Showing posts with label dance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dance. Show all posts

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Isadora Duncan a Graphic Biography by Sabrina Jones

Rating: WORTHY!

Before I read this I didn't know squat about Isadora Duncan - not even what she was famous for other than her death which is probably better known than her life by too many people - myself a prime case in point. I also remember her name from a Beatles movie, although I forger the specific movie tile. It's where Ringo chants at one point, "Isadora Duncan worked for Telefunken." He either got it from a song title by John Lennon, or Lennon titled his song after Ringo's chant. I don't know which came first, but I never could get that line out of my head! Telefunken was at the time a German electrical appliance manufacturer the name of which had perhaps amused the Beatles during their tenure in the country at the outset of their career.

I'd rather idly assumed that Duncan had been a writer, maybe a poet, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover from this biography that she'd been known pretty much solely for dance in her own time. I enjoyed the biography and it was packed and informative, but for me, Isadora Duncan came off as a bit of a flake, and probably not someone I would have taken to had I ever met her. Not that that's chronologically possible since she died in 1927.

Her dancing seems to me to have been the visual equivalent of jazz music - free-form and undisciplined. I can't say for sure since sadly, there's no film of her dancing, although there are photographs, but such static snapshots cannot possibly give a good picture of how she moved or what her dancing was truly like. I'm guessing I would not have liked it.

Regardless of my personal preference though, she impressed very many people with her dance in her lifetime, and attempted at one time or another, to start schools to teach others to be free and self-motivated in their dance rather than rigidly adhere to preset forms. In this regard she was the Bruce Lee of dance, for he advocated precisely this same thing except that it was in regard to martial arts in his case. Whether he knew anything of Isadora Duncan I can't say, but the two of them would have probably gotten along quite well had chronology been such that they could ever have met.

Her death, for anyone who has never heard of it, was the equivalent of a hanging, when her flowing scarf became caught in the open-spoked wheels and axle of the open-top car in which she was riding, resulting in her being pulled out of the car by the neck, which broke. Death was instantaneous, we're assured, although I doubt many deaths truly are. She was only fifty and still had so much to offer the world, which redoubles the tragedy.

The thing is that her life was equally ill-favored in many regards, including that of raising children. She was not an advocate of marriage, She was very progressive and feminist, and a pursuer of free love as it was called. Today she'd likely be cruelly dismissed as a slut, but she had two children with her lovers who both died when the car they were in ran off by itself into a river. She later had a third child which died shortly after it was born. So tragic a life.

She was so renowned in dance that she was able to support her several siblings and mother (father abandoned the family when Isadora was quite young), but then she would go off on a tangent and embark upon some project - such as starting a dancing school or proposing an idyllic retreat in the hills of Athens, none of which ever really took off.

After those, she would find herself in debt and would began dancing again to raise money before launching a new venture - another school or whatever. At one point she had a dancing troop of six girls who toured, and were known as the "Isadorables" which is an amusing and charming name. Her professional reputation and influence lasted a lot longer than her schools did. The last of her Isadorables died quite recently, in 1987.

The book in general, I think, does a good job of conveying her life, but from subsequent reading I've done, it appears to omit some details, such as her private life becoming less private and more scandalous in later life, her drunkenness and her waning ability to pay her bills, so it seems that this book set out only to paint a glossy and positive picture, but that said, I feel better for knowing more about her than I did before, and I commend this graphic novel for getting me there.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Josephine Baker by Isabel Sanchez Vegara, Agathe Sorlet

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This is a charmer of a book for young children, told by Vegara, and illustrated in charming simplistic color by Sorlet, it tells the spectacular story of Freda Josephine McDonald, a dirt poor girl from St Louis Missouri, who became known to the world as Josephine Baker, dancer, actor, and World War Two hero, who spoke out against racism and adopted a rainbow family of children to put her actions where her mouth was.

This book is part of a series (Little People, Big Dreams) aimed at young children, and relating the lives of outstanding people including:

  • Maya Angelou
  • Jane Austen
  • Agatha Christie
  • Marie Curie
  • Amelia Earhart
  • Ella Fitzgerald
  • Anne Frank
  • Jane Goodall
  • Audrey Hepburn
  • Frida Kahlo
  • Ada Lovelace
  • Georgia O’Keefe
  • Emmeline Pankhurst
  • Rosa Parks
  • Harriet Tubman

The list seems sadly more biased towards the arts than ever it is towards the sciences or engineering, or military or other public service, for that matter, but that really just reflects what a disproportionate influence celebrities have upon in modern society, doesn't it?

However, this book in particular tells a stirring story worth telling, and worth children learning, and I recommend it highly.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Splashdance by Liz Starin

Rating: WORTHY!

This is a book for children, about prejudice and determination, amusingly illustrated, beautifully written. Ursula and Ricardo are training hard for the water ballet competition. The prize is a million dollars and Ursula, who happens to be a bear, is confident they can win...until, that is, they see a sign "No Bears Allowed" at the pool! Other hairy animals are allowed in, but for some reason, bears are being profiled.

That's not even the worst thing to happen! Ricardo ditches Ursula for a giraffe - still hairy, but not banned! Thus provides some great talking points for a discussion with your child about prejudice and about lost friendships. Is your friend really a friend if they abandon you - especially when the abandonment stems from an unjust act against you? It's a good lead-in to talk about rumor and cruelty, and discriminating against people for unjust reasons.

The thing about Ursula though, is that she doesn't give up. She teams up with a bunch of misfit animals and they practice so hard, and sneak into the tournament anyway! In the end, fun is had, minds are changed, and a good lesson is learned. I liked this book and I recommend it as a worthy read for young children. I loved the title!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Time To Dance by Padma Venkatraman

Title: A Time To Dance
Author: Padma Venkatraman
Publisher: Penguin
Rating: worthy!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

p194 "souls progress" should be "soul's progress"

I used to know someone whose name (both names, actually!) sounded very much like Padma's last name, though I suppose such a name is relatively common in a nation of over a billion people (so I don't imagine they're related!). So what about what she wrote? Well, despite some sad tropes and clich├ęs in this novel, I really did enjoy it; however, my undertaking with this blog is to give honest reviews that pull no punches even for novels that I recommend, so brace yourself! Amongst the good, lies some tough fiber!

You might think that this story - the shattered artist - has been done before (and it always seems to be about dancers, doesn't it?!). I don't doubt that it has, but the real question you need to ask here is: has it been done so refreshingly well, and was it so beautifully written? Discuss! In my opinion, it wasn't: this novel is the standard, not what may have gone before.

This novel is what Born Confused could have been but which failed to get there. Unlike that novel, this one is set in India, in Chennai (which you may know as Madras, home of the hotter-than-hell curry). Chennai is the home-base of the Tamil film industry, and a center of Bharatanatyam dance, so it's no surprise that this novel is about a young girl named Veda whose greatest passion in life is that very dance form (examples can be found on You Tube). Her whole focus, as we join the narrative, is on preparing for a dance competition, which she wins. Right at that moment, as she's flying so high, the vehicle in which she's riding home flies into a tree, and she awakens in a hospital to find part of her right leg is missing.

A Time To Dance is written like a poem, and it works. Sometimes it's a bit awkward because the line breaks come where I wasn't expecting them, but most of the time they come exactly where they ought to be. Okay, maybe they always come exactly where they ought to be, and I'm just clueless! Fine! I'll deal, but one place where it worked less than ideally for me was around page ninety-one, where there was a long conversation. That seemed quite artificial (that is, the line breaks, not the conversation).

Hey, the Bharatiya Janata Party just won a majority in the Indian general election, so maybe Bharat is in now! I have no idea what I'm talking about, do I?!

On the other hand, there was a (shorter) conversation later which scanned much better, so maybe it was having so many single lines on a page which looked so odd. Other than that, I was pleasantly surprised at how well it did work. Venkatraman is evidently a very talented writer and knows her poetry even when it's disguised as prose (or vice-versa). Some of the lines read like haiku.

Veda (no word yet on whether the prefix is Darth...) meets an American doctor who insists that she call him Jim. He's working to provide Indians with limb prostheses, and he takes a cast of her leg and tells her that he will have her dancing again. Veda all but falls in love with him which struck me as a bit too much, especially since he has to be considerably older than Veda is. We're not actually told how old Veda is, but this novel is for ages 12 and up, and Jim is around 30.

Yes, I know there are May-December relationships and there's nothing wrong with them, but one does not find such relationships in YA novels; then again, one does not find very many Indian-authored YA novels widely available in the USA. Maybe there's a less blinkered ethos in India when it comes to relationships?

Veda notes that while, during her time in the hospital, her rival Kamini came to see her and even brought flowers, her teacher Uday failed to show up, and when she goes to see him wearing her temporary prosthesis, and demonstrates that she can still do the moves, he reminds her that there's one important Bharatanatyam dance move which she has failed to make, and when she attempts it, she can't do it. He then makes his move: turning his back upon her.

Angry, Veda seeks a new teacher, Dhanam, who takes her on, but she must start in the beginner's class until she finds her feet (so to speak). That class is taught by Govinda, so now she has the hots for two males in her life, both of whom are older than herself. I have to confess at this point that I would have liked Veda better had she been a little more mature - not older, necessarily, but more mature.

It felt wrong to me that she so easily fell for two guys in a row when she was supposedly so devoted to dancing. That's not to say, of course, that a girl can't multi-task(!), but it betrayed the devotion and focus which she'd had in the early part of the novel. To me it felt like she had not only lost part of a limb, but also lost her drive, which would be a far more devastating loss in my opinion. Deva stating - get it? See, Padma V., I can pun, too!

Talking of trope, Govinda has gold flecks in his eyes. Is it not in any way, shape, or form, possible to have a main YA male character who doesn't have gold flecks in his freaking eyes? Is it illegal to have non-gold-flecked eyes in a male love interest YA fiction?! I'm so tired of reading that! Are there no YA writers who can come up with something original in this regard? Where are the editors to tut-tut when their writers put something like this on the page?! OK, pet peeve off, moving on....

One thing which struck me as odd was the cruel puns made by a set of twins at Veda's school, who kept joking about her amputation. The problem is not that they were being cruel: people can be cruel in real life, whether intentionally or not, and it would be foolish to chide a novelist for portraying realistic characters even if you don't like the character. No, it was the puns which made me think, "Really?". Plus, a lot of these puns were tied to the game of cricket, which will be well-received in British ears, but which will fall flat for a US audience.

Puns were made on words like 'limp' and on cricket terms such as 'stump' and 'match' (Veda played cricket before her injury), but this is purportedly taking place in a part of India where they're presumably speaking Tamil. )That's just a guess! The language isn't specified.) I couldn't help but wonder if the puns would work in a different language. Since cricket was 'exported' to India by the Brits, perhaps the words for 'match' and 'stump' are actually the same, but is the word for 'stump', in reference to the remainder of an amputated limb the same in Tamil or Hindi? I doubt it.

Is the word for 'match', meaning a fortuitous pairing of two people the same as 'match' meaning a game, in these languages? Maybe we're supposed to overlook things like this, but I can't completely ignore it! It jumps out at me, even as I'm frankly quite amused by the puns. Padma Venkatraman would probably be an entertaining conversationalist. Fortunately, this language-specific punning isn't a killer with regard to my rating this novel! Not for me, it isn't at any, er, rate....

I have to say that Veda's friend Chandra's comparison of Karma with Newton's third law of motion doesn't work! In Newton's law, actions have equal but opposite reactions (strictly speaking, an object upon which a force is exerted will present a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction to the force acting upon it), whereas in karma, actions are supposed to have similar reactions, not opposite ones, aren't they?!

But enough quibbling! This is, despite my griping above, a really good and entertaining novel, and it was a pleasure to read it. I recommend it without reservation.