In the Show – October 28th 2008

Opening this year’s New Vision Arts Festival, the Holland-based Nederlands Dans Theater came to Hong Kong with a triple bill by four contemporary choreographers. Established in 1959 by 18 former members of the Dutch National Ballet, it’s known for its cutting-edge repertoire. The show included a co-commissioned work from choreographer Wayne McGregor, as well as “Tar and Feathers” and “Shoot the Moon” by NDT resident choreographers Jiri Kylian and Lightfoot Leon.

It’s seven years since Ben Stiller directed his satire of the fashion and modelling industries “Zoolander”. Now he’s back with a movie in which the “blue steel” male model pose has been replaced by cold steel and explosions, although it still does feature a bunch of posers. The movie is “Tropic Thunder”. The new posers are a group of spoiled Hollywood actors who find themselves in the middle of a real battle zone while shooting a war movie, and Gary Pollard’s been to see it.

“The Tempest” was William Shakespeare’s final bow. It’s a story of betrayal and revenge, as well as a master craftsman’s farewell to the magic of creation. The Contemporary Legend Theatre’s new adaptation, directed by Hong Kong film-maker Tsui Hark, and with costumes by Oscar-winning designer Tim Yip, features Peking opera virtuoso Wu Hsing-kuo, 20 other actors, and 17 musicians. In the hope of keeping Peking Opera vigorous and alive, this Taiwanese theatre company has turned many foreign and Chinese tales into operas over the past 22 years, including four Shakespeare plays.


For almost 20 years The Smith Quartet (seen above in our studio) has been at the forefront of the world’s contemporary music scene. They have developed a repertoire by some of the most exciting living composers and established an international reputation for their dynamic style and original approach to contemporary music. Tonight they perform an excerpt from Philip Glass’s Third String Quartet.

Please click here to see a streaming video of the show


In the Show – 21st October 2008

In 1915 Scottish writer John Buchan published a spy thriller, “The 39 Steps”. It was very much a book of its time, which meant it dated fast, so when Alfred Hitchcock directed it for the screen in 1935 he adapted it liberally. Now, the popular thriller has now been revived as a comedy for theatre in London’s West End and New York’s Broadway. It has won two Tony awards and a Laurence Olivier award for Best New Comedy. The Australian cast version of the show is currently running at the Academy for Performing Arts. We spoke to the director and performers.

Perhaps not with the most fortunate timing given the financial crisis, one of Korea’s leading auction houses, Seoul Auction recently decided to test the water here. It brought more than 120 contemporary Western and Asian artworks for its international debut. The auction house’s inaugural sale realised around HK$180 million, far less than the estimated total value of HK$300 million. However, it did do well with emerging Korean artists, whose work fetched two to three times the estimated prices. Three Hong Kong galleries are also specialising in Korean art.

In our regular look at the movies we focus on the latest example of an ongoing trend: Hollywood versions of Asian horror movies, for Western consumption. Examples that come to mind include “The Ring”, “The Grudge”, “Shutter”, “Dark Water” and “Phone”, and their remakes. Not content with making us frightened of cameras, video cassettes, children, showers, and phones, the latest adaptation “Mirrors”, which stars Keifer Sutherland, is determined to make us too nervous to look at our own reflections. Reviewer Gary Pollard says it’s more likely to make us afraid of going to the cinema.


Finally, in our studio, Filipino musician Jezrael Lucero (seen above) has been blind since birth. Today, at 23, he’s a gifted multi-instrumentalist. He says he began singing Sinatra songs at 13 months, playing classical concertos at two; and performing in public since he was four. Tonight he plays for us Duke Ellington’s Satin Doll.

If you want to view a streaming video of the show, please click here.

In the Show – 14th October 2008

The Paul Taylor Dance Company, was performing in Hong Kong last week. In this week’s show we speak to members about their work, and about their founder, a former swimmer who began his career by sending audiences scrambling for the exits.

One of Taylor’s early works, created in 1957, “Seven New Dances” had audiences walking out of the theatre and provoked a notorious blank review that has become famous in dance history. Today he’s considered one of modern dance’s greatest choreographers.

Director Ridley Scott’s latest film “Body of Lies” is based on a 2007 novel by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. Set in the middle east, it’s about a CIA operative, Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) on the trail of a terrorist mastermind. He, in turn, is being watched and manipulated by his supervisor Ed Hoffmann, played by Russell Crowe. Like many recent Hollywood movies set in the region, the film is critical of American meddling and muddling, and even more so of the moral vacuum in which its characters operate. But is it an exciting enough spy story? Gary Pollard’s with us to give us his view.

From film we’re moving to video and – specifically – video about dance. The biennial Jumping Frames Dance Video Festival 2008 is under way and running up until Friday, when it ends with a marathon screening at the Hong Kong Arts Centre. One of the things it aims to encourage is the idea that a dance video can be a lot more than just a recording of a performance.

With us in the studio tonight are the members of Kenny’s New Flying Machine. The quartet features a well known figure on the local jazz scene, Japanese trumpet player Kenny Matsuura. He’s accompanied by pianist Kayoko Haruta, Shige Takahashi on bass, and Joel Haggard on drums. The last time Kenny was with us, he brought an entire big band, the Saturday Night Jazz Orchestra. His new group focuses on modern jazz in the style of Roy Hargrove and Wynton Marsalis. Tonight they play for us a piece called “I’ll Close My Eyes”.

If you want to take a look at the show, please click HERE to see a streaming video.

Interview – Meg Cabot

Author Meg Cabot has published more than 40 books, most of which have been dubbed “chick-lit” for teenagers and young adults. Her best-known novels are those in “The Princess Diaries” series. They’ve been published in more than 35 countries and sold over five million copies worldwide. The series includes 10 full-length novels.

Last week, as part of her Asian tour, Meg was in Hong Kong to meet, and answer questions from, her young local fans.

While she was here, she spoke to The Works’ Diana Wan.

We presented edited highlights of that conversation in the show. This is the full interview.

Diana Wan:
How did you find the Hong Kong fans’ response to you and your reading of your work?

Meg Cabot:
It’s fun. It’s always different. Because I’ve noticed that every different audience all over the world is a little bit different. And they laughed at different parts. And it’s true in America too. In different parts of America people laugh at different parts. So It’s funny.

Diana Wan:
Do you see Mia as an example for your readers?

Meg Cabot:
As a heroine who does something very brave, yes. I write about girls I would like to be. I’m not necessarily that brave or royal but, yeah, all of my books are about a girl who is seeking to find herself in some way. And trying to figure out what her place is in the universe or in the world. So that comes first, and sometimes she may or may not find romance.

Diana Wan:
So romance doesn’t come first in your stories? How about in the books you admire?

Meg Cabot:
There’s “Jane Eyre” for instance, “Pride and Prejudice” for instance. And some of my favorite stores aren’t necessarily romance first. I think they are more about the heroine finding herself and kind of, as I was saying, her place in the world. And then by doing that, she is able to find romance. That’s how I think of my books.

They are primarily books where the heroine is able to really grasp who she is, and when she does that and realises what she is meant to do in the world, then she is able to find romance. So I think that’s funny, what I think people call “chick-lit”. And that’s, I think, really what I do, although in my “chick-lit” a lot of the time the heroines have psychic powers, which isn’t true of all “chick-lit”.

Diana Wan:
How did you start writing?

Meg Cabot:
I always wrote. Gosh! I don’t remember ever not writing stories. I do remember not being able to write and not knowing how to write, and drawing stories. I was obsessed with narrative, I don’t know why, ever since I was a little kid. I think I wrote my first story when I was seven. It was called “Benny The Puppy”. And Benny has horrible disasters happened to him and his family. And I have just been writing ever since.

Dian Wan:
Did you feel you were an overnight success?

Meg Cabot
It was really weird for me because I read so many stories about writers that turned their manuscripts in, and the next day they got a huge cheque and they were overnight successes. And that didn’t happen to me. It was a very slow progress. And I think maybe it’s a little bit better to go the slow route because you really learn to appreciate it.

I think it’s really given me a sense of gratitude towards, certainly, my readers because I really just appreciate how they’ve stood by me through all the weird name changes I’ve been through. They’ve been able to find the books. And certainly my publishers going back and re-publishing books that I wrote under other names under my real names has been great. I’ve been so appreciative of that. So I think it’s certainly given me … gosh! I just feel so lucky. It’s been really great!

Diana Wan:
Did those rejections make you want to give up?

Meg Cabot:
I was frustrated certainly. The thing about it is I just knew I was just going to write, no matter what. Even if I hadn’t – I shouldn’t say this because I don’t want my publisher to know – but even if I hadn’t been published I would still have been writing because I love it so much I’d have kept doing it.

I did keep doing it while I kept getting rejection letters every day in the mail for years. I continued to write in spite of that, because I considered it as a challenge to keep on trying to get published. And even now that I am being published, I’m still challenging myself to write, you know, what I consider better and better stories, and to try to get more and more readers, and different kinds of readers. So it was really upsetting. Sometimes I’d get frustrated, but I sort of just saw it as a challenge that I needed to overcome and I just continued to do it. What else was I going to do? It’s what I love to do! So I had to keep doing it.

Diana Wan:
Many writers draw on autobiographical elements in their work. Are there elements from your life in “The Princess Diaries”?

Meg Cabot:
Everything that happens to Princess Mia in high school. I’m not a princess actually, and “Grandmere” is made up. But everything that happens to her: the boy problems, and the parent problems, and all the problems with the best friends, are totally taken directly from my diaries. Even the notes that the girls passed back and forth in schools, which now been turned into text messages, are notes that I did save from high school and that my girlfriends and I passed back and forth. So yeah, sadly, a lot of it is really true.

I just saved all my notes like I just said, but I also think it doesn’t really change. You retain it. At least I retained it from when I was a kid. Because I had such a horrible time being a teenager. it’s kind of ingrained in my memory. I don’t know, I guess I’m really interested in teen stuff because I just think that is such an interesting time in your life, as you are growing up. Because they haven’t really, teenagers …. they are fascinating to talk to, they are really fun to hang out with.

Sometimes I’d rather hang out with teenagers than adults. Actually, most of the time. So when I’m going to an adult party, I always end up in the kids’ room talking to the kids. So I’m the person who is, I don’t know, everybody’s big sister, who’s always hanging out with the kids. And I guess that’s why I’m able to retain that youthful voice.

Diana Wan:
Do negative reviews of your work affect you?

Meg Cabot?
I don’t really read the reviews that much. You know, as many bad reviews as there are, I know there are good reviews because my agent does send me the good ones. So I don’t really care. It means more to me what my readers are saying, and my readers love them. I constantly get emails from girls and some boys, mostly girls, saying: “I never wanted to read and I didn’t like reading until I opened up your book and I started reading it.”

To me the fact that I am able to write a book that is accessible to someone who hated reading and is now suddenly reading a book … that means more to me than anything. So I don’t really care what anybody else says.

Diana Wan:
The Disney film of “The Princess Diaries” has been criticised by some fans for not being close to the book.

Meg Cabot:
I think it stays true to the spirit of the book. And I understand that the changes that they made, they made for specific reasons – like killing off Mia’s father who is alive in the book. So I do get letters from little kids saying, “Just to let you know, I saw the movie of your book and read the book and you got the book wrong. The father is supposed to be dead!” So that was really funny. Actually I thought it was cute. They did make the second movie which has nothing whatsoever to do with the books, which is really funny. So sometimes people think, when they buy the book, that’s how it’s going to go, and it’s not. Because Disney just make their own versions. So there are two Princess Diary versions. There is mine and there is Disney’s. Disney’s is really nice, and mine is the right one. It’s great! It’s the greatest one. The movie really brought more readers into the series and people write all the time that they wouldn’t have heard of Princess Mia and now they’ve seen the movies and are reading the books and can’t stop reading them. Its fantastic!

Diana Wan:
What’s your favourite place to write?

Meg Cabot:
I do love to write in my bed with my cat at my side. I don’t really get under the cover, but I like to write in my neatly-made bed. And that’s really my favourite place to write, with my laptop, just having everything be nice and quiet. But I do listen to loud rock music on my headphones.

Diana Wan:
Do you have as much time to write as you’d like?

Meg Cabot:
I’ve just been really lucky I guess. I don’t have any kids, so I don’t have any responsibilities at home. My husband is a great chef, so he does all the cooking and he does the taxes! So it has been great, and all I do is to concentrate on writing which is just really, I’m living my dream which is really fantastic. And sometimes I worry that it will all come crashing down and I should take advantage of it while I can. So I’ve just been really lucky I guess.

Diana Wan:
So do you live like “a princess”?

Meg Cabot:
People always ask me that, but they don’t know I still clean the cat box and do all that kind of stuff. My husband won’t do that part of it. I guess in a way I’m living in a kind of dream. It’s true we all know, unfortunately as people know reading the Princess Diaries, being a princess isn’t always fantastic. So in a way though, yes I am, since it’s something that I dreamed of when I was a kid – that I could be a writer and now I am actually doing it. Then yeah, I do feel like a princess a little bit.

Diana Wan:
Who exacty are your readers?

Meg Cabot:
Now we are bringing in younger readers and I have books for older readers as well. It’s funny because “The Princess Diaries” started about ten years ago, or maybe eight years ago. The readers who started out when they ewere ten or eleven are now going off to college, so it’s really funny to see these mature young ladies and they grew up with the books, so it makes me feel quite old. It’s a little sad actually.

Diana Wan:
I’ve read that “The Princess Diaries” series is taking a break after ten books.

Meg Cabot
It actually is 16 books, because there are little half books in between. So technically it is 16 books. Actually I realised I didn’t have enough stories for 16 full-length novels. So it actually did work out. Although there are 10 full-length novels and there are some half books, and there are some little guides on how to be a princesses.

I realised I actually have more. There is more. There is more! So I’m taking a break for now, but I may have to go back and do some more because I love these characters and I do think it will be fun to do “The Princess Diaries, The College Years”. So we may not be done with Princess Mia but we are certainly done with her for a while because we both need a vacation for a little while.

In the Show – 7th October 2008

At one time there was a clear distinction between popular art and high art. In the twentieth century, groups such as the Pop Artists broke down that distinction by transforming elements of popular culture into high art. Here in Asia too, a similar transformation is going on. Asian comic books and animation series, such as Japanese manga and anime, began life as mass entertainment. Today, elements from manga and anime are finding their way into art works in galleries, museums and auction houses.

After the heights of “Annie Hall”, “Manhattan”, and “Stardust Memories”, director Woody Allen has gone a little off the boil lately. His recent movies, set in London, have seemed a pale reflection of his work in New York. For “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” he has changed the scene to Spain. Our reviewer Gary Pollard tells us it’s worked like a charm, resulting in one of his best movies in a long time.

American writer Meg Cabot, creator of “The Princess Diaries”, has been voted by her readers the “Queen of Teen”. She’s also an unofficial counsellor who answers their questions on romance, beauty, pets, or how to become writers. Last Saturday, as part of her Asian tour, she was in Hong Kong. The Works spoke to her.

Performing in our studio tonight is the Swiss quintet whose name means “voice of joy”. They are Kolsimcha, and they bring a new twist to Jewish klezmer music, adding touches of jazz, world, and even classical music.

If you want to take a look at the show, you can see a streaming video here