Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Memories of the legendary Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti

By Nancy T. Lu

Less than two weeks before Christmas in 2005, top Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti was visiting Taiwan and his thoughts were of a Christmas reunion with his family. He had been on his Asian farewell tour in the last weeks. Taichung in central Taiwan, where he eventually gave an open-air concert at the Taichung Sports Stadium on December 14, was his final stop.

Pavarotti never let such an amazing “voice kissed by God” be heard again at a concert performance. He died of pancreatic cancer in 2007.

“From here, I will go to New York where I will be joined by my wife, Nicoletta (Mantovani), and my daughter, Alice,” revealed Pavarotti, back for a second Taiwan visit after 15 years. “We will spend Christmas and New Year in New York.”

The 70-year-old doting father said: “I have been receiving pictures of my charming daughter on my computer everyday. I don’t even need to bring her picture with me. I get to see how she’s doing and even what she’s wearing. I am also able to hear her calling out to me, ‘Papa! Papa!’” 

Asked if he had any Christmas wish then, Pavarotti replied: “It has been my privilege to be a man of peace for the United Nations. Therefore, I should not desire anything else but wish peace for the world.”

He posed a question: “Are we going to have peace in this world?” He answered in the next breath: “That’s not likely. But that is my wish for the world.”

His “Pavarotti and Friends” concerts over the years had been organized to raise money for the children who were victims of wars and conflicts in different parts of the world. He involved pop and rock stars in the concert series.

Halfway through his Taichung concert, Pavarotti and Annalisa Raspagliosi, the soprano he brought with him to Taiwan, vocalized Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” “I dedicate it to a world without peace,” he said. The solemn and peaceful number reminded listeners of the approaching Christmas.

What a difference 15 years had made. At his concert at the National Concert Hall in Taipei 15 years earlier, Pavarotti stepped out on his own without any problem. He held his trademark white kerchief and showed a lot of bravura then.

About 20,000 people, who turned up to watch the open-air performance in Taichung this time, saw Pavarotti sit through the entire concert. The promoter had ordered a special electric buggy for him to conveniently use in going up the stage and in moving around. 

Somehow the retiring Italian tenor seemed to have lost some of his magic as a legendary tenor, failing to stimulate exciting vibrations across the stadium. The crowd quietly listened to and enjoyed the mellifluous ring of the legendary singer’s voice. Applause was forthcoming after each song. However, missing were the thundering and reverberating emotions.

The three familiar encores had the crowd warm up a bit to the tenor. Pavarotti dedicated “Granada” to the city of Taichung and Mayor Jason Hu for inviting him to sing there during his Asian farewell tour. When he burst into “O Sole Mio,” the audience got worked up a bit. Then he invited everyone to sing the chorus part in “The Drinking Song” from “La Traviata.”

“You can sing what you like,” he called out to his spectators and listeners. “You can even insult your neighbor. But please don’t clap.”  
Of his first Taiwan visit years ago, Pavarotti recalled with amusement: “At that time I had just released an album titled ‘Tutto Pavarotti (Totally Pavarotti).’ At the end of the concert, people came to my dressing room and addressed me as Mr. Tutto, thinking it was my name.”

Pavarotti learned about Taichung Mayor Hu impersonating him in singing “O Sole Mio” in a pre-election commercial. Taichung held its mayoralty election shortly before Pavarotti’s arrival. The Modena-born tenor known as “King of High C” due to his ability to sing and hold high notes reacted with amusement, saying that he would remember that.

Pavarotti arrived in Taichung in his 10-seat private plane. With him were four of his personal friends. He hardly left his hotel suite, choosing to play cards with his buddies to while away the time. (During his earlier visit to Taipei, he cooked in his hotel suite.) He had two rehearsals with the Evergreen Symphony Orchestra. He was usually in a good mood, making funny noises with his lips sometimes instead of singing his lines. Pavarotti flew in from Beijing via Jeju, South Korea.

When Pavarotti first appeared to meet the press, he was supported on both sides by his bodyguards. He wore a brimmed white hat. Around his neck and over his shoulders he threw a very colorful scarf.

“You can see that I protect my voice with the scarf,” he said. “I also stay away from bad weather.” But actually a drizzle at the start of his Taichung concert made everyone put on raincoats.

As for his quitting his concert career, Pavarotti quipped that he had been asked too many times to explain his decision.

“I am now beginning to think that maybe I am wrong in making up my mind about this,” he said.

But then again, Pavarotti declared: “I think that it is time to stop after 44 years. I will probably make a little extension to 2006 or 2007.”

Pavarotti, the son of a baker, started out as a primary school teacher. He even made a living at one point as an insurance underwriter. But his career took a big turn after he won first prize at the Reggio Emilia International Singing Competition in 1961. This great admirer of tenors Enrico Caruso and Giuseppe di Stefano caught attention when he reprised the role of Rodolfo in “La Boheme” that same year. In more recent years, he shared the stage limelight with tenors Placido Domingo and Jose Carrerras at the Three Tenors concerts during the World Cup in Rome, Los Angeles and Paris.

Pavarotti revealed that he was starting to adjust to a life away from the stage. He had begun teaching. He was going back to his hobby of painting, too. He was finally catching up on his reading. But above all, he was spending more time with his little daughter, born in 2003 or two years earlier.  

Pavarotti showed remarkable self-confidence, in fact, making a great impact as a world-class tenor. “You can’t confuse me with another singer,” he pointed out. “When my father died at the age of 90, he still had an enchanting sweet voice. My voice is like his. Add to that my personality.”

As for the reason behind his enduring and great success, he summed it up this way before his big and final Taiwan performance: “I am studying today. Tomorrow I will be studying. On the day of the concert I will also be studying. I am an eternal student.”

Monday, August 12, 2013

Pierre Cardin, already 91, still finds enviable niche in the fashion world

By Nancy T. Lu

“Taste,” said top French fashion designer Pierre Cardin, “is a matter of choice.” The person who wears a creation gives it “elegance,” he remarked during one of his visits to Taipei.

Fashion designers, however, must bear in mind that “simplicity in fashion is difficult to achieve.” To create something very complicated is to come up with baroque fashion. In Cardin’s opinion, what is too complicated is not beautiful.

When Cardin was invited years ago to sit as a judge in the selection of the outstanding young designers during the Taipei Fashion Week, he talked about his own “obsession to be No. 1” as far back as he could remember. He sought to be the first and the best in everything he did. He was very proud of the fact that he was a success with his first fashion collection.

Cardin pointed out: “To create is to influence others.” He was quick to draw a dividing line between creation and imitation. Imitation, he said, is easy. Creation is not.

Cardin recalled that a designer used to just retire to his hideaway to draw fashion ideas based on various sources of inspiration. A couturier could become highly charged after a trip to some exotic land. Or he could pick up suggestions from museums. The creative exercise, he said, has become more complex today. Not to be ignored is the arrival of the computer age, he added.

For many years, Cardin has charted his road to success. Although he has met with difficulties along the way, he has kept himself going. His hard work has brought him fame and fortune.

The 91-year-old designer has consistently opted to set precedents in his endeavors. He must always venture into something untried yet. For instance, Cardin was the first to introduce the concept of letting big department stores carry his ready-to-wear line. Eventually other top designers who used to create only haute couture collections began to produce RTW designs, too.

As judge of fashion designs, Cardin usually studies a designer’s use of color, his imagination, his choice of accessories and his ability to play with fabrics.

When watching young men and women trying to express different ideas, he sees only an outburst of talents. He does not find fault with their works. In fact, he welcomes youthful energy and creativity at his atelier in Paris.

For several years now, he has brought winners of young designers’ awards from Japan to the French capital to train them for the international fashion scene. He has also done this in Taiwan, enabling designers from Taipei to do their apprenticeships in Paris.

The Paris designer first came to Asia over 50 years ago. He arrived in Japan in 1959. His appreciation of Asian culture has not waned to this day. Years ago, he revealed that he had already traveled to China four times. He even opened the Maxim’s Restaurant in Beijing.

At the Chambre Syndicale, Cardin had encouraged fashion design newcomers from everywhere to present their works and show their creativity. He was amazed to see so many Asian talents emerging over the years, he confessed.

Cardin at this point in his life has not stopped unveiling his creative designs and showing his partiality for neatly sculptured forms and shapes. He remains futuristic in his fashion fantasies.

Of his designs, he remarked: “Fashion sees sculpture put on the body. The sculpture concept also applies to the furniture.”

This enduring leader in the fashion world likes to put models in his seasonal styles like he is pouring water into vases of every imaginable shape. His fashion creativity yields results characterized sometimes by an obsession with floating rings around the human form. Vivid colors lend an exciting note to his fashion statement.

His access to fine fabrics is clear to see. He is experienced in working with plain as well as printed textiles. His interesting handling of accessories is worthy of emulation.

The Cardin name remains on top of a worldwide business empire. This son of a laborer has come a long way from his Italian peasant roots. Early on in his career he created costumes for film-maker Jean Cocteau. Christian Dior hired him.

Cardin’s fashion ideas, which got launched with great success over the years, were returned to the limelight in fleeting glimpses during his 5th trip to Taipei.

Those from the Taipei fashion circle who reviewed them went away impressed by his dazzling designs. Science-fiction, astronauts, the cosmos and the future were some of the passions which drove his creative impulse. He was obsessed with geometric forms and shapes. His hemlines went up while necklines plunged to sum up his fashion statement at one point. His coats had him playing with kimono sleeves. Large round cut-outs were part of his style at one stage. His tight leather trousers and batwing jumpsuits also made an impact. All these helped to make his reputation grow.

What was amazing about Pierre Cardin was how all his original and brilliant ideas had endured without losing modern appeal.

Of his inspiration, Cardin said: “I find it in myself, in my dreams. I am inspired by the moon, by the satellite, by the computer.”

Cardin was born near Venice on July 7, 1922. He moved with his parents to Paris in 1945. After learning from Paquin, Schiaparelli and Dior, he founded his own fashion house in 1950. There was no turning back for the highly-motivated Cardin.

Looking back at his own career, which began when he was 23, he told aspiring young designers: “Creativity is a talent. You can’t learn it. When you are creating, you are alone. People don’t understand this. You have to be strong inside and believe in yourself. You have to go down the lonely road. Once you are sure of yourself, you just keep going.”

Cardin as designer did not confine himself to haute couture. In fact, he was the first to launch a ready-to-wear collection back in 1959. He wanted to let more people find his clothes affordable. This unprecedented move led to his expulsion from the Chambre Syndicale. He was later reinstated though. 

Cardin went further, attaching in due time his name to just about everything, including, perfumes, watches, towels, furniture, lamps, leather goods and so forth. He initiated the concept of licensing and branding. Asked to give tips on how to establish a global brand, he responded: “You need financing. To have money is the best. I myself never had to borrow money.”

About 200,000 people are estimated to work directly and indirectly for Cardin, mainly through about 900 licenses for over 1,000 products in 140 countries. Indeed who hasn’t heard of the Pierre Cardin trademark?

He, already 91 years of age, remarked: “If given the choice to live all over again, I would still like to live my life exactly as I have done. My life has been fantastic. I have worked in many fields. I made what I wanted to. In all my experiences over a long period of time, I was very happy.”

Cardin said years ago that he was indulging himself in all kinds of activities, partying with celebrities at his mansion Palais Bulles, personally overseeing the production of “Gorky” in Moscow for his Espace Cardin in a chic Parisian neighborhood, and presiding over a summer arts festival at his castle and former residence of the Marquis de Sade in Lacoste, Vaucluse, in France.

He confessed: “I am happy only when I am doing something.”
The French designer with a global reputation summed up simply how he would like to be remembered: “One man started out alone and he built his name by himself.”


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

“Chasing the Wind Turning” explores gracefully human courage and spirituality

Taiwanese choreographer Liou Shaw-lu’s creative process for his new choreography titled “Chasing the Wind Turning” finds inspiring spark in the verses of ancient Chinese poet Tao Yuan-ming. Tao’s poetry goes: “Life has neither root nor stalk. Like dust in the air, life takes off, chasing the wind in changing directions. It touches ground to undergo bonding and brotherhood for reasons other than blood link.”

With such thoughts in mind, Liou – artistic director of the Taipei Dance Circle - gets his dancers, all covered with baby oil, to move gracefully unobstructed. They come together or they separate. Clash and reconciliation are inevitable in their union and togetherness. Likewise separation brings about loneliness and yearning. Still, the view of the world is generally filled with awe and amazement. In fact, the universe is full of marvel, according to Liou.

The piece opens with “Prelude With the Nautilus.” Here the dancers with spiral chambered shells as heralding instruments invite all to participate in a thanksgiving ritual. Succeeding dance segments revolve around themes like “Linear Effect,” “Headstand,” “Crossover,” “Freeing from Pressure,” “Forcing, Pressing and Pushing Out,” “Floating,” “Final Song of the Nautilus” and “Dark Fragrance.”

Composer Colin Offord’s ability to bring nature into his music moves Liou. Ho Xun-tian’s use of the ethnic Jew’s harp likewise belongs in a choreography underlining Liou’s remarkable inclination towards the spiritual. Hsu Sung-ren’s music highlights a culminating world of joy and harmony in the choreography. It is precisely on this soothing note that the dance characterized earlier largely by tension and pressure ends finally.

“I frequently meander close to the all-too-familiar river world,” said Liou. “There I find the river of my life. I am emotionally moved by the long and flowing river. It makes me feel the wonder of the universe, pulling me into a deep and intimate world of love. All of a sudden, I am transformed into a seed, lightly carried by the wind, smoothly beginning to sprout into a young plant shoot, grow and develop into a beautiful flower. Finally, the process of taking in the essential life-giving elements of wind, rain, sun and soil bears fruit. Life goes on.”

Liou’s dance piece calls attention to a growing spirituality in his outlook on life. The clear self-confidence gives rise to refinement. At the same time, there is an evolving maturity to indicate his having come a long way in overcoming episodes of physical struggles in life. Dancers may seem on the verge of falling. But they remain steadfast and strong. The picture is sometimes perfect. But sometimes it is not. The suspense in the onlookers builds up. Liou tells a courageous story with a happy ending.

The Taipei Dance Circle’s performances of “Chasing the Wind Turning” are lined up at the Experimental Theater of the National Chiang Kai-shek Cultural Center in Taipei at 7:30 p.m. on August 22 to 24 and at 2:30 p.m. on August 24 and 25. Another performance will take place at 7:30 p.m. on November 16 at the Experimental Theater of the Chiayi County Performing Arts Center at 265 Chienkuo Road, Sec. 2, Minhsiung Village, Chiayi County.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Ballet world's icon Rudolf Nureyev still held in awe 20 years after his passing

By Nancy T. Lu

With head held high like that of a ballet dancer on the stage, Rudolf Nureyev parried questions about the effects of age on his future in the ballet world that September day in 1988 in Taipei.

“You are barking up the wrong tree,” he snapped like a creature instinctively smarting from pain when struck at his most vulnerable point when asked whether he ever got hurt and if any physical injury ever affected him.

“Everything peters out or withers,” he remarked earlier, admitting that a dancer has a limited stage life. 

But the famous dancer quickly added: “Dancing has been good to me. It keeps me in good shape. It keeps me young. It keeps my mind and body healthy. So why stop dancing?”

Nureyev, wearing a dark outfit topped by a dotted black jacket and holding a beret that unforgettable day, stated categorically he did not have any intention of retiring as a dancer. Retiring was not in his vocabulary. He would not retire as artistic director of the Paris Opera Ballet.

Only 20 days earlier, his contract with the Paris Opera had expired. He did not want to talk about his future. He was not about to divulge any plan with the Paris Opera because he still had to be presented with an offer, according to him.

Serious health issue, which was still unknown to the general public at that time, was bothering Nureyev. He did look very good in Taipei that day but only because he got a good massage before appearing in public.

Questioned as to whether Oriental or Asian dancers had the making of ballet stars, he looked at Charles Jude beside him and announced that the young Vietnamese dancer was the best male classical dancer in the world.

“Being a Tartar,” the then 50-year-old Nureyev pointed out, “I also consider myself an Oriental.”

Nureyev regarded himself as his strongest rival. He explained: “A dancer has an idea of what he should be like. This vision is the competition and challenge that he must face.”

Nureyev did not discount then the possibility of returning to the Soviet Union to perform one day. The Paris Opera Ballet received an invitation but the plan to go never materialized. “It has been put off indefinitely,” said Nureyev.

Nureyev did return to his homeland 27 years after his defection to the West. But he could not hold back his emotion when he confessed that he returned a bit too late. His mother died two months later.

Nureyev regretted that negotiations to bring a whole production of the Paris Opera Ballet to Taipei did not materialize in 1986. He visited Taipei for the first time then but stayed only long enough to catch a performance of the National Fu Hsing Opera Academy. He took pictures but they did not turn out well. On his second trip he made sure that he brought along a good camera when he went to watch again a Chinese opera performance.

Nureyev dazzled his Taipei fans with his performance of George Balanchine’s “Apollon Musagete” to the music of Igor Stravinsky with the stars of the Paris Opera Ballet. The choreography was not physically demanding on the artist. But his aura and grace left many in awe.

Nureyev, one of the most celebrated premier danseurs of the ballet world, passed away on January 6, 1993. Michel Canesi, his doctor, confirmed in an interview with Le Figaro, that he died of AIDS. This was less than five years after his Taipei visit. He was said to have lived with the virus for 13 or 14 years. He kept his health problem a secret because many countries, including Taiwan, banned at that time the entry of HIV-positive individuals.

Tribute celebrations have been lined up in France, Great Britain, Italy and the United States to commemorate the ballet icon Nureyev’s 20th death anniversary in 2013.