Saturday, October 18, 2014

Review: Pagés Breathes Life into Carmen


I, Carmen (Yo, Carmen)
María Pagés Compañía
17 October 2014
Esplanade Theatre
Run: 17-18 October 2014

To declare one's identity, one may choose to stomp the ground and yell out who you are. But with wisdom and self-confidence, María Pagés chooses to gracefully present what it means to be a woman and embrace its humanity in all its manifestations. 

I, Carmen is a lush blend of music, dance, poetry, and tongue-in-cheek complaints. Rather than negating all that is not, Pagés offers a positive and soulful expression of womanhood. Infusing the meditative potential of contemporary dance, her choreography ranges from a quiet but profound contemplation to one of strength and passion. I realised that half of her choreography consists of basic steps that any flamenco student would be familiar with. It is very easy to dismiss such steps but all the dancers executed it very beautifully. 

Beauty in simplicity is definitely the order of the day as Pagés uses artistry as her needle to weave beauty into the quotidian. I was surprised to see a scene in which all the dancers were doing housework as most would consider it to be re-establishing traditional gender roles. However, with an innovative use of props, she turned it into a celebration of the everyday. 

Yet, life has its moments of sadess and vulnerability too; that is when Pagés shines the most. Ever hand movement, every crinkle in her face, and every turn is a process of digging deep and expressing the most moving of emotions. Even in stillness, as she examines herself in the mirror and donning the height of traditional Spanish fashion only to take it off again, one remains transfixed. I cannot help but notice two sides of her; the one in the flesh and the one in the mirror. 

I would do this show an injustice without mentioning that it achieved something rare in dance: incorporating poems as another layer of the dance without privileging the latter. A sound recording of women reading works by female poets in the original languages was played as the dancers danced to it. Here, Pagés displays a rare sensitivity in respecting the text. The rhythms of the poem was incorporated as the driving beat of the dance and the stresses of the words replaces the palmas (hand clapping) in usual flamenco numbers. Though it must be said that flashing the words as surtitles can be distracting.

Finally, due credit must be paid to the production elements. As a response to Bizet's Carmen, most of the music was an adaptation of the original score to flamenco guitar. A great deal of thoughtfulness went into the arrangement as the frenzy during the climaxes of the original score is re-expressed into a sense of quiet joy. Those with a keen ear would be in for small treats as the musicians occasionally includes motifs such as the chime of a clock tower before the housewives scene to represent the passing of time. 

While Pagés's costumes design seemed simple enough with bold lines running across a skin coloured dress, the wonderful injection of light often creates the illusion of the dancers wearing different costumes. In one number, the reddish-brown wash from the side booms mixed with the bold lines on the dress gave me the impression that the dancers were wearing a different dress with two colour blocks. I was pleasantly surprised that they were wearing the same dress as the lights changed for the next number. Clearly, artistry does not begin and end with the dancing in this production.

It is worth noting that María Pagés started her career with Antonio Gades who, in his time, created the flamenco version of Carmen that is still based strongly on Bizet's opera and all the loaded implications that come with it. With I, Camen, Spain can truly say that it has reclaimed Carmen for itself. Brava Maria, Brava. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Adulterated Views


Don't you just hate it when someone does that? You're reading a blog post that has somewhat interested you and there is a photo, supposedly informative, that accompanies the text. You look at it - hoping that it will reinforce or illustrate what was written. But at the corner, or somewhere embedded, comes that grating text that serves as a declaration of one's non-existent photographic skill.  

Never has there been an act more pompous and selfish than branding photos in such a conspicuous manner. 

Now don't get me wrong, there are commercial and artistic circumstances in which a photographer has every right to do as he/she pleases. But more often than not, those who took the pains to create some form of watermark are 'photographers' whose only training in the craft is to push that button of a digital camera that automatically gives you an ideal setting or, worse still, iphonographers and their smart phone brethren. 

There's no conceivable reason for one to do so. Do they think that one will not know who took the photo? Do these people seriously think that someone will take their photo and make a ton of money by selling it to some publication? 

It only indicates that they are protective of their vanity rather than content presentation - to inform, entertain, inspire, compel, question, and provoke. Then again, they did succeed in provoking me to write this post. 

So what about the photos on my blog? Aside from photos of myself and friends, feel free to steal, covet, manipulate, re-create, and use all you want.  I couldn't care less and am actually flattered that you deem it to be good enough. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Best of July's August Man


For those of you who are my Facebook friends, you should have known by now that I'm currently interning with August Man magazine. If you're wondering what is it like to work for a magazine, stay tuned as I'll write about my experiences in a later post. 

For now, I shall share with you what I like best about the July's issue which hit newsstands roughly a fortnight ago. I know what you are thinking... 

No, I'm not doing this because I want to impress the editor (he doesn't even know I have this blog) or that they are paying me extra to do this (how I wish this were true). One of the reasons why I even applied to work for them, apart from pocket money and killing time, is because I like the magazine. I wouldn't work for a publication that I have no interest in. 

So here goes, the best of July... or what interests me the most.


Of course, I have to include my own work. It'll be impossible for me to stay on for so long if I didn't take pride in what I do. My byline appears in two sections: Calendar and Emporium.

For the former, I pick five events that really interests me which may appeal to the August Man reader. And my byline is justifiably there because I took the effort to write something that best describes the event - nothing was copied wholesale from the press releases. I particular enjoyed writing about Free by Raw Moves and Red by Blank Space Theatre which I eventually got to see and review (click on the links to read them). 

As for Emporium, I picked ten things that one could consider buying if they want something different for their wardrobe. Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to personally look at the products as I have rather strict editorial timelines. 


Now on to the fun stuff. I thought the choice of theme for the main book - non-conformist - is a good one as it opened up lots of possibilities to interview and write about interesting people. I was really happy to help out with research and transcription of the main feature, The Power of One. It highlights five regular individuals who have made a change in the community or even the world. Their causes are varied from the political and social causes of animal and LGBTQ rights to a more personal one of raising funds for cancer patients and making them laugh so as to ease the pain of chemo and radiotherapy sessions. 

Being a lifestyle magazine, we are never far away from the fashion world. The managing editor, Darren Ho (@DarrenJYHo) wrote two pieces, one of which is rather fascinating while the other is very useful and practical. His feature on the Sapeurs - a group of elegant and stylish men from the Republic of Congo - talks about how they view fashion as a way of life and a statement against the conflicts in their war-torn country. For those clueless about tuxedos, he also wrote an article about the evolution of the tuxedo and its sartorial features through the ages. I'm definitely creating a checklist based on this article before going to my tailor. 

To round up the fashion features, it's time to bring back the hat and score that 'hat trick'. It tells you about the fedora, its distinctive features (not every hat is a fedora), and the styles that are available. While I have some opinions about people wearing a hat, I shall spare my readers the soapbox this time and say this: donning a fedora does not a Sinatra make. 

Horology and art enthusiasts should read the Arts & Craft section and find out how AP brought together the best of both worlds in their exhibition at Art Basel Hong Kong. Also, if you are tired of hearing doom and gloom in the region of Afghanistan, then wake up. The magazine has a refreshing coverage about Skateistan, an NGO that aims to bridge various divides through a common sport and affect real change in the countries that they are working in. Yes, the pictures show that the girls can really skate.  

Finally, eager entrepreneurs will not feel left out because there is a business supplement, Guru, which covers start-ups from a variety of industries. Of course, long-time readers will have their usual fix of fashion trends, travel destinations, electronics, fitness, grooming, cars, watches, and food - all in one package. 

Photo: www.facebook.com/augustman
To top it all off, you can even buy the mag from a vending machine! The great thing is that you can purchase the June issue if you forgot to get it from the newsstand. Yes, I helped with that issue too. 

As if me waxing lyrical hasn't convinced you enough, if you purchase the magazine from bookshops or the vending machine, you'll get a free phone case from KASE. Some kind soul has even documented some of the designs available if you are wondering what's on offer.

Till the August issue.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Thoughts on Being Hacked

It’s just one of those things which you hardly think about until it happens to you. You know how to minimise the chances of it occurring but you couldn’t be bothered to take precautions; you think, “well if it really happens, I know what to do anyway. No sweat.” Then it happened to me.

A familiar episode of procrastination turned out to be something unexpected. I was just about to close my Facebook app on my phone when the corner of my eye caught something different. Why does that small square picture (i.e. my profile picture on the blue bar) have a different colour scheme? Thinking it was something to do with the app or my dinosaur of a phone, I decided to open my profile page – my jaw dropped. That cold stare of a skull, with its hollow eye socket, put me in a daze for a moment. What does this mean? How did my profile picture became this hideous thing? Thankfully, this stranger indicated what has happened in my cover picture; a guy wearing a hoodie (taken from Shutterstock may I add) and the words “You’ve Been Hacked.”

Scrolling down my timeline, I was really thankful that the hacker (henceforth H) had the courtesy to inform me, and all my connections on Facebook, what had happened. My timeline was littered with three pornographic pictures, including a really distasteful one involving zombies. What would everyone have thought had it not been for the cover picture? On hindsight, I hardly doubt that H was trying to be courteous, he (could be a she but I’ll make this assumption anyway) was mocking me and announcing his achievements.

At that moment, the carelessly thought out contingency plan whenever I dismiss the need for a complicated password could not be summoned. My mind went blank. I was at a complete loss as to what to do; obvious things like deleting all the pictures as the first step of damage control did not occur to me until 10 minutes later. Why would H choose me – a completely easy target by any standards? What satisfaction is there to be gotten from attacking the defenceless?

With these questions unanswered, more questions started to set in. How long has these things been there? It couldn’t be long or a whole army of people would tell me about it. Would they? What would people think? What if they don’t go to my profile page after seeing those pictures? And then, it started. “Oh wow you’ve been hacked real bad.” “Isaac, you better check your FB.”

After some commiserations with friends, acquaintances, and even teachers, I started to assess the damage done. Little did I know that I was soon locked out of my own Facebook account while trying to suspend it. H even went so far as to lock my email so that requesting a recovery password would be useless. I had to recover control of my email before I can do so for my Facebook account.

A few weeks later, I discovered that H even hacked into a blog that is an online portfolio of all my writings – one that prospective employers will see. My profile picture changed, the same pornographic pictures appeared, H even stretched his literary muscles and try to plant the F word strategically in my posts while trying to make sense – he failed. I must say that I’m flattered and sad at the same time about H’s visit to my blog. I’m flattered that he bothered to read my posts in detail and am sad that the only person who pay such attention to my writing is a bored geek who can’t be bothered about grammar or spelling.

As with any ordeal, this incident did shed some interesting insights about myself and the people around me. For one, I’m not a cool cucumber – I couldn’t think straight even though it’s a relatively minor incident of cyber vandalism. Secondly, I’m glad that the first reactions of my friends on Facebook were concern and surprise rather than being appalled – none of them thought that I would be the sort to post such pictures. Lastly, I think our law enforcement infrastructure needs to catch up with the times. I realised that when a friend asked if I reported this incident to the police. I did not do that because the police could not do much especially if H is based overseas. More importantly, there was no direct cybercrime unit that I could report to. By the time the coppers at my local police post redirect my report to a relevant unit, it would have been rather long since the incident occurred.

You may be surprised that I have not drawn up a “cyber security checklist” or some other nifty crime prevention message that we are bombarded with. If you could navigate your way to this article, you are probably technologically savvy enough to know the basic tips (which is what I know anyway) but like me, you’ll overlook it. So if it happens to you, know that it’s not the end of the world, take a deep breath, roll up your sleeves, and try to save your online presence.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A New Decision

The following is a portion of my first diary entry. The parts that are not included in this entry are personal.
After what seemed like a permanent hiatus, I've finally decided to start a diary again. The last time I kept a diary was in my primary school days. I probably had a rather romantic notion about diary keeping which was why I started it then. None of the pages from my childhood still exists. I probably threw it out the last time I cleared my room. Then again, my childish musings could hardly be of any use save for nostalgic amusement. I certainly was no Anne Frank.

This time, I was inspired to restart this habit by two articles that I read today - both of them from The Art of Manliness. The first article was an excerpt from Arnold Bennett about existence and the act of writing a diary. The second article is a more straightforward article about how and why one should start a diary. After giving much thought about it, I realise that both articles have a kernel of truth in it. Besides, now that I'm turning 23 and have been blessed with a decent education, perhaps my thoughts and secrets would be of use to someone - be it my future self or otherwise. The challenge ahead is to be consistent about it.

Those who know me personally will be surprised that I've chosen an electronic medium to write my diary since I'm mostly averse to technology. It would be a beautiful thing if I could spend a couple of hours to write into a leather bound diary with a fountain pen. Alas, I don't have the luxury of time nor - considering that this is a long term activity - the physical space to keep the diaries. I've thought of starting a private blog but that means I'll not write my most intimate thoughts in it for the fear of someone hacking it or accidentally making the post public through my own blunder. As such, the current arrangement - whatever that is - is the best compromise.