Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Multiculti Saturday 3: Ensemble Mik Noowoj at Yerba Buena Gardens

The downtown oasis of Yerba Buena Gardens hosts a free summer performance series from May through October where the scattershot programming ranges from poetry readings to musical performances to staged plays. The audiences tend to be small but the quality of performers in my experience has been remarkably high.

Saturday afternoon's "Hip Hop Orchestra" Ensemble Mik Nawooj was a perfect example.

Started by composer/pianist JooWan Kim in 2010 after receiving a graduate degree from the SF Conservatory of Music, the musical ensemble consists of "MCs/lyricists Do D.A.T. and Sandman, a lyric soprano, flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, drums and bass," according to their website. I believe Sandman is the rapper pictured above and below.

They were performing an ambitious oratorio composed by Kim, Death Becomes Life, which featured an augmented chamber orchestra and artwork by Ernest Doty.

It was an oddly interesting mixture of hip hop and classical music styles, including the rapper Do D.A.T. and an operatic soprano above.

To top if off, there was also "interpretative" dancing by TURFinc.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Multiculti Saturday 2: Human Flower Guinness World Record

The Asian Art Museum, in conjunction with their Flower Power exhibit, organized a public flashmob to assemble in Civic Center Plaza and attempt to break the Guinness World Record for "Largest Human Flower," held by 2,197 people who gathered at the 2014 Rochester, New York Lilac Festival. There were even turnstiles which recorded every entrance/exit of the flashmob to make everything completely official.

The museum had capped the online registration that included a free admission pass to 4,000, which was probably shortsighted. Only about half the people who register online ever show up for anything, so it was touch-and-go if the record was to be broken. Tony and I showed up as late fill-ins and were hustled into a sea of pink trash bags.

Michael Empric, a Guinness World Record official, was in attendance to certify the proceedings and convey a sense of momentous occasion.

We were soon suffering from heat prostration without shade while waiting for latecomers running from the Civic Center BART station.

We were shoved together in a last push to create a flower-like shape for five minutes...

...and instead of being claustrophobic, the all-ages, all-races crowd were wonderful with each other.

And by a 108-person margin, I am now a Member of the Guinness World Record Family. Guess we can cross that one off the bucket list.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Multiculti Saturday 1: Flower Power at the Asian

Almost every Bay Area art museum this summer is mounting an exhibit or tying a marketing campaign around the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love in San Francisco, including the Asian Art Museum.

The "Flower Power" show itself is a lazy little assemblage in three (not four) of the small special exhibit rooms on the first floor of the museum, populated with a few treasures from the permanent collection that have a floral theme, like the 10th century Chinese vase above.

The exhibit includes a few fringe benefits, such as the sidewalk outside painted with 1960s pop art flowers on the walkway usually filled with young injection drug addicts and their scary dogs, which is the other side of what the Summer of Love permanently spawned.

Other benefits are a few beautifully painted and sculptured walls in the lobby area and the 19th century Japanese Mandala of the Womb tapestry in the exhibit below.

The exhibit feels like a missed opportunity because flowers are as plentiful in Asian art as crucifixions are in Western. The museum should have reconfigured their permanent collection on the other two floors for an exhibit called Floral Art from The Collection, ranging from India to the Himalayas to Southeast Asia to China to Korea to Japan. It could have been colossal, and since a large percentage of the permanent collection is in storage, it would have been fun to see what popped up.

My favorite was a conceptual art piece where you were asked to follow a set of rules: Pick a real flower out of the artwork, put it in a lovely little paper holder provided by a volunteer, and then take it out of the museum and give it to a stranger.

I did just that, and when I asked to take my flower recipient's photo, she asked, "What's this for?" and I told her that if the picture turned out good, she would be a star on my Civic Center photoblog. The picture did turn out good, and she is.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Invasion of the Brain Snatchers

Somebody should produce yet another remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, except in this updated version there are no spores or plant pods taking over people's bodies. Instead, aliens rewire everyone's brains through mobile devices.

On buses and trains I often watch dumbfounded as everyone surrounding me retreats into their private digital worlds while in a public setting. It's spooky.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

SF Ethnic Dance Festival at the Opera House

The San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival is 39 years old, but after decades at the Palace of Fine Arts theater, the annual event made its San Francisco Opera House debut on Saturday night. It's a delight to report that the evening was a smashing success, an unexpectedly delightful match of venue and skillful local dancers, smoothly staged by Carlos Carvajal and CK Ladzekpo, and beautifully lit by Patty Ann Farrell. Even the amplified sound by design Calvin LL Jones was decent rather than overbearing, which was a relief because the real surprise was how great the onstage live musicians were in all eight segments.

Except for the opening act by the Academy of Danse Libre specializing in 19th Century Central European Social Dances, the music was mostly percussion-based and it was fascinating to hear both the similarities and differences between cultural traditions that included Peru, Hawaii, Cuba, North India, Japan, the Philippines, and Brazil. Famous musicians like tabla master Zakir Hussain and the John Santos Sextet were featured, but the musical level throughout was extraordinary, including the improvised percussion jam sessions covering transitions to a new set. There was even a live performance by soprano Maya Kherani and countertenor Cortez Mitchell of the Flower Duet from Delibes' opera Lakme accompanying the opening section of the Nā Lei Hulu troupe before they embarked on a percussive protest of the American annexation of Hawaii. (Pictured above are members of Leung's White Crane Lion & Dragon Dance Association from San Francisco's Chinatown, who performed in front of the Opera House before the onstage show.)

The festival featuring the best of Northern California dance companies has always been explicitly geared towards multiculturalism as a tool for understanding in the world, so the protests against historical and current injustice had a special charge in this year of Fortress America.

The reigning emotion all evening, though, was joy. Performing on the stage of the San Francisco Opera House is a very big deal, and there was a palpable excitement emanating from the performers, most of them amateurs with day jobs. They fully deserved to be up there, and did themselves proud. There is a second program this weekend and the tickets are very reasonable (click here to check it out). You won't be disappointed. (Pictured above in yellow is the West African dancer/choreographer Naomi Diouf who received the Malonga Casquelourd Lifetime Achievement Award.)

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Digital Detox in Central Cali

Like so many other people, I spend most of my life staring at screens – at work, writing this blog, and keeping track of the monstrous lunatics currently in charge of the U.S. government.

On a long Fourth of July weekend trip to Central California visiting family and friends, it seemed time for an experiment which involved not looking at a computer, mobile device or TV screen for four days.

It was heavenly, and so was the visit with sister Susan in Arroyo Grande, who dragged me along on a short hike above Lake Lopez with her friends and dogs.

Sue's place on top of a hillside was looking exceptionally beautiful thanks to the torrential rains this winter.

Two years ago, her husband BJ tore out the front lawn and planted drought-resistant landscaping. The result looked like a Sunset Magazine cover pictorial on the good life in Central California.

He had also planted a vegetable and herb garden enclosed by fencing to keep out the neighborhood wild animals on the hillside.

On Sunday evening BJ picked four types of lettuce for a garden greens salad fresh from the garden.

Using fresh basil, we made pesto sauce for one of the simplest, healthiest, most delicious meals of my life.

Two days without hearing any absurd news also contributed to personal health, and I slept ten hours before heading further south to Santa Barbara. The view above is from the back balcony of Jack Murray, a friend for almost 50 years.

Fourth of July was spent on Amtrak's Coast Starlight, which travels daily to and from Los Angeles and Seattle. It was packed with tourists from all over the world, many of them living and working in the Bay Area, on the same long weekend getaways to the Central California coast. In the parlor car for wine tasting, there was a sweet, smart Brazilian couple from Espiritu Santo who were living in San Jose while he worked at Google. In the dining car, I broke bread with two Tibetans raised in South India who currently lived in Berkeley and a young man from Haiphong, China by way of Canada who was coding for a start-up in San Francisco's Mission Bay "where I can't afford my rent even though I'm being paid well."

There were also a few passengers engaging in the opposite of digital detox which seemed like a missed opportunity.