Arts on the Horizon: November

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By Rodger Skidmore

When pigs fly

We’ve all heard that expression, representing something that can’t happen. The equivalent in France is, “When chicken get teeth.” In Russia, it’s, “When the crayfish will whistle on the top of the hill” — that one’s a bit cumbersome, and might lead one to believe that crayfish can whistle, just not on the top of a particular hill. Anyway, while there are many such sayings in different countries, one cannot say, “When an orchid flies on a trapeze” as indicating that something is impossible, because orchids do just that at Selby Botanical Gardens, just off Mound Street here in Sarasota — at least until Nov. 28.

More than any other flowering plant, orchids are the aerialists of the plant world – just ask David Berry, Chief Museum Curator for Selby Botanical Gardens. Orchids, being perched high in the tree tops are provided with more sunlight, permitted better seed disbursement, and protected against roving herbivores. And don’t just take Dr. Berry’s words for it, the Ringling Circus folks must also agree as they’ve linked up with The Selby to put on an off-season circus show: Aerialists from the Tree Top to the Big Top. As you wander through the Orchid Conservatory, you not only see orchids on trapezes and the high wire, but in a spectacular display of circus colors and posters.

According to the Selby, there are more than 27,000 species of orchids located around our planet — mostly in humid tropical climes. And the Selby, which is the leading museum of Orchids in the world, has more than 35,000 specimens preserved in glass jars so that researchers of all things epiphyte will have something at which to look.

NOTE: The Royal Botanical Gardens in London has more than three million specimens (not just orchids) in their collection — talk about being OCD.

Take the pleasant walk along the bay, from the conservatory to the Selby manor house, and you will find a great display, not only of vintage circus posters, but of some of those orchid specimens, along with a great many quotable factoids about orchids. Being November, it is also a great time to stroll through the entire garden as mosquitos and humidity seem to have left. And, speaking of taking a stroll, one cannot stress enough about the fantastic augmented reality show Seeing the Impossible at Spanish Point — just a few minutes south of our fair city. Take your smart phone or tablet (the bigger the better) and be truly amazed. Truly. More info at

Astrophysicists and the stars

Neil deGrasse Tyson, head of the Hayden planetarium in New York, has seen and known more stars than most of us ever will. One of the most astounding stars that he has known died just two years ago, on July 23, 2019. Given that there are multiple billions of stars scattered throughout the universe, how could anyone have known that a particular star died on a particular day? Because the star was Chaser, the smartest dog in the world. Sure, each of us knows that our own dog, cat, hamster, or pet rock is the smartest of its type in the world, so, why this specific dog? And, tangentially speaking, what do we mean by smart? We now feel that early IQ tests were flawed because they actually tested knowledge rather than true intelligence. If, in 1920, you’d asked a random Pacific islander which was worth more, a canoe or a steam locomotive, the correct answer, in that person’s world, would be the canoe — and they would be marked as being mentally deficient.

Chaser was a border collie, acknowledged by many to be one of the smarter breeds of dog, who played with stuffed animals and other stuffed objects (easy to pick up in her mouth). Over time, each of a thousand different toys was given a different name when Chaser first started playing with it.

For example, a stuffed octopus was named “inky” — not so much for Chaser’s sake but more for the person, Professor John Pilley of Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, so that he could remember what to call out to Chaser. On the PBS show NOVA, Mr. Tyson randomly picked out 10 stuffed toys, put them where Chaser could find them, and one by one Chaser brought back the one whose name had been called. That’s called knowledge — amazing enough that a dog had that much knowledge.

But then Tyson picked another group of toys and added one that Chaser had never seen before. After picking the first two named toys, Tyson called out a name that Chaser had never heard. Chaser brought back the new toy — new toy I’ve never seen must be new name I’ve never heard – that’s intelligence.

So, where did Chaser, who knew more words than any other non-human animal, go when she died? To Dog Heaven? To live with the essence of Einstein, Aristotle, and Darwin?

Who knows — maybe that intelligence is beyond us? But Chaser’s memory, like the memories of so many other pets, came to the BronzArt foundry here in Sarasota where her replica, after she’d found a blue ball, was created.

That bronze tribute, along with the blue ball, is now in Morgan Square Park in Spartanburg, South Carolina. More info at and search YouTube for Neil deGrasse Tyson Chaser dog.

Did you see the movie?

I certainly hope so. Music by Leonard Bernstein; book and lyrics by Comden and Green; acting by Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Betty Garrett, Ann Miller, Jules Munshin, and Vera-Ellen; choreographed and directed by Gene Kelly; and sets by New York. On the Town was a great musical of the 1940s and therefore had no real plot (three sailors having fun on a weekend in New York), but great musical numbers that just kept things moving and attendees humming.

Fact checking shows that, while the music for the stage play on which the movie was based was by Bernstein the movie producers thought it was too complex, so most of the music in the film was by Roger Edens. Also, while Kelly did the choreography for the film, the choreography for the original stage play was by Jerome Robbins and was based on Fancy Free, his 1944 ballet.

As Jimmy Durante would say, “Everybody wants to get into the act.”

Now eight soloists and the singers of the Choral Artists of Sarasota have gotten into the act and are doing a concert version of On the Town on Nov. 7 at the Riverview High School Center for the Performing Arts. More info at

Bits and Pieces

For many, many pieces, the place to go is MARA Art Studio+Gallery at 1421 5th St., where a whole lot of paintings are being viewed throughout November.

Brian and Debbie Miller painted more than 4,000 small paintings in 2,000 days (one/day each) because … well you know … because.

For the bits, remember December is just around the corner, thus time to see (with you and yours) the Nutcracker Suite.

The Sarasota Cuban Ballet School version will be at the Gulfcoast Event and Conference Center on Cattlemen Road for three shows this Dec. 3 and 4. For more info, contact

Rodger Skidmore
Author: Rodger Skidmore

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