Monthly Archives: November 2009

Burnt oranges and ballet music

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orangeI reached a point in a recipe once where I wondered whether I could really be bothered to dry-fry coriander seeds and then crush them. The person who’d written the recipe said something about this having the intoxicating smell of burnt oranges, and that kind of convinced me.  Ever since, I’ve always taken the trouble, not least because the smell really is bewitching, and does smell like burnt oranges.

But then, to be realistic, of course it doesn’t. I’ve never smelled a burnt orange, and when I think about it, I should think by the time you’ve got enough heat to burn an orange, you wouldn’t smell anything anyway. At the most, just a pungent charred smell like a burnt saucepan.

That doesn’t seem to matter, however: even before I’d smelled heated coriander seeds, I could imagine the idea of burnt oranges as a nice smell, even though that concept has no real counterpart in my world.

Where’s this going? Well, the same thing applies to music. If you ever watch two dancers rehearsing, let’s say the Don Quixote pas de deux to a piano, they dance as if there was an orchestra there. They make all the gestures and expressions that go with the idea of soaring strings, singing violin solos, crashing percussion and huge orchestral cadences.   Teachers say things like ‘you can hear it in the music’ when you patently can’t. And audiences don’t see anything strange about dancers making orchestral-sized gestures to piano-sized music.  There’s something weird in all this – as if ‘the music’ is something that audience, dancer and musician collectively create mentally, rather than being physically present in the room.

A bit like the smell of burnt oranges.

If you want to show your buttocks in Idaho, put on a ballet

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From the Argus Observer in Idaho comes a lovely story about naked hockey players that would have delighted the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, author of Distinction, in which he argues that social difference is legitimized through culture.

As a warm-up to his theme, Bourdieu cites in the introduction to the book  two reviews of nudity on the Parisian stage. The first describes the ‘inviolable purity’ of French ballerinas at the Opéra, even when they appear naked, the second is a ‘disgusted of Tunbridge Wells (or whatever the French equivalent is)’ review of the musical Hair. Bourdieu’s point is that nudity seems to be OK as long as it happens in the right circles and with the right level of abstraction (i.e. naked sylphs) but loses its legitimacy in a musical like Hair.

So back to Idaho and the Idaho Junior Steelheads hockey team, who have been temporarily banned from using Idaho Ice World as a punishment for playing ‘strip hockey’, losing a garment for every missed shot and so on. One 17-year old got as far as showing his buttocks, which caused a neighbouring ice-rink visitor to complain, and now the police are investigating.

The Argus Observer explains: “The city forbids people from showing their buttocks in public, largely to curb erotic dance parlors. Exemptions include dance, ballet, music or dramatic performances, or artistic displays.”

Now that’s handy, because as part of my research for another project, I’m having to come up with a working definition of ‘ballet’. But now I have at least one which even the police department of Idaho will be happy with: ballet is an art form where you can show your buttocks in public without getting arrested.