IT IS EASY to see why the National Ballet of China (NBC) chose “The Peony Pavilion”, a 16th-century Chinese opera, for adaptation into a ballet. The romance is familiar to a home audience that is not much acquainted with the dance form, while abroad having recognisable steps can help convey an exotic tale. Since its premiere in Beijing in 2008, the ballet has become a marquee production for the company. It has also found favour with critics when performed at the Edinburgh Festival and on stage in Australia. This week it made its American debut with three shows at the Lincoln Festival in New York City.
The ballet draws from a classical work that normally runs for 20 hours and covers everything from political duplicity to sexual awakening during the Song dynasty, its 12th-century Chinese setting. Re-envisioned for a new genre, though, it has been winnowed down to its the central plot and 120 minutes. Du Liniang, a young girl, dies pining for a scholar she meets in a dream, but is returned to her lover by fate. It has often been dubbed an oriental “Romeo and Juliet”—it was written just a few years after Shakespeare’s 1594 play.
“DWELLING in the Fuchun Mountains” is a famous Chinese landscape painting from the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368). A paper scroll measuring over 22 feet in length, it was revered for its virtuosity and transfixed collectors (a detail from the scroll is pictured). On his deathbed one owner even ordered its burning so that it could accompany him into the afterlife. A nephew managed to save it from the flames, though not before it had been torn in two.
The work inspired an 18th-century emperor, Qianlong, to compose no fewer than 40 poems: he said that the countryside that sprang from the brush of the artist, Huang Gongwang, was better than the real thing. Only later did scholars determine that Qianlong's painting—inscribed with odes he had written and affixed with his seals of appreciation—was actually a fake.
Freer Gallery of Art/Arthur M. Sackler Gallery/ The Economist
THOUGH an entirely commonplace activity, walking has long rewarded contemplation. Its mechanics were worked out in the 19th century and provided foundations for the study of locomotion. Psychologists ask about the meaning of walking; neurologists and orthopaedists its effects and forms.
But it takes a philosopher to uncover its spirit, and Frederic Gros does so in his book, "A Philosophy of Walking". First published in France in 2009, it has recently become available in English. Mr Gros is a prodigious walker, going on hours-long rambles at times when not deskbound by his academic post. He knows his subject well and the encomium he has written on the idea of walking is greatly enjoyable as a result.
HERE’S a case study for would-be MBAs to consider: the success of H Mart, an international supermarket chain based in New Jersey (the "H" in H Mart stands forHan Ah Reum, which means "one arm full of groceries" in Korean). The first H Mart opened in Queens, New York in 1982, as a corner shop. Now there are stores in 11 states, Canada and Britain. A new one recently opened in Cambridge, Massachusetts, an affluent city outside Boston.
The future looks bright for H Mart and other Asian supermarket chains in America. Earnings of Asian-American households outpace the national average. Their spending exceeds all other groups, too, according to Geoscape, a consultancy. And Asian-Americans spend more of their money on groceries than average America households.
ASKED to help create a uniquely American ballet style, George Balanchine decided on something that would reflect the country's "cold, crystalline, luminous" spirit. Good American dancers "express clean emotion in a manner that might almost be termed angelic," said the Russian-born émigré, and good steps would help them to do it. In 1948, he helped found the New York City Ballet (NYCB) to realise his vision.
Proof of its success can be seen in two programmes that NYCB is performing for its annual engagement at the Kennedy Centre. The first is "20th Century Classics", which features three of Balanchine’s most iconic ballets. "Serenade" (1935)—the first piece he choreographed in America—prefigured the oeuvre to follow. Two vastly different dances from the 1950s, "Agon" and "Symphony in C", are further reminders of his startling range.
UNLESS you read science-fiction magazines, you probably have not have heard of Ted Chiang. He is not terribly prolific. His longest works are novellas of about 50,000 words, and he publishes one or two short stories every few years. But when he writes, the results are profound. His stories are perennial winners of the Locus and Nebula Awards—top prizes for science fiction and fantasy works in America. His readers are few, but they are devoted.
Mr Chiang's short story “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling”, available in the autumn issue of Subterranean Press Magazine, a genre-fiction quarterly, involves a journalist who investigates a futuristic gadget. Called "Remem", it is a tool that searches one's personal "lifelog" (a real-time account of one's life captured by a personal camera) and projects memories the moment they come to mind. It is like Google Glass, a continuous-filming camera and search engine rolled into one. Mr Chiang's narrator frets that having constant access to past events will take away his power to forget, and so to forgive.
A parallel strand in the story concerns the introduction of writing to the Tiv people of Nigeria. To document experience in writing also changes how memory works. “We don’t normally think of it as such, but writing is a technology,” Mr Chiang writes. A “literate person is someone whose thought processes are technologically mediated.” This subtle thread ties the two stories together. The moment of revelation feels powerful, as if the reader has suddenly understood something new.
CALLING someone “birdbrained” is not exactly a compliment. But perhaps it should be, for birds are capable of remarkable things, from singing complex mating songs to cross-continental navigation. They are not, however, often thought of as far-sighted investors. A study by Henry Streby of the University of California, Berkeley and his colleagues, however, which has just published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, suggests that they can be – for the golden-winged warbler, at least, has investment foresight that puts many humans to shame.
Birds, lacking a money-based economy, invest mainly in their young. Each year, golden-winged warblers migrate from Central America to the North American Great Lakes, and also to parts of Appalachia, to breed. They build nests in shrub lands near forests, where they hatch a brood of chicks. They then move into the forest with their fledglings. The adults must protect their young, who are not yet fully independent. A warbler will attempt to hatch a second brood if the first fails. But she will try to raise only one brood a year to independence.
FOR around 550 American servicemen, today marks the start of something new: a return to civilian life. That is the number of veterans who leave the military every day, on average. As America draws down from a decade of remote warfare, the armed forces are expected to shed nearly 250,000 soldiers a year over the next five years. Some of these men and women will return wounded in some way. Most will face the challenge of finding a new job and learning new skills.
The government is trying to help. The Defence Department, the Labour Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs have worked to upgrade the programme that prepares soldiers for the rigours of life at home. Everyone leaving the military is now required to go through "Transition GPS", a days-long course that teaches soon-to-be veterans how to prepare a resume and apply for jobs. The goal is to help them translate their battlefield skills into something that works in a cubicle.