Monday, November 12, 2007

Art, Ballet and a Book.....

Well we had a busy weekend, spending Saturday in the city where we tackledthe Christmas shopping. I generally enjoy shopping, but buying presentsfor vast quantities of people becomes traumatic! Let's just say, lots of people are getting books this Christmas.

We went to see Translucent at the NSW Art Gallery, as it was ending yesterday. It was an exhibition of jade carvings from China's Forbidden City. The carvings were amazing. Some dated back from 3000 BC. I particularly likedthe carved animals of the 18th century. There was a gorgeous carving of a dog which apparently resulted from the obsession of the Chinese of that period with all things European, as the dog is of a breed not native to China. I also appreciated the detail of 'nature' as presented in the medieval pieces - the maple leaves, for instance, were so beautiful and dainty.

In the evening we saw the Australian Ballet perform Destiny. A celebration of the dance of the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo, the evening comprised two ballets: Les Presages and Symphonie Fantastique. Les Presages was a recreation of the 1933 ballet choreographed by Leonide Massine. Set to the music ofTchaikovsky it was spectacular and I loved it, which is unusual as I usually prefer ballets of the romantic era. I particularly coveted the pink and blue leotard dresses of two of the leads. The Symphonie Fantastique ballet was created specially for the occasion (though the Ballet Russes did perform a ballet of the same name). The music was that of Berlioz. I thought it was very clever; particularly the synchronous movements of the dancers used in several sections but, overall, it did not hold as much appeal for me as Les Presages. As a side note, I highly recommend the Ballet Russes documentary that was released last year.

I did manage to fit in a bit of reading too. At my husband's urging I read Undiplomatic Activities by Richard Woolcott. This is a bit outside my normal reading scope - I don't read much non-fiction. Woolcott was an Australian career diplomat; who ended up as Head of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. For the most part, this short book is a collection of humorous anecdotes about awry diplomatic incidents. However, it is complemented byWoolcott's cautionary commentary. I think an extract serves best to give a flavour of the book:

Ministers need to accept the limitations that Australia, as a middle-power, faces in the international community. John Howard's criticism of American Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama's approach to Iraq in 2007 was certainly unwise and suggests a sense of self-importance somewhat at odds with reality. Downer has a sense of humour and describes criticism of him as like 'rubber bullets of a Sherman tank'. In some cases, however, it might have been helpful to him and to the country to have taken some notice of the so-called rubber bullets.

I am reminded of two revealing historical episodes. When told of Russian naval activity in the Pacificic before the Russian revolution, a minister was quoted as saying, 'I warn the Tsar'. A British foreign secretary, taking it for granted that London was at the very centre of the world, responded to reports of damage to the undersea cables between England and France during a fierce storm in the Channel, by saying that, 'unfortunately the Continent has been isolated'. A failure to adopt a realistic perspective of a nation's place in world affairs can leave one sounding rather foolish.

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