Overheard

Overheard at a Joshua Bell concert this weekend: he was signing CD’s after his performance for fans.

A fan: “Welcome to forty.”

JB: “…” [reportedly, he did NOT look happy.]

Dance, blogging, and technology

The importance of dance/theater blogging

Now that I’ve been blogging for quite a few months now on this theater-related blog, I admit that I sometimes write with a nagging voice in the back of my head often brings to surface the question if dance-blogging ever accomplishes anything, and inevitably, it makes me wonder why I’m even devoting a big chunk of time doing this. However on the flip side, the exponential increase in the number of hits on my blog as well as the interesting discussions that have often taken place here, supports the opposing side that I’m writing things that are definitely interesting to at the very least, a small subset of people (thanks, readers!!). More recently, there have been a number of interesting online readings that have touched upon my thoughts in this area.

Recently, Target responded to an online blog criticism of its recent ads as being demeaning to women, by replying to the bloggers, “Unfortunately we are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target does not participate with nontraditional media outlets“. (emphasis mine) Big mistake (hell hath known no fury as the wrath of bloggers, since this article in the NY Times has been one of the most “blogged about” in the past few days), although there still exists the notion that the internet and bloggers remain a secondary source of media. I think it’s a fair statement; after all, anyone can hold a blog and is not restricted to people trained in the trade such as journalists. However, the fact that traditional media such as newspapers are slowly moving online, with people checking their news online more than in traditional media sources, signifies an important (alarming?) shift that more and more people are moving online. This does, however fairly or unfairly, make blogging a more important source of information for people, and it’s something that companies such as Target really shouldn’t discount so readily. If anything, blame the trends of people moving online and searching for information, and not the knowledge or intelligence of bloggers (or lack thereof) for this trend. Blogging has become important not solely due to bloggers’ training or knowledge or enthusiasm, but because its online readers have preferred it that way.

When Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet recently held their Bloggers Night in NY, Doug’s entry at Great Dance really brought up interesting points on the importance of dance blogging, by asking the question if Bloggers Nights at the ballet have any real significance. Check out his reasonings, it really brings to mind that blogs are increasingly becoming an important media outlet because it fosters discussion and thus, interest, which translates into buying tickets. Blogs also unwittingly have become an important source of information for the ballet company as well (which displays blogs as a major source of info in Google searches).

In addition, news of more online technological advancements scream that this trend is nowhere near stopping and will continue to become more pronounced in the near future. Merce Cunningham has recently announced the online posting of its company classes online, featuring the legendary Merce Cunningham leading the class himself. I was thrilled at this news, how fun is it to take a peek into the normal goings on in a legendary dance troupe? Using the internet to make things more transparent to audiences can only help generate interest in the company and to broaden dance audiences. Dance has traditionally been a more closed system, with audiences admiring the dancing from afar. This, however, doesn’t help to pique the curiosity of people who are initially not interested in dance. For instance, dance newbies will be able to easily access video footage of company classes and be able to appreciate the hard work that goes into training to be a dancer, as movements are repeated over and over tirelessly, and may propel someone to buy a ticket to appreciate the final result. And with online resources being an easy source of information, it allows such information to be more accessible to a broader set of people (Click here to watch a short video clip, although it’s not taught by Merce.)

On a side note, I’m very proud of the fact that the San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Ballet, and Berkeley Repertory Theatre have all hosted Bloggers Nights before any New York arts institution. :) (No offense to the east coasters, allow me to indulge in this one little proud boast.)

On the flip side, one thing that’s a bit disappointing is the level of discussion on this coast. NY dance blogs are always abuzz with discussion, and I love that people all over the U.S. regularly comment on this blog, but wish that more locals will jump into dance/theater/arts discussion as well. The local discussion with the addition of the equally important national/NY viewpoint are vitally important. Hopefully this will occur more and more as time goes by.

So in conclusion – do I even have a point? Sort of. I offer my viewpoints as an individual audience member, with minimal training in dance criticism and dance history, and I’m hoping to learn other people’s opinions as well. Through discussion, it’s my hope that this may influence to propel people to spend more time in theater and to keep these arts alive. I make no pretense in that I’m an expert in writing nor criticism nor extensive theater/dance other than an extreme theater goer. This blog is also for selfish reasons, in that I enjoy nothing more than to discuss my favorite obsessions – dance and theater. Blogging is becoming more common, which is exciting and still scary at the same time, and as long as people proceed with caution and care in taking the time to consider the arts in a positive way, there can only be an exciting future ahead. Even in the past few years, blogs have taken off, and it’ll be exciting to see what happens in the next few years.

In the spirit of promoting online media resources, I stumbled across this lovely video of Maria Kochetkova, SF Ballet’s newest principal dancer, in La Esmeralda. She is so birdlike, and very lovely. I’m looking forward to seeing her this year – perhaps she’d make a lovely Giselle?

Photos from the Gala

Happy Friday, everyone.

Here are a few pictures of the SF Ballet’s 75th Gala (I believe these are photos from their afternoon rehearsal) to warm up an otherwise dreary and wet Friday afternoon. I’m hoping to go see their new season next weekend, if all goes well (and casting is released)! These are all photos from the SF Chronicle’s article, where more seems to be written about the fashion than the dancing, and the review of the dancing comes as an afterthought (a great review by Rachel Howard, where she writes with cautious enthusiasm about the gala), and where there are more pictures of the valet parking people and the waiters than the dancing. Another note: Wade Robson (from “So You Think You Can Dance”) was commissioned to choreograph a piece for this gala. Precious little is written about it, which probably isn’t a great sign, and it reeks of stunt casting. I believe that the strength of SF Ballet comes from its commitment to classical works of both past, present, and future, and not of reality tv stars (although to be honest, I’ve actually enjoyed some of Wade Robson’s work).

Photos by Liz Hafalia

Sofiane Sylve and Anthony Spaulding

Tina LeBlanc and Ruben Martin

Yuan Yuan Tan

Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith

I know, I have to say it again – I can’t wait to see the SF Ballet. Yuan Yuan Tan’s bendiness and artistry is lovely, and Sofiane Sylve made a great critical first impression, along with Anthony Spaulding.

San Francisco Ballet: 75th anniversary season

Sofiane Sylve

… is about to begin! The Diamond gala benefit is tonight, with people looking for tickets on craigslist, as this gala has been completely sold out. If you want tickets, your best chance stands in grabbing some standing room tickets, which are, unfortunately, only sold in person at the box office. That’s not good news for people who don’t live in SF! I’m also surprised that people are selling tickets to the post-show party. Why go to a ballet gala if you’re not going to see the ballet? It’s something I don’t understand. It looks like one heck of a gala as well, with multiple premieres and the best part, featuring all their star dancers all in one sitting. In addition to their newest principal, Maria Kochetkova (who already got filmed as the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Nutcracker that’s going to be aired on PBS next year), I’m looking forward this year to seeing the new soloist, Julianne Kepley (a recent hire from Joffrey Ballet) as well as their “guest principal dancer for 2008″, Sofiane Sylve from NYCB. I remember reading this article about her in the NY Times years ago. She’s being paired with corps dancer Anthony Spaulding – I believe he was the dancer who danced Chinese Tea in the Nutcracker when I saw it last month. Fun!

Starting on January 29, their regular season begins! I’m especially looking forward to the Balanchine pieces in Programs 1 and 2, “Diamonds” from Jewels, and Divertimento No. 15.

San Francisco Ballet

Danny Hoch in “Taking Over”: Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Danny Hoch as “Kaitlin”

How do you present an idea to the world, when your audience consists of

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people who oppose your conclusions, and are in fact, a major cause of the problem?

This was an interesting aspect of Danny Hoch’s socially relevant one man show playing at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, called, “Taking Over”. Danny Hoch, a multi-talented performer, presents a play about the subject of gentrification by playing multiple characters on both sides of the coin. There is the type A personality real estate developer who, being strapped for time, schedules his yoga workout concurrently with an interview and resents being called “evil” for doing his job. There is also a neighborhood lady who has been living in the same place for many years, who reminisces of the time when cocaine bottles were piled high on her doorstep, and now can’t afford the $4 almond croissants that she loves so much in the newly opened French cafe on her street. There is also a hippie girl, Kaitlin from the Midwest, who came to New York to find herself, and is very proud of the fact that her boyfriend is “ethnic” and has plastic covering on his couch. There is even a scene with Danny himself, meditating on the time he stood in line at the new Whole Foods holding an organic California artichoke, recalling a time when years ago, at the very same spot, a homeless man got stabbed in the neck with people watching. With these many characters, different sides of the story is told, leading the audience to realize how complicated the problem really is.

Is it considered progress, or is it a modern day colonization where the previous residents are corralled and excluded? He speaks from the point of a native New Yorker, watching his neighborhood getting transformed into an unrecognizable place filled with yippies and French cafes and Subway sandwich shops. His stance on gentrification is very black and white, and yet the characters he presents are not so black and white. It’s overwhelming how complicated the problem is, yet the fact is that it’s still a problem when neighborhoods are starting to feel excluded and evicted from apartments that have grown too expensive for its tenants. Whoever thinks that when they move into a loft in Williamsburg, what they’re contributing to the neighborhood? It was definitely an important viewpoint that left the audience chewing on that point long after the show was over.

One frustrating aspect, however, was that there is no answer to the problem. In the post-show Q&A, someone tried to get Danny Hoch to pinpoint exactly which character in the show, is the most responsible for the gentrification problem. Danny’s answer was, “the Pilgrims”. Basically, everyone’s a part of the problem, and as an audience member, that’s hard to swallow when there’s no conclusion when the lights go down.

Danny Hoch is a very talented and engaging performer (as well as a writer, since he wrote the show himself), finding humor even in dark places. His ideas are strong, and passion such as his fully engages the audience. I found myself genuinely moved by the portraits of the people he portrayed. It’s an important message for everyone to think about, including the people who support gentrification, which admittedly, include myself. It’s important to think about the people living in the neighborhood, and doing good to them, and to include them. I’m not sure how it’s going to happen, but if anything, this play made me think about an issue that I’ve never really thought about before. Perhaps that was the point.

Thanks to Sarah Bordson and the Berkeley Repertory Theatre for a great night. I have successfully attended everything that they’ve put on so far this year, and am amazed by the breadth of shows that they present, as well as the risks that they take, which include this show! I don’t necessarily agree with everything presented onstage, but the quality of theater has always remained high, and has been really impressive. The world definitely needs more theaters such as this one.

“Taking Over” at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre . The show runs until February 10.

Ultimate pas de deux: Corporate $$ and ballet

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(I apologize for the glare; I think the window says “San Francisco Ballet at 75, Diamond Gala Celebration”at the Malm Luggage store window)

I stumbled upon this sight on my walk during lunchtime through downtown San Francisco, walking by a luggage store. Malm luggage is

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probably a corporate sponsor of the San Francisco ballet…Is a tutu on loan part of the sponsorship deal? What ballet is this tutu from? How long is this on loan from the SF Ballet costume department? What if a ballerina needs this? Does the sponsor get a replacement tutu? I wonder if a “tutu on loan” is part of the corporate sponsorship brochure at San Francisco Ballet, what a perk. Wouldn’t it be fun to have a tutu on loan…I wonder if a tutu comes along as part of the ABT slightly-sketchy “sponsor a dancer” deal.

Albeit, I love how the sponsors are amazing and so proud to be a sponsor of ballet (yay!) enough to put a tutu in the window, seemingly unrelated to luggage, definitely catching my attention. In the American world of cutting arts funding (with sports athletes getting paid millions and government funding increasing for war), the reality of the ballet world is that it is a barely financially viable entity, and needs corporate sponsors to survive. The sponsors are truly doing a great thing by supporting dancers and dance in general.

We’ve seen the dance world intertwine with corporate worlds before; dancers in Gap ads, our favorite model modelling dance belts =D, and Julie Kent/Cole Haan and Irina Dvorovenko/Movado duos also come to mind.

But I admit, it makes me a bit sad to think of dance as such a blatant commercial enterprise, I mean, tutus shouldn’t be in luggage store windows, should they? (We wouldn’t see this in Europe, definitely) What’s next? I can’t even imagine…

So as an avid dance fan, I face a dilemma…love the sponsorship and support of the corporate world for dance, but don’t want to think of dance as being dependent on anything other than sweat, talent, music, choeography, and aesthetics.

A tutu and some luggage though; unexpected, but definitely makes the window much more interesting (in my opinion). As for the tutu? I prefer it next to a handsome cavalier.

Closing Notice: Rent the Musical

It’s finally happened. Rent has posted a closing notice, for June 1, 2008. Frankly, I can’t say I’m that surprised; the production has had a revolving door of cast members rotating through the proudction for years in roles they’ve done for the past 5-8 years!,….and has seen its share of cringeworthy celebrity casting (Tamyra Gray, anyone? Scary Spice? That guy from 98 degrees? although I’ll say, Frenchie Davis was fabulous!), this musical will *always* have a special place in my heart. The first time I saw it, in my early 20′s, it was the perfect musical for that phase of my life, God knows I needed to feel edgy and passionate about life, and I fell head over heels in love with Rent, so much so that I went back the next day and experienced it once again. My Rent obsession continued when I moved to NYC, and it was always available to me when I had a quick few hours to spare in Times Square, pretty easily with a lottery ticket. I’ve watched it so many times, sometimes alone, basking in the music and ideals in the front row. One of the highlights of my career as a Renthead happened when I attended a private party with Anthony Rapp as the special musical guest, performing Seasons of Love, unplugged. It was amazing.

I am a little nervous about the countless high school productions that will now commence with Rent closing on Broadway. How many high school girls in leopard print boots can howl on the railings as Daphne/Krystal/Karmine can only do? *shudder*

But all things must come to an end. The production was getting well worn, and with the post decade return of Anthony Rapp & Adam Pascal, the run has been amazing. I’m so grateful it is ending after I have left New York. My favorite Roger ever, Jeremy Kushnier (although Cary Shields is quite the hottie!)…my favorite Mimi, Krystal Washington (the first Mimi I saw, on tour in San Diego).

Here’s to you, Rent. A production for the ages, the rock musical introducing many (yours truly included) to passion and fire like no other on a musical theater stage. *clink*

 

 

Finding my mojo: Looking ahead

Early last week, I was mentioning to a coworker that I felt like I had lost my mojo. I just hadn’t felt renewed yet – even the irrepressible energy of Riverdance hadn’t perked me up and thrown me to my new beginnings of 2008. As if in retribution for that comment, I immediately succumbed to the worst flu I’ve ever had, beginning that night. Body aches, high fevers, and chills, oh my! It literally forced me to take a break, and I’m left wondering if this is nature’s only way to force me to slow down. I am only now recovering; after my first full day back at work today, the first thing that I did when I got back home was take a three hour nap. It’s progress though, after being sidelined for almost a week, I thought I’d never get back on my feet again. Hope is now in sight.

Lots to look forward to – going to Berkeley Repertory Theatre this week again, looking forward to the one-man show called “Taking Over” with Danny Hoch. It’s directed by Tony Taccone, who also brought the Tony-award winning Sarah Jones to Broadway in the past few years, in her critically acclaimed one woman show, Bridge and Tunnel. Jen and I were this close to nabbing tickets for Bridge and Tunnel during one of my trips to NY, but ended up seeing something else last minute on Broadway. An interesting fact about Danny Hoch: he turned down a role on Seinfeld because they required him to play a stereotype in a Hispanic accent, which he refused to do.

And then, of course, San Francisco Ballet is starting up its 75th anniversary season in mere weeks. Do you THINK that I’m excited?? :) The season starts on January 29th with a repertory program that includes Balanchine’s “Diamonds” from Jewels, and then two days later, Program two starts, which includes Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15, a performance that dance critic Rachel Howard has spoken highly of, and Possohkov’s Firebird, which I’ve had the pleasure of watching before. I’m really looking forward to seeing my favorite dancers on the War Memorial Opera House stage again.

I also ran across this interesting anecdote of Gonzalo Garcia, who moved to NYCB after his stint at SFB, and his last performance in San Francisco. It sounds like a crazy night that only live theater can offer, an accidental Don Q with three casts. Rachel Howard lists his performance as one of the best of the year 2007. From her article:

“Gonzalo Garcia farewell performance: War Memorial Opera House (May). Fans of this irresistibly warmhearted San Francisco Ballet dancer knew saying goodbye would be emotional, but we could never have expected a leave-taking like his “Don Quixote.” When partner Tina LeBlanc came down hard on a jump and couldn’t stand, Garcia gallantly carried her off the stage. Fellow principals Molly Smolen and Tiit Helimets filled in for Act 2, while Vanessa Zahorian rushed across town to dance with Garcia for Act 3. At curtain call, Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson looked choked up, and LeBlanc stood in a leg brace applauding. The triple cast, the palpable concern and affection in the audience for LeBlanc when she fell, Garcia’s high-flying bravura – it was the kind of night at the ballet that you never forget. ”

Gonzalo Garcia and Tina LeBlanc in Don Quixote

Another performance to look forward to: the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee‘s national touring cast is coming to our neighborhood in March. I managed to get a group of almost 20 people together, and we’re going to be sitting front row center. This show stole my heart when I first saw it on Broadway a few years ago; I totally fell in love with the characters on the show, being the district spelling bee champion when I was 10 years old myself! It’s finally closing on Broadway this month, after a great run. It was definitely the little show that could, bursting with heart and humor. I believe the national touring cast stars the blogging superstar and original cast member’s brother, Andrew Keenan-Bolger. I’m really looking forward to it! It should be a fun show.

A video clip featuring original cast member, Jesse Tyler Ferguson (also of Ugly Betty fame, as Dr. Farkas) and his alter ego, Leaf Coneybear. I love his shirt, “I’m Special”.

A close call

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The view from my porch after the worst storm of the season. My neighbor’s huge tree fell; it was one of two huge trees that fell over on our street. Thankfully it missed my house, as well as it avoiding hurting anyone. Ironically, it’s a tree I’ve been pressuring to have my neighbor’s landlord have chopped down four years ago ever since I moved in, since it dumps its leaves every year onto my roof and clogs all my drains. I’m glad that the tree’s finally gone, and more glad that no one got hurt. I’ve also been lucky to keep my power as well; it must have been horrible to be without power when it’s this cold outside! I just don’t know how you East Coast-ers do it, I’m dying in this northern California weather, and can’t imagine life anywhere colder.

Stay toasty warm, everyone.