Monthly Archives: November 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope everyone had a good one – I had a deliciously busy weekend along with an much needed day off today (I was in my pajamas for most of the day, changing briefly into a swimsuit so swim in the neighborhood’s 85 degree heated pool). I was expecting the weekend to be theater-free, but it’s funny how things never work out that way. Last night, two friends and I got offered cheap last minute tickets to the Kims of Comedy improv comedy act at the local improv comedy club, with the really funny Bobby Lee (from MadTV) and Steve Byrne and Kevin Shea. I almost injured myself, laughing.

Here are some weekend reads. Enjoy~

  • The most thorough discussion of blogging vs. theater criticism that I’ve read in a while. Click here, from UK’s The Guardian. Some quotes from the article: from a critic’s point of view: “From that point on I concluded I could no longer view the blogosphere as source material or even mere displacement activity. Now it was the competition.” Another opinion: “‘I do not believe in the democratisation of opinion. I believe in benign authority. And if we undermine the authority of critics then we shall descend into mayhem.’”
  • Why Yundi Li Got Cut. It’s an age old question – has flashy ostention always been more marketable and valued than quiet solidarity? Li is seen as an anti-Lang Lang. What happened is a little devastating. Although I don’t think Lang Lang is always so bad – I loved his Haydn on his debut CD. He’s performing with the San Francisco Symphony this upcoming week. This article places a Chinese spin on things, focusing only on Chinese classical music artists, but the problem is more universal that extends past ethnicity or classical music.
  • A really cute article on preparing the kids for NYCB’s Nutcracker, written by Claudia LaRocco.
  • Another take on the California Musical Theater controversy.
  • Another visit to the SF MOMA is in order – looks like several new exhibits are there right now that looks fascinating.

Dame Edna: Live and Intimate in her First Last Tour

Last night, I moblogged from the frontlines about a protest that was occurring in SF, but it looks like my moblog entry is floating somewhere around cyberspace. I wonder when it’ll appear on my blog.

Anyways, last night I had the pleasure of seeing Dame Edna’s new show currently in previews in San Francisco called “Dame Edna: Live and Intimate in her First Last Tour”. Acted by the brilliant Barry Humphries as the Dame, I knew I had to see this show after catching her on Broadway in her Tony nominated show, “Dame Edna: Back with a Vengeance”, one of the funniest nights I’d ever spent in a theater. Satire is a delicate art, but Dame Edna fearlessly brings it on in full force. A self proclaimed megastar wrapped in a transparent disregard for the lowliness of others compared to her fabulous self, she’s lovable in her delusion and confidence. Audiences adore her for it, and we all secretly wish we could say things with such direct honesty as she does. With her brand of cheeky insulting humor that crosses far over the line, it’s always delivered so genteely and always “meant in the nicest of ways”. The show soars in the best of moments in her unscripted intimate conversations with people in the audience (and even to an outsider on the phone). As with her previous Broadway show, this show is another chance to see her in all her glory – nothing new perhaps, but she never gets old and the laughs are just as fresh.

Since the show was only on its second night in previews there are a few kinks to be worked out, including the pacing of the show and the running gag with Dame Edna’s unruly jail-uniformed daughter, Valmai (acted by Erin-Kate Whitcomb), that is sometimes squirm-in-your-seat uncomforable, with Dame Edna and her pianist, Andrew Ross, coming off a bit prison guard-ish against her unpredictable behavior to make sure the show runs smoothly. I love to see Dame Edna with her perfect self image with blind spots to her own shortcomings, but here she humanly but not-in-a- Dame-Edna sort of way admits her shortcomings as a mother and occasionally come off as a bit mean to her disappointing daughter. My personal recommendation is to see this show after previews, although even if no changes are made to this show, it is totally worth going to see this show just to see the Dame herself in all her fabulosity. The show also ended in a poignant moment where Barry Humphries himself makes an appearance to take a final bow, that had me briefly panicking that perhaps this really is Dame Edna’s last tour. I REALLY hope not.

My favorite Dame Edna moment of the night outside the theater occurred on our Bart ride home. I was holding a Dame Edna gladiola, and outside through the window, I saw another guy holding a gladiola. We both shared a “trembling gladiola” moment. :) It’s this moment of connection that I’m sure Dame Edna would approve of, as her love and charm continues to get shared to audiences all over the world. 

Wouldn’t it be great to have Dame Edna host the Academy Awards? That would be something – seeing her gently tease all the big celebrities.

Another note – if you don’t want to be singled out and made fun of (or made to kiss a stranger), avoid the first 10 rows like the plague.

Some Dame Edna quotes:

  • “Never be afraid to laugh at yourself; after all, you could be missing out on the joke of the century.”
  • “My show is like an intimate conversation between two friends, one of whom is a lot more interesting than the other.”
  • To Sigourney Weaver: “Actresses of a certain age start to find their parts starting to dry up.”
  • To a pretty young girl: “You are every father’s nightmare, and every uncle’s dream.”

Other links:

Dame Edna: Live and Intimate in her First Last Tour continues at the Post Street Theater until January 4.

Winners of the AAAS Dance Your PhD Contest

The results of the Science Dance Contest came out today! The results are really exciting, and more so because of how unexpected they were. I had picked out in my head who I thought was the best in each category (graduate student, post doc, and professor) but none of them won. I was struck most by the fact that the results may partly be explained by being driven by society’s expectations of how scientists should be.

The stereotypical scientist is wacky, odd, and eccentric, stuck in their own closed world at all hours doing who-knows-what with complicated machines. The winners of this contest really seem to reinforce these stereotypes – a little goofy, a little bit of fun, a little quirky. I find it fascinating that the results seemed to reflect the viewers as well as the videos. It seemed to be a lot about how people want to see their scientists.

I was most impressed with each video’s level of commitment in their own way, and as a viewer, felt a little like a spectator staring into a fishbowl at this odd little world (even for me, as a grad student). These videos went admirably beyond the level of duty to show it.

I’m glad that this competition didn’t set the precedent that you needed the backing of a dance company in order to win. All you need is passion and some brains, right? I suppose that’s true for a lot of things.

It’s funny how there’s a public curiosity about the insular world of scientists and science, where communication to the nonscience world is difficult and the science is often misunderstood. I also believe that this is driving the interest in this competition – a way to view this oddity of a world and to understand science without long scientific terms. It’s no wonder that many think that this is a good teaching tool.  Or is it the joy of seeing people, anyone, outside of their comfort zone?

So without further ado, I present to you the winners:

Graduate Student: Sue Lynn Lau’s “The role of vitamin D in beta cell function”

That sun is awesome.

Post doc: Miriam Sach’s “Cerebral activation patterns induced by inflection of regular and irregular verbs with positron emission tomography. A comparison between single subject and group analysis”

Professor: Vince LiCata’s “Resolving Pathways of Functional Coupling in Human Hemoglobin Using Quantitative Low Temperature Isoelectric Focusing of Asymmetric Mutant Hybrids”

But more importantly, my picks :)

Graduate student Lara Park’s “The role of folate in epigenetic regulation of colon carcinogenesis”

Professor Rachelle Gaudet’s “Structural analysis of phosducin and its phosphorylation-regulated interaction with transducin beta-gamma”

I love the explanation of this as well – the two dancing partners represent two proteins in the eye that are important for light adaptation. When the eye is flooded with light, the two proteins bind together and interact; when in the dark (the darkened front of the stage), the protein is unbound and dancing solo. Finally, the interacting protein degrades (my favorite part) when the guy keels over and dies. 

Oh, and of course, the funniest:

For the rest of the videos, click here. I was really impressed with the breadth of entries, from aerial circus to “hip hop”. :) Here’s my entry with the background on my video. Thanks for the all the encouragement, kind links and blog endorsements!!

UPDATE: I just got more information about the judges. The judges included the three artistic directors of Pilobilus Jonathan Wolken, Matt Kent, and Emily Milam Kent (I’m cringing right now that these amazing dancers saw my video but too late I suppose), the three winners from last year’s competition, and three scientists from Harvard University. Interesting, there’s actually a science connection with Pilobilus – Pilobilus is named after a fungs that co-founder Wolken researched in his father’s biophysics lab.

What do you guys think about the winners? Other entries?

Other links:

San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker on DVD

Psst. Guess what just went on sale on Amazon today? (Ok aside from Wall-e)  San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker! This will also be aired on PBS on December 17. I can’t find anything on the PBS Great Performances website, but I’m sure it’ll be up soon. The cast includes Maria Kochetkova and Davit Karapetyan in the central pas de deux, with Vanessa Zahorian as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Damian Smith as Drosselmeyer. If anyone can point me to a full cast list, please let me know. Although it’s great having the DVD of it, there’s nothing like seeing it live. A little girl behind me screamed at the Mouse King and gasped when the tree grew. Too funny and so adorable! Here’s my review of it last year.

San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker. Click here for tickets.

Review: San Francisco Ballet in Orange County

All photos © Erik Tomasson

Lorena Feijoo and Joan Boada in Possohkov’s Fusion. © Erik Tomasson

After too long of a hiatus, I finally got a chance to see my beloved San Francisco Ballet on their American Tour in Orange County this weekend. After hearing all the rave reviews in the other stops on their tour, I was curious to see how the company looked after the summer. It was fun to see many of the men sporting spiffy new haircuts, and even though it’s late in the tour with only one more stop after Orange County, the company showed no signs of wear or tear and looked absolutely phenomenal.

I had previously seen Possohkov’s Fusion and Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour at the opening night of their world premiere back in April, and in the few months that have passed, the pieces looked like completely new pieces. For both dances, the choreography had seeped more into the dancers’ pores, where the movements looked more instinctual and were performed with more of a natural flair compared to opening night. In Fusion, resident choreographer Possohkov has his finger on the pulse of the company, where the dancers looked like they were born to dance this piece. Despite some structural issues I still have with this piece with the two groups of opposing dancers (the whirling dervishes and the contemporary costumed dancers) integrating cohesively into one dance, with every whirling turn to every sensuous hip wiggle, each movement was sold to the eager and captivated audience. The overall effect was hauntingly mystical, yet complexly modern.

Yuan Yuan Tan and Benjamin Stewart in Fusion

Vanessa Zahorian in Fusion

Bathed in a warm glow, Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour was especially breathtaking. You can almost hear Wheeldon working the steps, trying new things, and reinventing movements and poses. But rather than spiralling into an esoteric multilayered analytical mess, Wheeldon as a master sculptor shapes the steps into something more than the sum of its parts. There’s delight at every corner. Lilting quirks punctuate the gently nimble music by Vivaldi and Ezio Bosso. Wheeldon’s invention worked especially well in the ensemble dancing, where different groups are set up against each other, each group quickly melting into the next and culminating in a triumph with the dancers swirling around each other in a circle. There’s a pas de deux with the lead couple, danced by Katita Waldo and Damian Smith that tripped along charmingly, with Waldo’s leggy glamour and Smith’s unwavering strength. A recurring motif with two male dancers, Garen Scribner and Martyn Garside, burst with lithe agility and vivid sensuality. Scribner was his usual self with his clean lines and striking stage presence. I had to look up Garside, a dancer I didn’t initially recognize, as he stepped up to match Scribner’s presence with his eye-catching dramatic authority and fiery abandon. Some of the pas de deux (what is plural of pas de deux?) especially in the slower ones had the drawn out feeling of a measured awakening that evolved over time but never resolved, still maintaining Wheeldon’s inventiveness. The overall effect was a joyful and richly layered enchanting journey of a sunny, warm world that was winningly the audience favorite of the night.

Maria Kochetkova and Joan Boada in Within the Golden Hour

The program ended with an about face with Balanchine’s Four Temperaments. Set in a stark setting with severe black leotards and simple background, the atonal pulsing music by Paul Hindemith propelled the physicality and the sharp angles of this piece. The overall effect is cool, detached, and a “better than you” distance that makes this piece in my personal opinion, a piece to be respected and admired but difficult to love. There’s lots to think about however, as the evening’s theme of invention continues. The Four Temperaments which premiered in 1946 is so forward thinking that one could easily guess that this piece was made this year. Loosely based on a theme and variations with each variation based on the four humors of the body (black bile, blood, phlegm, and yellow bile whatever that is), these associations with the human body are hard to visualize. A group of four girls (representing the four temperaments?) repeatedly make an appearance as an aloof and unrelentless army of Fembots in leotards, pushing forward with razor sharp pointed feet. My favorite variation was Phlegmatic, with Pierre-Francois Vilanoba in the foreground of these four girls, carving out his presence in space and time with his long sinuous limbs. Pascal Molat flew as the soloist in the Melancholic variation, and Lorena Feijoo and Tiit Helimets created a whirlwind of energy in the Sanguinic variation. In terms of audience response, this 180 degree turn in the mood seemed to catch everyone off guard as the ready applause died down a bit, but perhaps everyone was deep in thought rather than on reflex emotional response. The evening ended with an overwhelming presence of the entire ensemble dancing with hard edged precision, led by the polished Sofiane Sylve.

San Francisco Ballet with Pierre-Francois Vilanoba in Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments.

In all, this was a very long way of saying that San Francisco Ballet overwhelmingly succeeded in showing the audience that ballet is not merely a showcase of tricks, but a complete intellectual and emotional experience that is as diverse as it is deep. It was in a series of Pascal Molat’s entrechats near the end of the night that I realized that I hadn’t seen a fouette or the usual ballet applause-generators, but all the steps were seamlessly incorporated artistically into generating a mood, an emotion, a thought. This is a huge testament to the skill of the company and their ability to completely transport the audience into worlds unseen, and I can’t remember the last time that I found a ballet performance so complete and thrillingly satisfying. It’s also to San Francisco Ballet’s credit that they seem to send their best dancers out on tour, which is a different approach from some ballet companies, leaving a trail of obsessive fans in its wake. The dancers have never looked better; there was a moment in the Wheeldon piece where Damian Smith, Pierre-Francois Vilanoba, and Joan Boada were merely standing in a line in an easy fourth position. There was something about their similar build and jaw-dropping stage presence that was simply awe-inspiring. I’m also sure that pride in my hometown ballet company and the long hiatus added to my enjoyment as well. What a perfect way to officially end San Francisco Ballet’s 75th anniversary with a national tour that sets its stamp on the dance world as a pioneer and leader in the world of contemporary ballet.

San Francisco Ballet stops in Washington D.C. next, November 25-30 as the last stop of their American Tour. Be sure to catch their Giselle!! Here’s my review of SFB’s Giselle.

Other reviews:

UPDATE: In the spirit of innovation and as a result of a conversation I had with a friend, I decided to write up reviews for Fusion and Within the Golden Hour in haiku (in the loosest syllable definition of the word). For what it’s worth, enjoy.

For Fusion:
Shadowy mystique
A sharp breath caught in midair
Surrendering blur

For Within the Golden Hour:
Mercurial flow
Trusting hands, we melt as one
Gently lilting waltz

Proposition 8 and The Color Purple

Everyone knows that I hate talking about politics on this blog but in this instance, I really can’t keep my mouth shut on this one. My friend who’s a Sacramento news anchor just called me to see if I knew anyone who she could quote on the evening news tonight, and I did some research. The artistic director of the California Musical Theatre in Sacramento has donated $1000 in support of Proposition 8. I find this highly ironic/confusing/depressing, considering the current production that is playing there includes a lesbian love storyline in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.

Read more here and here from one of the writers of Avenue Q who spoke with the artistic director himself, which will be playing at the CMT this spring.

UPDATE: Scott Eckern quits! A bit of a shocking turn of events. I attended The Color Purple last night at the California Musical Theatre, and not only was it a really full house, but there was a small group of protesters almost a block away after the performance with “No on Prop. 8″ signs. I went not to support the artistic director’s actions, but to support the theater community as I always do.

ABT II On Tour

ABT II breezed into the Mondavi Center on Friday night, bringing a refreshing breath of youthful exuberance with it. ABT II is the training program for the world famous American Ballet Theatre, with its pick of the most promising ballet dancers in the world. It’s a great look into the future of ballet and its upcoming stars, with everyone between the ages of 16-20. A well rounded program was offered, showcasing both the strengths of the small company as well as showing the world how they can handle difficult (and diverse) repertory. The small company took huge risks as they can afford to with its talented roster, but as with all risks, some worked better than others.

The biggest success of the night was Jerome Robbins’ Interplay capitalizing on the company’s youth, with its whimsical concept of kids at play. Dressed in bright primary colors suggesting youth from the very beginning, a boy waves to another. A sense of playfulness pervades as the dancers constantly relate to each other, with boys playing leapfrog and other childhood games, with lightning quick moves and offbeat surprises. A competitive spirit adds to the fun, as Joseph Gorak shows off his langorous lines, an arresting stage presence, and a level of artistry seen more in more experienced dancers. A collaborative group chemistry completes this fun romp to perfection.

The rest of the program worked on many different levels, but a part of my problem is that I unrealistically expected it to be a mini-ABT. Their infectious energy withstanding, the performance was still riddled with tenuous turns, a few nail-biting slip ups, and a whirlwind of difficult

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technical steps without shape or direction. This however undoubtedly will be ironed out with performing experience and the passage of time. Balanchine’s Allegro Brilliante was a courageously daring endeavor; its difficulty and the effort it required was unfortunately visible as steps were whipped out at breakneck speeds with the transparent intent of getting them over with, instead of responding organically to the music. Despite the piece’s technical difficulties, the soloist Sae-Eun Park was a long-legged wonder, with a lightness and a pleasing airiness in her dancing, with Jose Sebastian was her noble partner. The Swan Lake Act II pas de deux and the Don Quixote pas de deux followed in the second half of the program, with a very sassy performance by Meaghan Hinkis in Don Quixote. Petipa’s Carnival of Venice closed the program showcasing the ability of this group to tackle classical repertory, which brought the evening to a celebratory end.

This group offers great hope for the future of ballet, with flashes of brilliant artistry peeking through already at such a young age. It was a great way to experience a top notch ballet company outside of their home state of New York. And Helgi, can we bring Joseph Gorak home for Christmas?? That would be wonderful. Newly hired Isaac Hernández joined San Francisco Ballet recently from ABT II.

Hm, this picture doesn’t look like ABT II but it’s listed that way. Pretty pose, no?

ABT II continues their tour. Click here for their website.

Mondavi Arts

San Francisco Ballet in Orange County

Lily Rogers and Daniel Deivison-Oliveira in Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments. © Erik Tomasson

Wow, has this week crept up on me or what! There’s lots to come, but the thing that

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I’m most excited about… the chance to see San Francisco Ballet again!! Do you THINK that I’m excited?? I will be attending their stop in their American Tour in Orange County next week, so be sure to check it out. They perform at the Orange County Center for the Performing Arts November 11 – November 16. Click here for tickets.

Program A (November 11, 13, & 15 at 7:30pm; and November 16 at 2pm)
Possokhov: Fusion
Wheeldon: Within the Golden Hour
Balanchine: The Four Temperaments

Program B (November 12 & 14 at 7:30pm and November 15 at 2pm)
Tomasson: The Fifth Season
Morris: Joyride
Elo: Double Evil

Other links:

Sondheim’s Assassins, the American Dream, and the recent election

I couldn’t help but to wonder if recent election results dampened the urgency of the message in Sondheim’s Assassins, as I watched the excellent production put on by Sacramento’s Artistic Differences. This musical explores the seedier underworld of American history, focusing on the motivations of people who have attempted, successfully or not, to commit the most egotistical of crimes, to kill the most powerful person in the world. In the land of opportunity, these characters highlight the doubt in the American dream that everyone gets the same chance to be great, and shows that this isn’t accessible to everyone, including immigrants, outcasts, and young people rejected by their family. Obama’s recent election softens this message a bit because he proved that anyone CAN be president. I still found the message to be extremely current especially for a musical written many years ago.

To fight against the creed, “living lives of quiet desperation”, these men and women claw and clamor to make themselves important in their own way. As an audience member, it’s unsettling to be able to relate to these characters at all in their fight to be heard. I am in awe of Sondheim and his courage to even question America’s greatest virtue, freedom, to make the statement that a completely free country includes living with the people who exercise their freedom to kill.

Other links:

  • News Reviews review
  • Sarah Vowell’s excellent book, Assassination Vacation – I’m not much of a history buff myself, but Vowell makes history interesting and very very funny. Find out which assassin was a member of a sex commune who could never get laid. I wish Vowell had been my history teacher.
  • Assassins (2004 Broadway Revival Cast), with Neil Patrick Harris, Michael Cerveris, Denis O’Hare, and James Barbour.

Artistic Differences presents Assassins. Runs through November 9. Click here for more info.