Archive | December, 2013

More Bemusements: Street Life

31 Dec

Because it’s so close to December 31, Market Street near Montgomery seemed subdued. Tomorrow the street may be littered with cast-off squares of office desk calendars. Tonight, however, Market Street was relatively subdued,without litter, even though I saw a regular, hunched up against one of the pillars near the Montgomery Street MUNI/BART entrance, wrapped in a white bed covering, face quite buried from the glance of a passerby. She’s been there when I go to Mechanics Institute for the writing group; I don’t have the courage to stop and talk to her. Like all too many others, I prefer to stick to my own agenda and not get drawn in.

I did get drawn in once, in a totally different area, Ninth and Irving; a slender young Indo-American was seeking support to get to Mount Shasta. She looked like a model for “Pale Hands Besides the Shalimar” or a Kangra miniature. It was summer time; she was sleeping on the Beach with a dog to protect her. If I remember correctly, she had been thrown out of home in the East Bay by her father for some refusal to follow his proposed agenda for her. I have forgotten whether the offense was a boy friend, her career choice or simply standing up for explorations available in this country to a young woman adult here in the early ‘Nineties.

She garnered enough panhandling to afford food for herself and her dog and could bathe in some public location once a week. I made an attempt to get a ride for her to Mount Shasta where she had friends; we missed connections. I felt six inches high, but was grateful to know she was no longer on the streets. She haunted my thoughts; my image of an Indian family in the United States had not included such rigidity.

Then she was back, minus the dog, blind in one eye. I do not remember what she told me; it wasn’t pleasant though it wasn’t rape. She was working cleaning houses and didn’t entertain a second intervention. Every now and again I think about her; I imagined what it might have been like had I seen her in India. I just hope she has managed some moments of joy and satisfaction with the difficulties such rejection foisted on her.

More Once Upon A Time

29 Dec

As the year winds down, I find myself contemplating the visible changes around me; new neighbors next door, an alleyway resurfaced, and the discards on the street which have found their way into the washing machine in the basement. If children’s clothing continues to show up in cardboard boxes on the street, I soon will have a large carton to send to the Philippines for the use of my friend Remy’s extended connections. One shirt still had its price tag of $17.99 on it, and the number of small matched and unmatched socks give me pause. The size is much smaller than my own memory of the washing machine on the family orange grove, but the daily maintenance it represents makes my head swim. Mothering is in part the mastery of dailiness, and these discards are formidable reminders of those repetitions.

These discards also make me realize several things – the cult of discards, for one, and a certain unwillingness by San Francisco’s occupants to utilize the pickup services of Recology, the welcoming
counter of a Goodwill drop off or the truck behind a Salvation Army thrift store. Finally, it makes
me realize that the physical abundance it represents is a far cry from my childhood in the ‘Thirties,
and in the decades between there has been a population explosion, which somehow has severely dented
the practice of thrift amongst a swath of individuals under perhaps fifty.

Ah, yes, once upon a time frugality was not only a necessity; it was prized. Once upon a time.

The Terra Cotta Prince at Cupertino: AKA Chinese Nutcracker

27 Dec

Once upon a time; that favorite beginning for children’s tales; so it was for me in the ‘Thirties. Watching Sesame Street on PBS makes me just too chock full of outdated memories. Given Petyr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s holiday favorite, a Nutcracker by any other name still is The Nutcracker.

Cupertino is in the heart of Silicon Valley. It was once noted for its excellent cherries. Here Cupertino refers to Flint Center, Theatre Ventures International bringing The Terra Cotta Prince to its stage December 18-22; an intertwined venture with the Dalian Acrobats the San Jose/Dublin, Ireland sister city connection. Theatre Ventures International is based in San Jose; but concern lest this unusual take on La Caisse Noissete as it is called in French, impinge on box office receipts for the ballet company bearing San Jose’s name, caused the move to Cupertino, which gets a big red crate of cherries for hosting this holiday marvel.

What was the percentage? Does it even matter? The Chinese contributed the Dalian Acrobatic Troupe and Dennis Nahat’s unerring eye gto them to Los Angeles and the Bay Area. Doubtless totally irrelevant for this genius adaption of its E.T.A. Hoffman origins performance to that lilting score of Petyr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. I can say for sure that with three friends, Stephen Goldstine, Corrine Nagata and Remedios Munar, I was enchanted.

Not reading Mary Ellen Hunt’s December 18 prelude in The San Francisco Chronicle, I was unprepared for the ingenious mixture of acrobatic skill and costuming, the genuine Chinese touches displayed on stage. Every Nutcracker I have seen has been something of a pastiche of a pastiche of exotic cultures or improbable fantasies. This was imperial Russian style, late Nineteenth century and hothouse years of the Twentieth century’s first decade, where Russian diplomatic and territorial aspirations fueled subject matter many, many layers removed from the pages and protocol of diplomacy. So, no problem in witnessing a thoroughly Chinese take on the holiday staple.

Three choreographers were credited: Zhang Yong Quiang, Jin Yunjiang and Sui Wei; Art Director Yang Jiansheng and Xie Yuxi were listed for sets, Xie Yuxi for lighting. Costume Designers Xu Shimin, Zhang Shuxun, Xu Zeng and Pan Liya outdid themselves; music editors Lin Yan and Jian Dhai skillfully manipulated sequences to Petyr’s score, adding Chinese percussion at salient moments. Lin Quan stage managed; Kenneth Keith as U.S. technical director; locally John Gertbetz and Jim Fung accomplished the program and public relations. Qi Chunsheng, director of the Dalian Acrobatic Troupe, adapted the perennial holiday diversion, Dennis Nahat accomplishing the overall direction.

The overture built the excitement when ten young women roller skated around the Flint Stage, sporting snowflake-shaped boomerangs, zipping in and out, some several with split-second daring, seducing us with excitement and admiration.

The family servants prepared for the guests’ arrival, the men manipulating four white chairs; the women remove them. The quartet held their position so the audience registered admiration before collapsing. The women guests arrived, gowned in an impressive series of black and white gowns, some etched a tad with silver, short, chic and clearly preening.

Grandfather, Yao Fei, arrived in a chromium wheelchair, accompanied by nurse Liu Kexue. The chair provided gravity-calculated high jinks; falling backward and self-righting [what incredible abs!]. Grandpa tilted, fell, recovered; scarcely the stuff of decrepitude. When Grandad exited, Nurse Liu was slung across his lap.

Drosselmeyer, Lam Kwan Wing, tall, white wigged, moved with deliberate speed, his cane emitting bursts of flames at suitably musical climaxes.

A panda replaced a bear, with companion. The bottle master, a slender, limber Yu Yongian, amazed us juggling wooden wine vessels on square blocks;two layers, then a third – the latter requiring two or three repetitions before structure and balance produced the proper effect – a combination of brass cymbals and Chinese strings emphasized the repetitions of Tchaikovsky phrases during the attempts.

Acrobatic bravura, delicate virtuosity and visual surprises were sprinkled hroughout the production, one amazement to gladden the eye after another. In Act I it was heavily underscored by Cao Lei as the Treetop Doll, picking her way carefully on top of each light strung on a very solid tree. Each light her pointe landed on in the upward spiral burst into light at her step; at the finale Lei was balanced skyward at the tree’s apex, clearly its star. Thunderous applause.

Inevitably, Drosselmeyer Wing revealed a scarlet-coated warrior which he bestowed on Wang Yu Rei, the production’s Marie. Zhang Lijin wrought the expected destruction. Here, one felt dramatic coherence yielded to acrobatic brilliance, an imbalance probably corrected in later performances.

The traditional fight scene pitted Terra Cotta Warriors against Ninjas followed by Snowflakes; in grey, they bore bouquets of long-stemmed, multi-petaled flowers, swooping, swirling to the memorable music.

Act II featured some wonderful swaths of claret-hued silk, manipulated by four skillful women, climbing, displaying the material. They were followed by five parasol-toting graces, parasols patterned delicately inside and out. Lu Mingyue gradually received the entire supply, manipulating the increased supply with her toes; we watched breathlessly.

In the Grand Pas de Deux, Wang Yu Rui and Zou Yu provided the final spectacle; her postures at the finish of a phrase were impeccable, but the transitions between indicated Rui was an acrobat rather than a ballerina. Still, standing in full pointe on Yu’s stead shoulders,then on his head; nothing to be sneezed at, and Rui enjoyed Yu’s careful, steady partnering.

For the final tableau Rui returned with her Terra Cotta Warrior Toy, Drosselmeyer Wing standing behind her, in front of Chinese characters dashed on a white drop in traditional, spectacular black.

Dennis Nahat’s organization of this complicated production is admirable; one hopes The Terra Cotta Warrior returns next season to Cupertino’s Flint Auditorium.

Second Night with San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker

16 Dec

Because I wanted to see Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz in the grand pas de deux, I opted for San Francisco Ballet’s second performance of The Nutcracker for 2013, December 12. I also saw Vanessa Zahorian and Taras Domitro in the Snow Scene plus Yuri Possokhov as Drosselmeyer with some exuberant flourishe, head movements emphasizing the music. Anita Paciotti and Jim Sohm created their perennially cheerful decrepitude as the grandparents and Gaetano Amico was quite the sinister Mouse King.

Enjoying the 1915 San Francisco scene with me was Lawrence Smelser, long-time balletomane who moved to Portland after retiring from the Library of Congress. Larry has witnessed his fair share of Nutcracker’s including the premiere performance of the Baryshnikov version with Misha B and Gelsey Kirkland. For him to say it was one of the most satisfying he had ever seen was to make this California native’s heart kvell.

This year’s souvenir program has added images from past San Francisco Ballet Nutcracker’s supplied by The Museum of Performance and Design, now located on the south side of Folsom, just east of Fifth Street. The photos make a charming glimpse along Memory Lane, if the printing fades into the pastel of the pages. I guess the thought is that plain ole black and white, or even sepia and white would be too obvious, though readable!

The Act I party scene seemed well coordinated, moving smoothly, also conveying children’s capacity for extra energy and excitement at a party. Diego Cruz as the floppy Harlequin came across as a tad forced, not so freely stretched as previous harlequins, of which Jaime Garcia Castilla was such an example. Doris Andre as the overdressed doll danced with great control but Clara Blanco still takes the prize for being doll like; Max Cauthorn as the party Nutcracker dispatched his jetes with business-like precision; he also made an appealing shaggy bear in Act II emerging from Mme de Cirque’s tent-like skirts.

The Snow Scene enjoyed two wonderful monarchs with Zahorian and Domitro, the latter’s jetes and tours making a minor role major. Tomasson has the advantage of a stable of excellent male partners with techniques to match, a situation which Lew Christensen did not enjoy. What Christensen gave the snow scene was a feeling of wind blowing the snowflakes, moving in
diagonals, clasping hands briefly swirling in and out of the wings. Tomasson’s vision emphasizes the picky, almost icy, stinging qualities in the Tchaikovsky score, the corps constantly crossing the stage on pointe as the falling snow practically obliterates the floor. Zahorian danced with her usual musical aplomb, and the corps seemed particularly strong.

Recently-promoted Jennifer Stahl is tall, slender, musically correct. Still new to an assignment like The Sugar Plum, she concentrates on a musical flow without momentary etchings or pauses in an arabesque, jete or pirouette which should come as she adds emphasis and phrasing to her enchainements.

Amongst the variations two of the favorites remain the Chinese, featuring Wei Wang, an energetic apologist for a U.S. version of mobile Chinoiserie. The second is Anatole Vilzak’s Russian variation with the trio bursting through their egg-shaped enclosures visually adorned with wintry Russian scenes. Daniel Deivision was the central dancer of the trio included Myles Thatcher and Alexander Reneff-Olsen. Deivision livens up anything he dances with intensity. Tomasson should be thanked for retaining Vilzak’s version; it’s classic.

While the other variations were nicely rendered, little in their overall impression stirred me quite so much. I’m sure I will see their interpreters to better advantage during the spring season.

Vitor Luiz was an unaffected but distinctly princely Nutcracker, his mime of the battle crystalline in its clarity as his battements are waist high. His matter-of-factness diminishes the quality and precision of his dancing, but somehow a glint of his authority does peep through to let you know just how privileged one is to watch him dance.

Then there is Lorena, with her extraordinary back and special port de bras flowing from her sculpted shoulders. What a treat it is to see her expression in a variation, eyes a trifle down cast, head resting on a neck which appears free of strain; and in profile to see the line of head to pointed toe, the image of a romantic dancer, with the technical power capable of alternating between single and double pirouettes or fouettes.

Like Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan, Luiz and Feijoo are partners; there definitely is something comfortable in their strenuous collaboration for our visual and emotional pleasure.