Wednesday, 30 January 2013

"Cirque-Du-Soleil-Kooza" - by Roman Ahsan


(by Roman Ahsan – A content writing sample) – February 2009:

- Entertainment activities are necessary in life but we only need to strike the right balance between everything...and sadly, 'pure' fun has lost its meaning in the present times which needs to be revived....
In these days, when there is a craving for genuine entertainments, Cirque du Soleil, a modern circus based in Montreal, Canada with a dynamic set of performers is truly making a difference. The company was established in 1984 by two artists Guy Lalibert√© and Daniel Gauthier who had to toil as street performers in Quebec, Canada before the circus finally became a success in 1984. Nonstop live music and a unique blend of circus styles from around the world along with Cirque’s own theme keeps the audience glued to its seats. What makes them further stand out is that all performances in this circus are staged without any animals and ring. We have been witnessing conventional routines with tigers and chimpanzees in circus themes all along; hence sole reliance on ‘human’ performances by Cirque is a striking affair. The circus offers many touring shows apart from resident shows and its workforce at present comprises 3500 employees from over 40 countries with 15 shows in every continent except Africa and Antarctica.

KOOZA is one of the big top touring shows by Cirque du soleil which premiered in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on 19 April 2007. In the words of David Shiner, the Director and writer of this show who has worked as a clown in the company’s earlier project Nouvelle Exp√©rience, “If there is any word that can describe this show, for me personally, it’s ‘fun’.” And fun it is! Performers in rich costumes with vibrant colors dance around the stage with such zeal in sequences that leave you breathless.

The theme of KOOZA revolves around The Innocent, a dejected loner who is trying to find his place in the world. The show brings two circus traditions, clowning and acrobatic performances into synthesis where the artists carry out physical acts with immaculate aesthetic vigor. In his quest, The Innocent comes across some funny characters like the King, the Trickster, the Pickpocket, not to mention the Obnoxious Tourist and his Bad Dog who jazz up the show with their respective roles.

Cirque-Du-Soleil-Kooza touring show promises themes of the unknown, recognition and authority while sifting lessons of force, vulnerability, humor and irony. The visual delights tend to totally absorb you against an electrifying aura that unravels continuous surprises while South Asian (Indian) sounds form the basis of the show’s music.


‘Balancing on chairs’ is one of the performances in KOOZA where they entertain you simply using eight chairs and a pedestal. With the help of this plain equipment, the performer creates a 23 feet long tower upon which he carries out a balancing act that exhibits the human body in the best of muscular control.

‘Charivari’ is an act where 19 artists captivate the audience by merging acrobatics, quick dress changes and rebounds from three small trampolines. The artists execute this performance by forming human pyramids, bodies recoiling in the air and a daring dive into a circle of fabric which they call “crash bang”.

‘Contortion’ is one of the acts presented by young artists working in a smooth synchronicity to harmonize the art of contortionism. Innovative movements and positions of the performers, combined with speed and harmony as a team aim to present this feat as a masterpiece of fine arts.

In a very rhythmic style, two performers display perfect harmony ‘Hand in Hand’ while moving almost invisibly with an incredible sense of balance. In doing so, the performers employ high sensitivity and powers of meditation offering an act that synergizes with the aesthetics of natural beauty of human forms.

‘Highwire’ is an act which presents tightrope walking on two high wires crossing each other diagonally at 15 and 25 feet above the ground. Four courageous artists perform in the high altitudes adding their own tension to each rope that weigh 6,600 pounds.

When it seems that the show is slowing down, KOOZA seizes your attention again with a ‘Juggling’ act adjudged the best in the world. The performers present balls, clubs and hoops flying in exceptionally large numbers at amazing speeds and an almost impossible precision.

‘Solo Trapeze’ is yet another wonderful attraction of this show with a trapeze fixed stage left to stage right which is an innovation fashioned by Cirque. The act is stolen however not by the stage setting or the performer’s mastery but by the drama in the personalities as she relates to The Trickster adding vibrancy to the persisting visual thrills.

Artists are flung in the air from ‘Teeterboard’ where they perform multiple twisting somersaults. The acrobats execute these acts 30 feet above the stage as well with double and single metal stilts strapped to their legs.

‘Unicycle Duo’ introduces two artists that capture the audience with their dynamic balancing acts on a unicycle around the stage. The act capitalizes on acrobatic control together with superb choreographic sequences.

Daring acrobats show some astounding teamwork when they leap and counter-rotate around a 1600-pound ‘Wheel of Death’ revolving at chilling speeds. The Wheel of Death is placed stage left to stage right diagonally as in the case of Highwire.

'Irony In The Soul' - by Roman Ahsan


[Coverage of an art-exhibition]


S Roman Ahsan probes Anbrin Zafar’s quest to identify contradictions around us

Homo sapiens are essentially sensitive souls. When we are hurt, we feel the pain sometimes wanting to vent that feeling through the medium of crying. Likewise, happiness puts a visible cheer on our faces and we disregard everything that is happening around us. However, it is “ironic” that we tend to become too obsessed with ourselves caring little for the “transgressions” that are recurrent in the environment where we survive, the society to which we owe our existence, the country which lends us our identity and the whole world which is our homeland. Though these transgressions cannot be eliminated easily, yet we do need to acquaint ourselves with them.

Pakistan National Council of Arts organized an exhibition of paintings titled “Transgression” by Anbrin Zafar, a PhD student in Fine Arts practice at the Punjab University, and who is also the curator for Punjab University’s PURAF Art Gallery. The exhibition was inaugurated at the Shakir Ali Museum, Lahore on Thursday, December 4th, 2008. Vice Chancellor, Punjab University, Dr. Mujahid Kamran was supposed to be the Chief Guest at the opening ceremony, but due to unforeseen circumstances he was unable to attend the ceremony and was represented by Dr Nadeem, the Registrar, Punjab University. Apart from him, the prominent television artiste Tauqeer Nasir also graced the occasion with his presence.

The artist’s 30 intellectually stimulating paintings were on display in the exhibition breaking the barriers in conventional art, and exploring new vistas of Post Modern Art in Pakistan. As one glances at her paintings, Anbrin’s visionary thoughts expressed in the frames seem to overthrow the viewer due to their unique presentation.

Anbrin has targeted the present situation with focus on both national and global picture, creating illusions and shadows with her paintings, seeking assistance of unconventional mediums of expression. She has used Acrylic Sheet and Paper fabric, both of which are transparent and create illusions. It is extremely significant the she has explored these mediums herself for the first time for which she could be labelled as the pioneer of this form of artwork.
The theme of her paintings is ‘Irony in the Soul’. In Anbrin’s own words: “We are living in the age of extensive and varied information, coming from all parts of world. We are confronted with this information in a closed space “the global village”. As this information is immense, varied and closely approximated, it results in juxtaposition. The process of juxtaposition leads to new meaning for the whole as opposed to parts. Contradicting images and statements are floating around us producing strange as well as ironic effects. It is a global situation yet more relevant to our society because of ironic contradictions. Since artist is also a part of this un-aesthetic situation, my imagery is the reflection of the same. The canvas of my thoughts is probing the paradoxical norms in society. I used juxtaposition of images to create a multiple reality, which is new but relevant to present/past society. By using unconventional mediums in my paintings, I am trying to explore new ideas and to unfold the layers of my sub-conscious to find a way to the unconscious. These hieroglyphics of my visual language are reflections of my experience. All this imagery is protesting against this imbalance.”

When ‘Sunday Plus’ probed her about the different forms of contradictions persistent today which have formed the basis of her artwork, Anbrin replied, “These contradictions are prevalent in all sections of the society throughout the world but obviously in different forms. For instance, Pakistan is a very poor country, yet on billboards, we are projecting happy families enjoying new brands and carrying aristocratic lifestyles; on the other hand majority of the people not only cannot enjoy any of these facilities, rather they are unable to fulfill the basic necessities of life. Then there are numerous other examples. Multinationals are playing havoc with the lives of people of third world. As a part of the society, an artist has to suffer the same paradoxical norms that are predominant in the society but being more sensitive he or she feels more, and shows protest through the brush. So did I.”

Replying to the question as to the nature of her own experiences being reflected in the paintings, she said, “I want to quote Shelley: ‘I fell upon thorns of life; I bleed!’ ”
The titles of her paintings were:
1.     Transgression (series)
2.     Scream series (series)
3.     Duality (series)
4.     Tunnel (series)
5.     Din Gi
6.     Blind Bird
7.     Enlightenment
8.     Authority and Objection
9.     Changing Priorities
10.                        Feminine Cry
11.                        Leda and Swan
12.                        Buddha
13.                        Mockery
14.                        Irony of Life

When ‘Sunday Plus’ inquired about the themes of her paintings, she described them in these words:

“Transgression” series is about the paradox in local and international politics, terrorism etc. There is also situational, historical, and dramatic as well as cosmic irony in it.

“Scream (nobody hears you screaming)” series of paintings depicts our routine life, which is so busy that we cannot even hear the scream. Noise pollution, traffic horns and other problems have made us deaf or we do not want to pay attention or listen to them. Now the scream is a part of our luxury living room because of television. If we compare it with Munch’s ‘scream’, atmosphere was the part of scream there.

“Tunnel” series of my paintings shows the contradiction of recent bomb blast at the Performing Arts Festival in the Qaddafi Stadium. Every public place is unsafe. All of us have to pass through security alert zones and still that makes no difference. Blasts are there, no matter what you do as precaution.

“Blind bird” (we, the people of third world) cannot fly because the requirement of the situation is that we do not see anything. Blind bird is not blind actually.

Prior to “Irony”, Anbrin has done a solo show at Minhas Art Galleries, Government College University, Lahore, earlier this year and has also participated in 8 Group Shows from 2006-2008.

"Reviving Lost Spirit" - by Roman Ahsan

Reviving lost spirit


S ROMAN AHSAN reports on a poetry recital competition organized by LACAS conducted amongst the students of educational institutions in Lahore

Give to me the life I love,
Let the lave go by me,
Give the jolly heaven above
And the byway nigh me.
Bed in the bush with stars to see,
Bread I dip in the river -
There's the life for a man like me,
There's the life for ever.

Let the blow fall soon or late,
Let what will be o'er me;
Give the face of earth around
And the road before me.
Wealth I seek not, hope nor love,
Nor a friend to know me;
All I seek, the heaven above
And the road below me.

Or let autumn fall on me
Where afield I linger,
Silencing the bird on tree,
Biting the blue finger.
White as meal the frosty field -
Warm the fireside haven -
Not to autumn will I yield,
Not to winter even!

Let the blow fall soon or late,
Let what will be o'er me;
Give the face of earth around,
And the road before me.
Wealth I ask not, hope nor love,
Nor a friend to know me;
All I ask, the heaven above
And the road below me.

[‘The Vagabond’ - Robert Louis Stevenson]

The souls inside us shrivel, but have not lost their colour yet. The spirit still soars high in the midst of storm. We have not given up yet. We laugh in the most impossible of circumstances. We delve deep for those rare merry moments and share them with others. We desire to unearth the real meaning of life. Our inner beings look continuously for new mediums of catharsis. We search for our identity lost in the persistent air of chaos. Truth will ultimately reign supreme, we console ourselves, but the winds we fly against are extremely severe. Nevertheless, our trust in the beauty of truth is stronger than ever.

On March 24th, 2009, “The Sirajuddin Poetry Recitation Competition – 2009” was organized by LACAS at HRCP Hall, Garden Town, Lahore. This event marked the 18th anniversary of the competition which is held in the memory of two great teachers of English Literature, Professor Sirajuddin and Professor Urmila Sirajuddin. The theme of the competition was “You dart into the world, child of our time”. Students from different academic institutions in Lahore participated in this event and warmed the hearts of the audience with their beautiful recitations of poems. The poems recited by the contestants had been written by different poets, classic as well as cotemporary. As a rule, every participant had to recite their piece within the time-limit of three minutes after which their marks would be deducted. The participants were from Kinnaird College, different branches of Lahore Grammar School (LGS), Beaconhouse School System, LACAS, Punjab University and Government College University. A very nice drawing of “Winnie The Pooh” decorated the stage reminding one of the times when life offered relative peace and harmony.

A presenter started the event by paying tribute to Professor Sirajuddin and Professor Urmila Sirajuddin. She said, “Professor Sirajuddin never took roll-call, but his class was jam-packed by not only students of Literature, but many others who had heard of the magic and magnetism of the Professor’s lectures. In contrast, was another teacher of English Literature whose students would attend to make sure they were marked present, but would slip out while the professor went droning out! Amongst one of Professor Sirajuddin’s most brilliant students was Urmila, later to become Urmila Sirajuddin. She had an aura of grace and compassion which drew others to her and made her a role model for the students of her time. More importantly, she will be remembered for her intellectual integrity and passionate love of literature that inspired generations of students.”

The poems had different themes and some of them reflected the frustrations and the crises faced in the present times while others delightfully centred on light themes cheering up the audience. Some of the titles of recited poems were “Crow and Mama”, “The Bridge”, “New Force”, “Tiger” by William Blake, “Second Coming”, “Benign Blizzard”, “Forgotten Child”, “Barley”, “Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf”, “I see your face”, “Transformation” and others. “I see your face” by a student of LGS, sifted lessons of melancholy while highlighting an aura of innocence. In “Forgotten Child”, the message of atrocities committed in wars was aptly conveyed, where a child whose mother is killed by a missile attack is being addressed. Then the selection of “Second Coming” about the descent of the final saviour to liberate the world from persistent turmoil was pertinent indeed, yet failed to grab real interest. A poem “Transformation” recited by a Punjab University student centred on an individual’s transition from worldly obsession to devotion and faith. Faqeer Syed from LACAS rendered a very impressive recitation of a sonnet based on a comical version of “Little Red Riding Hood” in which the girl shoots down the wolf in the end. His narration combined with a smooth delivery and crisp voice won the hearts of the audience.

After the competition ended, there was some delay in the declaration of results by the judges, and some senior members of the audience also recited some poems adding colours to the evening. A teacher even ‘sang’ a poem rather than plain recitation which was much applauded by the audience. The judge commented in the end that the recitations this year were better compared to the previous year. He said that people were reading better instead of being melodramatic, but there was need to work on the pace and tempo. He opined that the readers started off sluggishly, suddenly relaxing in the middle and this was the case with all contestants from the bottom to the top. He said that the readers gave too much pauses and there were pauses between the lines themselves. Mohammad Saleh from LGS Johar Town won first prize, Hussain Azam Butt from Punjab University was the runner-up while Faqeer Syed from LACAS got the third prize.

"Exploring Minds" - by Roman Ahsan


S ROMAN AHSAN interviews Dr. Nasreen Haroon about the benefits of counseling


Pain is unavoidable in life. As soon as we leave the tender years of childhood and gradually move towards independence, a never-ending sea of difficulties starts confronting us and the protective shell of our elders begins to fade into oblivion. Those who are strong amongst us are able to sustain the pressures of life while many just crumble under its demands. The truth is that this life is an amalgam of joys and sorrows, but mortal man never really accepts the thorns, that come with the flowers of life. Whether you are rich or poor, a CEO of a private firm facing the challenge of handling annoying employees or a person who has to carry a dozen bricks from the ground to the top of a 10th floor under-construction building, you cannot always flee from the negative thoughts that drain the energies of the mind. A help sought from the right professionals does come handy, only if we realize it in time!

‘Sunday Plus’ called on a psychologist Dr. Nasreen who imparts counseling and psychotherapy to people from varied backgrounds. Her strength lies in the dedication with which she carries out her job probing the psychological problems of her patients to rejuvenate them with a new spirit. In these days, when there is a rising trend amongst the health experts to fleece their patients, especially in Pakistan, Dr. Nasreen Haroon could be rightfully categorized as a savior. The paradox in a country like Pakistan is that when a person is threatened with disturbances of the mind, he or she is labeled as ‘mentally ill’ while in the USA, the term ‘mentally challenged’ is used instead. This shows that we need to upgrade ourselves intellectually to several levels before we can think of competing with the West on equal grounds.

S+: When does the psychology of human beings first evolve?
Dr. Nasreen: The psychology of a human being starts at once as soon as he or she is born. When a baby is hungry, it at once calms down when given food. Similarly when it cries, the warm fondling care of its mother pacifies it, since all it needs is love and affection. As the children grow, they interact with other kids and a psychological process starts. When the children get hurt, they run crying to the parents who give counseling thus soothing them. At schools, teachers who are concerned about their students with learning disabilities, give counseling to them. In the West, the need was felt in the 14th century that counseling should be made a proper subject at academic level. Normal people face adjustment problems in daily life and counseling was mainly started for them, but later on, the need for mentally disturbed people also emerged thereby giving rise to the vocation of clinical psychology.

S+: What is the significance of counseling?
Dr. Nasreen: Counseling is equally important for normal people or persons who have any psychological disorders like depression, anxiety and phobias. For example, obsessive-compulsive disorder is one such disorder where a person has a tendency to repeat a certain task again and again. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, we tend to believe that only mentally disturbed people need counseling, where in fact it is equally important for normal people.
          There are two main professions in mind therapy:
1)- Clinical Psychology
2)- Psychiatry

Psychiatrists are specialists of clinical medicine prescribed for mentally disturbed patients whereas clinical psychologists are specialists in psychotherapy and counseling. Clinical psychologists treat social and psychological problems of normal and mentally disturbed people with the help of mental exercises or other forms of psychological help. They also provide training to their patients to fortify their inner selves for their whole lives, instead of depending on medicines. Counseling plays an effective role in education, industry and family, especially marital relations whether the issues concern emotional or financial. In the industry, vocational programs persist where people can face tensions pertaining to their jobs and careers, hence a professional help can assist them in the right direction.

S+: What sorts of persons are more prone to psychological disorders?
Dr. Nasreen: Those who are sensitive and introvert, and who do not share their problems with others are more susceptible to psychological problems. These traits add negativity to their minds, thus making them burst in the end. Some of these people become anti-social, social psychopaths or highly aggressive. In all of these individuals, the need for appreciation is very high.

S+: What are the factors that lead to psychological disorders in children?
Dr. Nasreen: Psychological problems are aggravated in individuals whose parents are very demanding or such cases are also recurrent in the off-springs of over-protective parents. Then, if the parents are always fighting with each other, then this affects the innocent minds of their children rather negatively. As for adults, not holding a good job and social insecurities like the current scene of terrorist attacks, poor infrastructure like bad roads and social phobias, all these contribute to poor mental health. Add to it the irresponsible role played by the media like showing dead bodies and live murder scenes, and you have the perfect recipe for psychological cases. When Benazir Bhutto’s assassination was showed on TV, a person got a fatal heart attack and expired.

S+: What are the main reasons for the adults to become victims of psychological disorders?
Dr. Nasreen: Some people are workaholic and are not ready for any failures, so it is very painful for them when they fall short of their goals making them prone to mental disturbances. It is very important to keep both poles of success and failure in picture. Today, we have invited artificiality in our lives, which also contributes to our problems. Some people have post-retirement, vocational and marital problems. As an individual crosses his or her youth into old age, low self-esteem also causes depression. Then some people do not accept old age and still exert themselves, both mentally and physically. Also, for those who lose their spouses, loneliness becomes a problem.

S+: How can the adults secure themselves against poor mental health?
Dr. Nasreen: Extra-curricular activities with a group of friends are much indispensable. Elderly people should keep themselves active by indulging in grocery shopping, paying bills, fetching kids from schools, gardening and others, since such activities serve as an occupation and remove any idle thoughts from their minds. Reading and writing are also very healthy for the old people. For example an army officer took to writing a book and a ‘tafseer’ of Holy Qur’an after his retirement which made him sustain the loss of his wife. Mental or psychological exercises are very necessary as they strengthen an individual’s mind.

S+: What are the various psychological exercises, which you prescribe for your patients?
Dr. Nasreen: It depends on the individual need of the patient after assessing them carefully. Deep breathing exercise, which involves inhaling deeply and then exhaling slowly, is very essential for all people, since it cools down their biological system. Imagination exercises are also very helpful for removing anxiety and building confidence, which are taught to patients by their psycho-therapists. A Proper stress-management plan is given to the patients to help them cope with their disturbed mental cycles.

A few years back, the movie ‘A Beautiful Mind’ based on a true story showed how a schizophrenic Mathematician managed to achieve a Noble Prize in his later years for his theories in spite of having succumbed to numerous phases of mania in his youth. Mind is a powerful machine even when devoid of its full potential, but its beauty is best reflected in positive feats.  We not only need to preserve ourselves physically, but should also make every possible effort to nourish our minds!