Monthly Archives: November 2009

The holidays are coming…

Happy Holidays, everyone! I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. It feels very much like the calm before the holiday sugar-plum sweetened storm, and my life outside the theater has been very busy. The closest to theater that I got to see recently was the festive Christmas parade at Disneyland (in 84 degree weather, I might add). It was a veritable explosion of Christmas spirit, with a song that wouldn’t die in my head and props and costumes to satisfy the most materialistic of Christmas consumers.


Toy box ballerina

Toy box ballerina


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The first full week of December seems to be the week where holiday shows open. I will be attending two, if not three, including Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Aurelia’s Oratorio starring Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter and directed by her mother. A quote by Aurélia Thierrée on working with her mother from an article in the Seattle Times: “If another director told me we’ll begin the show with you in a chest of drawers, and end with a train going over your stomach, I would have said no!” Mark Morris’ The Hard Nut opens that week as well at Cal Performances, which I’m finally looking forward to seeing live. And last but not least, SF Ballet’s glorious Nutcracker opens on December 8.

Elsewhere, the Nutcracker season has started at New York City Ballet. I especially enjoyed Oberon’s Grove take on the opening night performance. Funny how audience misbehavior can ruin a night, no?

And finally, SF Ballet’s lovely Yuan Yuan Tan is on the cover of Dance magazine this month, as featured on the SF Ballet Blog. I’m always looking for an excuse to buy this magazine (it’s such a luxury, in my limited student budget) and this month, I think I’ll have to treat myself.

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Holiday Dance (and more) in the Bay Area

Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun and Anthony Spaulding in Tomasson's Nutcracker. © Erik Tomasson

Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun and Anthony Spaulding in Tomasson's Nutcracker. © Erik Tomasson

It’s that time of the year again – Christmas jewelry commercials are starting to creep up on TV, and people are searching and finding my blog through Google searches such as “nutcracker san francisco ballet” in increasing numbers. (Can you believe we’re already halfway through November??)

Here’s a non-comprehensive list of holiday dance offerings in San Francisco and the Bay Area. There’s a dusting of smaller ballet companies doing the Nutcracker – Ballet San Jose and Oakland Ballet, for example but I haven’t seen these so I can’t vouch for them. But here are the ones that are on my radar this year:

  • San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker. This glittering, sumptuous, nostalgic confection is one of the best the West Coast has to offer. It doesn’t seem proper to start the holidays without it. I grew up with this production, when my family used to drive to SF to see it. I have childhood memories of getting dressed up in holiday party dresses and sitting excitedly in box seats, waiting for the production to start. Performances start on December 11. Click here for my 2007 and 2008 reviews. Buy the DVD of a live performance by SF Ballet on Amazon.com, narrated by Kristi Yamaguchi.
  • Smuin Ballet’s Christmas Ballet. I haven’t seen this yet, but it’s a holiday show that’s guaranteed to be as sexy and showy as the company that’s dancing it. It’s the spiced up and heavily spiked egg nog variety of your normal holiday beverage. It’s a collage of dances choreographed by Amy Seiwert, Robert Sund and more, celebrating Christmas in the non-traditional, non-Tchaikovsky sort of way. I’m sure it’ll be family friendly, although the marketing seems to be targeted more for adults. It seems like a perfect holiday date, or the audience member new to ballet or dance who wants to celebrate the holidays in style. Performances start on November 27 in Walnut Creek, and the show moves on to Carmel, Mountain View, and San Francisco.
  • Mark Morris’ The Hard Nut. Advertised as the “Nutcracker with a twist”, it’s the Nutcracker story as viewed through the fun, crazy, touching, slightly disturbed yet brilliant eyes of Mark Morris. This truly is the production that everyone will enjoy, from dance fanatics to kids who were reportedly rapt with attention during the entire production. I’m hoping to finally see this production live this year, after seeing it only on DVD. It’s worth it just to see that snow scene. Love! And any guesses if Mark Morris himself will be onstage to play the drunk, inappropriate uncle again? Surprisingly, a lot of tickets are still available. I’ve noticed that more rush tickets have been more available for their other performances this year with more empty seats, but this show usually sells out fast. Performances start on December 11.
  • Sacramento Ballet’s Nutcracker. Ok so technically not Bay Area, but this is a company that was hit last year with financial struggles with doubts of whether or not it would stay open. Sacramento Ballet seemed to be representative of the struggles of many smaller arts organizations, and it’s inspiring to see them continue on. This year, they bring in TV’s Melissa Sandvig from So You Think You Can Dance to dance the Sugar Plum Fairy for select performances. Opening night is on December 11.
  • For the non dance fans, other things that are going on in the Bay Area – ACT’s A Christmas Carol or the non traditional Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Aurélia’s Oratorio if you’re in the mood for a play, and SF Symphony has a slew of things going on for the holidays for Christmas and the New Year.

Aurélia’s Oratorio at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Photographer:
Richard Haughton

For all of these offerings, there seems to be a lot of family discounts and special events going on. Be sure to call the box office for more information.

What are you going to see this year?

Shakespeare’s Globe Love’s Labour Lost

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It’s nice to know that Shakespeare can still pack a house, even if it’s not in a park. It helps that the company is London-based Shakespeare’s Globe stage troupe to show us how it’s really done, bringing the comedic production of Love’s Labour Lost on a US national tour, with their stop at the Mondavi Center.

From the get go, it was a bit like going back into history. Shakespearean minstrels greeted the audience in the lobby, and actors mingled in the aisles before the show and during intermission, riffing with attendees and even serving hors d’oeuvres. It was enlightening to see how interactive theater was back then. Actors regularly ran up and down the aisles with some of the action going on amongst the audience (with one actor sitting in one poor (or lucky) lady’s lap and flipping through the program and hiding from the king). Shakespearean theater wasn’t some glorified, elevated art form that demands to be treated with kid gloves. It was entertainment for the commoners.

Directed by Dominic Dromgoole, this company brought first class comedy to the stage in a fresh production that brought Shakespeare to life. A bright, airy set (by Jonathan Fensom), nimble wordplay, and impeccable comedic timing made this production accessible to modern audiences. The king and his three friends swear to devote themselves to study and chastity and are confounded when the Princess of France and her three ladies visit the royal court. Hilarity ensues. Men in love are just so silly. And they pontificate. A lot. I guess that’s something that hasn’t changed since the Shakespearean times.

In a cast of stellar actors, a standout was Fergal McElherron as Costard, an unlikely swain who inhabited his character in every spirited moment.

It was refreshing to hear unmiked voices, as if the voices were talking directly to you with dynamic vocal projection. However, in addition to the Shakespearean language and a smattering of foreign accents, there were parts that were hard to catch. It’s a speed and speech that American audiences aren’t used to hearing, and I had difficulty in comprehending the unfamiliar script and convoluted story. It was no wonder the audience reacted more consistently to the physical comedy, and there were many chances to laugh.

I’ve forgotten how sophomoric Shakespeare can be, and this show reminded me at how phallic jokes never grow old. Despite its obscure moments, this production was first rate production that throughout history, audiences have always been entertained by both high intellectual comedy of witty wordplay, along with the low.

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SF Ballet: The Magical Memories Nutcracker Video Contest


Even if you’re not interested in entering, check out this really funny video with your favorite SF Ballet stars. My favorite is Ruben Martin Cintas at around 1:14, where he strikes a dashing pose and dashes his dashing self off the screen.

To commemorate the 65th anniversary of the Nutcracker ballet being performed in America, the San Francisco Ballet is holding a video contest for viewers to be able to win fabulous prizes by sharing your Nutcracker memories in a fun and creative way.

How many of us have Nutcracker memories growing up? (If you don’t, you probably aren’t reading this blog.) Use your imagination to reenact or re-imagine a magical scene from Nutcracker OR create a video depicting your favorite magical Nutcracker memory. For more contest details, click here.

From the Youtube Symphony, to the Van Cliburn Adult Amateur Competition, to Choreographing Your PhD for dancer scientists, more and more organizations are starting to use video to promote excitement and generate creativity from people all over the world. It’s a great way to engage your audience in an interesting and creative way.

What’s your favorite Nutcracker memory? And if you post a video, please link in the comments below!

South Pacific: National Touring Cast

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Very few musicals start in the middle of a love story. A meet-cute is customary with a predictable plot that follows. I loved South Pacific not because it was about another schmaltzy love story, but it was more about a woman’s journey in finding true love.

The song “Bali Hai” is sung to a soldier lonely for a woman’s company, but it’s a calling that stirs in anyone with a dream.

Bali Ha’i may call you,
Any night, any day,
In your heart, you’ll hear it call you:
“Come away…Come away.”

Your own special hopes,
Your own special dreams,
Bloom on the hillside
And shine in the streams.
If you try, you’ll find me

And who doesn’t dream of true love?

The main character, a self-proclaimed “cockeyed-optimist” Nellie Forbush, turns out to be a little less sunny than she says she is. Falling in love with the dashing Emile de Becque, she hardly flinches when he tells her that he’s killed a man when he was young, yet she can’t get over the fact that he has dark-skinned children. It’s an uncomfortable situation where it’s difficult to criticize her brutal honesty, and an audible gasp falls over the audience when she uses the word “colored”. (It’s hard to believe that there’s something that shocks modern audiences.) The story unfolds as she sees that she herself is the obstacle to achieving her own dreams. The story ends when she chooses love perhaps too late, and it’s a love that changes her into a better person.

In my first time ever seeing the show, I saw the wonderful national touring production that breezed through San Francisco last month at the Golden Gate Theater. Director Bartlett Sher presented a production with intelligence and a welcome layer of darkness contrasting the lush over-the-top romanticism inherent in the plot and music. Bari-hunk Rod Gilfry‘s “One Enchanted Evening” was a shining highlight, infusing the familiar song with a fresh and thrilling grandeur and a hefty dose of sex appeal. Carmen Cusack is a pleasant and spunky Nellie Forbush, and Keala Settle is a hilarious Bloody Mary in a portrayal of a gritty survivor in spite of her caricatured role.