Friday, February 25, 2011

Orphée in the Herbst Underworld

The rehearsals for Ensemble Parallèle's production of the Philip Glass opera "Orphée" have moved to the Herbst Theatre in the Veterans Building, where the show will be performed this Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. The long rehearsals have been intense and exhausting, as you can see from the photo above of me after an early makeup session.

One revelation is that Herbst Theatre looks more beautiful from the vantage point of the stage than it usually does from the audience, particularly when framed by the aerial artist Marina Luna spinning about on her silks.

Though there is virtually no backstage to speak of, there are a series of narrow, labyrinth style stairways leading into sub-basement dressing rooms, where you might run into the dead poet Cegeste played by Thomas Glenn (above).

The entire experience has literally been surreal, rather like the scary clown played by Mike Harvey (above), who took these photos.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Rehearsals with Odd Fellows

Viewing Market Street from the United Nations Plaza in San Francisco, you can see a huge TRUTH stenciled onto the side of a building.

I had always assumed that the slogan was part of some pop-art installation, but TRUTH turns out to be one of the three values held dear to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a 19th-century freemasonry group which owns the building at the southwest corner of 7th and Market.

The first, very grand, San Francisco Temple was built in 1849, destroyed in the 1906 quake, and rebuilt in 1910.

Though Odd Fellow lodges still exist and meet in the building, the major use seems to be by the SF Dance Center...

...with various dance troupes renting rehearsal space...

...from the top dog tenant, Alonzo King's LINES Ballet of San Francisco.

The dance studios are such beautiful spaces that one can almost forget the dregs of humanity dealing drugs and god knows what else on the corner below.

The cast for this weekend's upcoming Ensemble Parallèle production of the Philip Glass opera, "Orphée" has been rehearsing all weekend in one of the dance studios prior to moving into Herbst Theatre for two performances this weekend.

And of course we have been very careful NOT to spit in the drinking fountain while rehearsing.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Diego Borja: Chevron's Missing Dirty Trickster

The empty newsracks around San Francisco City Hall were blanketed with "MISSING" flyers earlier this week. Diego Borja is an Ecuadorian who was caught on tape bragging to a friend about his "dirty tricks" activities on behalf of the Chevron Corporation, which is being sued by a coalition of peasants in Ecuador. Diego claims to have gotten a judge kicked off the case with a trumped-up bribery attempt, along with delivering false soil samples from a quartet of shell companies he set up for the oil giant. Chevron brought Borja and his wife to the Bay Area last year, housing them in a $6,000 a month rental in San Ramon, before he suddenly disappeared after a subpoena request in Northern California. (Click here for a post last year by Joe Eskenazi at SF Weekly about the curiousness.)

The lawsuit is about Amazonian river valleys that have been poisoned by Texaco, which is now owned by Chevron. The legal case in Ecuador has been ongoing for close to two decades, and a verdict was finally announced this week against Chevron, with a $9 billion fine. The corporation is appealing, of course, and continuing with a high-powered public relations campaign that poses them as victims of an extortion shakedown. The Anschutz-owned Examiner chain just published a three-part series by some flack this week making exactly those claims.

For more on this story that's straight out of a Hollywood thriller, check out Amazon Watch and this ChevronToxico website.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Circus Underworld of Orphée

Backstage is always a bit magical.

Throw opera into the mix along with circus artists, such as the inspired clown Aji Slater (above), and there's a chance for some serious alchemy.

For most of February, the cast of Ensemble Parallèle's upcoming production of the Philip Glass opera, "Orphée," has been rehearsing in various nooks and crannies around the Civic Center wherever there is a piano available. Last Sunday, though, rehearsals were held at the Circus Center near the Haight-Ashbury district, so the circus artists could show off their stuff and integrate with the singing cast.

The aerial artist Marina Luna, hanging above, recently returned from a long engagement at Universal Studios in Osaka, Japan. David Poznanter, standing below, just finished a year-long tour with Cirque Dreams Illumination, where he rode the Roue Cyr (below), a 21st-century full-body spinning tool created by Daniel Cyr at the Cirque Eloize.

"Be careful near this when I'm spinning. It can do some serious damage," he told us reassuringly.

The opera cast is a flexible, supremely talented crew that includes Eugene Brancoveanu, John Duykers, Philip Skinner, Susannah Biller, Austin Kness, and Brooke Munoz.

Soprano Marnie Breckinridge, above, has recently been touring all over the world as Cunegonde in the controversial Robert Carsen production of Bernstein's "Candide." In this show, she's playing La Princesse, the haughty French aristocrat who is literally Death.

She kills off sweet-sounding tenor Thomas Glenn (above) as the young poet Cegeste at the beginning of the opera, and proceeds to use him as her personal slave for the rest of the tale. (The libretto is from Jean Cocteau's screenplay for his 1949 art film, after all.)

Nicole Paiement, the artistic director of Ensemble Parallèle, is conducting and according to the late, great composer Lou Harrison, she is "a superb conductor, marshalling forces of singers and players with a natural and vigorous authority." I am inclined to agree.

The director, Brian Staufenbiel, is staging the Underworld as a sinister circus, and has cast three supernumeraries to appear as desiccated old musclemen. They are being played by Charlie Lichtman, Mike Harvey (who took all the great photos in this post), and yours truly. The show is on Saturday evening, February 26th and Sunday afternoon, February 27th in Herbst Theatre. Everyone who is anyone will be there.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bye Bye to the Three Heads Six Arms Buddha

The monumental Zhang Huan sculpture "Three Heads Six Arms Buddha" in Civic Center Plaza, which was installed in May last year, is being disassembled today ahead of schedule for shipment back to the artist in Shanghai.

There has been no official explanation of the removal, but it's possible the artist was afraid he wouldn't get it back.

The neighborhood certainly fell in love with the sculpture, which was whimsical while being sturdy enough to compete with City Hall and the surrounding government buildings around the plaza. Watching tourists giggle and pose in front of the piece was also a daily pleasure, as was the occasional butoh dance appearing out of the mist in front of the 3-6 Buddha. He will be missed.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Passing Ships

One of the pleasures of the Land's End section of Golden Gate National Recreation Area is watching the ships go by.

What has been noticeable for the last decade is how many ships sailing westward are virtually empty...

...while the cargo ships entering from the west are stacked with goods from China.

"U.S. manufacturing, as measured by the number of jobs, declined 34% between 1998 and 2010," according to a trade deficit roundup from the U.S. census (click here).

Via Janos Gereben, click here for a great website called mapping out all Bay Area shipping traffic in real time along with descriptions of each vessel. It is endlessly fascinating.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Pulp Fashion at the Legion of Honor

It's always fun to watch people interacting with Rodin's "The Thinker" in the courtyard of the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco.

The museum was the brainchild of Alma Spreckels, a Sunset District washerwoman's daughter who married into the wealthy sugar-and-real-estate Spreckels clan.

Alma needed somewhere to show off the Rodin statues she had bought directly from the sculptor at the turn of the century, and since San Francisco society looked down upon her, she built her own scale replica of the Palais de la Légion d'Honneur in Paris in 1924.

To add another layer of ersatz to the museum experience, a new exhibition has opened called "Pulp Fashion: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave," which features a half dozen rooms filled with elaborate dresses that have been recreated with paper in a trompe l’oeil style. The 65-year-old Belgian artist started on this project about fifteen years ago, and the results are amusing and fascinating.

"These all look like opera costumes and sets," marveled my artist friend David Barnard (above). "It reminds me of the kitsch at the Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach with their tableaux vivantes," I replied, but was honestly amazed at the craftsmanship.

Another visual sleight of hand involves the land around the museum, which is the municipal Lincoln Golf Course that covers what was once San Francisco's major 19th century cemetery. The bodies were supposed to have been taken to Colma before the golf course was created, but that's yet another fiction.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Afghanistan in 4 Frames at City Hall

The San Francisco Arts Commission opened a photography show in the basement of City Hall on Wednesday evening which focuses on the work in Afghanistan of four photojournalists, two from the Bay Area and two from the East Coast.

The ethics of being an "embedded reporter" with an occupying Western military force that is murdering people in their own country is an issue that brings up all kinds of queasy issues, such as whether it's possible or even desirable to make art out of other people's misery when your own country is helping to create it.

Teru Kuwayama and Eros Hoagland both displayed arty, blurred, black-and-white photographs (above) that didn't offer much beyond showing off visual effects, which was borderline offensive.

Thank goodness for the other two photographers who worked in color, Lynsey Addario and James Lee, whose photos are powerful and illuminating. The 37-year-old Addario was an International Relations major who started taking photos in 1996, and since then she's been hopping all over the world as a Pulitzer Prize/MacArthur Grant photojournalist. This included Iraq where she was briefly kidnapped in Fallujah.

Her photo essay is about female American soldiers in Afghanistan, and the images are fascinating and strange. (Click here to get to the whole exhibit at her website.)

James Lee (above) is a 40-year-old former Marine currently studying for a masters' degree in International Relations at San Francisco State.

He just picked up a camera three years ago, but from the evidence at this exhibit, he's a natural.

There's an article by Adrianne Bee in the SF State Magazine about Lee and this Counter-Narratives exhibit, (click here) where Lee describes why he embedded himself with the Afghan National Security Forces rather than the American military. "I didn't travel all the way to Afghanistan to take pictures of people from Texas."

The obvious trust between photographer and subject in these photos is remarkable.

At the end of the article, Lee quotes some inspirational advice from Venise Wagner, a journalism teacher with a course on ethics. "Among its lessons: Act independently, minimize harm and seek truth."

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Egypt Rally at United Nations Plaza

On Saturday the 5th, United Nations Plaza was the setting for a small solidarity protest with the people of Egypt who are demanding that their corrupt, U.S.-sponsored leaders step down.

A block away, there were dozens of policemen standing around in case somebody decided to cause any damage, but that wasn't the tone of the event at all.

About half the crowd seemed to be actual Egyptians while the other half were activists from ANSWER and other groups who are in opposition to Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

For news about the daily, changing situation in Egypt, click here for the Qatar-based Al Jazeera English website. It's a wonderful antidote to the United States media, whose credibility about the Mideast went out the window long ago, particularly after their mendacious buildup to the Iraq invasion.