Astarte In Paisley

Take, if you will, the following group of words and and allow them to swim and mix and coalesce in your head: Greek mythology, simulated sex, paisley leotards, projectors, flowers, psychedelia, lotus tattoos, day-glo, multi-media, “hard rock” music, ballet… Now let me ask you, what single word might the synthesis of these things naturally result in as response? If you harumphed and murmured, “trainwreck” I’m right there with you. 

Evidently audiences in the 60’s and 70’s had other ideas because in 1967 a ballet came to the stage which became an absolute sensation. It was called Astarte, after a naked semitic Goddess of fertility, sexuality, and war, who’d eventually be absorbed by the Greeks under the name Aphrodite.

Choreographed and directed by one Robert Joffrey it was considered groundbreaking in its staging and it remains the only ballet to ever grace the cover of Time magazine. A spread featuring it’s two lead dancers recreating poses from the ballet was also published in Playboy 5 years later. It ran for just short of a decade.

The images which follow were created by photographer Herb Migdoll. They are not documentary shots of an actual performance but rather interpretations of what took place on the stage. They are montages, built up layer by layer, with multiple color photographs way back in the mists of pre-photoshop design.

Have a look—



I’m particularly fond of that last one for some reason.

Looking at these as a group I can’t help but think of Seth Rogan and Paul Rudd, on mushrooms, at Cirque Du Soleil, or indeed of my own experiences in a similar vein. It’s easy to see from the photos why the late 60’s / early 70’s audiences flocked to it. After all, the Pink Floyd Laserium light shows didn’t really take off until 1974.

Oddly the other thing which these bring to mind for me are “the future.” Seems ridiculous, I know, but I have so many science-fictional images which were produced in this era burnt into my mind that’s it’s a kind of pavlovian response. In as much, though we scoff instantly today at anything which produces the faintest whiff of goofy utopian hippy psychedelia, I can actually imagine a revival of Astarte being quite successful a millennia from now.

By then all the hippies and their spawn and their emulators and their collective patchouli cloud will be long gone. Time will do it’s little trick of erasing all the negatives and complete failures and hippies will be viewed, on decaying film reels, in grey concrete cities, as some kind of wonderful. A new mind-obliterating nano-drug will hit the streets and blam! out will come the day-glo paisley leotards.

Actually, now that I think about it, today, with theater evidently completely out of ideas, with every shitty band having a show cobbled around its music and with scores of movies having a musical version staged, perhaps it won’t even take a millennia. Let’s just give the desperate producers time to run through broadway productions of House M.D. and 24 and To Catch A Predator and then we’ll see what’s what.

Anyhow, hope you enjoyed.

For more check out the following:
Robert Joffrey and the Making of an American Dance Company.
A Rock Classic: Astarte Remembered.
Dance, Sex, and Gender.
Time magazine’s original piece: Rituals in Rock.

Lastly you can hear a few snippets of the “hard rock” music used in the production as played by the original band Crome Syrcus.

02.18. filed under: art. history. observations. 8