Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Khalistan Referendum in San Francisco

San Francisco's Civic Center Plaza was filled with thousands of Sikhs from all over the West Coast on Sunday.
They were standing in line for hours to participate in a non-binding referendum vote on the creation of a new Sikh country in the northern Indian state of Punjab.
These referendums have been taking place over the last two years among the approximately 25 million Sikhs around the world.
The Wikipedia page on the Khalistan movement is thorough in its accounting of the all the clashes between Muslim, Hindu, and Sikhs in the middle over the millenia, and it notes that diaspora Sikhs tend to be more enthusiastic about the idea of a new country than those who actually live in Punjab.
I'm not sure creating a new theocratic country is the answer, but what do I know?
For more extensive coverage, George Kelly at the San Francisco Standard was also at Civic Center on Sunday. Click here for his pics and text.

Monday, January 29, 2024

Mere Mortals at the SF Ballet

The San Francisco Ballet began its 2024 season with a bang on Friday night, presenting Mere Mortals, a 75-minute world premiere. There are three more performances this week, Tuesday through Thursday, and you might want to catch one.
The new Artistic Director Tamara Rojo put together a young, international group of collaborators to create a riff on the Pandora myth and Artificial Intelligence. The choreographer Aszure Barton is Canadian-American, the composer Floating Points (aka Sam Shepherd) is British, the AI visual designers Pablo Barquin and Anna Diaz (Hamill Industries) are Spanish, and costume designer Michelle Jank is Australian.
Not only was the auditorium specially lit for the occasion, but so was the lobby where entering crowds would stop and stare at a special effects spectacle...
...that looked like mist or smoke and progressed through an animated loop that eventually spelled out MERE MORTALS.
The crowd was lively, and I believe that is choreographer Aszure Barton looking straight into the camera with a "Who are you?" look.
The typical warnings about loud noise and strobe lights were to be taken seriously for once.
The score by Floating Points, who was playing a Buchla synthesizer along with the full orchestra, was reminiscent of Mason Bates' Electronic Dance Music meets traditional orchestra, and much of it was hard-driving percussive beats for the huge ensemble. The choreography mostly consisted of solos for Wei Wang as Hope, Isaac Hernandez as Prometheus, Jennifer Stahl as Pandora, and Parker Garrison as Epimetheus. The 38-member ensemble were given long stretches of synchronized motoric movement that were thrilling. The ballet also featured a long pas de deux between Pandora and Epimetheus that had the duo stretching their bodies in and out of each other in seemingly impossible ways. (Pictured above is Jennifer Stahl as Pandora arising out of the ensemble, photo by Lindsey Rallo.)
The AI-added background projections were fun, but feel like they are going to soon look dated, rather like how computer screen savers from the 1980s and 1990s now harken back to a specific moment in time. The black on black costumes for most of the ballet brought back memories of Pamela Rosenberg's tenure at the San Francisco Opera where every other production seemed to have somebody striding across the stage in a black trenchcoat. But the ballet as a whole was a brave, interesting success, and if you want to read a serious rave, click here for Rachel Howard at the SF Chronicle.
The audience gave it a rapturous reception.
Wei Wang was great, as usual, playing the symbolic character of Hope, who bookends the beginning and end of the ballet.
Jennifer Stahl was also characteristically brilliant and so was Parker Garrison as Prometheus's brother, Epimetheus.
After the performance, the company hosted a dance party in the lobby.
It looked like fun.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Wealthy Women's Frocks at the deYoung Museum

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco occasionally program fashion exhibits that have ranged from the spectacular (Guo Pei at the Legion) to the embarrassing (Nan Kempner: American Chic at the deYoung). Fashioning San Francisco is the latest entry, a look at haute couture outfits worn by Bay Area society women over the last century which have been donated or lent to the museum, and it's surprisingly delightful.
The exhibit is in the strangely configured, zigzag space on the museum's top level, which has been softened with floor to ceiling drapery. The opening pieces are from early in the 20th century when French designers were de rigeur for an American society woman at a fancy function. Pictured is the 1924 Evening Dress by Jeanne Lanvin (1867-1946), worn by Barbara Donohoe Jostes (1898-1993), an Atherton matron.
The clothes from this period are a reminder that Americans tended to be shorter and thinner 100 years ago. Pictured are two pieces by Jean Patou (1887-1936): the Afternoon Dress worn by Imogen Abbott Mendoza (1894-1949) and the 1932 Evening Dress worn by Barbara Donohoe Jostes (1898-1993).
This small section of gowns takes one back to the Jazz Age faster than anythng short of the actual music of the time. Pictured is the 1927 Evening Ensemble: Dress and Slip by Louise Boulanger (1878-1950), worn by Ethel Harriman Russell.
They are also just plain gorgeous. Pictured is the 1916 Evening Dress by Callot Soeurs (four 19th century sisters who opened their own fashion house), worn by Ethel W. Sperry Crocker (1861-1934), the grande dame of San Francisco society in her time.
The bulk of the exhibit focuses on more contemporary ensembles, and the display throughout is well-designed and witty.
Half the fun of attending the show is watching the attendees discussing their favorites with friends along with a dollop of gossip about their previous owners.
Christine Suppes is a 70-year-old Palo Alto writer who has been collecting fashion like others collect paintings, and this exhibit is filled with many of her treasures, which she has donated to the museum. Pictured is the 1994 Evening Dress by John Galliano (b. 1960), worn by Christine Suppes.
The Japanese designer Junya Watanabe (b. 1961) from Comme des Garçons is featured with two pieces: the 2015 Jacket, worn by Norah Stone (1938-2019) and the 2008 Coat worn by Georgette "Dodie" Rosekrans (1919-2010).

Society doyenne Rosenkrans, according to an amusing obituary in Harpers Bazaar (click here), was something of a madcap. The article begins: "It's hard to get noticed at the restaurant Le Voltaire in Paris. But for the late San Francisco doyenne Dodie Rosekrans, it was as simple as child's play and just as fun. One instance among many: an evening in the late 1990s when she swept in on the arm of her devoted husband, John, wearing an explosion of feathers that nearly swallowed up her tiny five-foot frame. It was a couture creation aptly dubbed the Firebird by its designer, Jean Paul Gaultier. "People were climbing on banquettes to get a better look," says friend and decorator Hutton Wilkinson. "Of course, I have no idea how she ate, since the feathers stuck out eight inches past her fingers." The obituary ends with: "What Rosekrans will be remembered for most is her sense of adventure. There was little she refused to do, except wear vintage, even from her own sensational archive. "If an old lady shows up in old clothes," she once said, "she just looks old."
Another name that might be familiar is Joan Quigley, a Pacific Heights Junior League socialite who became infamous when it was publicly revealed that she was Nancy Reagan's astrologer guiding all White House scheduling after an assassination attempt on the president. After she was unceremoniously dumped and demeaned by Nancy, she wrote a book called What Does Joan Say?. It's a real possibility that the right-wing Republican astrologer may have singlehandedly brought about the end of the Cold War when she read Gorbachev's astrological chart and advised Nancy that her husband should stop calling Russia "the evil empire" and instead start talking to the smart, empathetic Russian leader. Pictured is the 1977 Evening Ensemble: Blouse and Skirt by Yves Saint Laurent (1936-2008), worn by Joan Quigley (1927-2014)
One of the more glamorous San Francisco socialites over the decades has been Denise Hale. In a 2022 article titled The Last Empress, David Downton writes: "The only woman I fear in America is Denise Hale,” said Andy Warhol. He had a point. San Francisco’s reigning social empress is known for her “deadly Serbian memory” and whiplash opinions. “With me it’s simple; I do or I don’t like you,” she says. If she does, doors spring open, connections are made, and mountains moved. If not, you might want to try Milwaukee." Pictured is the 1991 Evening Ensemble: Top, Skirt and Stole by Gianfranco Ferre (1944-2007), worn by Denise Hale for her 20th wedding anniversary, a custom design and gift from the designer.
The first internationally famous Russian supermodel Tatiana Sorokko (b. 1971) lives in the Bay Area and is represented by the 2007 Ensemble: Infanta Gown and Cape by Ralph Rucci (b. 1957), worn to the 2007 San Francisco Symphony Opening Night. She has been quoted thus: "Style is inborn. Fashion you can learn. Fashion is all around. It is fleeting. It goes by. Style is your core and soul. You have it or you don't. You can educate yourself as much as you want, but I don't think you can truly possess it if you didn't have it from the beginning." As somebody who was not born with that particular gene, I agree completely.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

The 2024 Annual Forced Birth March

Charter buses filled with forced birth zealots from all over California made their annual trek to San Francisco's Civic Center neighborhood this morning.
The rally was scheduled for 12:30 in Civic Center Plaza followed by a march down Market Street at 1:30.
A small counterprotest of reproductive rights activists was forming on the other side of Larkin Street in front of the Asian Art Museum and the Main Branch of the SF Public Library.
Their signage was homemade rather than commercially printed, but as usual there were a few people who missed the plot. The gentleman on the right was holding a sign reading "We need queer revolution not trans exclusion" which seemed to belong elsewhere.
It is always good to see this ragtag marching band at a protest, though, no matter what the cause.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Vampyr at the Castro Theater

The last picture show of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival at the Castro Theater was Carl Th. Dreyer's 1932 Vampyr last Friday.
It was astonishing that a a rarely seen, 75-minute, black-and-white art film at $30 a ticket sold out the entire theater. A line to enter went around the block.
The SF Silent Film Festival has become a beloved institution over the last 28 years, with a growing, devoted audience. The good news is that the festival will continue at the Palace of Fine Arts in April (click here), which is a pain in the ass to get to via public transportation, but it's been a good theater for films since its San Francisco Film Festival days.
The Castro Theater will close down for over a year on February 5th to be turned into one of Another Planet Entertainment's (APE) music halls, with lots of bars and a flat floor for the standing room only crowds. There are promises of a portable raked seating arrangement being installed for film events, but APE's track record of keeping promises is not good. Pledged improvements to Bill Graham Auditorium in Civic Center, for example, have never materialized.
The Silent Film Festival features live musicians from all over the world accompanying the films, and they are a major component of the festival's success. For Vampyr, there was an entire orchestra from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music led by Timothy Brock, who has helped to restore the Wolfgang Zeller score.
The movie was accurately described in the scholarly handout as "a waking dream." The nightmare takes place at an obscure lakeside inn and a nearby country estate with a young hero encountering the occult everywhere he turned.
The destruction of the Castro as an old-fashioned movie theater strikes me as extremely short-sighted. Multiplexes may be dying because everyone can buy a monster flat screen at Costco and set up a home theater, but seeing a movie on a large screen with a large audience is only going to become more popular. Just look at the San Francisco Symphony events where the orchestra accompanies recent blockbuster movies like Casino Royale or Lord of the Rings. They usually sell out Davies Hall, with high ticket prices besides.
Stacy Wisnia, the executive director of the SF Silent Film Festival, promised from the stage that the festival would return to the Castro Theater after APE's renovation, but who knows what will happen?

Thursday, January 11, 2024

The Phoenix Symphony

Visiting my friend Doug in Phoenix last week, I took him to the city's downtown Symphony Hall for his first concert there in 30 years.
The Phoenix Symphony was founded in 1947, performing at the Phoenix Union High School for the first 25 years of its existence. Symphony Hall was built in 1972 and the ensemble became full-time in 1983.
Symphony Hall is also home for the Arizona Ballet, where the Phoenix Symphony is the accompanying orchestra, and Arizona Opera, where it is not. Both the Phoenix Symphony and Arizona Ballet seasons stretch from fall to spring, with interesting looking pops concerts scattered throughout.
We were greeted outdoors by Senior Director of Community Engagement & Education, Valerie Bontrager. She was a total delight as she explained the absurd new security protocol, complete with metal detectors, that the Convention Center authority has begun to require for entry. She was passing out clear plastic purses to patrons as a way to consolidate their pocket belongings.
The theater lobby was late-60's fancy, and the seven-year-old groovy carpeting meant to evoke desert colors would not have looked out of place in an upscale casino.
The mostly wooden theater is lovely and comfortable and seemed to have decent acoustics.
The Sunday matinee crowd was delightful, and the enthusiastic woman sitting next to us had been attending Phoenix Symphony concerts since their days at Phoenix Union High School over 50 years ago.
The orchestra was conducted by Music Director Tito Muñoz, who is leaving this season after being at the helm for 10 years. The afternoon's concert began with Wagner's 1883 Siegfried Idyll, a meandering piece of music that was played well. What was most impressive was the quiet and attentive audience.
This was followed by a violin concerto by composer David Ludwig (above with Muñoz) that he had composed in 2015 for his own nuptials to violinist Bella Hristova. Ludwig comes from classical music royalty with pianist Rudolf Serkin his grandfather and violinist Irene Busch his mother. He's currently Dean and Music Director at Julliard, and if this violin concerto is any indication, he's also a good composer.
The three-movement work began with a crash of the cosmos that calmed down and became more lyrical. The slow second movement was exquisitely beautiful with snatches of music from Bella Hristova's Russian composer father, Yuri Chichkov. The lively final movement is based on a Bulgarian dance, the Krivo Horo or "Crooked Dance." and it was lots of fun. Hristova was fabulous playing her own wedding concerto. (Pictured above are Concertmaster Bonson Mo, Bella Hristova, and Tito Muñoz.)
At intermission, I was ferried through multiple levels of the theater by Valerie, whose enthusiasm for the company was infectious.
The concert ended with Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 "Pathetique". The first two movements were a little slack, but the wild march in the third movement was thrilling and the sad, plaintive adagio fourth movement made its emotional mark.