The Walrus Blog

Monthly Archive: November 2011

At the Ballet

Alexei Ratmansky’s Romeo and Juliet comes to our “national” institution
Photograph by Christopher WahlChristopher WahlElena Lobsonova and Guillaume Côté in Romeo and Juliet

Last week, the National Ballet of Canada hosted a world premiere. This was a big deal nationally and, remarkably, a big deal internationally. The ballet was Romeo and Juliet, choreographed anew by Alexei Ratmansky — recently called “the most sought-after man in ballet” by The New Yorker. It was a moment for the National Ballet to celebrate.

Ballet fans have come to expect a lot from any Romeo and Juliet production. Prokofiev’s famous, gorgeous score has been around since the 1930s, and is so dramatic that it has been choreographed at least seven times already. Since 1964, the NBC had performed John Cranko’s interpretation, which has been alternately described as “beloved” and “perfect.” Did the company need another Romeo and Juliet? Don’t audiences know the story anyways? Didn’t West Side Story’s “Gym Mambo” capture everything dance had to tell us about star-crossed young lovers?

“The Cranko version’s well loved and adored for many good reasons, but it was created fifty years ago, for a different generation of artists,” says Karen Kain, the Ballet’s artistic director. “I’m running a vibrant cultural institution that has to reflect today.”  (more…)

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Posted in Dance  •  14 Comments

Andrew Westoll and the Chimps

Episode two of a new podcast series presented by our partners at Quill & Quire
The Chimps of Fauna SanctuaryFrank NoelkerTom, one of the chimpanzees featured in Andrew Westoll’s The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary. Click here to read “My Time With the Chimps,” Andrew’s series of posts for The Walrus Blog

Welcome back to Quillcast, a new podcast series from Quill & Quire featuring behind-the-scenes conversations with authors and publishing insiders. In this episode, the first in a two-part series on non-fiction authors, Andrew Westoll speaks about his experience writing The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary (HarperCollins Canada).

Andrew Westoll is a Toronto journalist and former primatologist. In The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary, which was recently longlisted for the B.C. National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction and named one of Q&Q’s 2011 books of the year, he writes about a group of chimpanzees living out their last days in a Quebec animal sanctuary after enduring years as the subjects of medical testing.

Listen to the episode here, or subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. And click here to view a slideshow of the Fauna Sanctuary chimps.

Quillcast is produced with media partners The Walrus, Open Book: Ontario, and Open Book: Toronto, with support from Toronto Life. This project has been generously supported by the Ontario Media Development Corporation’s Entertainment and Creative Cluster Partnerships Fund.

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Posted in Quillcast  •  1 Comment

A Necessity of Virtue

Saving Toronto by thinking, doing, and being well

According to a new survey, Toronto is the country’s least-liked city. This comes as no surprise. In The Walrus’s November cover story, “How Toronto Lost Its Groove,” John Lorinc shows Canada that its most mega metropolis indeed has a problem, but it ain’t Rob Ford. Lorinc wisely avoids the reductive “blame the mayor” argument by which many Torontonians (myself included) have been so easily seduced. Toronto’s plight comes from decades of narrow vision, relapses in policy tragedy, and the mass mediation of misinformation. So who’s to blame? Well, everyone. Lorinc reveals that what lies behind Toronto’s curtain is not a man but a mirror. That is, Torontonians past and present, urban and suburban, are responsible for the city’s current state. This is not a point of despair: if we have the power to hurt Toronto, we have the power to nurture it as well.

Implicit in Lorinc’s piece is that there exists a morally Good way to run this city, one guided by empathy, reason, and foresight, or as I call it, virtue. Intuitively, we know the city can be better; if we fostered and internalized this virtue, then Toronto would take care of itself. However, although we are bound by the knowledge that civic virtues exist, we rarely comport ourselves accordingly.

Frank Cunningham is the former director of the University of Toronto’s Centre for Ethics and a senior advisor at the school’s Cities Centre, a multi-disciplinary research institute with the mandate to network and embolden cities of the world; promoting civic virtues is his life. I met Cunningham as a second-year U of T student enrolled in his introductory philosophy course. The professor was forward: “If you don’t read any of the material,” he said, “you can still come out of this class with a solid B!” I later realized that this joke was an inverted lesson about reflection, the day-to-day thinking that drives us to do meaningful things. (“Reflection involves the always incomplete attempt to make sense of who we are, trying all the while to live better,” committed Torontonian Mark Kingwell has argued.) During the course’s last lecture, Cunningham encouraged us to visit him should we want to continue the discussion about virtue. Four years later, I took up his offer.  (more…)

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Posted in Cities  •  10 Comments

The Seed and the Tree

Political philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo discusses the power of nonviolent protest

Ramin Jahanbegloo, a dual Canadian-Iranian citizen who has been described in the media as “the Gandhi of Iran,” was arrested in 2006 while leaving Tehran for a conference in Brussels. The University of Toronto politics professor spent the next four months in Iran’s notorious Evin House of Detention; his captors accused him of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government. “They said ‘You’ve been preparing a velvet revolution, a soft revolution.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about? I’ve never written about soft revolution.’ They took it from there,” Jahanbegloo told The Hour’s George Stroumboulopoulos in 2008. At the time of his arrest, to be a Canadian in Iran was to be considered a spy, he explained.

Jahanbegloo, who espouses a philosophy of nonviolence, once ran an independent research center in Iran. He invited scholars and intellectuals from all over the world to visit, including Richard Rorty, Timothy Garton Ash, Antonio Negri, and Michael Ignatieff. During his incarceration, people such as Noam Chomsky, J.M. Coetzee, Shirin Ebadi, Umberto Eco, Jürgen Habermas, Leszek Kolakowski, Krzysztof Zanussi, and Howard Zinn demanded his immediate release.

“There were no names I could give,” Jahanbegloo told the New York Times in 2007. “I could give only names of philosophers. There was no way I could reveal any secrets. There were no secrets.” (more…)

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Posted in Society  •  1 Comment
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