the antepenultimate week of the semester


musings – October 30, 2015

It’s been pouring out recently, a rather fortunate change from the smog we’ve all been suffocated by for the past month. Hopefully this signals the onset of the monsoon season – the closest we’ll ever get to autumnal weather here – so I’ll finally be able to return to my natural habitat: buried in an oversized sweater and under piles of blankets and pillows with a book and hot coffee.

Following several rather eventful days, my week’s finally slowing down. I’ve been trying to write my english essay on Stoppard’s play but nothing seems to be happening – I can’t think of anything to open the essay with despite the overwhelming content I have for it popping up every other hour. How frightfully difficult it is to write introductions! Everything seems to flow out – no, pour out in bucket loads – right after the introduction’s settled. If only I can get the introduction done without procrastinating anymore.

The weather’s really not helping. I’ve spent the past two evenings sitting on my ledge reading or simply staring out of my window into those of the opposite building. (Is that slightly creepy? Perhaps it is.) Though there isn’t much to see other than the occasional figures shifting and mulling about their rooms – figures so dark you can’t possibly make out their identities, so one can only imagine and play out the lives of these people, dramatising things along the way as child would while glimpsing into the lives of adults.

The smell of the air after a rather generous downpour reminds me of Paris. Not of the city itself, but of the day we had to walk to Museé D’Orsay from Sciences Po, where we had a lecture of which the faintest of details I can’t seem to recall. Having to walk in the rain, getting soaked, ruining my new shoes…I was in an utterly foul from the moment we left the lukewarm cover of the university’s cafeteria to when we finally found refuge in what later became my favourite museum. I’m not too sure now of what I did then in the brief interjection that I was a prissy brat, but my best friend tells of me poking and prodding her under the umbrella. That sounds exactly like what I’d do.

I miss Paris, though I probably don’t miss the place as much as I miss being there with a bunch of my favourite people. I need to travel, but more than that I want to see my best friend again. Knowing that she won’t be back for Christmas – when my other friends will – doesn’t help either. They aren’t going to run amok in town with me, or gawk at paintings with me, or whine about not having being able to read Ulysses in the bookstore with me. Most certainly they won’t let me poke and prod them in the ribs when I’m irrationally annoyed.

Then again I’ve got much better things to do than to run amok in town or gawk at paintings or whine about not being able to read Ulysses – starting on my required readings for next semester, for one. My six week break won’t be long, but let’s just hope it’ll be long enough for me to rid myself of this unwitting jadedness.

college feels like primary school – and I’m not too sure how to feel about it

I’ve been doing pretty well in my first ten weeks in college, if I may say so myself. Though my life now dawdles between moments of complete crisis and days of bliss, I’m getting the grades I’ve been hoping for, which isn’t exactly unexpected or a bad thing, considering that I’ve planned my entire undergraduate career around the ideal of getting into Oxford to read Victorian/Modern Literature at graduate level.

Except it feels slightly too easy, though perhaps classes get harder over the semesters and this simplicity’s all a fluke – in that case, please disregard this ramble.

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On ballet and getting to meet Sylvie Guillem

The past two days have been such a spectacular treat.

I don’t even know how or where to begin talking about my experiences over the last 48 hours. All I understand is that within that time, I’ve managed to watch my favourite dancer perform live, speak about her life on and off stage, and meet her in person – even if just for a fleeting half a minute.

For those who don’t happen to operate on the same wavelength as I do, the dancer in question, Sylvie Guillem, is practically a living legend. She’s only the youngest ever étoile of the Paris Opera Ballet, the ballerina who single-handedly changed ballet and popularised 6 o’clock legs, the infamous “Mademoiselle Non“…She’s the reason for the relentless training many young ballet dancers put themselves through – they want to be exactly like her. She’s the standard everyone measures themselves against (while watching grainy videos of her in classical roles at the Paris Opera Ballet and the Royal Ballet on YouTube) and a massive inspiration to all.

That was the performer whose presence I was fortunate enough to have been graced by. I have absolutely no words to describe the way she danced on stage for I just can’t fathom how it’s possible for someone to have such strength and control over each muscle and bone in her body, yet dance with such freedom and reckless abandon. Unlike most ballerinas, she knows when to “dance ugly” – to portray the depth of her characters with no restraint while keeping a sort of technical perfection – and it is in those moments that she dances most beautifully. There’s an inherent contradiction in the way she dances and moves, which makes it almost impossible for one to fit her style into a box and nonchalantly slap a label on it – and that elevates her performance, making her a better dancer than most others.

Just look at her perfectly arched and pointed feet even as she rests on the couch.

The way Guillem spoke about her life in the talk she gave the day after the show was impeccably characteristic of her – the sense of fieriness, ardour, and stubbornness that you read about in the papers shone right through in her responses to questions about her art and her activist causes. As she narrated a run-in with Nureyev, she self-depreciatingly imitated her resistance to the choreographer’s request for her to perform a dramatic segment from “Cinderella” before the rest of the company. “No!”, she repeatedly insists in her narration, with a sort of self-awareness and pride in her reputation as “Mademoiselle Non“. And with that same fervour, she campaigned for the environmental causes she’s championing – to a fan’s confession to her inability to transition from being a vegetarian to being vegan as she’s unable to give up her French goat cheese, Guillem very earnestly interjected, “but I can make you, I have videos”, alluding to the videos of the cruel treatment of animals in the production of such foodstuffs. There’s an undeniable, humorous frankness to her that only makes her all the more charming and enigmatic.

Incidentally (and quite curiously), the way she views her art is beautifully representative of the way she dances. In the talk, she candidly expressed her love for the stage, but not so much for the monotonous daily classes. She mentioned the stereotype of ballerinas liking to suffer, and said, “no, we don’t like to suffer, but we have to suffer.” And for her, it’s the applause and the audience coming to her to thank her for her work that motivates her to go through the routine classes, the rehearsals, and inescapably, the pain. What moved me the most, though, was upon a fan’s proclamation that the dance world wasn’t ready to let her go, she emphasised that she made the choice to retire at 50 because she wants to give the best performance to her audiences while she still can, “maybe it’s too early [for her to retire], but it’s better than too late.” I may have teared up at that. 

The audience got to meet her after the talk to get things signed. There were ticket stubs, programme booklets, but mostly pointe shoes – lots of them. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my soft shoes with me, but I managed to get my programme booklet and a polaroid signed (the latter’s for a friend in London.)

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Was just graced by the presence of one of the most prolific and legendary dancers of this era (yeah, she's just the youngest ever etoile of the Paris Opera Ballet, and she popularized hyperflexibility and 6 o'clock legs in ballet, no big deal.) I have absolutely no words to describe the way she danced – I just can't fathom how it's possible for someone to have such strength and control over every single bone and muscle in her body yet dance with such reckless abandon. Slightly gutted this is the first and only time I'll be watching her perform in person, but I suppose 50 is a good age to retire (even though at 50, she's dancing better than most other dancers at their prime.) Maybe it's time to talk to the parents about getting tickets to Tokyo to watch her very last performance, but for now, getting to meet Guillem in the flesh shall suffice.

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Oh yes, and we took a massive group photo with her.

 At this point, I’m still pretty much in shock and awe at the fact that I’ve been in the presence of one of the most revered ballerinas in the world, witnessing her perform on stage for one of the very last times. Watching Guillem leave the stage yesterday, there seemed to be this bittersweet concoction of nostalgia, longing (for her to stay, to dance a while longer) and fulfilment (as evident in the many cries of “I can finally die happy” amongst the audiences) lingering in the atmosphere. As much as I’d love to be able to relive the past two days, I suppose, as she’s said, it’s probably better to leave while she’s at the top than to fade away.

A frazzled college student ruminates. Chaos ensues.

Returned to college for the second half of semester earlier this week, with the burden and doom of two impending midterms – one of which I’ve sat for yesterday, the other will take place next Tuesday.

I’m pretty much completely bogged down by work right now, though I suppose that’s partially due to my constant need to over-prepare for my exams – the nightmares that’ve haunted me from the A Levels remain.

On a side note, the skies appear rather clear right now, or at least, compared to the past few days. How wonderful it is to finally be able to get glimpses of the bay from my window again! 

My to-do lists have started making their own to-do lists, it’s almost like they’re procreating and multiplying by themselves – it’s absolutely horrid. They just keep getting longer as emails flood in and work pile up, and my brain (oh my sad, dormant, idle brain) is the bothersome buildup of junk that clogs up the pipe.

I ought to return to my studying. There are history notes to make, a linguistics paper to study for, and my french test…and the history test…and…just so much. For god’s sake, can I just sleep for the rest of the day?!!