Sophie Coulombeau started off the proceedings with a talk titled ‘Life is a Magic Lanthorn’. Magic lantern, or phantasmagoria, shows were the forerunners of slide shows, cinema (and PowerPoint). They projected images printed or painted on to glass slides onto a transcluent screen, which could be pushed to and fro to make the image loom closer to the audience or recede into the back of the stage. Later developments attempted to generate animation so that the phantasmagoria images appeared to move, anticipating pre-filmic experiments in making still pictures approximate moving life, such as the zoetrope of the 1830s. 18th-century magic lantern shows were used for public entertainment, family shows at home, and sometimes for polemical reasons, such as anti-French and anti-Catholic propaganda. Many phantasmagoric moving images are gathered at http://dickbalzer.tumblr.com.
Opening out the discussion to consider the broader cultural discourse to which these new media were applied, Sophie considered Hester Thrale Piozzi’s statement: ‘Life is a Magic Lanthorn, certainly, and I think more so to Women, than to Men’, and discussed how the disjunctive, fragmented life of women under coverture resembled the disjointed images of Magic Lanthorn shows.
Our second speaker, Melanie Bigold introduced her talk about ballet and the vocabulary of dance, which dates to the 16th century. She suggested that dance draws on a dialogue between two traditions: disciplinary courtly dance and populist forms of pantomime and commedia dell’arte. While the former focused on the ascension of the dancer away from the sublunary corruptions of the mundane world, the latter offered an opportunity to performers to interact in class-defying ways.
We watched clips from the Ballet Evolved YouTube channel, including this useful introduction to the first four centuries of dance, as well as this dedicated piece on Marie Taglioni (1804–84), who reintroduced aristocratic daintiness to ballet. The fascinating clips also demonstrated the increasing push towards exaggerated formalism in the display of the ballerina.
The event ended with some reflection on the CRECS ‘experiment’ and an appeal for feedback from our attendees, who continue to include a healthy mix of undergraduates, postgraduates and staff. Attendees felt sessions had been varied, and contained new and unusual subject matter, while occasionally overlapping usefully with course content. It was felt that sessions were pitched correctly: neither dumbed down, nor overly specialist. The provision of short, concise talks helped retain interest and ensure there was something for everyone. The events were praised for their ‘informality, energy, enthusiasm and excitement’.
The question was raised: how long can we draw on our own specialisms while keeping content fresh? The potential to introduce external speakers, or shorts talk from PhD researchers was discussed, as well as mixing up the format with occasional film screenings. In addition, events could be opened up to involve colleagues from other humanities disciplines, such as Welsh, history, music and gender studies.
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