Somewhere in Time, Unlimited creates magic at The Ruins

Somewhere in Time Unlimited, Inc. was founded in the late '80s by some people who wished to extend the historical boundaries of the 16th century. Somewhere in Time is indeed unlimited, presenting costumed social events, which reflect enjoyable aspects of past eras and places.

The SITU "season" commences with an opulent holiday ball. They've danced their ways through Old Vien-na, Georgian and Dickensian England, the Russia of the Romanovs and Queen Victoria's Ambassador's Ball. Spring and autumn events are typically smaller and more informal. Themes have included an 18th-century fair, a Gothic literary tea, a 19th-century explorers' gathering, a 1920s speakeasy, a nightclub in 1930s Shanghai and - always a British favorite - murder mysteries.

Summer features al fresco events such as garden parties, Victorian bathing parties, a day at the horse races, a cricket match and a tiger hunt in the India of the Raj.

Membership, drawn from around the Puget Sound and Washington state, includes artists, educators, accountants, secretaries, scientists, singers - anyone with lots of imagination and an interest in history and costuming. All activities are produced by the members, including period music, dance and entertainment.

This year's much-anticipated winter event, "Commedia Dell'Arte Masquerade Ball," took place Jan. 7 - the day after Twelfth Night, which is the traditional beginning to carnival season, in places where carnival is celebrated. The invitation read:

Come in masquerade costume of 1700-1789, either as Commedia Dell'Arte char-acter, such as Harlequin or Columbine, or as someone who may have attended a masquerade during 1700-1789. Commedia Dell'Arte is a very old tradition of performance, which began in Italy during the Renaissance, later spreading to France, Ger-many and England. Using stock characters and employing a broad type of comedy, these performances ranged from rustic outdoor sessions to formalized shows for royalty.

This gave SITU members plenty scope for elegant 18th-century costumes and fantastic masks of all descriptions to create a memorable evening in a magical setting - The Ruins, at the foot of Queen Anne Hill.

Pushing beyond the drab fa├žade of an old warehouse, members entered through a secret door into a cobblestone patio with huge potted plants ablaze with tiny lights. Brightly colored tablecloths over rustic tables and comfortable chairs led to the entrance of a mag-ical fantasyland.

Ladies and gen-tlemen in gorgeous 18th-century costumes, white powdered wigs and a profusion of masks assembled in the elegant dining room, complete with crackling fire, large mirrors, antique furniture and large, standing candelabras. The room buzzed with polite conversation and the delicate flapping of ladies' fans. Truly, it was a different time and a different place. I had difficulty identifying many good friends behind their masks and under their wigs.

We were entertained by Harlequin and Columbine in traditional costumes and a traditional Harlequin dance by Anna Mansbridge (of England) of Seattle Early Dance, accompanied by her slapping baton. Anna later gave instructions to the assembled company, who joined in Baroque dancing of the period. This was followed by our good friends Payne and Marie, who performed a live Punch and Judy show (the English character Punch is based on the Commedia dell'Arte character Punch-inello). Later, we joined the guests in the fabulous ballroom, under the six oversized crystal chandeliers, the walls and ceilings painted by artist Jennifer Carrasco to grace the stage to have pictures taken, in such an elegant and very suitable atmosphere.

Arlecchino (Harlequin) is Panta-lone's servant, and extremely poor. The famous Harlequin costume, with its lozenge pattern of red, green and blue diamonds, is a stylized representation of clothes that are so old and patched as to have lost their original color and material. Harlequin is a peasant with no instruction (he can't read or write) who has left his native Bergamo to seek his fortune in the city of Venice, as it grows rich from its commerce with the Orient. This often causes amusement, as no one can understand his dialect.

An acrobat and a clown, he carries a baton, which he sometimes uses to bash other characters, leading to the modern term slapstick. Harlequin is not really a villain; he just tries to get by.

There are three types of Harlequin mask: the cat, the pig and the monkey. The lozenge costume has given its name to the fashion motif; the mask, to a shape for eyeglass frames. A lot of these themes were used in recent Seattle Opera productions of "Ariadne auf Naxos," and of course there is the famous opera "Pagliacci"; even the current-running production of Johann Strauss' "Fledermaus" carries on the same themes.

Somewhere in Time has outdone itself has with a wonderful production and a magical trip into another world. And thanks to our hosts, the fabulous setting of The Ruins. Look for a complete column on and about The Ruins somewhere in the near future. I can see now why ladies' maids were required; getting laced into the corset, and miles of petticoats, was indeed a gargantuan feat. But we made it.


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