Category Archives: Just Having Fun

Elevenses in the Land of the Sweets

It’s that time of the year when little bears go for dessert to the theatre 🙂

As the first strands of that unforgettable music opened the winter scene, little bears were immediately transported the 19th century days of E.T.A. Hoffmann who wrote the original story, Alexandre Dumas who adapted it for the ballet and Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky, who composed the score for the ballet.

The fantastical second act – a confetti of divertissements – is a homage in dance to the 19th century’s most precious foodstuffs. Today, those divertissements may seem random, but look a little closer and you’ll find they’re united by a whimsical, rather scrummy theatrical plan.

This was the age when great wooden chests of tea swung over the bows of ships from China, when the aroma of coffee evoked dreams of Arabia, when candies were bestowed on only the most fortunate of Russian children at Christmas time. In 1892, when The Nutcracker premiered and the curtain lifted on the Kingdom of the Sweets, these were some of the gastronomic wonders that the Imperial Ballet brought to life.

Inspired by Hoffmann’s tale, the Kingdom of the Sweets was formed as a lusty representation of the toys and treats that every affluent St Petersburg family knew and loved. Food was the theme that the divertissements brought to life, beginning with the Spanish “chocolate” dance, which recalled the introduction of chocolate beans to Europe following the Spanish Conquest in South America. The sultry strains of the Arabian dance follow, evoking the warmth of the Middle East, where coffee was cultivated for centuries. Tea – represented by the sprightly Chinese dance – was traditionally the most recognisable victual in the ballet, and several choreographers incorporated tea-drinking gestures or even gigantic teapots into the variation.

WA Ballet – Spanish “chocolate” dance
WA Ballet – Arabian “coffee” dance
WA Ballet – Chinese “tea” dance

Interrupting the banquet was originally a buffons or jesters dance (set to the stirring Russian trepak) and the Dance of the Mirlitons, with its delightful scoring for flutes. What is a mirliton, you ask? Confusingly, a mirliton is both a small sweet French cake and a type of musical instrument that produces “a coarse, reedy sound”. It was the popular toy instrument that the ballet’s creators originally had in mind, though at an early stage, according to author Robert Greskovic, Marius Petipa considered identifying the dance number with “cream pastries”. Yum!

WA Ballet – Jesters dance
WA Ballet – Dance of the Mirlitons

Seen less often nowadays is the first sweets divertissement, featuring Mother Ginger (Mere Gigogne) and her clutch of playful Polichinelles. A character with roots in the commedia dell’arte, Mother Ginger usually appears in a comically oversize skirt from under which young children emerge to dance the part of the Polichinelle candies. The divertissement took inspiration from a well-known candy tin that sold in Russia in the 1890s, formed in the shape of a woman wearing a large skirt. Naturally, the tin opened at the bottom to reveal the bonbons inside.

WA Ballet – Nutcracker flowers

Finally, following Tchaikovsky’s famous Waltz of the Flowers, the Sugar Plum Fairy makes her eagerly awaited appearance. This fairy is no glorified prune. The rounded sweets were a confectioner’s pièce de résistance,consisting of layers of sugar syrup skilfully hardened around a caraway or cardamom seed, or an almond. Confectionary historians have described the process as one of the most difficult and tedious to master – not for nothing does ‘plum’ mean all manner of good things.

WA Ballet – Sugar Plum Fairy

One child who succumbed to the delights of this delectable cavalcade was a young George Balanchine, who danced in The Nutcracker as a student at the Imperial Ballet School. Like so many of his contemporaries, Balanchine grew to appreciate the miracle of sugar. In the heart of St Petersburg stood Eliseyevsky’s emporium, which dazzled the little Balanchivadze with its great high windows, its palace-like halls and opulent chandeliers. It boasted “sweets and fruits from all over the world, like in A Thousand and One Nights,” Balanchine remembered. “I used to walk past and look in the windows often. I couldn’t buy anything there, it was too expensive.”

(The shop still exists and is now called Kupetz Eliseevs Food Hall and under its current management it has been restored to its former glory to the finest of details.)

Two World Wars and a revolution later, he also bore memories of the horrors of starvation. Along with fellow Russian choreographer David Lichine, Balanchine would go on to create his own fabulous, mouth-watering vision of The Nutcracker. His 1955 production for the New York City Ballet replaced the mirlitons with marzipan shepherdesses and turned the buffons into candy cane. In 1958, Lichine, choreographing for London’s Festival Ballet (now English National Ballet) conjured roses atop a Christmas cake for the Waltz of the Flowers, and an interlude for children dressed as little cooks and waitresses.

Little bears like their Nutcracker sweet. Very sweet! With lots of chocolate, chocolate and coffee cake, tea cake, meringue cookies, cupcakes, lollipops….

Chocolate Day?

Look Sven, there’s chocolate, and chocolate biscuits, and chocolate marshmallows, and chocolate cake…

So is it Chocolate Day?

No Sven, it’s Frozen Day!

It’s only one more year until Frozen 2 is released!

And that means more Frozen dresses from Build a Bear! 🙂

One cannot have too many Frozen dresses…

Until then we can watch Olaf’s Frozen Adventures again 🙂

Dinner @ Bennelong Restaurant

Little bears are in Sydney to see, and hear, Daniel Barenboim and his legendary orchestra, Staatskapelle. The renowned maestro and his orchestra will celebrate the Romantic greats in three Australian exclusive performances at Sydney Opera House. We have tickets to two performances, having decided that one night of Brahms was enough. Besides, Brahms is no competition for a cherry jam lamington!

On the night of the first performance, little bears were under the same roof as the legendary orchestra, but at Bennelong restaurant to eat Peter Gilmore’s famous cherry jam lamington.

It was four years ago that Peter Gilmore took over the Bennelong site at Sydney Opera House. Apparently it was a Hollywood-style happy ending to what had been a drama-packed 12 months for Bennelong and Sydney Opera House. The controversy began with former tenant Guillaume’s Brahimi’s decision not to re-bid for the tender at the end of his lease in January 2014 following a Sydney Opera House decree for a more casual operation in the space.

The the three-level space was given a multi-million dollar makeover, and it opened mid 2015 with a signature Peter Gilmore dining room on the lower level, quick bites and drinks in the middle, and a casual restaurant/bar on the upper level.

Little bears couldn’t be happier with the change! The result is a beary friendly restaurant! 🙂

Princess Charlotte Bay bug dumpling
hispi cabbage, finger lime
nori, brown butter
Roast wagyu rump cap
cipollini & buckwheat pudding
horseradish emulsion
with broccolini and asparagus as a side dish

Peter Gilmore is famous for his desserts. Quay’s snow egg was a bucket list dining item for everyone in Sydney, and the lamington at Bennelong is starting to reach equal heights. When he took over Bennelong, Gilmore was inspired to create something as iconic as his new venue.

Cherry jam lamington

This is the Rolls Royce of lamingtons. Peter Gilmore’s take on the classic lamington is an ode to Australian nostalgia, elevated to the point of cult-dish status. On the plate: a square of cherry jam coconut ice-cream and sponge cake, coated in a glossy chocolate ganache, all surrounded by a halo of liquid nitrogen coconut milk parfait that acts as desiccated coconut. Amazing!

Cherry jam lamington

If you feel brave enough to tackle the nearly 50 separate steps needed to create the dessert, here is the recipe.

Content little bears 🙂

Lucky 13

It was on November 23, 1963, that BBC aired the first episode of Doctor Who, An Unearthly Child, and the first Doctor, played by William Hartnell, embarked on his adventures to save people and planets, by travelling in his magnificent time machine, aka the TARDIS.

Since then, November 23 has been known as Doctor Who Day or TARDIS Day. The TARDIS, which looks like a police box from the outside, is an acronym for Time and Relative Dimension in Space.

The Doctor’s TARDIS is an obsolete “Type 40 TT capsule” that he unofficially “borrowed” from the repair shop when he departed his home planet of Gallifrey. The TARDIS used to be able to blend itself to its surroundings but it got stuck as a police box in 1963 after the Chameleon Circuit developed a fault. Remarkable the creativity that can be unleashed to meet budget constraints 🙂

Apart from the ability to travel in space and time (and, on occasion, to other dimensions), the most remarkable characteristic of a TARDIS is that its interior is much larger than it appears from the outside. This is due to trans-dimensional engineering, because the exterior and interior of the TARDIS can exist in separate dimensions. See comment above 🙂

It can also exist at Lego exhibitions…

Tardis (75,000 bricks, 300 hours)

And on London streets 🙂

A (pretend) Tardis!

And the TARDIS has appeared on the Big Bang Theory 🙂

Every Saturday, Sheldon has awakened at 6:15, poured himself a bowl of cereal, added a quarter cup of 2% milk, sat in his spot on the couch, turned on BBC America and watched Doctor Who.

Today little bears have decided to finally see what all the fuss is about.

The fuss is very pretty 🙂

Last month, Jodie Whittaker made history becoming the first woman to play the lead role in Doctor Who in its 55-year history. About time! The episode The Woman Who Fell to Earth was an hour-long special introducing audiences to the 13th Doctor. The 13th Doctor is lively, warm, funny, energetic, inclusive – she’s the greatest friend you could wish to have as your guide around the universe.

Little bears are hooked! Now it’s time for Build a Bear to make Doctor Who costumes 🙂

A rarity in the show’s history, the episode was almost a soft reboot, having been made by a completely new production team with a brand new cast.

Mandip Gill, Bradley Walsh and Tosin Cole in Doctor Who series 11 (BBC)

The second episode of series 11 introduced the new TARDIS. Appearing at the episode’s conclusion, the new Tardis interior has been completely remodelled since the old design (created by the late Michael Pickwoad for Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi’s Doctors) was destroyed in the 2017 Christmas special, and it is revealed to viewers in an atmospheric scene that’s definitely one of the highlights of the Doctor’s adventure.

“Ohhh – you’ve redecorated!” the Doctor says as she takes her first steps inside. “I REALLY like it.” So do we.

Luckily, we don’t have to wake up at 6:15 on Saturdays to watch Doctor Who 🙂