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There is Another Sky – Inspired by Emily Dickinson (NaPoWriMo #8)

image

Taken on a walk in Parry Sound, Ontario.

Chilly winds under an overcast day
Chase the sprouting hopes of spring away
But the rain bearers they shall also blow by
There is another sky

As obstacle shadows into vision set
By failing light, don’t you forget
Dawn after dusk follow in line
There is another sunshine

Endless silent fields across the horizon
On walks beside the restless waves of Poseidon
The uncertainty makes the heart sorest
Yet here is a little forest

Its leaves are ever green,though frost it has seen
Within faded forests are unfading flowers
Tended by bright bee hum and a patient some
One just like you. Into the garden, come!
—————————————-
This is based on Emily Dickinson’s poem “There is Another Sky,” which contains so many beautiful phrases, I was moved to write with it instead of Cesar Vallejo’s rather sombre poem in the official prompt. I stayed with the theme of optimism in this version, and have a feeling I will be reading this as food for the soul in the future. Thank you Ms Dickinson.

And thanks for reading,
thebookybunhead

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Jack Diamond: A Brief Biography of a Canadian Artist

Source of photograph: utccanada.ca

Canadian Jack Diamond is an internationally acclaimed architect known for his simple and artistic designs. He was born November 1932 in South Africa and immigrated to Canada in 1964. He studied at various universities and received several degrees: Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Cape Town in 1956; Master of Arts degree in politics, economy, and philosophy from Oxford in 1958; and Master of Architecture degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1962. He founded his own company now Diamond and Schmitt Architects in 1975.

From then on he has created many structures around the world including the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton; the Jerusalem City Hall in Israel; the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto; the Harman Centre for the Arts in Washington, D.C.; and the Southbrook Vineyards Winery in Niagara Falls. His works in progress include an addition to the famous Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg Russia (now completed). He was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1995 and given the Order of Ontario two years later.

Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts

Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto, Canada
Source: dsai.ca/projects/four-seasons-centre-for-the-performing-arts-canadian-opera-company

Jack Diamond believes in creating buildings that are not for flashy display; but that are useful for the people using them. He thinks not only appearance, but functionality. “We were just interviewing for a project at a university in the United States,” he said. “The president asked us, ‘Have you ever designed a building that causes a car crash? Because I’m looking for an architect who’s going to design a building that causes a car crash.’ There’s a kind of group who is looking for a building that will snap your head, literally grabbing attention. But does it have any deeper ability to contribute to the life of the university, to the life of the faculty, to the experience of students, to its connection to the grain of the community? Do any of those matter at all? Diamond + Schmitt does not do car crash.” Whether people agree to his designs or not, there is no doubt that Jack Diamond is a master of his art form.

New Mariinsky Theatre

New Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia
Source: dsai.ca/projects/new-mariinsky-theatre-russia

Republished from a Geography research assignment in 2010. Being a dancer, I chose to display two performing arts theatres, but Mr. Diamond does a very wide range of work.

Thanks for reading,
thebookybunhead

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Sahtu Dene: Canadian Aboriginals and Uranium Radiation

Interview: The Dene People

Q: I am joined today by a member of the Sahtu Dene tribe from the community of Deline in the Northwest Territories. First of all, thank you for coming. What can you tell us about your community and the meaning of your names?

A: The Dene is an aboriginal group living in the northern boreal and arctic regions of Canada. Dene is the common Athabaskan word for people and Sahtu is our name for Great Bear Lake, the fifth largest freshwater lake in Canada and ninth in the world. Deline is located 300 miles from Yellowknife with a population of 800 and means “where the river flows”.

Q: Deline was featured in the film Village of Widows after discovering the devastating effects of radiation poisoning from uranium mines. But let’s start from the beginning, when and where did mining start?

A: Port Radium was owned originally by Eldorado and secretly became a government-owned mine in 1942. The men started work in 1932, mostly working as labourers and carriers for the unrefined pitchblende ore. From 1934 to 1939 we mined radium and between 1943 and 1962, uranium. It was seen as an exciting job opportunity and everyone was eager to participate.

Q: The Canadian government didn’t tell you of the dangers and effects of the substances?

A: Not at all. As far as we were concerned, the stuff was gold; it was worth a lot of money. I remember some of the young men joining training programs where they suffered radon gas exposure and cleaned up toxic hotspots without any protection from masks or even shower facilities. We did not know about the ore being health hazardous until 1945 when the government finally warned us about health and people started becoming sick.

Q: However, from what I understand, not only workers were affected by the effects. How did the radioactive ore spread through the community?

A: Like I said, we knew nothing about the dangers of the ore mined from Port Radium; before the mine, there was no industrial presence in our area. The men carried around sacks of the ore and tailings so it got into their clothes, into their skin. At one point we sewed some of the sacks to make tents and we also filled sandboxes from the fine sand-like tailings. Radioactivity went into the animals, our food source, our lake, and drinking water. The substance surrounded us and became a part of our lives, so unfortunately really everyone was affected.

Q: The toxic substance must have a huge impact on the environment and land as well; how much of it is in your land and how has it affected your people?

A: Waste landfills and lake dumps are everywhere. The tailings were dumped around the site and over 1.7 million tons of uranium waste was dumped north of Great Bear Lake. Our land, animals, and people have now been living with radioactivity for over 70 years. The first death of a radium mine happened in 1953, and an ore transporter in 1960. Since then there has been many deaths from poisoning, cancer, and other sicknesses. There are many single mothers now in Deline, and the generation of young men in this village is the first to grow up without knowledge passed on from their grandfathers, fathers, and uncles.

Q: In addition to hiding the health dangers of the ore, is it true that the government did not tell you what the uranium was to be used for?

A: Yes, we had no idea that the uranium we were mining and transporting was to be used in the Manhattan Project to create the atomic bomb. When we realized our work was used for objects of mass murder, we were horrified. Hearing about the absolute destruction dropped onto Hiroshima and Nagasaki made us want to take back all our work and despise our sacrifices even more. Had we known that the ore was making bombs, we would have never worked produced it. Until this day, we feel regret for contributing to that disaster.

Q: You must have felt outraged that the government neglected your health and denied you the information that would’ve saved many lives. The Dene people were unjustly used for labour; what actions were taken after your meeting with Parliament in Ottawa in 1999?

A: Well let me just say that white miners were as uninformed and abused as we were. We realized that the government did not care for any of us, so we went to Ottawa to ask for major cleanup of our community and an apology for the cultural, economic, spiritual, and emotional damage that they have caused us. It was a small victory for us to even get a formal meeting with the leaders of our country. They didn’t grant us our wish at the time, but we raised significant awareness and were closer to getting the improvements we wanted.

Q: I know that your tribe visited Japan and attended the memorial of August 6, 1945 as a way to pay respect and restore inner peace with the Japanese people. Why did you feel the need to go and what was it like to visit Japan?

A: We felt it was our duty to offer them our condolence, and it was necessary for our inner peace to apologize and make amends with the people whom we hurt. It was a very emotional trip; we cried when we saw footage of the explosions and the suffering that we caused. We lit lanterns and talked to many people; by the end we knew we made the right decision to come – it was a releasing and gratifying experience.

Q: What accomplishments have taken place at Deline now, and what are the Sahtu Dene’s visions for the future?

A: In 2007 we succeeded in negotiating with the government and earned a contract of 6.8 million dollars to help clean up the wastes. There is still a lot to be done to get rid of the radioactivity in Deline, and we will continue to fight for our rights as people. We are still trying to understand how something so bad could come from our Mother Nature; we celebrate the world we live in and pray for a better future.

Q: Thank you so much for your time; this has been such an eye-opening conversation. We wish you all the best!

Republished from 2010 Geography class. It is a hypothetical interview inspired by viewing 1999 documentary Village of Widows by Peter Blow.

Thanks for reading,
thebookybunhead

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Best Week Ever: Memories of a Ballet Festival

balcony jump - AI13

Some of us thought a jump shot on a sunny balcony would be cool.

It’s not any day you meet and perform with over a hundred fellow dancers from 10 different countries. Actually, it was a week. So naturally, I have an urge to write about this unforgettable experience. Amazing. Inspiring. Awesome. Enlightening. Bomb-diggity. These words can only begin to describe what hosting a giant, international ballet festival at our school was like.

Nearly everyone arrived early on the first day for orientation. It was a confusing ordeal at first, as students wandered around trying to find their partners who may or may not still be in bed. Or, having found them, realized their partners  had already been taken on a tour meaning they were left feeling quite useless, standing around like a lamppost. My partner was a pretty, Indian girl who will be in the corps of the San Francisco Ballet next year and who had no trouble engaging in conversation, which made it easy for me. From this first introduction, I realized how many different experiences were being brought by everyone, and was sure it would be an interesting week!

Being the second of this tetra-annual event (think Olympics, except with dancing, and a celebration instead of a competition), we had an arsenal of organizational experience that we launched into some virtually foolproof plans. Firstly, each of us was partnered with a student from a visiting school, and each school had a contact person. It was a system of relaying any concerns between student, teacher, and artistic director of the schools without multiple people trying to fix the same problem at the same time in their own way. Binders were prepared containing weekly schedules, pamphlets on public transportation and restaurants in the area, cell phone numbers of every participant, even directions on how to get to every studio. Food was also stocked up with snacks of fruit, yogourt, cheese, and crackers and tables laid out to fill “Town Square” as we call our school’s main hall, where 180 people would eat every day. It surprised a few of us when visitors exclaimed, “Do you get to eat this every day?!” pointing to the row of hot food and salad bar.

We started each day with a ballet class, each one with a different teacher and with a different set of dancers. Throughout the week I was scheduled to be taught by teachers from the School of the Hamburg Ballet, Dutch National Ballet Academy, New Zealand School of Ballet, and Houston Ballet Academy. To think that to take this week of classes otherwise I would need to travel across the globe! Although each class was set differently, with a variety of teaching style and focus (for example, upper body expression, or petit allegro which is quick beats and jumps) it was interesting to see that many corrections were the same, just told in a different way – dance truly is a a universal language.

In the first few days, “Traditionally Timeless” was rehearsed: each school would perform a piece of repertoire that reflected their culture over the course of two programs. Each was the most exhilarating three hours I have never seen on stage. It was amazing to see everyone represent themselves and their school with so much integrity, and the diversity of styles and skills opened my eyes to how much more I have to explore in my art form. Counter-balancing acts, pure classical virtuosity, abstract, theatrical, and humorous contemporary, and impressive shows of strength in pas-de-deux – the shows had it all!

In total, there were 18 schools that participated and we had the privilege with mingling with what is, literally, the next generation of the ballet world. As mentioned, our daily ballet classes had new combinations of dancers every day, so we danced with the world, did a bit of unavoidable “sizing-up”, and collected lots of names that would surely pop up again in the dance world. It was also good practice for auditions to have to jump in and learn a class with people you hardly knew.

Another set of programs was performed in the second portion of the festival; these were named “Fast Forward” (they really liked the alliteration, didn’t they!) which featured student choreographic works as well as a live streaming project. These all had international casts, with a random scramble of dancers that had learned the dance through videos from their home country. And there were approximately four days to put it all together.

“Stream” was a 20 minute fusion of classical and contemporary styles and used projections of water and the dancers from Amsterdam on two big screens on either side of the stage. White was worn so that images would be projected onto bodies when people were dancing behind the screens. It really was a cool effect. It is amazing how technology can enable dancers from across the ocean to put on a show together with a lag time of .0-something seconds. It was a big achievement on the part of the choreographers, stage crew, cameramen, technology crew, and everyone in between.

We met many modern dancers from Juilliard, Palucca Schule, and Codarts who impressed all of us with their movement quality and style. It was improvisation as we had never seen before. And of course, they were all so nice. We got to know this cast of 35 or so people quite well since we had “Stream” rehearsal nearly every day. It was fun to learn how to communicate through language barriers and shocking for many of my friends who realized many Europeans not only speak their native tongue but also speak better English than most from North America, excluding their accents. I feel a lot of the times we are too casual with speaking properly, but that’s another topic. Other than the Cubans who spoke almost no English, we exchanged many words with everyone and nevertheless gained a valuable, international network of dance connections.

Our main socializing time was lunch hour. I had always told myself I would be the person plopping myself down at a table of foreigners, but I learned it’s not as easy as it looks. For the most part, students from the same school stuck together, so it could be a little intimidating. What I also learned is that having the courage to put yourself, as an individual, out there seems friendlier than approaching others in a group. By the end of the week, we were all quite comfortable with starting spontaneous conversation with anybody and could only wish that we had more time to hang out as our days were packed with dancing and rehearsals.

Wrapping up the week was a conference that was titled “Creative Challenge” after its topic, since “conference” seems to bring up the wrong sorts of ideas to young dancers (you pictured stern faces jotting down notes in an auditorium, didn’t you?). It started off with an interview with world-renowned modern choreographer, Wayne McGregor, and our main speaker, former Principal of the Royal Ballet, Deborah Bull. It was so cool to hear him speak about the projects he had done and how he built his company, but I don’t know if it was fatigue or the extremely hot temperature of a packed theatre, many of us started nodding off after 45 minutes, which was too bad because it is such a special opportunity to be sitting with two significant advocates of the dance world.

So the break-out sessions came at a good time. We split into groups in different studios to brainstorm ideas for a dance project that: a) is performed in an unconventional venue (meaning outside proscenium theatres) and b) collaborates with young artists from various disciplines (ex. composers, costume designers, filmmakers, poets, painters). Due to the economic times and the trend that companies are hiring older and more mature dancers, developing entrepreneurial skills is valuable to create opportunities for oneself. The projects are to be broadcasted through the internet and a hub designed so we can update each other on our progress and learning experiences.

The idea is also a way to expand the reaches of the art form to the public since theatre tickets can be considered elitist, especially when it comes to price. Our group extended the discussion to how the audience can become a participant instead of observer, and to work with “non-performers” as well, perhaps construction workers, the blind, or mathematicians. Everyone had different ideas and was enthusiastic about the new endeavour, which is good, since our director was worried it might have been too far “out there” for the current ballet community.

Ms Bull said something that really resonated with a lot of us, “You may think of yourselves as students that are about to enter the dance world as professional artists in companies. But actually, you are the dance world.” I just thought, “Wow, I am a part of this family that I’ve always envisioned to strive for. And I am a part of the future.” When the conference was wrapped up, a roaring standing ovation rose and our director performed a spontaneous dance of joy to the cheers and hoots of two hundred young dancers, giving the documentary crew quietly filming in the corner the exciting footage they had been waiting for. It felt like the beginning of a revolution and I hope we always remember the indescribable solidarity of that moment.

If that didn’t wrap up the week with a bang, the closing party sure did! We danced the night away, simultaneously introduced ourselves and said farewell to people we had or hadn’t met yet, and even saw some of the top directors and teachers of these highly prestigious schools break it down on the floor! A slideshow of photos from class, rehearsal, and performances played and there were tables of food: desserts of macaroons, cupcakes, fruit salad, and tarts; a bar for the legally of age (saw a director sneak his student a drink – very funny), and savoury treats of sliders, shishkabobs, cheeses, you get the idea. It was a fun evening, bittersweet, but only slightly thanks to the wonder that is Facebook. We joke that we are set for life from our connections all across the globe now.

It is hard to sum up my thoughts for this festival. I met so many wonderful people and was inspired by every single one to always be the best artist and person I can be. We shared many memories in the seven days the world gathered together in Toronto, and I feel very lucky to have been a part of a learning experience that I will treasure all my life. It will be funny if the t-shirts we received become rare collectibles one day; maybe we will recognize each other from them, or the grey booties that we also got, when our paths meet again.

April – May 2013
Thanks for reading,
thebookybunhead

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Asbestos: Mini Research

File:Asbestos with muscovite.jpg

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Asbestos is a mineral of fibrous crystals that absorbs sound, has textile strength, and a resistance to heat, chemical, and electrical damage. Its fibers can be woven into yarn or rope, and are easily added to a variety of materials such as cotton and cement, making it a versatile substance. The inhalation of these fibers has been proved to cause illnesses including cancer and asbestosis. Asbestos is used in many products from drywall roofing tars, to shoes and stage curtains, because of its fireproofing and insulating qualities. It became popularly used by manufacturers and builders in the 19th century as a common insulator and propelled the Industrial Revolution; however, asbestos has been used for as long as 4500 years in Ancient Greece when it was used in oil lamp wicks and ceremonial table cloths. The extraction, manufacturing, and processing of asbestos has been banned in whole or in part by over 60 countries in the world, including those in the European Union. Even though today, far less products in the home contain asbestos, it is still used because of new ways of containing escaping fibers. Canada has yet to ban asbestos and is currently the largest player in the global asbestos industry; over 40% of the world’s asbestos is found in a narrow belt of rocks in Quebec and over 300,000 tons of it can be exported annually to developing countries. The banning of asbestos is a difficult balance for Canada between saving jobs and economic profit or relieving the health hazards placed on workers and consumers from this multi-purpose material.

Written 2009. Since then, Canada’s asbestos industry has been winding down. For anyone who wonders what asbestos is…

Thanks for reading,
thebookybunhead

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A High of Twenty-Two (NaPoWriMo #18)

apostrophe...9

What I felt like as I stepped out into unexpectedly gorgeous spring weather.

Today

was a thunderstorm with a high of twenty-two.
Stretching in a studio anticipating
the song of raindrops to slide down glass walls.

They were right about the high of twenty-two,
But yellow light streamed inside instead,
Too bright we reluctantly put down the blinds.

In a building you can’t feel a high of twenty-two,
A little walk to the store to buy pairs of pointe shoes
For rehearsals that stretch further than sunshine.

At day’s end hoped it’d still be a dry, high of twenty-two,
Sigh of relief stepping out into fresh air
Body had been programmed to seize up for winter’s chill.

Skin finally sees the sun again, in a high of twenty-two,
Cool breezes aerate fibres of clothing
While the clouds are patiently waiting.

Thank you Mr. Weatherman for reporting the good news,
But it’s nature who let us have a  a high of twenty-two

Today.

————————————————————————————————————

Spring weather makes me so excited for summer and spending time outside. April showers bring May flowers, so pour on, rains of Toronto, because I can’t wait to see green on the trees like the grass. It looks like we’ll be rotating around our seasonal wardrobes very soon…

Thanks for reading,
thebookybunhead

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The Four Seasons & Emergence: Ballet Review

Emergence by Crystal Pite; photo by Bruce Zinger.

The neoclassical The Four Seasons by James Kudelka and the very modern Emergence by Crystal Pite by the National Ballet of Canada complemented each other surprisingly well and showcased a diverse movement vocabulary. This double bill was, for lack of a better term, short and sweet, and so this review strives to be the same.

First up, The Four Seasons. It is choreographed to the famous music of Vivaldi and tells the story of a man through the years and changing seasons. The joy of spring, passion of summer, melancholy of fall, and harshness of winter parallel the evolution of life from the spontaneity of youth to maturity, and finally the reluctant acceptance of death. It is a little ballet very true to Mr. Kudelka’s style, very musical and fun. Though everyone performed well, it was principal Greta Hodgkinson dancing as ‘Summer” who enchanted the audience with her articulate artistic nuances, musicality, and daring in the fast paced, high flying partnering sequences. Here is an example of the professionalism that comes with experience, it was the best I had ever seen her and I feel very lucky to have witnessed the original ‘Summer’ dance before her retirement; her performance will be the one that I remember when seeing the piece again.

Greta Hodgkinson in The Four Seasons; photo by Andrew Oxenham.

After intermission, we watched Emergence, which according to the company’s website: “explores the notion of dance as an evocation of the broader, inherent human tendency to socialization”. While the piece does centre around the interactions of a large groups of dancers, it is presented with the inspiration of insects (I remember reading this somewhere). It begins with a one dancer in a skin-coloured leotard extending her limbs slowly from a curled position on the floor and being carried by a partner, as if a helpless larvae that has just entered the world. Like a colony, dancers emerge from a portal and swarm around the stage, and throughout sections mimic sharp twitches and tentative fluttering. The music is hard to describe, but reminds me at times of the droning of bees and the clicking of bugs feet across the floor. The movement quality is very intriguing and shows the extreme capabilities of the human body.

Dancers with the National Ballet of Canada present Emergence. Its large cast evokes a subterranean insect world, devoid of human romance or free will.

Emergence photo by Bruce Zinger.

As a female, I am reluctant to say this, but I believe that this is generally a guys’ piece. The girls are undoubtedly very strong, but the power of thirty or so men dancing the same inhuman, almost mechanical, movements together or in syncopation is unreal.  Ultimately, it the unison of the entire company that delivers a visual kick that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. (Literally, since I was sitting in 5th ring – which actually gave a really cool perspective of the piece – and was leaning out to see down to the stage.)

It is funny to see how taste changes within a couple of years. I declared that Emergence was my favourite modern piece back in grade 7 or so, and though I still love it, this time it did not knock my socks off as much as I anticipated. The Four Seasons, on the other hand, I liked with mediocre appreciation before, but enjoyed much more this time, being able to follow the intertwined emotional and musical themes. Nevertheless, the contrast between both ‘ballets’ makes for a refreshing viewing experience with good choreography and execution, so this mixed program is a winner.

Thanks for reading,
thebookybunhead

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Romeo and Juliet: Ballet Review

Love at first sight. (Applies to that dress as well. )

When I attended the world premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s Romeo and Juliet last year, I was blown away. My viewing this past Friday was not as exhilarating – I’m sure the fact that it wasn’t my first viewing had something to do with it – but I am definitely still a fan. The tale of two star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, is not necessarily my favourite Shakespearean play, but definitely holds a special place in my heart, and this new ballet is no exception.

Creating another version of an existing ballet is risky, but especially when both Kenneth Macmillan’s and John Cranko’s own Romeo and Juliet are still performed today and considered classics by many. So Ratmansky cleverly avoided comparison altogether, with a production that is fresh, exuberant, and with unique style. I would still call it a classical work, but with undertones in the choreography, costumes, and sets of modern movements and abstract concepts that really set this ballet apart.

One word to describe this ballet is vibrant. Bright colours, dynamic movements, and -oh my goodness- the music! I am at a loss for words to describe just how amazing the score is. It tells the story in itself with strong and endearing themes that are so enjoyable to listen to, and if you’re sitting high enough to see the orchestra pit, it would be a ballet with a symphony concert experience too. Thank you, Mr. Prokofiev. Ratmansky has also unleashed his creativity with mind-bogglingly acrobatic passes and clever details that make us fall in love with the characters and the world created for us.

Costume choices such as these headresses are strange and delightful at the same time. (Image courtesy of http://www.thecoveteur.com/)

Storytelling can be under-appreciated sometimes, but here I must mention it because in addition to traditional mime were some very innovative techniques. For example, when Romeo meets Juliet they do not dance together but with their partners. While everyone is traveling around a circle, the pair are lifted into the air, spinning around as the rest of the party, but ‘spotting’ or turning their heads constantly to find the other. Similarly, after the death of Mercutio, Romeo’s rage is interrupted by a vision of Juliet (who has slipped onstage to be lifted above a crowd, reaching out to him), reminding of the consequences in dueling Tybalt-who-is-now-family, and giving the audience a peek into the protagonist’s thoughts. Another sweet effect is when the plan using the potion is explained. Behind a scrim, the scene of Juliet falling asleep, being deemed as deceased, and reuniting with Romeo is played by her double as both Juliet and the friar sit watching, as if with the audience. Here, we don’t imagine, but know exactly what the friar is telling Juliet; it’s neat as entire plots or speeches cannot always be so clearly expressed through movement.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed the entire ballet, I do have my favourite parts. Generally, they are all the pas de deux’s, especially the balcony scene, but in this particular show my choices are different (I will explain why later). The trio of Romeo, Benvolio, and Mercutio has a very fun section showing genuine friendship and kidding around which really builds them up as the good guys. Mercutio’s character is probably my favourite because of its whimsicality and mischievousness (maybe also because he was my role in our abridged grade 9 production of the play). Similarly, the carnival men that entertain in the town square add brightness to the tragedy, and gives the dancers a chance to show off some impressive tricks and turns. Overall, what was really impressive this night was the solidarity of the corps de ballet who danced as the people of Verona. At the beginning of the first act, I felt tears in my eyes over the grief of the women for their fallen husbands. Yet I did not feel this much emotion for the deaths of our hero and heroine…

Mercutio the clown is very charming and catches everyone’s attention; his personality shines through in his solos.

At this point you may be wondering why I have not commented on the love story; it is called Romeo and Juliet after all, isn’t it? Let me explain. Both Romeo and Juliet are great dancers and presented their characters well; however, I did not feel much chemistry between them. Something that was a bit distracting was the fact that in the first portion of the ballet, I was aware of Juliet acting the sweet, young, girl. The ballerina is very experienced and maybe it was this maturity that did not fit perfectly with internalizing the character. That being said, in an unfortunate incident Romeo became injured and after pushing through was replaced by another dancer for the last two acts. It made it hard to examine continuity, so all I can say is, for such an abrupt change, it was well done.

One of the funniest moments in the performance was not meant to be funny at all. In the scene where the Juliet’s parents open the curtains of her bed to find that she has died, Lord Capulet fails to fasten the fabric securely to a bed post. As they crouch in front of the bed, mourning over Juliet’s inanimate body, the curtain swings closed onto their heads (and blocking the audience’s view), ruining what was truly a sad and touching moment. The father tries to refasten it, hold it up with his hand, and when all fails, finally stands up and leans on it with his whole body. When the bed rolls offstage, the long fabric clings to Lord Capulet and peels of his wig at the very last moment. Silent laughter in our row for a good half minute, I think.

The third act was the best part of the night for me, despite an accidental comedic discovery of Juliet’s ‘death’.

Romeo and Juliet by Ratmansky has only had a life span of one year, and it is definitely one that I want to see again. There were some things I liked more now, and some things I enjoyed more last year – every live show is different so this is often the case. What I saw last Friday was not spectacular, but it was good. The company’s previous Cranko version of the production still holds the spot for making me bawl my eyes out, and Macmillan’s for my favourite recording of the ballet; Ratmansky’s neoclassical version definitely has a place of its own. I appreciate and love all the productions, classical and neoclassical, and I’m sure Shakespeare would too.

EXTRAS:
If you have never heard this score, you must. Just have a listen to this opening theme (skip to about a minute in), and enjoy the rest of this medley, if you want:

The Royal Ballet (Rojo and Acosta) in my favourite balcony pas de deux:

All photographs courtesy of Bruce Zinger for The National Ballet of Canada, otherwise noted.

Thanks for reading,
thebookybunhead

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Neumeier’s Nijinsky: Ballet Review

Last Saturday I watched the Canadian premiere of John Neumeier’s Nijinsky, a biographical ballet about the famous Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, who eventually spirals into madness. It is an ambitious, dramatic production that overflows with ideas and high physical and emotional demands for the entire company. From my experience with The Seagull, the other Neumeier ballet that I’ve seen live, I thought this ballet might be equally confusing and long; however, though at times it is overwhelming, I found myself enjoying this ballet quite a lot. Here’s why:
Firstly, an homage to one of the greatest male dancers of all time hits a sentimental chord with all of us in the ballet world. It consists of a mixture of classical and modern styles with so many references to ballet history that give us pride in being a part of that legacy. But besides that, Nijinsky’s life is told through flashbacks and hallucinations that meander between the past and the present, in a way that is visually appealing and intriguing for all audiences.

(Photo courtesy of russianballethistory.com)

The beginning of a synopsis in the program written by Neumeier himself:

On January 19, 1919 at five o’clock in the afternoon in a ballroom of the Suvretta House Hotel in St Moritz, Switzerland, Vaslav Nijinsky danced publicly for the last time. He called this performance his Wedding with God.

My ballet Nijinsky begins with a realistic recreation of this situation. The choreography which follows however, visualises his thoughts, memories and hallucinations during this last performance.

One of my favourite parts is the boat pas de deux in which Nijinsky remembers meeting his wife. It is actually more of a pas de trois because a vision of himself dancing the role of a faun who fell in love with a nymph joins in the dance and mirrors Nijinsky’s realization of his love for a woman. It it beautifully choreographed to beautiful music, really filling you up with warm feelings. Another part that has imprinted itself in my mind is the scene pf internal madness in which the corps, dressed in army jackets, move to quite harsh music as Nijinsky yells counts at the top of his lungs on a chair. In the same section, dancers are told to laugh maniacally in shrieks and hoots, creating a truly scary, chaotic atmosphere for Nijinsky, and for us. The emotional states that this work asks its performers to reach and is able to stir inside us, the audience, is something that is truly special and touching in my opinion.

So the choreography was great, as was the set and costumes, all designed by Neumeier (not to mention the music as well). But what about the dancing? Is is great to see The National Ballet of Canada take on a neoclassical work of such a large scale; the energy was infectious. Especially in the second act, the dancers matched the intensity of the orchestra impressively and were a solid ensemble. There were a few noticeable slips in the first, but these are easily forgiven in the abandoned interpretations of several dancers that left us breathless. As this ballet is new to the company’s repertoire, I think it will be exciting to trace how the interpretations develop as it is performed through the coming years.

Painting by Vaslav Nijinsky. The theme of circles in his art inspired the set.
(Courtesy of dancelines.com.au)

I feel I have more to read and learn to fully appreciate the underlying themes of this work and until today am freshly fascinated by the creativity of its concept. It’s a presentation of ballet history, a dramatic tragedy, and a celebration of dance and the capacities of its artists all rolled into one. The depth of thought in Nijinsky makes it a ballet that is so rich that you cannot see everything in one show, and probably will not ever see the same things twice. I’m glad it was brought to Toronto and look forward to seeing it again.

Thanks for reading,
thebookybunhead

(All images of the Hamburg Ballet.
Courtesy of Holger Badekow otherwise noted.)

EXTRAS:
Link to NBoC’s production:
http://national.ballet.ca/performances/season1213/Nijinsky/

Excerpt from an autobiography of Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950):
http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/n/nijinsky-diary.html

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Farewell, little coppers

So today is officially the last day of the Canadian penny which will from tomorrow forward start to become an endangered species as they will no longer be produced, but collected and melted down by the bank. While I understand the decision since pennies have lost almost all value, something tells me I’m going to miss these little suckers…
(Aren’t the maple leaves pretty?)

It is a reflection of how much consumption has taken over the world. Pennies are obviously not made of copper anymore, but if they were, where would our economy be now? And will this result in future purchases by cash being rounded to their nearest value of 5 cents?

Anyway, I know there are A LOT of pennies still out there, but it wouldn’t hurt to save some of your shiniest or oldest because one day, they really will be lucky pennies.

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