MPD and Muriel Maffre

26 Jul

When Dance USA met in San Francisco the end of June, the Museum of  Performance and Design [MPD] provided an afternoon open house on the fourth floor of the Veterans’ Building.

I’m hazy whether the display had been assembled particularly for the presence of this national dance professional organization or if it had been up for some time. At any rate, I trotted down to Civic Center June 30 to take a look about an hour before closing.

Not only was I curious about the contents, but I wanted to see Muriel Maffre in her new setting as Executive Director of MPD. I’ve been one of her avid fans since she danced Odette/Odile opposite Yuri Zhukov during her initial season with San Francisco Ballet.  She has given not only rare pleasure in her dancing, but she also has given the Bay Area a rare intelligence in her capacity to bridge disciplines effectively.

MPD is lucky to have Maffre’s abilities as it faces a move from the Veterans’ Building as that edifice starts seismic retrofitting in 2013.  MPD not only faces displacement, but the fact it cannot return once the repairs have been made: San Francisco Opera is slated to occupy the space.  Maffre therefore is working to secure space sufficient to house its bulging, disparate collection as well as to imprint the organization’s importance in the life of the Bay Area’s performing arts.

Funds, of course, are a problem.  New York City’s performing arts won city and state support. While MPD receives annual fees from a  number of organizations paying for their archival   maintenance, it also  relies on membership, private donors, and, presumably, funding for specific projects, for its support. I was told by a former president of the organization, then known as San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum [SF PALM] that it very nearly became a part of the San Francisco Public Library system.  Preventing the merger was the fact San Francisco’s library system would not guarantee incorporating SF PALM’s  existing staff into its personnel.

Lord, but my preambles can get involved!  Anyway, the exhibit seen June 30 was sheer delight; bits of everything: costumes, memorabilia, posters, books, generous with, but not limited to, dance.  The nucleus of MPD’s collection started with Russell Hartley, tall, blonde, very artistic and warmly gregarious, the first Mother Ginger in Willam Christensen’s 1944 Nutcracker, also the creator of the costumes – not only the sketches, but the garments themselves.  It was largely his nucleus that was on display.

Russell had blown up opera and theatrical posters, colored them. (He had been a painting conservator until the fumes required his shifting activities) Enrico Caruso stared out at you, head cocked slightly, eyes piercing.  I think I remember seeing Mary Garden near Caruso.
Octavian’s elaborate white satin costume, breeches and jacket from Der Rosencavalier occupied the entry niche and nearby was a poster celebrating La Estralita.  Angels in America was duly recognized.

Under glass was the sumptuous collection of the Stowitts’ costume  (Hubert Julian) sketches for Fay Yen Fah, the opera with libretto by Templeton  Cocker and music by Joseph Redding, premiered at the Bohemian Grove in 1917  before being mounted at the tiny Monte Carlo Opera created by Charles  Garnier.  Ninette de Valois and Alexandra Danilova danced in the opera, the ballet divertissement created by George Balanchine, his eleventh work under Diaghilev’s aegis in Western Europe.  The Stowitts’ designs never made it to the stage because Stowitts spent too much time on his oeuvre, subsidized two years by Crocker to study the objects from the Dun Huang caves brought to London and Paris by Sir Aurel Stein and Paul Peliot. I remember being told by Anne Holliday, Stowitts’ biographer, that he ordered handmade paper from China for the sketches. Little wonder patron and artist parted collaboration.

Totally new to me was a colorful, highly-decorated costume exhumed from a trunk belonging to the short-lived Pavel-Oukrainsky troupe, organized in Chicago in the early ‘Twenties.  Andreas Pavel died in 1931, believed as a suicide.  How long the ensemble survived is not clear, but it  actually  predated San Francisco Ballet.

Serge Oukrainsky followed Adolph Bolm as ballet master for the San Francisco Opera, lasting one season, 1927-38, when his post was assumed by Willam Christensen.  Oukrainsky is credited as having created dances for the SF Opera productions of  Aida, La Traviata, Lakme, Un Ballo en Maschera. The explanatory notes stated a friend told Harlety the Oukrainsky trunks were headed for the garbage and he rescued them.  Maffre exhumed the contents from storage in preparation for this exhibit.

These objects were memory lane for me.  Russell Hartley had been a part of my San Francisco dance going, first when he gossiped while sitting beside me as I watched San Francisco Ballet rehearse  Sylphides at 236 Van Ness the winter of 1947.  For years his conservation studio was on Market Street about a block west of the Academy of Ballet at 2121 Market Street;  dancers were always welcome and parties frequent.  Before starting the Museum, then known at the Archives for the Performing Arts, in the basement of the Sacramento Street branch of San Francisco’s Public Library, Russell operated an art gallery just north of Broadway on the west side of Columbus Avenue.  There, among other artists, he showed Kyra Nijinsky’s paintings of her father.

Russell’s creation of the Archives, now the Museum of Performance and Design, got its major active impetus from two sources. First,  John Kreidler was able to take a U.S. Department of Labor apprentice ruling and make a case for applying the CETA funds to the arts.  It not only
enabled Stephen Goldstine, directing the Neighborhood Arts Program, to employ artists, but it provided personnel to San Francisco Ballet. CETA Funds paid the salaries for Russell Hartley, enabling him to concentrate on organizing the  Archives but hiring Judith Solomon as his assistant. Russell usually spent most of his stipend at flea markets, picking up discarded theatrical memorabilia.

Second, the space at the Sacramento branch came to Russell through the initiative of Kevin Starr during his brief tenure as Librarian for the San Francisco Public Libraries. I think the CETA salaries came through the Library system.  CETA funding went down the drain when Ronald Reagan became President.

Those energetic years came flooding across my memory screen as I regarded what Muriel Maffre had accomplished in this exhibit.  Russell Hartley would feel MPD is in not only competent, but imaginative hands.

Advertisements

2 Responses to “MPD and Muriel Maffre”

  1. woollywesterneye July 27, 2012 at 10:50 pm #

    Stephen Goldstine corrected me regarding the demise of the Department of Labor’s CETA program. It bit the dust during Jimmy Carter’s presidency. Apparently, the numbers of the program were disappointing, and the bureaucracy was more concerned about job training other than in the arts. Thanks, Stephen, for the correction.

  2. Susan Hartley Havemann April 2, 2016 at 6:20 pm #

    Hello,
    I am so happy to read your memories of my uncle, Russell Hartley. Would love to hear more if you are so inclined.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: