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Parasite and The White Tiger: Parallel film review

I recently watched Ramin Bahrani’s film adaption of The White Tiger, based on a novel by Aravind Adiga about an ambitious young taxi driver in India fighting to escape the poverty that he grew up in. And I realized that it reminded me of a similarly eerily offbeat and dark comedy film, Parasite, the 2019 Academy Award winner for Best Picture directed by Bong Joon-ho, about two Korean families on different ends of wealth and security and their interactions with one another. In both films, we see the wealthier families view the main characters as lesser-than employees, while the main characters try to redefine their potential for success. And both stories illustrated how large socioeconomic differences that create vastly contrasting life circumstances led to inevitable classism from some characters and desperate acts for survival and justice by others.

There are those who are thriving, those who are surviving, and those who are striving. The White Tiger‘s main character, Balram, and Parasite‘s main characters, the Kim family, are those striving for a better life. Their main counterparts, Balram’s boss and his family and the Park family that employs the Kims, are thriving by societal standards of wealth and success. Balram’s family living in rural India and the Park’s previous housekeeper and husband (spoiler alert!) secretly living in a secret basement bunker fall under those barely surviving. Unlike this third set of characters who have accepted their fate to live in poor living conditions and no freedom, our main protagonists in both films strive to emulate, be accepted by, and take advantage of their thriving counterparts when possible. They try to rid themselves of the mentality and habits associated with being poor while pleasing their bosses, engaging in a grapple between their identities of who they are and who they want to be or be seen as.

The main characters try to stay in the good graces of their bosses due to the power imbalance that can determine major aspects of their life; however, this breeds spite and anger when the boundaries of classism seem impossible to break. In The White Tiger, Ashok and his wife Pinky are portrayed as relatively kind and forward-thinking bosses to Balram, while the rest of the family blatantly abuse him verbally and physically. That being said, although they say they don’t care about castes, the young couple who Balram drives around still carry a sense of superiority and entitlement over him, showing unintentional classism from patronizing language or sheer ignorance of where Balram comes from and how he sees the world. Similarly, in Parasite, although the Park family are portrayed as an arguably nice and normal family, there are hints of behaviours throughout the film that show they ultimately do not see the Kims as their equals, from multiple mentions of the stench of the ‘poor’ to the unquestionable entitlement they feel they have to their employees’ time and energy even in the situation of (another spoiler!) losing their home or facing death. The life experiences between the wealthy and poor portrayed in these films are so different that they inevitably fail to relate to one another and are unable to coexist without the acknowledgement of inequality that causes either classism or resentment.

In the beginning of the films, we are introduced to our main “striving” protagonists, Balram and the four members of the Kim family. Their “thriving” counterparts, Ashok and his family in The White Tiger, and the Parks in Parasite, ultimately reflect the rigidity of the socioeconomic system in their classism whether it is displayed blatantly or subconsciously. The rigid boundary between their social circumstances seem unbreakable to the protagonists, who are treated with degradation by their employers despite their best efforts to be kind and agreeable. The humiliation and frustration that our main characters endure push them to desperation as they try to hang on to their dignity and dreams. In both films, this desperation leads to (spoilers again!) murder, one out of rage and the other out of strategy. In Parasite, Mr. Kim stabs Mr. Park due to his dismissal of Mr. Kim’s situation as he holds his dying daughter, as all the spite and injustice that has built up over the course of his employment becomes too much to handle. In The White Tiger, realizing that he would not be able to advance in his career without any capital and that his employers ultimately did not care about him, Balram resorts to murdering his boss in order to have a chance at fulfilling his potential. In either case, these characters are pushed to a breaking point to defy the system in some way, and end up committing these heinous crimes.

While we can sympathize with the motivations of these characters’ actions, either driven by defending honour or pursuing ambition, it is a scary thought to think about what people can be capable of when they feel like they have nothing to lose. Sadly, in the case of the Kims, their family ends up in worse conditions, with the father trapped in hiding, the mother taking care of a disabled child, and one child dead. Even in the case of Balram, who uses the stolen money to start his own successful business, he must cut ties with his roots as he sacrifices the fate of his family for his new future. Both Parasite and The White Tiger present a story of escape from poverty and the effects of socioeconomic status on how people interact with one another, reminding us about the harsh reality of competition and unfairness that still exist in modern societies.

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True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey: Book Review

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Morning reading in Texas hill country.

Oh, boy.

Often my eyes are drawn to books with award stamps printed on the cover. This book was no exception but certainly surpassed my expectation. The True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey won the Man Booker Prize in 2001 with a gripping story and well rounded characters described through the rough, honest voice of an Australian bushranger. Edward “Ned” Kelly writes to his daughter his life story revealing his true character and the oppressive circumstances he experienced since the beginning of childhood to being a reputed outlaw.

It is hard to try to condense the plot without giving anything away because of the book’s many memorable moments, but from the very first pages we know that there is death of at least one individual in this novel. And because the central theme is power abused by authority, the entire book can be seen as a battle between the police and the people. But that makes it sound so boring and this book is not, packed from start to end with adventure, humour, compassion, and characters that feel like they exist in real life.

Ned Kelly is by far my favourite character, partially because he is the protagonist and author as well. The reader grows up with him through trials and triumphs and gets a glimpse of a strong, loving, intelligent, and most unfortunate soul. Sympathy is found for the Kelly family and the small gang, especially Joe Byrne, who is tortured between his personal safety and his friendship with Ned. These two are the ones I found most empathy with as they faced adversity together and protected the two younger members of their “gang.”Other striking characters include the crude and fearless Harry Power, famous outlaw who took Ned as an apprentice; Ellen Kelly, beloved mother of Ned, a widow determined and headstrong to provide for her family; and Mary Hearn, a young and cunning woman only more loyal to her children than to her prince.

The ability to create such human characters comes from the raw voice of Ned Kelly, who although considers himself uneducated, actually writes with remarkable observance and conviction. At first it takes adjusting to read sentences with prominent slang and inconsistent punctuation, but the style merges with the character and becomes an endearing reflection of Ned Kelly himself. It is storytelling at its best, when you can hear the voice of the narrator, especially when it is formed in your head from printed words!

In fact, one of the themes found in this book is actually the power of the written word, as Ned Kelly tries to clear his name through letters. His quest to gain a national audience portrays one aspect of government control over the media and public perception. Like “V for Vendetta” or “Robin Hood,” the journal series sides with the proletariat and has a feel of folk/legend lore. This book is the most realistic out of this comparison because of its diverse content between daily mundane activities and horse-riding, gun-shooting action.

All in all, one of the most powerful points of this novel is that there are no “bad guys,” even though Australia’s police force is painted in a particularly bad light. Life isn’t fair and humans make mistakes. I looked up the real Ned Kelly on the internet and his history is full of controversy, either hailed as heroic or criminal. I am glad this novel has told a story of this man from a personal and justified point of view because it is beautiful, happy, sad, and piercing. True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey lives up to its golden award stamp and is a book that will sit on my mind long after I’ve closed its pages.

Thanks for reading,
thebookybunhead

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Balzac and The Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie: Book Review


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.

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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A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore: Book Review

Let me just say that this gentleman is probably one of the funniest authors around. I’m not sure how many times I chuckled apparently not to myself while reading this; earning peculiar glances that I could only respond to by grinning foolishly, still laughing in my head, or hiding my face behind the covers; but it was worth it. However, as you can guess from the cover, this book’s got its dark side too.

In fact, it’s about Charlie Asher, a Beta male, who has been appointed a job as Death. Along with other ‘Death merchants’, Charlie helps human souls pass on to their next life, a responsibility which he must juggle while taking care of his family and second hand business. What follows is a battle between good and evil as forces from the Underworld threaten to take over. So it’s basically a hero myth, but with context, character, and style unlike any other.

Like I said, Christopher Moore is one of my favourite authors because I can always count on his books for a fun, dramatic read. The characters are colourful, the dialogue between them a zany train of thought, and you never know what to expect as you turn each page. It’s like every time you think you find and follow a straight path, wham! a glass wall appears changing your direction with a most surprising statement or event.

Characters include a Gothic girl chef obsessed with death, an ex-cop who is desperately lovesick and thinks everyone is a serial killer, a reflective homeless known as the Emperor of San Francisco, and two hellhounds named Alvin and Mohammed. But despite the randomness, everything fits, crazy antics contribute to the plot and ’embellishment’ descriptions become relevant; so when you step back, the winding labyrinth of a journey makes a beautiful picture.

In this case, it is the coping and understanding of death that is gained alongside Charlie’s development in his new career. The humour infused throughout makes the serious theme of death not so grave, and I won’t give it away, but leads to a satisfying and serene ending than can be considered enlightening.

One of the characters, Mrs. Ling, is an older Chinese woman who cooks and eats everything, including the deceased pets of Sophie, Charlie’s daughter whom she babysits. Clearly it is a hilarious stereotype, and though its true that Chinese cuisine consists of the strangest meats and parts, how is it really any different than a processed burger patty? All I’m saying is that isn’t it good not to waste anything? Then again I am impartial in the defense…

It is the first book in the series which I hope to read entirely in the future, and I recommend other books by Moore as well, particularly Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal.
So, ending my rambling, if you like comedy, mystery, and everything unexpected then I say go for it.

Thanks for reading,
-thebookybunhead

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When Elephants Weep: Brief Book Review

So, this title quickly caught my eye as I was browsing the book shelf as I have always been a sucker for anything animal-themed. Thought it indeed had some very fascinating and touching stories regarding our non-human friends, I must admit this book was not quite what I expected.

Stories include:

– A mother giraffe fends off a lion for an hour to defend her child.
– Koko the gorilla cares for a “pet” kitten she names “All Ball.”
– A male falcon displays uncharacteristic behavior, including sounds that sound like cries of anguish, when his mate is killed.
– A gorilla who is given orange juice as a treat, gives it instead one day to a researcher who complains of a stomach ache. When she returns ten days later, the gorilla insists on the researcher drinking her juice until reassured that the stomach ache is gone.
– And of course, the thing that gives this book its title: elephants have been seen to cry on numerous occasions.
(These examples summarized in the review by Andrew J. Sydlik)

While I thoroughly enjoyed such a vast archive of accounts and stories (this book is well researched and referenced), often times the book takes on a rather ‘preachy’ tone, focusing on the argument of whether animals have feelings or not, instead of insight into how feelings and behaviour integrate which was what I expected. I don’t know how different the views on animal cruelty were when this book was published in 1995, but regardless I find a lot of the book scorning denial for superiority of the human race and scientists who do not take emotions as seriously as they should, when  instead it could have highlighted works that have been done to support the argument of existence and importance of emotions in non-humans.

That being said, and being the biased animal lover that I am, the many stories will leave you well entertained and more affectionate of our animal friends than you were before, so I would say, give it a go, just feel free to skip some of the in-between stuff.

Thanks for reading!
-thebookybunhead

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“See the music, hear the dance.” -George Balanchine

So we all know Balanchine was a genius. But apart from his achievements of irreversibly changing ballet vocabulary and staging (he doesn’t ‘create’, God does) one of the most diverse, lasting repertoire of ballet works today, he was also a man of character – of passionate drive, and nonchalance.

“George Balanchine: The Ballet Maker” written by Robert Gottlieb documents the illustrious development of his career and works, and attempts to explain his deep philosophies of dance and music; but possibly most fascinatingly, allows us a glimpse into daily life of the man, compiling true and intimate memories through people who actually knew him. It is one of many biographies about this amazing artist, and a rather nice short and light one to start off with.

It is truly a remarkable story, spanning across the globe from Russia, to Europe, to America; and in different fields, from operas, to ballet companies, to film and Broadway. It is easy to speak of Balanchine’s successes and label him a superhuman; however, this story reveals the hardships and failures that went along with cultivating his talents. Funny to think he was not interested in dance when he was first accepted in to Mariinsky. It is always inspirational to learn the story of how someone seemingly ordinary can become so extraordinary. Though there are discrepancies regarding his own dancing as written in the opinions of the book, there is absolutely no doubt of Balanchine’s choreographic merit.

In addition being a talented musician Balanchine integrated dance and music in intricacies that were never seen before. His works can be seen as simple and yet rich simultaneously.  He had great relationships with as well as respect for his dancers, and it shows in the final product onstage. Mr. B, as they called him, inspired them in every rehearsal, specific to his esthetic but always willing to explore, sometimes even using mistakes for the piece. As much as he admired beauty, especially that of the female ballerina, he valued musicality, dynamics and agility in a dancer. For him, dance in one word: energy.


(with Stravinsky, a life-long partnership)

In spite of his vibrancy, Balanchine was, I dare say, a quiet man. And it is predictable considering his childhood isolation from basically being dumped at the school by his parents for his better future and leaving his home country at teenage years only to not see most of his family again. He certainly loved his family, but did not speak of them often, which leads me to a thought, how special is a blood relation? Sure, family is family, and the bonds are irreplaceable and infinite, but do between parent and child, or sibling to sibling, they need to be built just as in any other relationship?

Of some similarity was a sort of disattachment in his marriages. Balanchine had several muses, five of whom became his wife at some point in their lives, and when he loved he was truly passionate. He put women on a pedestal in a sort of veneration, which is not suited for everyone. Often it was a splitting in their professions that caused drifting between the couple as Balanchine needed a muse for creation and inspiration.

Dismissing any eccentricities that I must admit defines every artist, Balanchine was a generous man to the ballet world. He pushed the boundaries of an existing art form while remaining true to its core and virtuoso. I can only imagine from this reading what it must have been like to be taught by him, meet him, or simply to have a peek of him in the studio.

(Photos from two of my favourite Balanchine ballets: Serenade and Apollo)

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Mindset by Carol S. Dweck: A ‘key to success’ book that actually serves its purpose well

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!

Possibly the only book you ever need to become successful:

Mindset

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:

I'm going to succeed cause I am crazy...

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.

Read on,
thebookybunhead

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