Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Dancing Sky

This top shot gracing the unusually nice front page of this morning's Adelaide Advertiser shows two of the biggest and most breathtaking balloons from last night's opening of the 2006 Adelaide Festival of Arts, when the Italian company Studio Festi put on their spectacular Il Cielo che Danza: the Dancing Sky.

My mates and I were five of the 30,000 people who streamed in from all points of the compass from about five o'clock onwards -- the show didn't begin till nine -- to Adelaide's Elder Park, on the south bank of the Torrens.

The show had been designed for the setting, and combined spectacle (on the scale indicated in this photo) with acrobats, ballerinas, a medley of immediately recognisable classical music, and some amazing lighting effects all along the river and its banks: trees lit with red and purple and a ghostly blue-green; flying ballerinas whose shadows loomed hugely on the flat planes of the Festival Centre roofs; multiple reflections and lights on the water.

A more than slightly surreal narrative, related by a mellifluous female Italian voice with undertones of bemusement at the strange script she was reading out, tied the various different bits of the spectacle together with a sort of bush-ballad-inspired magic realism, while the thousands and thousands of people who had come out on a hot Adelaide night with their folding chairs, Eskies and picnic rugs listened to the bells of nearby St Peters Cathedral ring out over the river.

People settled down thick as locusts all along the southern bank of the river all the way from the Victoria Bridge to the back of the Conference Centre as the sun set downstream, dusk fell and the white paper lanterns were lit. There were people hanging off the various balconies and lining all the steps leading down from the Festival Centre and the 19th-century rotunda that dominates Elder Park would have had people swinging from the rafters if it had rafters, which I'm fairly sure it doesn't.

The show itself was beautiful if a bit unfocused, with the giant balloons literally breathtaking and some of the flying acrobats and dancers whizzing through the air like giant luminous creatures of the night sky. Acrobats rode bikes through thin air and a ballerina pirouetted fetchingly on a white piano suspended over the river -- complete with airborne pianist on stool -- before leaping up from it and flying away.

And while all this was going on, the business of the city went on as usual, lit by its own usual lights. Planes flew in, one by one, descending into the west towards the airport. Trains pulled out and arrived at the station. Cars crossed bridges and drove up hills in the distance, and street lights and park lamps were reflected in the water of the river as they always are. In the tall Hyatt on nearby North Terrace, lights came on and went off in rooms as people arrived or departed or settled down in their high rooms to sleep. Across the river and through the trees, a gigantic golden fingernail moon was blending in with the glowing spheres that floated above the water.

When you're in your own city, experiences and memories of any particular place are pasted on in transparent layers. My memories of Elder Park include rolling sideways down its grassy slopes as a small child; snogging with my first-ever boyfriend in the shade one Saturday afternoon; sitting on a balcony with a gin and tonic and listening to Boz Scaggs rehearse over at Memorial Drive one hot dusk in 1978; and walking along the river's edge a few years ago with a visiting Melbourne friend as we watched her daughter and her nephew -- both fourteen, blonde and gorgeous -- clowning in a blue paddle-boat in the middle of the river, watched by a couple of rather disapproving and stitched-up-looking swans.

And now today there's a new layer of bright images, settling into place.


ThirdCat said...

you mean you were on the slopes of elder park instead of at home watching the great debate?

Pavlov's Cat said...

Erm ... 'fraid so.

Rann must have gone straight from the studio to the the river, where he was well inside his comfort zone -- he did his Festival-opening thing and welcomed the performers in beautiful Italian. Mind you, the welcome from the Kaurna elder was first and best-received. How sad is it that the federal libs have so white-breaded the country that something like a Kaurna welcome has come to be a happy surprise?

ThirdCat said...

the Great Debate was pre-recorded apparently. Not that I care.

re the Kaurna welcome, I lived in new zealand for a while (and I must tell you that when we left, we transported our rspca-adopted cat all the way back here at not inconsiderable expense, but that's completely not the point of this comment) and the maori welcome wasn't even commented on, it was just there. always there. I would never say that the Treaty has left everything Hunky Dory over there in aotearoa, but what a difference it makes

did you see me at writers' week today? i was the one with the out of control children running up and down the hill and jumping in that bloody puddle of mud - how did that mud get there? this is adelaide in march

Pavlov's Cat said...

I certainly saw the puddle, created with a hose I should think but who knows why, and there were some nice children having a very good time running up and down the steep slope right at the back of the East Tent. So I probably did see you. If you stayed till 4.30 when the Premier's Lit Awards were on, you would have seen M. Rann being unrecognisably relaxed and nice as he read out the winners' names and handed out the cheques.

FXH said...

It took me 20 years to rediscover how good Boz Scaggs is.

genevieve said...

Boz Scaggs was rather fine. But how about Robert Palmer - there's your white soul singer of choice.
PC, this is a lovely piece. Love the newspaper cover.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Robert Palmer ... oh, my.

Whenever I hear more than about half a bar of Johnny & Mary, I can hear, smell, see and taste 1980 in its entirety. Not a wholly happy experience, but v. v. intense.

Lucy Tartan said...

I was at a free open-air opera in a park in Peter Costello's electorate two weeks ago and the local mayor opened the show with the form of words that acknowledges the traditional owners of the land - the first time it's ever been done at a council-organised event in that ward - and the crowd went wild. In a good way. Except it's not that good, when yo think about it. Or not entirely good.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Not wholly good -- because it took so long to happen?

I must say one thing for the former SA Liberal arts minister Di Laidlaw: she was the first (and still the only, actually) politician of any stripe I ever saw who took the trouble to actually learn some Kaurna so she could respond properly to a traditional welcome.

Lucy Tartan said...

Not good at all that it took so long to happen.