Dear Tropical Tutu Brigade,
did you ever own a ballerina music box? Or perhaps your mother or grandmother or great aunt had one? I remember winding, opening and delighting in watching the tiny dancer twirl to picked and plucked strains of Clair de Lune, played here by Laurens Goedhart. (SoundCloud / IMDb / Website) [CC BY 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons.
Last week, over a coffee and a gelati, I thought back to that little muse in her taffeta-lined box and wondered why she fascinated me as a young girl, and indeed why does the nostalgia for a ballerina music box grip me still?
You see, I’ve decided her glitter and thrall lie in her composition as an automaton, or as Krystek (2011) says, a puppet that is not controlled by a person. She is self-moving and eternally fixed in a perfect state of grace. Perhaps then, she exists as a mini idol of dance; the music box her shrine?
Speaking of temples and idols, the ancient Greeks were great makers of automata. Whitaker (2012) notes that the physicist Heron from Alexandria (c. 10-70CE) recorded how automata ‘enable wonders in temples,’ like ‘statues that pour wine’. I do remember being mesmerised by my petite puppet in her music box. Like the ancient temple automata, she moved transfixed in a gentle act of worship to the stage, performance and dreams.
I ordered another coffee. The sun disappeared into the Arafura Sea, I thought about the debates between the philosophers Noverre and La Mettrie in the early 1800s that the English Professor Austin (2016) writes about. The animated pair, Noverre and La Mettrie, argued passionately over the role of the soul in human movement.
Can the automaton who performs a step or a pose faultlessly, effortlessly and endlessly replace the muscled, sinewy response to the brain’s command and will to move? A current take on this idea is discussed by Waldinger (2017) in his blog, classical ballet and all that jazz.
Where to now with our musical doll in a box? For me, she continues the wonderment I have for mechanisation and fosters my need for nostalgia and reminiscing.
By Veronica M Hempel