Archive | August, 2013


30 Aug

Growing up, my mother was assiduous, even leaning to the fanatic, about the state of my sister’s and my feet. We had, essentially, two pairs of shoes a year: one for everyday, the second for Sunday school and the very occasional party and holiday. The former were Ground Grippers, the latter, black patent usually, brand unremembered. I used to whine periodically for the chance to wear the black ones to school.

Every mid-late August there was a trip to Fresno where we visited a Ground Gripper store, small, narrow, midway along the shopping center on the east side. One put one’s foot into a metal contraption with various markings
belonging to the mold into which the results were poured, molten, then
cooled. A flange operated forward and back measuring the length of the foot. I think the flange also possessed something for the width.

From this operation, the salesman made his selection from the storeroom; I think he calculated the choice to include growth. The choice was invariably chestnut color,becoming the object of periodic polishings over the next year. I found them ugly, unappetizing, but wore them at least through the eighth grade. I just don’t remember when I branched out. But I do remember Mother telling me when I complained that ladies in Boston had them made in blue satin to wear to the opera.

In college, I wore a variety of shoes, flirting with high heels even before I got
my high school diploma; I also tried wedges out for size. Somehow, Mother’s
doctrine held fast. Capezio’s fashion became a norm for me, their small heel
quite consistent with ease of movement; later I saved money to buy Ferragamo
flats when the crepe soles were still part of the company’s repertoire.

My introduction to zoris, or what now are called flip-flops, started in India with ahmisa thong sandals, constructed from dead animal hide, rather than a living one slaughtered for meat and hide. The thong itself never was too strong, but in that heat Indians probably navigate more effectively. Their traditional pattern is something I admire, though exposure to backless slippers have converted me to what are called slides in catalogs.

About two or three years ago, Dan Henry, the Pilates instructor at the Buchanan Street YMCA in San Francisco, mentioned to me use of flip-flops provides no arch support; I remembered, looking at pictures of Ghandi with his walking staff and supported by followers, not only had he bowed legs, but noticeably pronated ankles.It seems, since the millennium, perhaps even before, the widespread use of flip-flops has leaped beyond the beach, swimming pool and shower to weekend, even daily wear, particularly for young women with shapely legs and nicely manicured toes, closely seconded by young men. This summer, the practice, from observation on MUNI buses, has crossed languages. Almost frequently, these coverings from asphalt and cement, finish off a pair of short, short tights, occasionally covering voluptuous hips.

I look at this sartorial habit with mixed emotions – astonished that my training, gloves, hats and Ground Grippers on San Francisco streets – was so narrowly practiced, particularly the GG part, that the dress code has “relaxed” to where fleshly sag and feet nearly bare are so publicly practiced. The other item to astonish me even more is watching well-dressed women, en route to work or an appointment, apply mascara or reapply lipstick as if MUNI substitutes for the bathroom mirror.

Somehow, this intimacy, like extended cell phone conversations with anger, relationships with failed commitments spoken at unmiked, auditorium delivery
volume, strikes me as unnecessary for collective ears. I wonder, like those
flip-flops, whether modern technology has blunted sensitivity to others, for all the frequent discussions and writings on relationships.

Admittedly, I am outdated, and should get used to it. But I also wanted to record the differences, to go on notice that I am grateful for my Mother’s insistence on those Ground Grippers. I am minus fallen arches and can walk some distance without fatigue, if I do huff and puff on the hills.

Target is Coming

30 Aug

Geary Boulevard near Masonic is under going yet another change and you can call it Target.  The three-level building that has entries on both Masonic and Geary has been shuttered ever since Mervyn’s closed, though Office Depot next door and Best Buyabove continued to sell their appropriate merchandise.

Then suddenly this January Office Depot began to have a sale and I, needing a new laptop, benefited, though still not aware of the reason for the advertised 30% discount. As the shelves emptied and the announcement was made that the printing division was closing, I realized the business convenience was about to disappear. I walked in the closing week when the blank shelves, the printing and reproduction service, USPS and UPS receiving station had closed down; the skeletal crew silently reflected the verity that the count down was coming closer — eerie, dismal, and quite final.

Watching preparations for what is announced as an October opening, the building and the retaining wall for the lowest of three parking lots have been painted white with two tones of grey, one light, the other a decided hue, oblong or squarish accents. They have emerged from the protecting netting on the building, continuing on the parking lot retaining wall. The bushes along the side walk on Geary have been torn out, exposing the plastic tubing for the water supply. Most of that is gone also, or else submerged. At this writing, I haven’t seen replacements.

I keep wondering how come no graffiti? But then I realize Geary Boulevard gets constant traffic and Presidio Avenue butts across the underpass stopping where the parking lot begins. It looks as though the parking lot is going to have a monitor, probably a good idea. The lot has a spectacular view, sweeping down
Geary towards Fillmore and then northeast to Russian Hill and north to Pacific
Heights, almost as good as Twin Peaks and not nearly so windy. Pity it’s not
so likely to be admired, unless someone dreams up a whodunnit with a chase across the parking spaces.

I remember the location when it was a Sears where I spent spare cash on plants,
planters, mostly ceramic, and as many Ortho paperbacks as were displayed; once I pocketed a dropped $5 bill, a rare windfall.

It will be a novel experience for me to shop Target; I’ve never been inside one, unlike most Americans. During the lengthy shuttered period, Brooke Byrne, now a partner in Geary Dance Center, and I fantasized how great it would be if the location could be turned into a performing arts center complete with all those parking lots, the ceilings and the escalator.



Words on Dance at the Vogue, August 22

27 Aug

There wasn’t much notice for this Tuesday night viewing, but those who were involved in some of the sequences were there in force. At least the way that I got an e-mail, I had no clue that we would see a short film by Quinn Wharton featuring dancers from the Hubbard Street Dance Company cavorting around handsome old brick facades, a secluded garden, into tunnels and at the edge of Lake Michigan under the title Opaque. Visually it was wonderful, the walks in the varying stages of drunkenness and the confused mental processes well depicted. The sexual scenes were prolonged, of course, to show the amazing holds, lifts and rolls of the dancers,although I kept wondering whether the lovers were not just acrobats too immersed in their techniques to risk physical union. Or is that the tell tale sign of an aging expectation?

Then we saw a potpourri assembled from longer individual sessions, Edward Villella, Cynthia Gregory, Jerome Robbins with Damara Bennett and Joanna Berman as interviewers and Amanda Vail for the Robbins sequence with participating panelists Stephanie Saland, Robert La Fosse, Helgi Tomasson, Edward Villella. It was a satisfying glimpse of the rich, rewarding ballet world near the end of the twentieth century. Included as “beyond the ballet category” was Mark Morris with some wonderful clips from his company’s sojourn in Belgium, and one or two sequences of Morris himself dancing, a demonstration of his extraordinary gifts beyond choreographing and directing orchestras.

Following these glimpses of the past was a brief clip of Les Twins, Laurent and Larry Bourgeois, hip hop advocates, opposite Sarah Van Patten and Doris Andre of San Francisco Ballet. If my notes are correct the film maker was Kate Duhamel. The sustained arabesques, developpes and port de bras with the frenetic rubber legs, torso and shoulder inflections of Les Twins was an absorbing visual exercise, centered so the camera did not travel, concentrating effect and contrast.

Deborah Kaufman, the mastermind behind Words on Dance, came forward at the end of the viewing to remind us that WOD would be celebrating its 20th anniversary with a special program November 4. She introduced Judy Flannery, Managing Director of the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, which will be running September 12-15, primarily at The Delancey Street Theatre.

Joanna Berman and Damara Bennett were present with Anita Paciotti, the trio
having danced together at San Francisco Ballet during the Lew Christensen- Michael Smuin era. Bennett has returned to San Francisco from Portland, Oregon where she had been in charge of the Oregon Ballet Theatre School when Christopher Stowell had been its artistic director. Anita mentioned Damara was joining the San Francisco Ballet School faculty to teach the beginning students.

Happily for the organizers of the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, opening and closing nights of the Festival sold out, some tickets do remain. The Museum of Performance and Design will be showing some exciting French-made documentaries concurrent with the Festival, and Executive Director Muriel Maffre will join Pascal Molat in a discussion of their own Paris Opera Ballet training following the documentary on students at the Paris Opera Ballet School Saturday September 14.

Ballet San Jose Announces its 2013-2014 season

24 Aug

Ballet San Jose will start its 2013-2014 season with a November 16 Gala before proceeding to Karen Gabay’s Nutcracker December 13-26. 2014 will see three repertory programs starting February 13 and ending May 11 in this first season with Jose Manuel Carreno as artistic director, Raymond Rodriguez as Associate Artistic Director with George Daugherty as Music Director and Conductor.

Choreographers for the spring season will include Twyla Tharp, Paul Taylor, Ohad Naharin, Vicente Nebrada, Jorge Amarante, Igal Perry, Jorma Elo, and Dwight Rhoden. Their works will represent company premieres.

The Benefit Gala on November 16 reflects Carreno’s drawing power from his years with American Ballet Theatre, and his ability to attract fellow Cubans and
notable Spaniards to spice the occasion, beyond obvious guest contracts. The Gala roster will include from American Ballet Theatre: Julie Kent, Marcelo Gomes, Misty Copeland, Gillian Murphy. From New York City Ballet; Gonzalo Garcia, Joaquin de Luz, Daniel Ulbricht and Megan Fairchild. It is probably Garcia’s first area appearance since leaving San Francisco Ballet for New York City’s namesake company. Boston Ballet will be represented by Lorna Feijoo, Nelson Madrigal, Adiarys Almeida and Joseph Gatti. Topping the list will be Tamara Rojo, one time Royal Ballet principal and now Artistic Director and principal dancer with the English National Ballet. The artists will bring welcome glimpses since their companies have not appeared here recently.

Program I, February 14-16, 2014 will include George Balanchine’s Serenade, credited as 1949, probably in a current form; it was initially created in 1935 soon after Balanchine arrived in the United States. Jorma Elo’s 2006 work, Glo-Stop will be included with Ohad Naharin’s company premiere of his 1999 work, Minus 16. The theme of the program is Neoclassical to Now.

Popular Music, Transcendent Dancing is the title for Program 2, March 21-23.
The five works are company premieres and include Vicente Nebrada, 1975, Nuestros Valses; Argentine-born choreographer Jorge Amarante, 2007, Grapa Tango; Israeli Igal Perry, 2013, Infinity to Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Hammerklavier’s Adagio; Paul Taylor, 1997, Piazzolla Caldera, Astor Piazzola music. Dwight Rhoden, one time Alvin Ailey Company member now most noted as the artistic director of the Complexions ensemble, shares his 2013 Evermore to the music of Nat King Cole.

Two works will complete the third Program May 9-11 titled Masterworks of Movement and Theatre. They are the 1949 Roland Petit Carmen, in the company’s repertoire for some time, and Twyla Tharp’s 1986 ballet for American Ballet Theatre In the Upper Room to the music of Philip Glass.

Ballet San Jose will announce the company member roster in September.


17 Aug

This afternoon Olaf Ruehl came up from Sunnyvale to work on the continuing task to get me more competent on the computer. Olaf came my way via Yanni Varda, a former dancer with the Dance Through Time social dance troupe started by Carol Teten commencing this branch of social history with what was the Elizabethan period’s aristocratic dance craze. I think it’s the Volta where the man is required to lift his partner up by her bodice. This feat gets accomplished because the front of bodice has been stiffened, I think by whale bone or something equally sturdy, enabling the man to grasp something firmly to send his partner flying, usually shrieking with evident delight.

Olaf teaches German during the school year on the weekends. As you might guess, the combination of technology and mastery of the German language served at the forefront of scientific knowledge during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and such linguistic competence makes for supremely precise mental processes. Add courtesy and a cheerful nature and Olaf is pretty amazing.

Every time Olaf’s schedule permits him to spend about two hours answering my many questions, it winds up the list gets two or three items crossed off, but the amended list adds another two or three.

Today Olaf corrected the extra entries on this blog’s heading, replacing the initial type with what you now see, the design Claude Dieterich A. executed. It makes me chuckle. Claude caught “a look” fitting perfectly with the title chosen for this blog. I hope it amuses you as much as it does me.

R.I.P., Eva Michels

6 Aug

Eva Schonberg Michels died Saturday, August 3, 2013 of inoperable lung cancer, despite the usual radiation and chemotherapy. I do not know her exact age, but probably she was probably in her mid-seventies.

My friendship with Eva came about through dance. When my late, former husband was at sea, I took ballet class at the Academy of Ballet in the days when Guillermo del Oro was teaching Spanish dance and Carolyn Parks taught children. Eva was a student and soon became a member of Bay Area Ballet, if my memory for the organization’s name is correct. Del Oro renamed her Serrano because, as she said del Oro told her, “No dancer should be named Schonberg.” She also became Mrs. del Oro, if only briefly.

Physically, Eva was small, her face quite square, large expressive grey eyes,
a generous mouth and hair which she wore short as it greyed, a striking woman somewhere between pretty and distinctive, with a quick smile and laugh over irony and the absurd. satisfying to talk to, a pleasure to spend lunch and some
minutes with her in her home near Columbus Avenue.

My particular memory of Eva’s dancing were in two ballets, one by Marc Wilde, concerning contemporary youth and Eva was one of “the girls,” probably Wilde’s version of West Side Story. The other was called “The Cardinal’s Bracelet” and featured del Oro as the rapacious prelate, Eva as his mistress and Angene Feves as the young girl who becomes entangled with the red robed priest, is supplanted by Serrano, but cannot divest herself of the bracelet, i.e. she is somehow enslaved for the remainder of her life. All three were wonderfully dramatic and swept along the stage at the Marines Memorial Theater.

Eva taught for Alan Howard after he assumed direction of the Academy and may have danced in Pacific Ballet during its early history, but she left teaching ballet after a dispute with Howard over salary, going to work at what is now California Pacific. I lost touch with her for what was at least three decades, during which time she married again to Leon Michels, a physician she said still made house calls. She was widowed when we reconnected.

To backtrack, Eva was an only child, born in Berlin. With her mother, aunt and grandmother, she moved to Shanghai in 1939 to avoid Hitler’s roundup. The family spent the war years in Shanghai where Eva said “A Japanese soldier was posted at the end of each street, and you had to get a permit to go from one street to another.” She also remembered scouring movie magazines as a diversion. Jewish social agencies made it possible for the family of four women to emigrate to San Francisco at the end of World War II, and Eva ended her formal education at Lowell High School when it was still situated at Masonic and Hayes.

After she was widowed, Hanna Forester, who managed the Asian Art Museum’s slide collection for a number of years, persuaded her to volunteer for the Museum’s gift store when the Asian was still housed in Golden Gate Park. She was volunteering for Sudha Pennathur’s boutique during the Asian’s Tibet exhibit when we reconnected. It reopened a rich vein of memory.

After studying piano Eva stopped the practice to undertake sculpting in stone under the auspices of the City College of San Francisco’s studio facility at Fort Mason. She had already been attending for several years when we reconnected, and she continued until 2013’s spring semester, although she segued into ceramics when the stone sculpture class ceased with the teacher’s retirement. Her early stone pieces drew their forms from ballet, but gradually the figures were not just dancers, but interesting men and women, and she also ventured into the abstract. The stone sculptor teacher’s retirement spared Eva’s wrists and arms, which had taken punishment from working with the medium, but she had persisted because of the challenge and the pleasure she found with the results.

From her involvement in the art classes a Wednesday night pot luck dinner emerged, moving rather rapidly from weekly to alternate Wednesdays with anywhere from eight to ten individuals. Invited to join the group, I found it lively and an opportunity to prepare one of my favorite dishes or salads. The practice lasted about two years after I was included, terminating when Eva decided to remodel her kitchen, accomplishing it with her usual flair and elegance. Talk ranged from the qualities of stone purchased to class personalities, books and theater performances seen.

Next came New Year’s parties with a handsome spread, and for at least two years
catered by Stanley Eichelbaum, who became a tenant in her downstairs apartment. She laughed when she recounted how social Eichelbaum’s life had made her.

Eva loved shopping and was quite professional about it. Chasing a bargain was an art with her, particularly at Lohman’s where she was a regular, watching a particular garment discounted progressively until she felt it was sufficiently inexpensive to purchase. “It’s the challenge that I love of getting what I like for a bargain price.”

Eva also volunteered for a number of years for a shop on Sutter Street near Polk until the lease was lost and the shop activities ceased. To watch her wait on a customer during one of her volunteer hours was a lesson in subtle attention and salesmanship, for Eva had a way of engaging with a customer’s mood and interest. This volunteer salesmanship was as much a part of her routine as exercising at the Presidio YMCA or her Wednesday nights at San Francisco Ballet’s spring season. She frequently walked from shopping expeditions around Union Square and at Lohman’s home through the Stockton Street Tunnel and then along Columbus Avenue to climb the hill to her flat.

Interspersed there were trips to New York with a friend, a cruise to the
Mediterranean and last summer a riverboat cruise with her daughter-in-law.
She also supervised the remodeling of her flat’s two bathrooms.

In our last conversation, after she had her round of radiation, Eva laughed about purchasing wigs in anticipation of the chemo procedure. She mentioned her on and off days, gave me some specifics about the area of infection, but said she had been walking to North Beach and back, a round trip of perhaps twenty-four blocks.

We spoke of a lunch in a new place found before the diagnosis.The last week or two Eva crossed my mind and I reminded myself I would call when I had finished something or other. This morning Jocelyn Vollmar telephoned me with the news. Eva and I, alas, will not lunch together, that lovely, spirited, elegant woman.

Stern Grove’s 76th Season and San Francisco Ballet’s Annual Appearance

1 Aug

July 28 remained stubbornly overcast, but not so cold that union regulations forbade San Francisco Ballet dancing. My friends shared with me a table graced by Teri McCollum and her friend Tab, an excellent view of the stage, and as the program began, anyone who could manage the space between the granite-lined path and bench legs. A couple of women even managed to sit on the Igloo at the end of the table.

What was seen was deliberately selected for an audience as intent on food and company as on the stage, designed to enjoy without heavy emotional engagement, but skillful, very much so. This year’s roster comprised, “From Foreign Lands,” Alexi Ratmansky with Moritz Moszkowski music of the same name, the cultures being Russian. Italian, German, Spanish and Polish; Stone and Steel, Myles Thatcher’s ballet for the School’s May concert to music of Michael Nyman and Yann Tiersen. Then a pas de deux for Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith by Edward Liang to Thomas Albinoni, titled Distant Cries preceded the finale Suite en Blanc, Serge Lifar’s 1943 display for the Paris Opera Ballet to the music of Edouard Lalo.

The Ratmansky work comprised successively a pas de quatre of two couples; a pas de quatre with three women and one man; a pas de quatre with one woman and three men; and pas de quatre for two couples and the finale a pas de huit for four couples. The first, Russian, was a slight rivalry and partner change with Sasha de Sola, Jaime Garcia Castilla, Frances Chung and Gennadi Nedvigin, and the initial pairing, sparkling allegro and a pair of more lyric limbed dancers – in the end winding up one with each. Castilla and Nedvigin made a fascinating visual contrast in their initial appearance, the legato and the crisp, both admirably schooled. In the Italian Joan Boada displayed his elevation for Dores Andre, Dana Genshaft and Sarah Van Patten. Simone Messmer, formerly with American Ballet Theatre, made her debut in the German number opposite Luke Ingham, Myles Thatcher and Shane Wuerthner whose function primarily was to lift her aloft, allowing her to inspect them, the role originally danced by Sofiane Sylve. Frances Chung, Sarah Van Patten, Joan Boada and Gennadi Nedvigin returned to make like Spaniards, all aware of their mutual charms. For the finale, the Polish, there were jumps for the men in addition to partnering for the women. Ratmansky has a deft touch, conveying flavor without laboring the point, and it moves such a slight work along with great charm.

Thatcher’s Stone and Steel is another work displaying his growing capacity to organize an ensemble, moving the dancers individually and collectively. This ten dancer ballet was created to music by Michael Nyman and Yann Tiersen; as suggested by the title, the ambiance was insistent and the execution crisp. Sasha de Sola was the only soloist with the nine from the corps de ballet, including new corps de ballet members, Isabella de Vivo and Wei Wang; both had been utilized during the spring season, either as apprentices or in the student performing group. The other dancers were Jordan Hammond, Kristina Lind, Julia Rowe, Sean Orza, Steven Morse, Henry Sidford and Lonnie Weeks.

Distant Cries started out with Yuan Yuan Tan moving in silence and joined by Damian Smith as the music commences. Their long-standing partnering is invariably a pleasure to watch, he displaying her long limbs to great advantage. At the end Damian retreated upstage center and Yuan Yuan was left alone, perhaps portending his retirement rumored for the end of 2014’s season.

I would love to know the roster of the dancers who created the various sections of Lifar’s Suite en Blanc in Zurich just about six months before Paris was liberated in 1944. I know Lycette Darsonval and Yvette Chauvire were among them, as well as Roland Petit and Janine Charrat. Jean Babilee, because he was Jewish, had left the Opera Ballet to join the Resistance. Carlos Carvajal can recite who danced what when the ballet was danced by the Grand Ballet de Marquis de Cuevas.

Marie-Claire D’Lyse, Kristina Lind and Jennifer Stahl wore romantic length tutus for the opening sieste, followed by another pas de trois with Sasha de Sola, Davit Karapetyan and Vitor Luiz, whose principal assignment seemed to be grand jetes and beats while turning. Clara Blanco in serenade was charm with a fair amount of pique steps; the effectiveness slightly lost because the corps behind her is elevated on ramps when danced on a proscendium arched stage. This also was true for Dores Andre’s appearance in the pas de cinq with Esteban
Hernandez, Wei Wang, Lonnie Weeks and Dmitry Zagrebin.

This served as debut performances for Hernandez and Zagrebin, particularly when the four men beat entrechats in a line. Hernandez is the brother of Isaac Hernandez, now with Het National Ballet in the Netherlands. Shorter thant Isaac, I first saw Esteban at the USA IBC in Jackson in 2010, where he received the Jury Award of Encouragement. I also look forward to seeing more of Zagrebin, Bolshoi trained and former company member; he garnered a gold medal at Seoul’s International Competition in 2010.

Vanessa Zahorian transcended the title of her solo, cigarette, with her usual flair to be followed by one of the company’s India rubber balls, Taras Domitro in mazurka. Wan Ting Zhao and Tiit Helimets were featured in the pas de deux before Sofiane Sylve appeared in flute. In this fleeting glimpse before the finale, Sylve managed to capture the audience’s focus with the like strength that captivated an earlier Stern Grove audience when she danced the second movement of Balanchine’s Symphony in C. She projects simplicity but with a quiet fierce majesty rarely failing to satisfy a witness.