Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Anna Karenina, Part 1 of 2

Title: Anna Karenina, Part 1 of 2
Author: Leo

For lucky Book #13, I'm going to talk about Anna Karenina. I'm more than halfway through Tolstoy's epic, but since this book really is massive, it's probably prudent to write about it in two separate entries. 

What can I say about Anna K? Well, the first is that I have been meaning to read this book for ages. It's been on my list since school, but obviously, other (shorter) books got in the way of our relationship. With all the film advertisements going on this year about Anna K though, plus the fact that I now own an e-reader and no longer have the excuse that it's 'too heavy' to travel around with Anna K, I finally decided take the plunge.

And is it worth it so far? 


This is cheesy, but the more you read this book, the more it grow on you. It's definitely not an instant gratification: you need to invest a lot of time and energy to sit still and read it. But once you get started, the more you read about each character, the more you empathize with their point of view. And even though you discover that each character is very flawed, each in their own unique way, they are all perspectives that you can understand and get to know deeply. 
You say that everything is very simple and interesting
it makes me feel very wistful, like reading a great
                                                          Russian novel does
from Yesterday Down at the Canal, Frank O'Hara, 1961
I think I read it at a right time in my life, when I have more of an understanding about the human psyche. It is so fascinating to read these Tolstoy characters constantly changing their minds, constantly loving and hating their lovers and families, constantly behaving in contradictory ways and misunderstanding each other ... and it's just all so real. What I like about it is that even though it was written in the 1870s, the worries, the fears, and the joys are still very much the same 150 years later.

A few other notes for now: 
  • Wikipedia just informed me that Anna Karenina started as a newspaper serial. That's why it's so long ... just like Dickens!
  • the Russian names are not too hard to follow. I remember Crime & Punishment being a lot more confusing, and even though you meet a lot of characters in Anna K, it's still quite easy to recognize each person. Perhaps this is due to the good translation. 
  • this book is like Joyce's Ulysses, in that it's an encyclopedia, covering all sorts of topics from farming techniques to current philosophies to pedagogy to history ... fascinating!
  • I actually enjoy the other storyline more than Anna Karenina's storyline. Yes, everyone knows the ending to Anna K, but no one ever talks about Levin, who is the other main character. I love his point of view! He's so quaint, so cute and awkward, so unsociable, so idealistic yet practical ...
  • other people have commented on the 'floating' omniscient narration ... it's really funny reading the point of view of random people, and not only that, of dogs and children's perspectives. Very humourous.

Part 2 will follow once I finish the book.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Cirque du Soleil: Amaluna

What: Cirque du Soleil, Amaluna
Locations: touring
Canada, USA ... and probably worldwide soon

I'm not a newbie to the world of Cirque du Soleil, so I went to see the Amaluna show without too high an expectation, but boy was it good. As usual, Canada's best known circus group Cirque du Soleil performs with just the barest of storylines to hold all the different acrobatic acts together.

Amaluna is loosely based on Shakespeare's The Tempest, but with the added twist of focusing on women. For the first time ever, there are more women cast members than men (in fact, 70% of the cast are females). I took my family to see it and they much preferred the show without referring to the plot.  

But despite the lack of a good narrative, the show is outstanding. I love circuses of all types, and my whole family does too (some of us have been to circus school training for a very short time!) ... and the thing that strikes us the most is watching the mind-blowing feats that human bodies can do so smoothly, sinuously and most of all, so effortlessly! There are trampoline acts, highwire balancing acts, pole acts, aerial silks, unicycles, juggling, balancing etc, and all the performers make each movement look so easy to do, even though they're very hard. 

In a lot of circus shows, performers try to do the most 'impressive' acts to audience members that are none the wiser, and most of the time they would stick to technically easy yet visually impressive moves. However, with Cirque du Soleil, they don't just try to wow you with one visual stunt after visual stunt: they actually execute incredibly difficult techniques perfectly! My juggler/unicycling friend was very pleased to see the main juggler in this show perform with five, even six balls, and doing really fantastic stunts. On top of that, the twin unicyclists are incredible, they could spin on the spot and next to each other in intricate swirls, all done in very, very fast movements. Very impressive! 

My personal favourites are the lead male and female characters' own specialties: the female does body-twisting dives and bends inside a fish-bowl like tank, and the male climbs up and down a pole like it's a walk in the park.

Amaluna is a travelling show, so they set up temporary circus tents like they would back in the 1800s. Very old school, very intimate, so even with the cheapest seats (where we sat), you would get pretty good views.

My only negative point would be the music. I found it too loud and overwhelming, full of blasting rock sequences and I much prefer if the music is softer, more delicate (i.e. rather the violin than the electric guitar). But then again, the bursts of visual and audio splendour are the signature styles for this very conspicuous circus troupe. 

If you've never seen Cirque du Soleil, you should start with this one, and if you're a seasoned attendee, you should still give this a try.  

PS: we also recently saw circus show Cantina's performance in London, UK. It has a very different aesthetic from Cirque du Soleil: more old-style french, bohemian/burlesque. The show's already over, so I won't write a review now.