Monday, March 27, 2023

Marina Spring

In between atmospheric rivers this weekend, we went for a walk and stumbled across the Fort Mason Community Garden for the first time.
Their website begins with "Welcome to San Francisco's best kept secret..." It's open to the public, there are picnic benches, and on a cold, windy, gorgeously clear day, there were very few people. I only hope that I have not given the secret away and ruined yet another cool, hidden place.
We continued down the long sloping lawn towards the bay...
...passing the perpetual post-college frat party that assembles there every weekend.
Flowers are going to be everywhere around us this spring in California.
It should be glorious.
Nobody else seemed to want to venture onto the bayfront pathway because the occasional wave would try to breach the barriers.
We walked inland a couple of blocks to the Palace of Fine Arts.
I have not seen the place in such great shape, ever.
Usually there are sections cordoned off, but everything was open on Saturday, including not-so-secret trails...
...where wedding pictures could be taken...
...along with photos of architect Bernard Maybeck's beautiful, crazy rendition of Roman Ruins that so captivated San Francisco during the Pan-Pacific Exposition of 1915 that it was essentially rebuilt from scratch during the 1960s.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

The Color of Dance at SF Ballet

The San Francisco Ballet offered an entertaining, exuberant program called The Color of Dance last week. Thursday evening began with a Helgi Tomasson neoclassical ballet, 7 for 8, set to movements from various J.S. Bach keyboard concertos.
Yuan Yuan Tan (above) premiered the piece in 2004 and incredibly she is still dancing the same demanding material at age 47. She was a bit inexpressive for my tastes in her youth but as a veteran she's magnificent. Partnering her above is Aaron Robison with Norika Matsuyama and Cavan Conley behind them.
The orchestra played the Bach really well, with keyboard soloist Mungunchimeg Buriad (above). In one movement, she switched her piano for a harpsichord to accompany a fun solo by Esteban Hernández (above). I wish she had stayed with a harpsichord for the whole performance because Bach just sounds better on that instrument.
Monochromatic outfits were ditched for the middle work, Myles Thatcher's Colorforms, which sported bright, colorful sets and costumes. Created for a film in 2021 during the pandemic, these performances were the premiere of its stage reimagining.
The scenario seemed to have something to do with looking at art in a museum (the film was set at SFMOMA) and paper airplanes and ecstatic groups of dancers, including the same-sex couple of Mingxuan Wang and Wei Wang above.
The music was the pulsing, insistent minimalism of Steve Reich'a 2005 Variations for Vibes, Pianos, and Strings, and the entire instrumental ensemble led by conductor Martin West rightfully came onstage at the end for a bow.
The final ballet was William Forsythe's 2016 Blake Works, set to seven songs by British musician James Blake from his album The Colour in Anything. I liked the moody White Soul dubstep electronic music but thought it a terrible waste when there was a perfectly good orchestra at the choreographer's disposal.
The choreography was angular, jazzy, and inventive, offering brilliant showcases for some of the finest dancers in the company, including favorites Joseph Walsh and Isaac Hernandez. It was a fun evening.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Vallejo Ferry

Dating from Willie Brown, Jr.'s days as mayor, there are newspaper stands all over San Francisco sidewalks but not very many published papers anymore, which gives criers of doom handy spots to post their warnings.
I grew up in coastal Southern California which was a paradisical natural wonder until it was paved and reconfigured for car culture.
In a conscious rejection of that culture, I decided to never get a driver's license and travel via public transportation instead, which has led to many interesting adventures and social encounters with strangers.
A favorite public transport is ferryboats on San Francisco Bay, which are finally increasing after decades of stagnation, with new destinations and new docks.
Last month I took a weekend trip to Vallejo, the first in 15 years (click here for an account).
The ferryboat back then was slow and small, taking 90 minutes, while the current vessel is huge, and only takes an hour. Also, in what constitutes a minor miracle, the ride is cheaper than it was fifteen years ago.
Vallejo was looking better since that last visit when the city had just declared bankruptcy after its public safety unions tipped the municipal budget over the edge (click here for a 2008 article).
The place is still funky and affordable by Bay Area standards and downtown near the ferry terminal no longer feels spookily deserted.
There is even a sweet, small brewpub and a coffee shop at the Transit Center where you can sit outside and watch the world go by.
The views on this passage are wondrous, including Mount Tamalpais from 90 different angles...
...the Richmond Bridge...
...and the Golden Gate Bridge framing an avian feeding frenzy.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Giselle at the San Francisco Ballet

Now that the next@90 festival of nine new ballets has wrapped up, the San Francisco Ballet has continued its season with Giselle, the oldest (1841) and one of the most popular story ballets ever created, with music by the French composer Adolphe Adam. It's one of outgoing Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson's better productions, dating from 1999, and it's held up well. I saw it once years ago and my only memory was boring peasant dances in the first half and exciting ghost dances in the second. (Production photos by Lindsay Thomas)
There are four different casts dancing over the course of this week's performances and the Chronicle's dance critic, Rachel Howard, reviewed three of them over the weekend, finding something to praise in all of them (click here). We saw the opening night duo, Aaron Robison as the caddish aristocrat Albrecht posing as a peasant who breaks the heart of the sensitive peasant girl Giselle, danced by Sasha de Sola. They are both terrific dancers, and Robison's aristocratic reserve worked well with De Sola's impetuous, love-besotted teenager.
When it is revealed by the jealous character of Hyperion that her boyfriend is an aristocrat who is already engaged to another, poor Giselle goes mad and either stabs herself with a sword or dies of heartbreak, it was not quite clear. De Sola was magnificently crazed.
Also magnificent was Nikisha Fogo as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis (center), who leads an army of vengeful female ghosts who have died of heartbreak and are out to return the favor on foolish men who venture into the forest at night.
Wili novitiate Giselle does everything she can to help save Albrecht from being forced to dance to death by Myrtha. This was where Robison came into his own, jumping into the air while dancing frenetic, near-impossible steps with a look of terror on his face. It's not made particularly clear whether he survives or not, but supposedly Giselle's intervention and the appearance of the morning sun eventually saves his life.
It was all quite wonderful, and fun to watch corps member Nathaniel Pemez (above left) make a splash in a major role as the jealous Hyperion. He seemed so warm and sexy that you wanted to cry out, "Get together with Hyperion, Giselle, the other guy's no good."