Righteous Passion: S.F. Ballet’s Program 3 — ‘Trio,’ ‘Animaux,’ and ‘da Rimini’

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Helgi Tomasson, the San Francisco Ballet’s artistic director and principal choreographer, combined elements of modern and classical ballet to create “Trio,” set to Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence. While much of the ballet recalls the aggrandized ballroom prancing one sees so often, softened arm positions and unusual footwork modernized the movements. The women’s richly autumnal-colored dresses, though shaped like a slightly less stiff version of the lampshade skirt (ballet’s frumpiest costume), were slit to the hip, and allowed a leg to swing out in many steps and kept the piece from looking as primly traditional as it might have otherwise. But […]

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Dressing the Parts: S.F. Ballet’s Program 2 — ‘Chroma,’ ‘Beaux,’ and ‘Number Nine’

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The San Francisco Ballet’s Program 2, which finished its run late last month, started strong. Wayne McGregor’s “Chroma” — one of three works making up the program — looked more like contact sport than ballet, an effect strengthened by the horn-and percussive-heavy, action-film score by Joby Talbot and Jack White III. MacGregor was not trained in classical ballet, and his choreography diverges from the classical in several refreshing ways. Ballet’s traditional “lift”—the illusion that the dancers do not share our subjection to the laws of gravity—was tossed out. The dancers seemed to revel in their weightiness, often moving in ways […]

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The Winning Crowd

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The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Andrew Carnegie Medal, and PEN Center West Best Book Award, Gary Soto is the author of thirty-five books. His most recent are the e-novel When Dad Came Back (University Press of New England) and the YA story collection Hey 13! (Holiday House).

“The Winning Crowd,” his nonfiction piece in ZYZZYVA‘s Winter 2011 issue, is Soto’s account of attending a 49ers game (pre-Harbaugh era) with a friend, arriving at the stadium dressed “to the nines.” Funny and sinister, the piece could be read as a straight-ahead story of civility and elegance stirring the wrath of slovenly, crude sports fans. (As anybody who attended games at Candlestick Park last season could tell you, there was plenty of uncivil behavior at Niners games.) But it also works as a broader tale of how signs of culture and style can upset the very community you consider yourself part of.  The following is an excerpt.

Soto reads with Faith Gardner and Blossom Plum at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 8, at Mrs. Dalloway’s Bookstore in Berkeley.

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The Scandal of Content: The Cutting Ball Theater’s ‘Tontlawald’

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In devised theater, rather than starting with an already written script and finished production design as you would in traditional theater, the company creates text, music, movement, and design elements together as they go through the rehearsal process. Though there’s no devised aesthetic that defines it like a genre, devised work tends to be more physical, to make more use of every skill each actor possesses (singing, dancing, playing musical instruments). There’s also a strong preference for adapted material among companies that make devised work—maybe because this kind of experimental collaboration is easier if you at least know the outlines […]

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Juxtaposing California: Caroline Baudinet’s ‘Feelings’ at ArtAbout Davis

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Homeland Security has a hard time buying Caroline Baudinet’s love for the West Coast. Arriving in San Francisco last week, the French artist said she was interrogated about her repeated visits to California. In her jeans, black work boots, and black leather jacket, Baudinet reenacts the scene with the humorless officials at SFO: Where are you going? Who are you staying with? How do you know these people? We are browsing at Riki Design in downtown Davis, where her photographs will be part of the Davis ArtAbout, and I’m noticing how customers stop to listen to her cut-gravel French accent. […]

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Studies in Sinister Toys and Figurines: Q&A With Michael Brennan

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If you’ve dined at any number of swanky Bay Area establishments, you might have unwittingly enjoyed your meal in a restaurant designed by one of the few people who is as well known and well respected for his fine art as for his commercial work. Michael Brennan has designed the interiors of such San Francisco hotspots as Farallon, Zero Zero, Fleur de Lys, and Bruno’s, and Alameda’s Miss Pearl’s Jam House, as well as Revival in Berkeley. He’s painted murals for many more places, too, including the Cliff House (also in San Francisco). ZYZZYVA’s Winter ’11 issue features images of […]

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Bending Time and Music: Celebrating ‘Masters of Venice’ at the De Young Museum

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Gerhard Richter’s enormous mural Strontium glowered over Wilsey Court. The mural, made from a collection of blurred photographs representing the atomic structure of strontium titanate (a substance used to make artificial diamonds), might have been interpreted as a bit of a symbolic downer on the festivities, which celebrated both the high and the low fruits of early-Renaissance wealth. Projected on an adjacent wall was the flashier and less demanding 1964 Vincent Price horror flick, Masque of the Red Death. Downstairs, the lauded exhibition, “Masters of Venice: Renaissance Painters of Passion and Power” was open to any partygoer who wanted to […]

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The Great (and Good) Cross-Pollination of American Literature

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It was the first day of my first Advanced Fiction workshop. Everyone was fiddling with their pens and eyeing each other across the long oak table. As she handed out syllabi, our professor extolled the virtues of experimentation and articulated a staunchly ecumenical approach to writing. With one exception, of course. If any of us were interested in writing science fiction, fantasy, or mystery, she would be happy to introduce us to her dear friend over at MIT, who knew everything there was to know about genre fiction. The implication was loud and clear: some of her best friends wrote […]

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How Do You Dance ‘Honor’?: SF Ballet’s ‘Onegin’ by John Cranko

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Often, the thing we love about the work of a great author is the ability to describe a moment, an emotion, some nuance of experience, in such a way that it is immediately recognizable to us, however foreign to our experience it actually is. We feel they somehow rummaged around in our mind and conveyed our lives back to us with different plots and more elegant language. The months after I graduated from college and was struggling to find work, feeling like I was both fabulous and doomed to uselessness, was probably the worst time to read The House of […]

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A Kind of Portraiture: ‘Threshold Songs’ by Peter Gizzi

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In Peter Gizzi’s fifth and newest poetry collection, Threshold Songs (Wesleyan University Press, 108 pages), the poem serves as a place where Gizzi can “talk / to myself through you.” He asks, “what does it mean / to be tough / or to write a poem / I mean the whole / vortex of home / buckling inside.” The collection is a place where Gizzi can articulate the “aboutness” of language, the interval between discursive sounds. This place both urges speech and thwarts the compulsion; it’s the gap where poetry is invented internally and is exonerated externally. […]

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Beyond Life’s Slow Drizzle: ‘Vicky Swanky Is a Beauty’ by Diane Williams

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There are 51 stories in Diane Williams’s new book of short stories, Vicky Swanky is a Beauty (McSweeney’s Books, 118 pages), and not one of them is longer than a page, front and back. I read the collection in a night, and spent a week and a half (with pleasure) working the text over again. Is this flash fiction? It is, except when there isn’t really a narrative. Then the pieces are prose poems. Williams uses a lot of devices consistent with prose poems – the second-person voice, the posing of questions. But whether her book can be classified as […]

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The Staying Power of Joan Baez: Marianne Aya Omac at Yoshi’s in San Francisco

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As diverse as the music performed in concerts is, so are the appearances of the audiences. James Mollison documented a spectrum of what he calls the “tribes” of attendees in his photography project and book The Disciples, a rough census of personae that converge around the archetypes represented by the musical acts Mollison followed. The grouped images of said disciples invite one to guess, before reading the captions, which performers each had come out for. It’s not hard: men in trucker hats and denim overalls, Merle Haggard. Men holding up sagging jeans by the crotch and women whose skirts barely […]

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