Sunday, July 22, 2012

Toy Theatres - Part II

The Toy Becomes a Reality

On Mid-summer's Eve its a little difficult to get the full effect of the illuminations - including the fiery torches
burning at the corner's of the cupola - that have shown the way to Tivoli since the late 1800s.

When Copenhagen's Tivoli Pleasure Gardens opened in 1843 - as the Tivoli Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens -  it was all very temporary. The license to operate had been granted to Georg Carstensen on the provision that the buildings could be easily removed. The Park was located on the old rampart grounds - the pond now surrounded by restaurants and amusements was once part of the protective moat - and as there had been war within recent memory the grounds had to be able to be cleared in a hurry should there be need.

I couldn't find early prints of Tivoli but had these lithographs
by Alfred Jacobsen from the cutout set he designed of the Pantomime Theatre.
They give an idea of the ambiance of the early days of the Park.
So when the Park first opened a provisional outdoor stage was constructed - like most of the pavilions, in the Turkish style - just to the left of the main entrance to the Park. The first entertainments were what we would call today "variety" programmes - strong men, acrobats, a chorus line, singers and clowns. The following year pantomime was introduced into the program. It was a popular entertainment which had arrived in Denmark from England and Italy almost simultaneously in the late 1700s. The stories of the Price and Casorti families and how they eventually inter-mingled, both professionally and personally, the two traditions are well-known in the world of Danish theatre. Borrowing from both the physical school of the lazzi of the commedia dell'arte and the spectacular effects of the British pantomime they created an art form that was as distinctively Danish as the choreography of their contemporary August Bourneville. Not surprisingly Bourneville's dances appear in many performances at the theatre to this day.

The style of buildings leaned towards the Turkish back in the 1800s,
 today they are more eclectic.  But one thing has not changed: the illumination
of trees, bushes, buildings and gardens.  The only thing difference is that gas
 has been replaced by electricity.
By 1874 there was no question of the grounds being returned to their bellicose origins, the pleasure garden with its gardens, lakes, streams, games, kiosks, fireworks and brilliant illuminations had become one of the major attractions for Danes and visitors alike. The same year that Vilhelm Dahlerup designed the Royal Theatre  Bernhard Olsen, the new Park Director, commissioned him to design an outdoor theatre in the "Chinese" style and so the famous Pantomine theatre with its glorious Peacock curtain came into being. Dahlerup had never been to China but based his design on drawings given him by a Danish engineer who had worked in the Far East.  The Peacock curtain originate when Olsen saw the effect at a Parisian variety house of a fan that folded and then sank into the floor and wanted something similar for his outdoor stage. Who came up with the idea of the peacock tail is unknown and the mechanics (requiring four men to operate and are still used to this day) were the work of an anonymous stage carpenter. As with many theatres at the time the rigging and mechanical system was based on methods used in the Navy and on sailing ships of the period.

Last month when I finally - after more than 40 years - got to see the Chinese Theatre I was immediately struck by how brightly coloured it was. My little model had a more subdued palette but as I could not find any early photographs of the Theatre I'm not sure if it was actually the case or if it was only the signature style of Alfred Jacobsen's lithographs. Looking at other play sets published by the renowned lithographer I think that may well be the case. If the colouring is somewhat different the design has obviously not changed a great deal in the past 130-odd years.

The Chinese Theatre with its famous Peacock curtain in all its colourful glory - not quite
like my little model but just enchanting and as wonderful as I had hoped it would be.

Pleased to be here - ME? NO! Not me!

The building itself is simple brick and wood but as with all things theatrical it clothes its self in the illusion of the marvelous artifice of a Chinese Emperor's Palace - or at least Dahlerup's concept of what such a palace would look like. The bright colours are of symbolic significance in classical Chinese chromatology - the masculine and the feminine. The masculine support columns are red while the bearing vertical structures are the feminine yellow, green and blue.  And again as with all good theatrical illusions it is carried over even into the wings - in this case the sides of the theatre itself.  Nothing is allowed to break the illusion of  an enchanted Palace which has appeared by some magic amongst the, themselves magical,  trees, fountains and gardens in the middle of busy Copenhagen.

Even the sides of the theatre, containing dressing rooms and the mechanics for scene changes,
continue the illusion of a Chinese Palace in the heart of Copenhagen.

Traditionally, as with any Imperial palace, the roof is yellow and sports elaborate dragons to ward off evil spirits who may be lurking to try and spoil the fun. 

And floating above it all are the Chinese characters Yu Min Jie Le - a saying from Meng Zi, a disciple of Confucius, giving us the wise advise that Sharing with Others Brings Joy. Its a fitting motto for this little gem.

Anticipation builds as the Tivoli Pantomime Overture by Hans Christian  Lumbye, Tivoli's resident composer in the early years, begins and the audience waits for the Peacock to unfold its wings.

In the next few days I hope to have a video of bits and pieces of the lovely little pantomime we witnessed on our visit.

22 July - 1983:  Martial law in Poland is officially revoked.
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Debra She Who Seeks said...

What a beautiful theatre! And so vibrant! I'm glad you got to see it in person.

yvette said...

So, you were in a Chinese Dream too?