Nervous

We arrived at the ruins of the burnt-out observatory at Mount Stromlo before the sun set yesterday, excited about the performance we were about to see: “Nervous” by the Australian Dance Party, an hour of contemporary dance, music and lighting.

At eight o’clock, inside the structure in the light of the early evening, four dancers began their interpretation of the inner turmoil of nervousness, while the audience waited outside in anticipation, peeking in through the doorway. At last we were invited into the space to find a chair or floor cushion to settle into for the performance as the dancers slowly and aimlessly walked about the circular centre of the floor, confronting each other and almost colliding, wondering about the thing that was making them nervous.

And then they seemed to come together in harmony and moved as one.

Once the audience was comfortably seated, the dancers picked up speed, and the idea moved from wondering to worrying. The nerves were back in control, and we soon learnt why, through the dialogue of the blonde dancer: “Hey, there’s something I really need to talk to you about.” We heard it over and over in different phrasings, as she talked to herself or moved up to the audience and addressed them directly. Hello, there’s something…. No. Hey, how are you? There’s something I… No. Ahhhh, there’s something I really… No. Ughhh, just act natural… Why is this so hard?…

And as she practised her speech, the other three were her conscience, the angels and devils telling her she was doing it right and doing it wrong and she was hopeless at this but had to do it anyway. The four became one conscience and approached the audience, and again the blonde spoke, Hey, there’s something I really…, while a second dancer held her breath, another writhed and the fourth groaned painfully. All of that stuff that goes on inside us while we’re trying to appear calm and in control.

Eventually the nervousness conquered its victims and they could do no more than lie on the cold concrete floor in the purple light of defeat…

Over all of this movement was the intense electronic music composed by Ben Worth (my son), pulsating and vibrating and making us physically vibrate with it. It was loud and soft and occasionally absent but it always returned. And there was Robbie, the lighting guy up there on the platform with Ben, playing his lights over the dancers as darkness descended. Robbie’s light show became one of the players playing with the dancers’ nerves.

Ben, left, and Robbie, right, on the platform behind one of the old concrete arms that supported the telescope in the past.

By nine o’clock, the sky above the roofless structure was black and starry with a crescent moon and nearby Venus growing brighter by the minute. Some cords from the floor became a prop that lit up and tangled about them, winding around and wrapping them up. The music stopped, the darkness was almost complete. Someone began clapping, and we realised this was the end.

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Weekly photo challenge: Weight(less)

Today when I was out and about I stopped by the Mount Stromlo Observatory. In January thirteen years ago the Observatory’s large telescopes were destroyed or rendered useless by a massive bushfire, and now the buildings have become much-visited ruins. Here are some photos of one that feels strangely weighty and weightless when you know that heavy equipment used to occupy this cylindrical little structure, but exists no more. Now there is only air and echoes and imagination.

When I was in the shell of the former Yale Colombia Refractor telescope, I thought of the dome that burned and the heavy supports for the telescope that survived the fire and that now make dramatic photo props. It’s a special experience to enter the round space, which looks like nothing but a sad burnt-out shell; but there is always something good to be found in something ugly, you just have to look and think hard enough. Here it’s the echoes that come back at you when you open your mouth to exclaim amazement, and it’s the surprise view when you look up and see the rusted wheels that enabled the dome to turn, still sitting on top of the wall, silhouetted against a blue Australian sky.

Yale Colombia telescope ruin1

A few days after the fire, it looked like this:

Yale Colombia telescope, 19 January 2003, Image courtesy of National Library of Australia
Yale Colombia Refractor telescope, 19 January 2003, Image courtesy of National Library of Australia

The year before the fire, it looked like this:

Fisheye image of Yale Columbia refractor at Mount Stromlo
Fisheye image of Yale Columbia Refractor at Mount Stromlo, 2002, Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Since the 2003 fires, there have been no working research telescopes at Mount Stromlo. However, offices and workshops for astronomers and astronomy students from the Australian National University are still situated here.

Thanks WordPress for the photo challenge, and for suggesting that a collapsed ruin evokes weight(lessness)…

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