Two boys are sent to rural China to be reeducated during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. There they discover a suitcase of banned foreign books and befriend the beautiful daughter of the local tailor. That’s it in a nutshell. A charming novel that is easy to read but may be too short and simple to hold much weight in time.
The story reminds me of a folk tale with a fair amount of whimsy in the narrator’s voice and the setting of the countryside and mountains that creates some beautiful imagery. At some points, the poetic language can begin to sound like a fairy tale, but that is often cut short by bits of history and realism in the cruelty of the authorities against intellectuals and the dire conditions the boys must endure to return home. It is also worth noting here that the book contains some graphic scenes in violence and romance that can cause offense or stomach queasiness.
An aspect of this story that has me on the fence is the characters. Our main heroes and heroine, to me, are the typical ‘kind but somewhat misunderstood’ good guys. They are not completely bland but not captivating in a “I LOVE Harry and Ron and Hermione and I want to be their friends!” kind of way. The supporting cast contains an old hermit and a by-the-book friend with glasses who evoke stronger feelings in the reader towards them than the main characters. The overall mildness of the characters, however, does create ordinary voices that we can relate to and make it hard to label a villain, which is true in real life. Still, I think I would’ve liked a little more depth to the characters so I can remember their individual qualities months after reading about their adventure.
The adventure itself, is quite unique and fun. It is a coming of age story, and also one that celebrates culture, specifically literature and music. The discovery of banned books and folk songs changed these characters’ lives and makes me grateful for the range of resources from all over the world we have access to today, especially now thanks to the internet. Although history is not my favourite subject, I think it is important to understand our past because it shapes our perceptions on life and our roles in society. In the end, that’s what this book is about.
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is a relatively quick-paced and enjoyable read, if you like the premise. As I’ve mentioned before, there is an ordinariness to the plot that portrays life as it is without the melodrama, which some like and others don’t. It’s a nice little book and I would recommend it – I recently discovered that they made a movie from it, which may be interesting to look at – but if you asked me if this is one I would read over and over again, honestly, probably not. Except maybe the ending. I won’t give it away, but yeah, the ending is pretty great.
Foreshadowing is a technique that is frequently used in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to create several dramatic effects. Repeated references reminding us of the inevitable deaths make suspense, anticipation, as well as dramatic irony because we know the ending that the characters do not. A first example of foreshadowing is shown by a quote from Friar Lawrence as he explains the balance of nature:
O mickle is the powerful grace that lies
In plants, herbs, stones, and their true qualities:
For nought so vile, that on the earth doth live;
But to the earth some special good doth give;
Nor ought so good but, strain’d from that fair use,
Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse.
Virtue turns itself vice, being misapplied,
And vice sometime by action dignified (2.3. 15-22)
In nature, everything has its proper place and it is people’s misapplication of its resources that destroys the balance between good and bad. While a mentor to Romeo and Juliet, the friar fails to follow his own teachings; he meddles, steps out of his role, and also abuses nature by using it to attempt to fix his problems. He foreshadows his own foolishness and the problems that will arise when two heirs of opposing houses defy their places in society. Before their marriage, Romeo makes a bold statement that challenges the fates and foreshadows the following crisis. He declares that “Death may come and do what he wants as long as he had Juliet” (2.6. 7-8) that foreshadows a twist in fortune for their new love as well as the coming of death, specifically the following murders of Mercutio and Tybalt. As the plot escalates, foreshadowing of death becomes more frequent that the two lovers begin to see death in each other. As they part, Juliet gravely notices that he looks “as one dead in the bottom of a tomb” (3.5.56) to which Romeo replies, “…trust me love, in my eye so do you:/Dry sorrow drinks our blood” (3.5.58-9). They see a tragic ending in their love story and foreshadow their own deaths. Constant foreshadowing keeps readers in anticipation for the deaths; however, when the ending finally happens, it is still surprising. In conclusion, although we know the results of the future because of the reminders scattered throughout quotes, the looming knowledge of Romeo and Juliet’s deaths make the actual event more dramatic and meaningful.
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.
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.
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.
Let’s face it. There are so many self help books out there, it is a difficult task to decide on picking one that is actually helpful despite reading the cover, judging the authenticity of “it will change your life” quotes,skimming through the content. So I have saved that trouble for you, tadah!
Possiblythe only book you ever need to become successful:
I do not hesitate in saying that this book will change your life. It sounds so cliche, but it is so true! I cannot articulately explain just how (that’s what the book is for) but basically, it enlightens us to the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.
There are so many things outside of our control; we can’t change the world around us, our situations, or how others act and think. And it’s hard to change ourselves, our habits and our personality. So this book doesn’t tell us how. What we can change is how we look at ourselves and the world. And that is what this book is about. It is amazing how a change in perspective not only affects the way you think, but also how you act and react. It is an idea that is so wide-spread it can relate to everyone – students, teachers, parents – and be applied to all aspects of life, whether you’re an athlete, a musician, or an accountant.
Here’s an excerpt from her website with a helpful example:
“In the academic arena, mindset plays an important role. Students with a growth mindset are more likely to continue to persist when they struggle, while those who believe their intelligence is fixed are more likely to give up. Dweck has shown, too, that cues from parents and educators about performance can impact students’ beliefs and future actions.
Consider this example: a student completes a challenging mathematics problem successfully and her teacher offers praise by saying, “Great job! Clearly, you are very good at math.” What effect might this feedback have on the student’s beliefs? Dweck’s research indicates that this type of feedback—praising innate ability—reinforces the fixed mindset and the belief that people are born either with mathematics skills or without them. Further, she has shown that praise that reinforces this belief undermines students’ motivation and future learning, leading them to avoid more challenging tasks to protect themselves from failure.
Now consider an alternative: when the student completes the challenging mathematics problem, the teacher responds by saying, “Great job! You must have worked hard at that problem! Nice effort!” How might this feedback have a different effect on the student’s beliefs? Dweck has demonstrated that this response—praising effort instead of intelligence—reinforces the belief that success is developed through persistent effort. Dweck’s research also shows that even when a student fails at a task, this type of feedback indicates that struggle and failure are normal, and that effort is a crucial part of eventual success.”
And the best part about this book is the simplicity of its message. Some of you may have heard of the famous “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey, and while I learned from that book too, this one’s better. There aren’t many rules to follow or steps to take that are difficult to remember, instead only one, clear message:
Ok, so this is a very crude portrayal of the concept but it gives you the idea.
I have seen a great difference in the way I approach my work in both ballet and school since reading this. Because I am less concerned about what I can do now but rather what I will be able to do in the future, perfectionism has diminished allowing me to take more risks. It also taught me that talent is not enough. Through hard work and perseverance anything is possible, and the book has many examples of that. I don’t procrastinate as much, scared to start a paper, worried that it will not turn out perfect – because it is my effort and how much I learn during the process that counts. This idea persuaded me to work harder by doing extra exercises to supplement the training of my daily dance classes. After reading it, I just felt so enlightened and motivated that I truly can reach, or at least, should try to reach, my full potential.
I hope I have interested you in this book if you haven’t read it already (in which case I’d be interested to hear what you think) because sincerely I’d feel like I’ve contributed to a better mankind with each person that reads this. I guarantee it is a worthwhile read, if not mind-bogglingly life-changing at least moderately interesting.