knew, or learned, how to refine and discipline their bombast and enthusiasm to give them a depth and dimension they lacked hitherto. In the Rose Adagio, for example, in which the princess is courted by four princes hoping to win her hand in marriage, the ballerina must balance on one leg as each of her suitors takes her hand and then leaves her to make way for the next. This kind of balance, in which the ballerina is left standing perilously alone on a single pointe, was a typical Italian stunt. But Petipa transformed it into a poetic metaphor. Sustained by the lyricism of Tchaikovsky’s music, the ballerina’s balance represents her independence and strength of character: it was no longer a trick but a test of free will.

So it was with the charming solo dances for each of the six fairies in the ballet’s prologue. These dances are all perfectly constructed models of classical principles. Again, Petipa did not shy away from virtuosity — the dances are full of difficult jumps on pointe, multiple turns, and fast footwork — but he tamed these bravura steps, ordered them, and pinned them into elegant, architectonic, and musically disciplined phrases. They look like scintillating aphorisms, the dance equivalent of La Bruyère’s sharp-tongued maxims or the conversational wit of les précieuses. Each dance works on many levels: it traces a symmetrical path across the floor (recalling Feuillet) with clear lines and sharp diagonals, for example, and these same lines and diagonals are then reflected and reproduced in the geometry of the steps themselves. But it was not just the construction of the dances that was so impressive; it was the way that dancers moved to Tchaikovsky’s music. It is difficult today to imagine just how different these dances must have been to perform. Tchaikovsky’s music brought out a whole new range and tone color in the human body, a nuance and subtlety that Minkus or Pugni could never inspire.

Even today’s most skilled performers find Petipa’s fairy variations a test of classical precision: the slightest false move or cheat — a leg straying off center or a step out of line — immediately shows and throws the whole dance into disarray, as if a poem had been scanned poorly or a column in a Greek temple carelessly distorted. Performing these dances well is a matter of technical acuity and cast-iron discipline but also of style: a dancer cannot plausibly get through them without a modicum of charm. The steps and music — not to mention the luxurious costumes — make dancers move like courtiers, with chest open and a light, high center of gravity.

No acting was necessary: Beauty had very little “he said, she said” pantomime, and the mime and dance sequences were not musically distinct or set apart, as they had been customarily. The gestures and the dances flowed together seamlessly, and Petipa and Tchaikovsky thus quietly returned ballet to one of its original premises: mime and dance were a natural extension of the noble comportment that Russian courtiers had been practicing and perfecting for nearly two centuries. They meshed so beautifully because they came from a single source, just as they had in the grand siècle: court etiquette.

Audiences, or at least critics, were disoriented: Beauty did not fit into any of the old categories, and many saw it as little more than an empty parade of “too luxurious” sets and costumes. “A ballet, as we understand it?” one indignantly squealed. “No! It is the complete decline of choreographic art!” If there was a reference point, it lay in the decorative rather than the performing arts. Beauty bore a striking resemblance to Fabergé’s exquisitely rendered objets de luxe. These ornamental pieces, including the famous Fabergé eggs, were enormously sought after by the tsar and the Russian elite at the time. Their superior craftsmanship, hyperrefinement, and meticulous, detailed re-creation of a world-in-a-shell had an intense appeal for an elite increasingly in retreat from the social and political problems facing their country. Fabergé reproduced the court in miniature; Beauty put it on the stage. The similarities were not lost on a younger generation of artists, including several who would later go on to create the Ballets Russes. They rightly saw that sealed within The Sleeping Beauty lay a whole way of life and “world of art”.

The Sleeping Beauty was thus the first truly Russian ballet. It was an impressive act of cultural absorption: this was no longer Russians imitating the French but instead a pitch-perfect summation of the rules and forms that had shaped the Russian court since Peter the Great. With Beauty, Petipa found a way to take out the seams of French ballet, to expand its technique and expressivity while paradoxically reinforcing its strict formal rules and proportions. And if the ballet’s grand scale seemed to some a capitulation to féerie and spectacle, it could also be read as an exaltation of the dignity and noble ideals of an aristocratic art. But Beauty also showed that high court ballet could meet popular theater and assimilate that and the Italian techniques too, folding them both into a newly Russian style of dance. It is no accident that the ballet flowed from the imagination of a great Russian composer working in conjunction with a Francophile St. Petersburger and a Russified Frenchman, and that its cast was led by Italians with Russians filling the ranks.

The key to the ballet’s enduring appeal, however, was Tchaikovsky. It is a point worth emphasizing: Tchaikovsky was the first composer of real stature to see ballet as a substantial art, and his music lifted dance onto a new plane. Before Tchaikovsky, music for ballet had been tied to dance forms and rhythms, and (later) to programmatic music or vaudeville tunes designed to illustrate and narrate pantomimed action. None of this was necessarily to be regretted, well into the 19th century ballet composers across Europe had produced lovely and serviceable ballet scores, from Adolphe Adam’s Giselle and Léo Delibes’s Sylvia (a ballet Tchaikovsky himself greatly admired) in Paris to the melodic dances of the “big three” in St. Petersburg: Riccardo Drigo, Pugni (both Italians), and Ludwig Minkus (who was Austrian). However, these composers tended to follow rather than lead, and their music enhanced and illustrated but rarely challenged — much less upset — the way that dancers moved.

Not so with Tchaikovsky. It was not merely that The Sleeping Beauty was a powerful symphonic score that stood on its own merits, without Petipa’s dances. What mattered was the way the music worked on the human body and spirit. Even today, Tchaikovsky’s music pushes dancers to move with a fullness and subtlety that few other composers then or since have inspired. It is no accident that Tchaikovsky’s music was initially perceived by some as too operatic or big or difficult for the public, and especially the dancers, to fathom. Human bodies did not — never had — moved that way before. And yet the change was also perfectly natural, scaled to St. Petersburg and their own lives.

Petipa became a great choreographer because of Tchaikovsky, and he knew it: his memoirs pay touching tribute to the composer and he was well aware of the momentous opportunity Vsevolozhsky had afforded him. Tchaikovsky was pleased too, and Modest recalled the composer’s delight with “the miracles of elegance, luxury, originality in the costumes and scenery, and with the inexhaustible grace and variety of Petipa’s fantasy.” And if Alexander III failed to appreciate the ballet’s significance, commenting dryly that it seemed to him “very nice”, the public was enchanted: The Sleeping Beauty was performed more than twenty times in 1890–91, accounting for more than half of the ballet performances that season. Modest wrote to the composer: “Your ballet has become a kind of obsession…. people have ceased saying to each other ‘How are you?’ Instead, they ask, ‘Have you seen The Sleeping Beauty?’”

Little bears can finally answer, Yes!

At Festival Theatre, Adelaide

Luckily, The Australian Ballet has revived The Sleeping Beauty again this year, for a season in Adelaide.

The Australian Ballet’s ravishingly beautiful production of The Sleeping Beauty, directed by David McAllister, sold out when it premiered in Sydney in 2015, and then subsequently in Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane.

Artistic director David McAllister’s reimagining of the fairytale, first choreographed by Marius Petipa in 1890, was one of the company’s biggest-ever hits upon its 2015 debut. It was also the most expensive. So no point having its 300 bespoke costumes, 100 wigs and hats, and 130 pairs of fairy wings – altogether said to have used 5,000 metres of tulle – gathering dust…

The costumes are stunning and the sets are lavish. Not entirely out-of-place at the court of Louis XIV! Gabriela Tylesova’s wonderland includes floral garlands, marble columns, three massive chandeliers for the finale and a princess casket that must be seen to be believed: something like a massive Faberge egg with a bed of pink roses, it wouldn’t be a bad place to kip for a hundred years.

This ballet features exquisite solos and group routines that are danced in perfect unison. The sequence of whirling leaps from a lovesick Prince Désiré was breathtaking. It’s a ballet full of entrancing moments – the Rose Adage, the vision scene, the Bluebird Pas de deux – and the appearance of Aurora’s six fairy godmothers at the baby princess’ christening is one of the most charming of these.

(L-R) Natasha Kusen as The Fairy of Grace, Sarah Thompson as The Fairy of Musicality, Valerie Tereshchenko as The Lilac Fairy, Sharni Spencer as the Fairy of Generosity, Dana Stephensen as The Fairy of Temperament and Amanda McGuigan as The Fairy of Joy (at the front)

There is no Fairy of Mischief! Isabelle volunteers 🙂

Robyn Hendricks, as Princess Aurora, lit up the stage, and she is blessed with remarkable balance. Not many ballerinas could stand en pointe for as long as Robyn Hendricks does while letting her suitors down gently. A ballet first-timer could appreciate her athleticism; a veteran, her technical precision.

Robyn Hendricks as Princess Aurora and Ty King Wall as Prince Désiré

One didn’t need the program notes to know that Alice Topp as Carabosse, stalking the stage in flowing black and giving an evil eye for the ages, was the baddie of the piece.

Alice Topp as Carabosse

The storytelling is crystal clear – Princess Aurora is cursed by the witch Carabosse for being left off the invitation list to Aurora’s christening. Carabosse proclaims the princess will die on her 16th birthday, but the Lilac Fairy, who comes late to the party, announces Aurora will merely sleep for 100 years and be woken by a handsome prince. In Act III Aurora and Désiré’s wedding is celebrated with a masked ball with guests dressed as fairy-tale characters.

An altogether sparkly night! Even ballet skeptics are unlikely to fall asleep during this Beauty.

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