Geneva Anderson digs into art

SF Opera kicks off its new Ring Cycle with a brand new Siegfried premiering Sunday, May 29, 2011

In Siegfried, the third of Wagner's four epic operas in the Ring Cycle, Siegfried forges a symbolic sword, Nothung, from shards and uses it to slay Fafner the dragon whose blood empowers him with the ability to understand the language of birds. Ian Storey is depicted here but Jay Hunter Morris will sing the lead role for the 4 premiere performances of Siegfried and then Storey will step in as Siegfried in Götterdämmerung which has its premiere a week later. Photo: Cory Weaver, courtesy of SF Opera

I am a musical layman but I wouldn’t miss the San Francisco Opera’s new production of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), which starts later today with a new production premiere of Siegfried and continues into July with three complete cycles of the four-opera cycle. Wagner is one of the crucial 19th-century theatrical innovators, a composer-poet who set out to understand opera as drama and in turn expanded the frontiers of both art forms.  The Ring is a 15 hour masterpiece that people have devoted their lives to interpreting and have flocked to for over 140 years.  The story, reduced to its pure essence pits the love of power (here power is gold) against the power of love.   In its 88 year history, the San Francisco Opera Company has presented the complete cycle just 5 times–1935, 1972, 1985, 1990, and 1999.

Acclaimed stage director Francesca Zambello is directing the new production at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House, and co-staging it with the Washington National Opera.  In an era of ever-inventive Ring interpretations, whose visual imagery may go so far as to override the basic story,  Zambello has been rather tight-lipped about the details in store for eager fans.  She has promised a creative production that is not tied to the 19th century and will be influenced by American history, environmental issues, and feminism.  She has also disclosed that Fafner, the dragon that Siegfried slays, is a large furnace-like device reminiscent of a locomotive engine.  One thing is certain, Ring fans are extremely opinionated and a tough skin is a prerequisite for any adventurous director who is trying to balance the desire to innovate with maintaining enough of the traditional elements to satisfy Wagnerian purists.  

Maestro Donald Runnicles, former music director and principal conductor of San Francisco Opera from 1992-2009, began his association with the SF Opera by directing two Ring cycles in 1990.  He will conduct an orchestra of over 100 in this $24 million production.   When a company delivers performances as demanding as the Ring–four operas over the course of a week–it can be grueling for the musicians.   Nevertheless. they are not going to be pulling overtime–they are paid an hourly rate as stipulated by their contracts.  Overtime kicks in if they exceed 7 hours in a day and/or 24 hours in a week.  The Ring cycle schedule does not meet either of these thresholds, so straight time pay is in effect.

The Ring has led to some pit changes in effect with Siegfried:  co-principal horn players William Klingelhoffer and Kevin Rivard are splitting up their horn duties:  Klingelhoffer is playing Principal Wagner tuba for the whole Ring cycle, while Rivard is playing Principal horn.  This is Rivard’s first Ring and he will be playing Siegfried’s rigorous horn call in Act II, a French horn solo which many consider the magical musical highpoint of Siegfried.  Rivard will have an assistant in the pit for the whole cycle, who will cover principal horn, when Rivard is out of the pit playing backstage for Siegfried and Gotterdamerung.

The four operas in the Ring unfold chronologically in the following order—Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and GötterdämmerungThey may be seen individually, or as the composer originally intended, in a complete cycle over the course of one week.  

Siegfried:  4 hours 50 minutes, includes two intermissions, German with English supertitles

Cast Change Lead Role:  On April 20, 2011,  it was announced that Wagnerian tenor Ian Storey, slated to play the title role of Siegfried in both Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, had been ill and that tenor Jay Hunter Morris would replace him in all performances of Siegfried.  Morris has played Siegfried lead role before at the Los Angeles Opera and Seattle Opera.  Storey will play Siegfried in Götterdämmerung which premieres next Sunday, June 5, 2011.

History:  Premiered at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus on 16 August 1876, as part of the first complete performance of The Ring.  This part of the opera is primarily inspired by the story of the legendary hero Sigurd in Norse mythology in the Volsunga Saga.  

Siegfried is the third opera in the Ring. Wagner composed the dramatic texts with Götterdämmerung first (in 1848) and then kept embellishing the story, following with Siegfried, Die Walküre, and then Das Reingold.  The musical compositions followed much later beginning with Das Reingold in 1854, then Die Walküre, Siegfried and ending with Götterdämmerung in 1874.  Wagner worked on the orchestral score for Siegfried off and from October 1856 to February 1871, a total of 15 years.  

Important Moments: Act 1:  Siegfried (Jay Hunter Morris) has grown up into a young man without fear.  Siegfried forges “Nothung,” his sword (“Nothung! Nothung! Neidliches Schwert!”) from pieces that have been saved by his foster father Mime (David Cangelosi), the Nibelung dwarf, who got the shards from Siegfried’s birthmother, Sieglinde ( (Anja Kampe/Heidi Melton), upon her death in childbirth.

Identity/parentage: Siegfried senses that he is not the son of Mime, and wonders who his mother is. 

Riddles:  Mime and the Wanderer (Wotan, King of the Gods, in disguise) (David Delavan) ask each other three riddles, wagering their heads on the answers.

Act II:  Siegfried plays a melodic horn tune that draws the dragon, Fafner, out from his cave and slays him with a stab to the heart with Nothung, his magic sword.  Siegfried tastes the blood of the dragon and is thus empowered with the ability to understand the language of birds.

Forrest bird scene: following the instruction of a woodbird, Siegfried takes the Ring and the Tamhlem from the dragon’s hoard and he learns of a woman sleeping on a rock surrounded by magic fire.  Siegfried learns his true parentage, that Mime is not his birthfather.

Act III:  Siegfried passes through the magic ring of fire and discovers sleeping Brünnhilde (Nina Stemme), the first woman he has ever encountered.  He utters his famous line “Das is Kein Mann!” (“That’s no man!”) and then awakens Brünnhilde.  Not only a woman, she is the feminine in himself.    Brünnhilde embraces her mortal life “Ewig was ich.”

Ring Educational events:  An array of cultural and educational institutions have partnered with San Francisco Opera to present lectures, symposia, exhibits, musical performances and film screenings throughout the Bay Area for audiences who want to connect with Wagner and the Ring cycle in new and compelling ways.  Visit and select “Ring Festival Event” from the “All Events” dropdown menu to explore upcoming events by month. 

Wagner and his music can be explored in from angles as diverse as the intersection of science and the environment in the Ring (California Academy of Sciences); psychological, political and spiritual parallels found in the Ring (New School Commonweal); and Buddhist influences evident in the Ring (Asian Art Museum). Upcoming musical performances range from an orchestral concert of music from the Ring (San Francisco Conservatory) and organ transcriptions of Wagner’s music (St. Mary’s Cathedral) to the lighthearted operetta The Merry Nibelungs by Oscar Straus (Opera Frontier).  The San Francisco Opera is also partnering with the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco and the Contemporary Jewish Museum to explore the Wagner’s anti-Semitism and the political impact of his music throughout history.

Half-day Ring Symposiums:  San Francisco Opera offers a half-day Ring Symposium on the Tuesday of each Cycle that includes a general introduction to Wagner and the Ring’s story, characters and music, and an exploration of the unique aspects of this new production’s distinctly American setting and its approach to issues relating to feminism and environmentalism. Members of San Francisco Opera’s music staff will discuss Wagner’s music and explore this production. Members of the creative team and production staff will share images of the sets, costumes, video projections and lighting and discuss how they collaborated with director Zambello. June 14, 21 and 28, 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Herbst Theatre, Veterans Building. 401 Van Ness Ave.

Ring Preview Lecture: Sonoma Chapter SF Opera Guild:  The Sonoma Opera Guild’s Ring Preview Lectures will feature Cori Ellison, dramaturg, New York City Opera, offering an in-depth look into the Ring cycle operas.  Thursday, June 9, 2011, 10:30am, Kenwood Depot, 314 Warm Springs Road, Kenwood, CA. Admission is $10 at the door.  For more information, contact Pat Clothier at (707) 538-2549 or Neva Turer at (707) 539-1220.

Details: Single tickets for today’s performance of Siegfried are still available. Siegfried also plays: June 6, June 17, June 24 and July 1, 2011.  San Francisco Opera’s May 29 to July 3 presentation of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen are priced from $95 to $360.  Symposia tickets are $40 (plus a $9 registration fee). All tickets are available online at , or in person at the San Francisco Opera Box Office, 301 Van Ness Ave., or by phone at (415) 864-3330.  

Schedule:  The Ring of the Nibelung

Premiere of new productions for “Siegfried,” May 29, 2011 “Götterdämmerung,” June 5, 2011
Cycle 1: June 14, June 15, June 17, June 19
Cycle 2: June 21, June 22, June 24, June 26
Cycle 3: June 28, June 29, July 1, July 3

May 29, 2011 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scratch Day 2011–a Marin teacher uses Scratch to teach kids programming and make animation child’s play

Scratch is a free software developed at M.I.T. and funded by the National Science Foundation, Microsoft, Google and Intel.  It runs on both Windows and Mac operating systems and that features drag and drop programming for creating 2D animation and games *AND* it is all the rage in schools across the country because it is very easy to install and use and allows anyone to create and share their own interactive stories, games, music and art.  Last Saturday, May 21, 2011 was Scratch Day, a worldwide network of gatherings that at last count included over 126 events in 36 countries where people came together to learn, share and “scratch” together.  Alfia Wallace who runs the computer lab at Dixie School in Marin held a North Bay Scratch Day seminar at Dixie School’s computer lab and sent me this video.   Alfia is always on the forefront to introduce  new technology into the schools and delights in the challenge of dealing with dozens of boisterous students who descend on her computer lab on a regular basis to learn and have some fun.   Want to know how to build a program that brings life to a giant burrito…ask Alfia Wallace and she will assist with the Scratch code can empower almost any project.   Whether it’s art or not is entirely in the eye of the creator.  She also founded and runs the Marin Science Seminar, a Wednesday evening lecture program at Terra Linda High School for high school students and their parents that brings distinguished and fascinating scientists in as speakers who share their knowledge with the students about some aspect of their profession in a very engaging way.

May 27, 2011 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

a new pup joins ARThound

Weighing in at 16 pounds at 8 weeks of age, and still to be named, my parents' new Golden Lab male pup is just getting used to his new surroundings and life in the country. I'll be seeing him daily and wishing him the best of dog days. He's already brought a lot of joy to my my parents and that's priceless. Photo: Geneva Anderson

May 22, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sandra Ericson, creator, Center for Pattern Design, talks about Balenciaga, the de Young exhibition and her “Balenciaga in Depth” seminar this weekend at CCA

Balenciaga's puffy and voluminous evening gown in turquoise silk gauze, summer 1958, epitomizes his ability to sculpt audaciously with fabric. While very modern in its feel, the dress echoes the abstracted influence of a gown depicted in a Goya portrait. Fabric swatch is attached in lower right. Archival House photograph.

In the course of researching the de Young Museum’s amazing Balenciaga and Spain exhibition, I had questions about the precise techniques that made Cristóbal Balenciaga the consummate designer and master sculptor in textiles that he was.   I turned to Sandra Ericson for answers.  Sandra taught fashion design, pattern design, and textile courses at City College of San Francisco (CCSF) for 31 years.  In 2006, after retiring, she established the Center for Pattern Design  (CFPD) in her hometown of St. Helena, CA, as a way to focus on the people in the fashion industry who actually cut the cloth.  At CFPD, Ericson teaches advanced courses in cutting, draping, pattern design and construction and also takes these courses on the road.  She is the turn-to resource for a lot of fashion insiders and museum curators and is a respected authority on French designer Madeleine Vionnet who pioneered draping on the bias, the bias cut and ruled haute couture in the 1930’s, designing sensual gowns for Marlene Dietrich, Katherine Hepburn, and Greta Garbo that did marvelous things for their bodies.  What a pleasure to have Sandra explain Balenciaga with an insider’s detail to attention. 

Geneva Anderson:  Does “pattern designer” accurately capture what you do and what your center emphasizes?  

Sandra Ericson: I am a pattern designer and after 31 years of teaching at City College, I established the Center for Pattern Design  in 2006 as a way to bring the focus back to those persons who actually cut the cloth, an important part of the fashion industry.   Before the recession, which brought back a return to value, the fashion industry and the discipline of fashion got very theatrical and celebrity-driven

Francisco de Goya, The Marquessa de Pontejos, c. 1786, Andrew W. Mellon collection. Image: National Gallery of Art.

and concentrated on the designer as the single figure in the fashion company.  Often, the designer did not cut his own work and it really became a situation where the credit did not go to the craft people who did it.  Primary among those craft people are the people who actually understand fabric, the body and who can interpret design and cut a two-dimensional pattern that looks amazing in three dimensions.  I wanted to focus on people who could do that and this requires a special skill set. 

This requires spatial visualization so that you can imagine what something lying flat on the table in an odd shape will look like in three dimensions.  You have to have a good grasp of all the textile characteristics so you know what will happen when you hang the fabric and gravity and body motion come into play. You also need a good sense of anatomy and how the body moves and what makes clothes functional, not just decorative.  When you look around the world for people who can do really that well, there are few.  Balenciaga is one of the most important from the past who we can look to.  When something like the Balenciaga and Spain exhibition comes along, I get excited because I want people to understand what made his clothes terrific–it was his ability to cut and his meticulous attention to detail and construction and, finally, his eye—discerning  how the overall effect is going to been seen and thought about and how it accentuates the wearer.

Geneva Anderson:  Balenciaga is known for the balloon skirt, the baby doll, the sack dress, the 7/8 length bracelet sleeve, his masterful manipulation of the waist, and he’s been called the “king of dissymmetry.”   Explain these.

Balenciaga's dramatic wedding dress of white silk-satin and silk gazar, summer, 1968, shown on the eve of the Paris student riots, is austere in its simplicity. It is meticulously crafted with very few carefully placed seams that run along the bias. The headpiece repeats the lines of a nun's stiff veil and reflects the ever present influence of the church on Balenciaga. Image: courtesy Balenciaga Archive.

Sandra Ericson: All of those are related to a singular skill—the ability to sculpt.  His medium was textiles and he was particularly famous for using textiles that were sculptural in nature, especially silk gazar, a heavy silk with a very springy quality.  He also worked with silk “zagar” but it’s very rare and you can’t find it these days.  When I do the Balenciaga draping class, I will look for something comparable to the gazar for us to work with.   Because we will be draping on the half-scale dress form, which is 36 inches high and all the measurement are exactly half of a size ten person, I will be able to go out and find something that will have the qualities that Balenciaga’s fabrics had.  A very heavy satin, duchess satin, (made from silk fibers) is an example—it’s stiffer, fuller, heavier, and has a lot more body than full silk has.  In his coats, he used fabrics that might have been double woven, fabrics that could retain their dimensions even though they were folded or manipulated or gathered.  

Balenciaga was a person who inspired a lot of designers who came after him in the architectural mode–André Courrèges, Ronaldus Shamask.  In the mid-1970’s I actually took a class in architectural design and one of the presenters,  interestingly, enough was a guy named Salvatore, who was Balenciaga’s right hand man and he gave our group several patterns that belonged to Balenciaga but were not out there in circulation.  I kept those and when I do my class, I will be bringing those in. 

I’ve also made several of the pieces myself that he made famous.  He was strong, very architectural but careful –he had a way of doing a coat so that he set the collar on the neckline back a little bit so that if you were a lady who was no longer standing up too straight, you looked as if you had perfect posture in the coat. 

The voluminous silhouette of Balenciaga's "chou" wrap, from winter 1968, is entirely dependent on the stiffness of silk gazar, while the evening dress is done in a more fluid black silk crepe. Photo: Balenciaga Archives, Paris.

I’ve made that coat several times and will be bringing one in.  He had a way of working with a woman’s body so that whatever was a perceived negative about her figure disappeared and you focused on the most wonderful parts.  In the 1950’s you have to remember that people with money were not necessarily young.  Ladies might have thick waists or necks, but the wrist is the last to go.  The 7/8 length (or bracelet) sleeve made the wrist look delicate and drew attention there.  He  also lowered the waist in the back so you had a beautiful curve in the back.

Geneva Anderson:  In terms of construction, these ideas are incorporated right as the fabric as being cut? 

Sandra Ericson:  His clothes were created either for the runway model or specific clients, so he knew what needed to be done on a body by body basis.  In terms of the general construction of the pieces, he was ever committed to cutting the cloth in the way that women would be exhibited in the best possible way, cutting off a line just before a beautiful physical curve on the body would take the eye into unflattering proportions. Kind of design by restraint!  Likewise, he would suggest or replace a shape rather than define it as it was on a particular person – again bearing in mind that his clothes were created either for the runway model or specific clients whose proportions he knew.

A lot of his high fashion clothes though were reproduced in one way or another for the mass market and became ready to wear.  I used to send my students down to the Sunset Market in the Sunset district in the City when I teaching over there because the Balenciaga coat would still be going up and down the aisles pushing the grocery cart. It was such  a popular style coat with a small stand-up folded over collar, straight in the back and the sleeves were usually cut in one and looked sort of molded and stopped short of your wrists.  Sometimes, it had fur on the collar.  

Several of Balenciaga's designs contain overt allusions to the matador’s costume—cape, bolero, the bolero’s edging of borlones (pom pom tassels), medias (stockings) and headgear. Legendary Spanish matador Luis Miguel Dominguín (1926-1996) was friendly with Picasso, had a romance with Eva Gardner and was written about by Ernest Hemingway. Here, he wears an ornate bolero with traditional embroidery and sports an anadido or plaited pigtail worn until retirement from the ring and then ceremoniously cut-off. Photo 1960.

Geneva Anderson:  Who was buying and wearing Balenciaga back in the day?

Sandra Ericson: Socialites. The celebrities in that period were mainly people who had social stature and there were film and theatrical people as well.  It was the Babe Paley era, debutants, wives of important men.  They went to Paris for their fittings.  In the Bay Area, they would have had fittings at I Magnin.  When the whole architectural trend waned, and things went to the tight denim of the 1970’s, his influence and that way of working faded and he closed his house in 1968 and he died way too young in 1972.  A lot of designers from that era and this is what happened to Madeleine Vionnet too–  they are exquisite, perfect, in what they do — but they are so finely attuned to a certain way of working that is very difficult to follow fashion.  A lot of them feel philosophically committed to the aesthetic they have been enthralled by and when that no longer is the fashion it is very difficult to change that philosophy and that’s what happened to Vionnet.  Balenciaga was also a very private person, so once he had done it and he saw the way the world was moving in the 1960’s, a lot of factors contributed to the closing of the house.



Balenciaga's cocktail hat in ivory silk satin, 1953, is a whimsical reference to the añadido or tiny braided pigtail that a matador wears until his retirement. Originally, the bullfighter's own hair was used but the pigtail later became a separate element, a castañeta, that is attached to a flat fabric-covered disc and is placed beneath the montera. Photo: John Rawlings, 1953

Geneva Anderson:  How strong were Basque and Spanish influences on him?

Balenciaga’s winter 1946 bolero in burgundy silk velvet and jet and passementerie embroidery by Bataille deonstrates his engagement with historical styles and with the influence of bullfighting. Collection of Hamish Bowles. Photo by Kenny Komer.

Sandra Ericson: He was from Spain and he, of course, was living in a Catholic country. In those days, before Vatican II which ushered in a new era for the Church, Catholicism was very old-fashioned, formal, and rigid.  The Church vestments were very sculptural, things were done in platinum, and there was an air of solemnity about everything.  There’s the sense of a very heavy structure laid over the religion and the dress code and that a strong influence on Balenciaga, living in a strongly Catholic society.  Fashion designers become translators of their era: they are masters of the zeitgeist who interpret everything that’s going on in an aesthetic way.  And because fashion is for human beings, it becomes almost a complete mirror of the society a designer is living in.

A lot of the pieces in Balenciaga and Spain are definitely ecclesiastical or nationalistic without reservation — a strong indicator of his identity with his culture certainly.  There are two other factors too–one, a presentation of the idea that women could be members of the clergy, or bullfighters, or run a country as royalty.  None of this was even remotely possible in general for women.  The second thing is that it shows he was not beyond co-opting a design concept and using it for his own — maybe evidence of his business pressures. Familiar ideas sell.

Balenciaga’s cocktail dress of rose peau de soie and black lace, winter 1948, suggests a modernized version of the lace dress worn by Dona Tadea Arias in Goya’s 1973-4 portrait at the Prado. It also reflects his conservatism in his expression of femininity which was not highly sexualized. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, gift of Mrs. C. H. Russell. Photo by Joe McDonald/FAMSF

Geneva Anderson:  What is the significance of the re-emergence of the House of Balenciaga under the ownership of Gucci and the design influence of Nicholas Ghesquière, who is supposed to be like Balenciaga because he is a self-taught designer.  He’s known for hip interpretations of Balenciaga classics, such as the semi-fitted jacket and the sack dress and is worn by celebrities like Madonna and Sinéad O’Connor.   How do you see transitions like this?

Sandra Ericson:  Anytime somebody buys a house that had a very strong leader, designer and a strong aesthetic, they are doing it primarily for business reasons.   It’s not as if anyone is going to resurrect Balenciaga or copy him and the person who is coming to fill those shoes is going to be who he is in his own time.  He or she can’t be anything else because everybody can only be who they are in their own time.  What the house is hoping is that the brand, the name, will carry enough social cache that it will allow them to be financially successful in a completely different time.  It’s kind of akin to hitchhiking on a name–if it works, that’s great but it’s very difficult for a new designer to come in and interpret another person’s work that is that personal.  So far, they’ve had three designers come to house of Vionnet and it hasn’t clicked.  If the person is good in his own interpretation of his own time, then they’ve got something to work with.  If the talent is short, then that won’t happen because staking it on Balenciaga’s name isn’t enough.

Geneva Anderson:  Tell me more about the “Balenciaga in Depth” event you’ve organized.

Sandra Ericson:  I’m doing a 3 day series of events and it all starts on Friday May 20 with a morning tour of the Balenciaga and Spain exhibition with someone who worked on the exhibition and this followed by an elegant box lunch.  In the evening, there will be a reception at CCA followed by a slide presentation explaining more of the history and chronology of Balenciaga. I will talk about the design issues, pattern, fabric, and construction pattern and an overview.  On Saturday and Sunday, at CCA, there will be a master class in draping where we will do two Balenciaga classics.  We each work on our own dress forms and there is room for 15 people

Balenciaga's cocktail dress of fuchsia silk shantung and black lace with black silk satin ribbons, summer 1966, illustrates his understanding of women as feminine, properly sexy, sugary--bows, ribbon, lace--and fabrics that are about femininity. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Eleanor Christensen de Guigne Collection (Mrs. Christian de Guigne III), gift of Ronna and Eric Hoffman. Photo by Joe McDonald/Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

in the class.  Each person will work with a half-scale dress form, which is 36 inches high, and all the measurements are exactly half of a size ten person. I am certainly not planning on duplicating the talent of Balenciaga but I want people to understand how he worked, how to cut cloth the way in a similar way and how to work with similar cloth so that they can begin to embrace fashion design as a more sculptural activity, as a form of art.

We each work on our own dress forms and there is room for 15 people in the class.  Each person will have a half-scale dress form

Center for Pattern Design Details: for further information, contact Sandra Ericson, Director, Center for Pattern Design, St. Helena, California 94574, 707-967-0852

Balenciaga and Spain Details: The de Young Museum is located at 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA.  Admission to Balenciaga and Spain is $25 adults and free for members and children 5 and under.  There is a $5 discount for purchasing tickets in advance.  For a complete listing of the numerous special events associated with the exhibition visit its webpage Balenciaga and Spain.

ARThound’s previous coverage of Balenciaga:

What is Balenciaga really all about? St. Helena pattern designer Sandra Ericson is offering a chance to cut, fit and sew two Balenciaga masterpieces this weekend at San Francisco’s CCA (May 17, 2011)

 Smart marketing: the de Young Museum’s foray into pay-per-view–hook ‘em by streaming a sold-out Balenciaga Symposium and later they will visit (March 23, 2011)

 Bouquets to Art 2011 launches Monday with a Spanish theme to celebrate Balenciaga–at San Francisco’s de Young Museum through March 19, 2011  (March 13, 2011)

May 21, 2011 Posted by | de Young Museum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What is Balenciaga really all about? St. Helena pattern designer Sandra Ericson is offering a chance to cut, fit and sew two Balenciaga masterpieces this weekend at San Francisco’s CCA

Sandra Ericson, founder and director, Center for Pattern Design, St. Helena, will teach a seminar this weekend at CCA where participants will each make a half-scale replica of Balenciaga's iconic red coat in taffeta, just like the original.

Has the de Young Museum’s sumptuous Balenciaga and Spain exhibition which runs through July 4, 2011 left you hungering for more detailed information about how Cristóbal Balenciaga actually crafted his exquisite dresses and coats?  For a fabulous indulgence in the core of Balenciaga’s talents, Sandra Ericson, the delightful and very knowledgeable founder of St. Helena’s Center for Pattern Design  has organized four special events, taking place this weekend (May 20-22, 2011) at California College of the Arts that will illuminate the way Balenciaga designed, cut and worked with fabric.  Ericson has 31 years of teaching experience in pattern design and is a respected authority on 1930’s French designer Madeleine Vionnet who pioneered draping on the bias.  If you heard the exhibition’s curator Hamish Bowles interviewed by Michael Krasny on KQED’s forum, on March 22, 2011, (click here) you’ll recall there wasn’t much discussion of the actual techniques Balenciaga used. Ericson has organized the activities so that they build from an informative private walk-through and lecture on Friday to hands-on cutting and draping courses on the weekend.  

Private tour: Balenciaga and Spain at the De Young Museum, May 20, 10 – 11 AM.   A private tour of Balenciaga and Spain at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, guided by a knowledgeable docent and Sandra Ericson. This tour will emphasize the fabrics, cut and construction of the pieces shown.  Afterward, the group will meet for a no-host lunch and a Q & A with Sandra on the patio of the Museum Cafe.

Lecture:  Balenciaga’s Cut and Construction, May 20, 7 – 9 PM.  ($45) Sandra Ericson gives a visual presentation and exploration of how Balenciaga actually worked.  The focus will be on identifying the fabrics (with samples to touch), the cutting and construction techniques for his sculptural masterpieces and the design theory behind the genius of Cristobal Balenciaga. 

Balenciaga's iconic paletot and scarf in putty-colored broadcloth from his Winter 1950 collection. Photographed by Irving Penn for American Vogue. Paletot: A loose outer jacket, cloak, coat

Draping Class:  The Red Coat, May 21, 2011, 9 AM – 5 PM ($159 or $259 for both)  This class will focus upon the Red Coat and will be draped half-scale in taffeta as the original was in full scale.  Half-scale dress forms (with arms) are supplied as is all student fabric.  Class is from 9 AM to 5 PM with breaks and lunch on your own.  You will need to bring basic sewing supplies for this class. 

Details will be provided to all attendees.  Limited to a total of 15 students. (8 students for a single day and 7 students taking both days.)   Experience level: beginning to intermediate.  The designs are not highly fitted nor do they have multiple pieces or unusual fabric effects; they are, however, dramatic and require some fabric familiarity and some sewing experience to understand assembly.  Sandra tries to bring each student along based upon the student’s own starting point, often grouping people together at similar levels for extra instruction during the class.

Draping Class:  The Pleated Paletot May 22, 2011, 9 AM – 5 PM ($159 or $259 for both) This event will focus upon the Paletot jacket, said to be created for Marlene Dietrich, and will be draped half-scale in crepe just as the original was in full scale. Half-scale dress forms (with arms) are supplied as is all student fabric.  Class is from 9 AM to 5 PM with breaks and lunch on your own.  You will need to bring basic sewing supplies for this class. 

Register and buy tickets here (Each event is ticketed separately; the lecture and the classes will be held at California College of the Arts, , 111 8th Street, San Francisco, CA 94107)       

Details CFPD:  for further information, contact Sandra Ericson, Director, Center for Pattern Design, St. Helena, California 94574, 707-967-0852.

Details: Balenciaga and Spain:  Balenciaga and Spain ends July 4, 2011.  The de Young Museum is located at 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA.   Admission to Balenciaga and Spain is $25 adults and free for members and children 5 and under.  There is a $5 discount for purchasing tickets in advance. 

ARThound’s other coverage of Balenciaga:

 Sandra Ericson, creator, Center for Pattern Design, talks about Balenciaga, the de Young exhibition and her “Balenciaga in Depth” seminar this weekend (May 21, 2011)

 Smart marketing: the de Young Museum’s foray into pay-per-view–hook ‘em by streaming a sold-out Balenciaga Symposium and later they will visit (March 23, 2011)

 Bouquets to Art 2011 launches Monday with a Spanish theme to celebrate Balenciaga–at San Francisco’s de Young Museum through March 19, 2011  (March 13, 2011)

May 17, 2011 Posted by | de Young Museum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Love old roses? This Sunday’s 31st Celebration of Old Roses in El Cerrito will have hundreds and it’s free

The continuous blooming and highly fragrant Moss rose James Vietch is prized among collectors of old roses. The rose has deep crimson-purple flowers, globular in bud form, opening wide with layered and folded petals which tone from amaranth to pink with very mossy green sepals.

I’ll be in rose rhapsody this Sunday  at El Cerrito’s 31st annual Celebration of Old Roses…it’s a yearly trek I make along with a number of other old rose devotees from all over California where we can see, smell and talk old roses with other addicts.   The annual spring event is sponsored by the Heritage Roses Group and takes place at the El Cerrito Community Center from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

The concept is simple—complete old rose immersion. Old roses or antique roses are varieties that date from 1860 or earlier.   Their attractiveness grows from their wonderful rich and varied fragrances, graceful growth habit which makes them ideal for the garden and diesease resistance.   The celebration in El Cerrito works like a old-fashioned country fair—visitors walk along and encounter a wonderful menagerie of mason jars filled with freshly picked old roses which have been organized by class—gallicas, centifolias, damasks, mosses, hybrid chinas, bourbons, portlands, chinas, teas, eglantines, floribundas and others—all in glorious states of bloom. There is ample opportunity to explore the nuances of each variety—fragrance, color, size, petal count, foliage and growth habit– and there are educational rose books, light refreshments and a proliferation of rosy knick-knacks.  The event also includes a silent auction for old roses .   And, of course, there are old rose vendors from all over (Vintage Gardens  from Sonoma County) who will be selling rare old roses, most of which are own root roses.

Vintage Garden’s catalogue of old roses is a descriptive compendium of some 3,000 old roses and the Bible for many collectors. It and many other rose resources will be offered at El Cerrito’s 31st annual Celebration of Old Roses on May 15, 2011.

I was seriously hooked on roses about 20 years ago when I was working as a journalist in Bulgaria and wrote about rose attar and the world famous annual rose harvest festival in Kazanlik.  After encountering acres and acres of richly fragrant damask roses, I too wanted a piece of the action.  From there, it’s been a joyous ride, that first required me to put down some roots of my own.  Now, settled in the country Sonoma County and growing about 100 old roses on two properties with differing microclimates, I am living out my rose dream…but there are NEVER enough roses.

When our local Sebastopol rose gurus, Gregg Lowery and Phillip Robinson, went exclusively mail order with their revered antique rose nursery Vintage Gardens, we lost one of the best hands-on rose education experiences to be had in Northern, CA.   All the more disappointing,  they won’t be having their annual open garden showcasing their fabulous collection of some 3,600 rare and old roses (all labeled).   Old rose events like the one in El Cerrito have to sustain those of us who are hungry to see rare roses and to road test the extensive knowledge we’ve gleaned from late-night reading and dog-earring of our rose books.   My bible is the Vintage Gardens Complete Catalogue of Antique and Extraordinary Roses.  This must-have catalogue gives an utterly riveting blow by blow accounting of the properties of nearly 3000 old and very rare roses, the largest list of roses offered by any nursery in the world today.  Consulting rosarians like Gregg Lowery will in be El Cerrito on Sunday, answering questions and identifying old roses  at the “mystery” table.  This is the chance to have any roses from your own garden identified—just put a complete cutting ( full bloom, bud and some foliage) in a jar and bring them to the event and the experts will try to identify them for you.

Another fabulous aspect of El Cerrito’s celebration is the chance to try and buy some very high quality rose products.  Last year, I purchased some delightful “Rose Embrace” rose eau de toilette from Healdsburg  perfumers Jan and Michael Tolmasoff who run the Russian River Rose Company.   The Tolmasoffs are the real-deal–they grow hundreds of damask roses and harvest their own petals to make their own unique rose scents.  They also offer hands-on rose harvest tours at their Healdsburg rose ranch where they have over 600 roses.

Rose shows require extensive planning, organization and support.  The Heritage Roses Group, formed in 1975, is a fellowship of those who care about old garden roses, species roses, old or unusual roses – particularly those roses introduced into commerce prior to the year 1867.  The group’s purposes are to preserve, enjoy, and share knowledge about the old roses.

Details:  El Cerrito’s 31st annual Celebration of Old Roses, Sunday May 15, 2011, El Cerrito Community Center, 7007 Moeser Lane, El Cerrito. 11 am to 3:30 p.m.  There is no admission charge.


May 12, 2011 Posted by | Gardening | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Distinctly San Francisco—and affordable—two $35 shows all about San Francisco that give you a lot of bang for your buck

Brett Hammon plays Gavin Newsom in John Bisceglie's SF Follies at Theatre 39 through June 5, 2011. Photo: courtesy John Bisceglie.

Visitor or local, when spring hits, we’re most likely turn our sights to an evening out in San Francisco.  Here are two limited-run music and dance -filled shows, affordably priced at $35 (not including parking or drinks), that take an in-depth look at San Francisco, exploring its rich history, movers and shakers, and distinct neighborhoods.    

La Chica Boom is a burlesque performance artist featured in Saturday's late night Cabaret Lunatique at Teatro ZinZanni. Image Jerry Johnson.

Cabaret Lunatique: Catering to very late night pleasure seekers, Teatro ZinZanni in the glamorous old Spiegeltent on the Embarcadero’s Pier 29 recently launched Cabaret Lunatique, a series of hip and decadent Saturday midnight shows.  There’s just one show each month and each honors a different San Francisco neighborhood with live music, singers, contortionists, sultry dancing, sizzling burlesque and late-night specialty cocktails and a bar menu.  I can’t think of a better way to cap off an evening in San Francisco than at ZinZanni, where the atmosphere is old-world Europe colliding with zany-chic.  Dress-up is strongly encouraged and hats, feathers and bustiers put everyone in the party mood.  

The series began in March with a celebration of Chinatown that included a classical Gu Zheng musical performance by Bei Bei Zheng, aerialist Alexa Hukari and baritone Al Li from the SF Opera’s Adler Fellow Program who flirted it up with sultry burlesque performer Shanghai Pearl.  May’s show, this Saturday (May 14, 2011),  celebrates San Francisco’s Mission district and features performer and comedian Marga Gomez; spoken word artists Alejandra Mojica and Paul Flores; seductive burlesque performer | La Chica Boom; and DJ Ron Obregón.  They will also be joined by co-hosts Ricardo Salinas, director of ZinZanni’s current show “Caliente” and Robert Lopez , who also stars in “Caliente” as the character Cinco.  To look forward to:  June 4th, Castro; July 2, Fillmore/Jazz; August 6, Haight Ashbury.  

Details: Pier 29 The Embarcadero (at Battery Street), San Francisco, CA.  Drinks and light food available at an additional cost.  Fantasy costumes welcomed. Doors open 11:15 p.m. Tickets $25 to $35. Box Office Phone (415) 438-2668  or

SF Follies:  Right in heart of touristy Pier 39, is Theatre 39, home for the next month to SF Follies, a nostalgic and sharp-witted song-and-dance revue of the City’s history from pre-gold rush all the way up to the present day.  The Bay Area’s John Bisceglie is the author, director, producer and costume/set designer, with coauthor Jason Tarshis.  In 2009, SF Follies was awarded “Best Musical”, “Best Director”, “Best

What revue of San Francisco would be complete with pot? Tenaya Hurst is a singing dancing glittery cannabis bud in John Bisceglie's SF Follies at Theatre 39 at Pier 39 through June 5, 2011. Photo: John Bisceglie.

Choreographer” and “Best Ensemble” by the Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and this updated restaging is in the same vein as the original—poking good-hearted fun at local celebrities, politicians, institutions and the high cost of living in the City.  Barbara Boxer, Diane Feinstein, Gavin Newsom, Nancy Pelosi, Gavin Newsom, Tom Ammiano, Harvey Milk, Patty Hearst, the Giants—no one escapes Bisceglie’s irreverent gaze.   Listen carefully to the lyrics–they’re marvelous, witty, and au currant!   The ensemble of singers and actors is 15 strong with a stand-out performance by Brett Hammon as Gavin Newsom, a hippie, and he gives a riveting opening solo.   Showgirl, dancer and singer Tenaya Hurst, with glowing cheeks and a heartwarming smile plays a dancing cannabis plant, Patty Hearst, a Muni driver, and 1800’s mother with doll.  The show runs 90 minutes with no intermission.

Details: Theatre 39 at Pier 39 (Beach Street and The Embarcadero), San Francisco, CA.  Drinks and light food will be available at an additional cost.  8 more performances: Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Sunday, June 5th, 2011.  All tickets $35.  Box Office Phone: 1-800-838-3006.

May 12, 2011 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Magnificent Mahler–MTT and the San Francisco Symphony warm up at Davies for their Euro tour, series ends this weekend with Mahler’s No. 6

MTT--Michael Tilson Thomas-- and the San Francisco Symphony celebrate Mahler in performances of the 9th, 2nd and 6th Symphonies May 5-14, 2011. Photo: courtesy Michael Tilson Thomas

For all those lucky enough to nab tickets to Sunday’s sold-out performance of MTT leading SFS in Mahler’s No. 2, Resurrection, the performance did all the talking necessary.  No one knows how or why sometimes magic happens…but Sunday it all came together—orchestra, chorus, soloists (Karina Gauvin soprano and Jill Grove mezzo-soprano —I closed my eyes and floated in glory…aware of the distinctive sound coming from each and every section of the orchestra and singers and the wonderment of their combined flair and flow.  The SFS Chorus under Ragnar Bohlin’s direction though deserves special mention…its impressive entrance in the final (5th) movement was awesome–pure theatre–as its 140 members sang unaccompanied “Aufersteh’n” (“Rise again”) ushering in the resurrection theme and climax which soprano, mezzo soprano and full orchestra joined to bring the piece to end.   Something so near perfect raises the bar, even for MTT.  Now that he’s headed off with SFS and soprano Laura Claycomb and mezzo-soprano Katarina Karnéus for the big European tour (15 concerts in Prague, Vienna, Brussels, Luxemburg, Essen, Paris, Barcelona, Madrid and Lisbon), commemorating the 100th anniversary of Mahler’s death, it’s nice to know that we here at home got the smetana (that’s Czech for cream). 

There’s still time to grab tickets for MTT conducting SFS in Mahler’s 6th Symphony in A minor this coming Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at Davies Symphony Hall.  This is the third and final set of performances in the splendid Mahler series that has run at Davies since May 5, 2011.   Composed in 1903-04, Mahler’s No. 6–a passionate, relentlessly tragic and terrifying masterwork–culminates with “three blows of fate” sounded by a hammer in the last (4th) movement.  This is the very symphony that launched SFS’s recording cycle in 2001.  And, now ten years later, SFS has just finished the final recording of its complete Mahler cycle on its own label, SFS Media, including all nine of the Mahler’s symphonies, the Adagio from Symphony No. 10, and Mahler’s works for voice, chorus and orchestra.  The cycle has won seven Grammy® Awards, including three for Best Classical Album.  But, as Sunday’s unforgettable concert proved, nothing beats the excitement of experiencing music live.   Mahler’s No. 6 is replete with sudden juxtapositions of contrasting mood and tempo.  It opens with a grim march and is later filled with the sound of cowbells, harps and a portrait of Alma, Mahler’s wife.  I can’t wait.

And if find yourself in Vienna’s regal Konzerthaus on May 21-25, Tilson Thomas and the orchestra will perform Symphonies Nos. 2, 6, and 9 as part of the city’s Mahler commemoration, occurring just days from the 100th anniversary of Mahler’s death.

Michael Tilson Thomas, conducts San Francisco Symphony Mahler/Symphony No. 6 in A minor

Thursday, May 12 at 8 p.m.

Friday, May 13 at 8 p.m.

Saturday, May 14 at 8 p.m.

PRE-CONCERT TALK: Peter Grunberg will give an “Inside Music” talk from the stage one hour prior to each concert. Free to all concert ticket holders; doors open 15 minutes before.

AUDIO PROGRAM NOTES: A free audio podcast about Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 will be downloadable from and from the iTunes store.

BROADCAST: Portions of these concerts will be broadcast on Classical KDFC 89.9/90.3 FM on Tuesday, May 24 at 8:00 p.m.

TICKETS: $15-$140; available at, or by phone  (415) 864-6000, and at the Davies Symphony Hall Box Office, on Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street in San Francisco.  Performance: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco

May 10, 2011 Posted by | Symphony | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Zayd Dohrn’s “Reborning” at SF Playhouse, an artist creates life-like infant dolls that serve as a form of therapy for her select clients, May 9- June 11, 2011

Lorri Holt, Baby Eva & Lauren English in Zay Dohrn's "Reborning" which has its world premiere at SF Playhouse. Photo: Jessica Palopoli

Cleaning up the unfinished business of the emotional past  is the theme of Zayd Dohrn’s engrossing play Reborning which had its world premiere Saturday at SF Playhouse.   This brilliantly acted drama takes an unsettling look at wounding from childhood and mothering experiences that can linger and enmesh adults in sadness, anxiety, obsession, and addiction.  Reborning also exposes the audience to a very unconventional healing path.   Continuing on a season that has offered one  provocative performance after another, Susi Damilano and Bill English, who run SF Playhouse, have found an exceptional talent in Zayd Dohrn.  Dohrn, the son of former Weather Underground leaders Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, has won the respect of audiences and critics all over for his plays, several of which  harken back to issues in childhood.

Reborning is the story of Kelly (Lauren English), a twenty something artist whose “Little Angels Nursery” fabricates custom made infant dolls for clients who have lost a child or have a need for a replica of a child and of Emily, her client who commissions a custom doll.  The play unfolds on multiple levels as it explores the fascinating and obscure real-world reborning phenomenon which most of us probably have no idea even exists. Grossly simplified, reborning is an attempt to recreate and relive the past.  Artists fabricate unbelievably lifelike human infant dolls that fill certain psychological needs for them and for the clients who buy them.  Clients commission custom-made dolls or “adopt” already created baby dolls.  They then live with and care for them as they would real infants.

In Zayd Dohrn's "reborning" which has its worldpremiere at SF Playhouse, Lauren English plays Kelly, an artist who creates reborning dolls. Photo: Jessica Palopoli

In Reborning, Kelly’s special artistic talent for satisfying her clients’ exacting demands by replicating dolls solely from photographs is what she stakes her reputation on.  The play opens with a highly unsettling image—Kelly is crouched over a worktable, surgically implanting individual eyelashes into her baby’s eyelids with sharp puncturing tools, finishing flourishes on her latest artwork.  Her process is cleverly made available to the audience through a camera set-up that magnifies everything in gargantuan detail for her on a large screen.  And the details are astonishing—a life size latex baby replete with wrinkles, folds, drools, and hair whirls is painstakingly painted with layers and layers of paint right down to its flaking skin and unique retinal patterning. 

The play focuses on her relationship with her client Emily played masterfully by Lorri Holt–who appeared last year at SF Playhouse in Rajiv Joseph’s Animals Out of Paper.  Emily is a brusk 50-something career woman who lost her infant daughter Eva some 25 years ago, and has commissioned Kelly to create a replica.  When Emily expresses some reservations about the quality of Kelly’s work, a whole range of emotions are triggered that send Kelly spiraling back into her own tragic childhood abandonment—she was stabbed and left for dead in a dumpster.   As Kelly begins to suspect that Emily is her birthmother, and that she has actually been commissioned to replicate her own infant self, she turns to familiar coping mechanisms—drugs and alcohol.  There is something in Emily that we can all relate to–she was thrown in a dumpster at birth but we’ve all been dumped at some point in our lives by people we should have been able to count on.  The sting of that can really mess with the mind and resurface in subsequent relationships.      

In "Reborning" Kelly (Lauren English) and Daizy (Alexander Alioto) find their sex drives out of sync when Kelly starts to process her childhood wounding. Photo: Jessica Palopoli

In "Reborning" Kelly (Lauren English) and Daizy (Alexander Alioto) find their sex drives out of sync when Kelly starts to process her childhood wounding. Photo: Jessica Palopoli

The play is loaded with poignancy and layers of symbolism.   If you’ve ever done therapy around childhood trauma, you may be familiar with any number of therapeutic processes that encourage revisiting the past and nurturing your inner child as a form of self-healing.  On one level, merely watching Reborning fast-tracks the cathartic aspect of this process.  Kelly’s and Emily’s visceral interaction with baby Eva, who symbolizes different aspects of the wounded self, and with each other is painfully real.  Dohrn’s ability to write these utterly complex female roles so believably, as if he’s right up inside their heads and defenses, is uncanny.  

Kelly’s partner, Daizy, (Alexander Alioto), is also meticulously crafted as a loving and devoted, but basically helpless, witness to her meltdown.  Daizy, who has neither experienced Kelly’s painful trauma around abandonment nor Emily’s maternal loss, is the vehicle through which the young couple’s issues around intimacy and childbearing are brought out.  He wants to talk; she wants to escape.  His humor provides relief from the paralyzing  pain playing out on stage and his courage to support his woman through validating her process is a message all partners need to heed. 

Directed by Josh Costello. Set Nina Ball; lighting, Michael Palumbo; sound design, Cliff Caruthers; video, Kristin Miltner; costumes, Miyuki Bierlein, props, Jacqueline Scott; doll designers, Cher Simnitt, Stef Baldwin, and Illusions of Life.

Details: Reborning runs 85 minutes without intermission. The SF Playhouse is located at 533 Sutter Street (one block off Union Square, between Powell & Mason Streets).  Performances: Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., plus Saturdays at 3 p.m.  Tickets: ($30-$50) SF Playhouse box office (415) 677-9596, or

May 9, 2011 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Feel the heat at the 14th Great Petaluma Chile Cook-off, Salsa and Beer Tasting, this Saturday, May 7, 2011, Sonoma Marin Fairgrounds

Save Saturday, May 7, 2011, for the 14th Great Petaluma Chili Cook-off, Salsa & Beer Tasting

Leave lunch open this Saturday.  You’ll be having chili for a cause–Cinnabar Theater’s fabulous children’s programs.  In case you haven’t seen the huge banners displayed all around Petaluma, the 14th Great Petaluma Chili Cook-off, Salsa & Beer Tasting takes place this Saturday, May 7, 2011, from 1 to 4 p.m., at Herzog Hall at the Sonoma Marin fairgrounds.  50 teams of chili and salsa challengers and 15 Bay Area breweries are participating and there will be plenty of chili, salsa and beer to sample and judge.  The goal–to determine the best of the best when it comes to meat chili, veggie chili, traditional salsa, fruit salsa.  Defending their 2010 title for best chili by individual will be Tree Huggin Hippie; best chili by restaurant/ Larray’s Corner Market; best vegetarian chili/ Whole Foods; best traditional salsa/ CIA and best fruit salsa/ Petaluma Woman’s Club.  There’s also a People’s Choice award given in each of the categories.

The cook-off’s founder and organizer, Laura Sunday—who also runs Taste of Petaluma every September– has high hopes for this year’s contest.  Last year, the event was attended by about 1,000 people and raised about $35,000 for Cinnabar Theater’s youth programs which include education in the performing arts and Cinnabar’s Young Repertory Theater, which produces several fully staged productions annually and serves hundreds of students from Sonoma County and beyond.

Some chili contests adhere to purist rules about what chili is and isn’t and what it can and can’t be.  Some contests, for example, don’t allow beans in chili.  In Petaluma, things are flexible and Sunday doesn’t give entrants any rules about chili or salsa.  “We’re not internationally sanctioned.  I don’t disallow beans.  I love beans.  Beans are healthy and delicious.  If you want to put beans in your chili, I will not say no.  My only rules are no roadkill.”

How does it all work?   Because there are only 50 contestants, and entry is handled on a first-come, first-served basis, anybody with a hot recipe and the requisite $65 to $75 entry fee who entered before the March 15, 2011 deadline, made the cut.

Each contestant has been asked to prepare a whopping 9 gallons of the recipe entered, enough for the panel of judges and community tasting.  Judging is on the basis of taste and personal preference of the V.I.P. judging panel—a team of 13 foodies and community members selected by Dick Kapash, the retired founder of Petaluma’s SOLA Optical.   “I can’t get enough of those fine chili dishes…the chili, salsa and beer just keep getting better every year,”  said Kapash, who has worked with Laura Sunday for about 8 years planning the event.   Each judge tastes either chili or salsa and votes.  This year’s judges are Dick Kapash, David Glass, Ryan Williams, Pamela Torliatt, Steve Jaxon, Jason Jenkins, Michael J, Mike Harris, Elece Hempel, Chris Samson, Pete White, Geneva Anderson, and Joe Davis.

When asked to judge, I opted for salsa–refreshing, tart and spicy–I make and eat it several times per week and am always up for a new twist.  And, frankly, I am interested in seeing how others adjust their recipes to get that fresh flavor burst in non-tomato season.  When you’ve got juicy sun-ripened tomatoes at your fingertips, everything is already easier.

As for chili, Sunday remarked that it’s amazing how often the judges’ and people’s choice winners are one and the same.   ” There are some good chilis, some that are not so good and some that rise above the rest and truly sing,” said Sunday.  “We find the chili winners tend to be medium in heat. Highly spiced, burning chili is not very popular with the judges or the public for their votes.  People like a rich tomato flavor and color, thick with good texture, with meat that is easy to chew, very flavorful.   Not one distinct flavor should hit you first like salt, or any particular spice or ingredient.  All the flavors should be blended and melded perfectly.  One spoonful of a great chili is not enough.  A great chili should make you crave more.”

Although the main event on Saturday will be the chili and salsa contest, in Behren’s Park, just next to Herzog Hall, there will be music by Stony Point and Rule 5 and entertainment by dance companies FIERCE Dance Company and Raks Rosa Arabic Dance Production. (full entertainment schedule), plus plenty of refreshment.  If you sign on for the beer tasting component of the event—an additional $15–you’ll have your fill of the offerings of 15 local micro-breweries producing the finest premium ales around.

What’s the likelihood of coming home with a great chili receipt?  According to Sunday, it’s not up to her.  “Some entrants want to share, but some want to take their recipe to their grave.  Some are family traditions passed down through the generations.  But not many stay with the same recipe year after year.  It’s always evolving and changing.  Everyone is trying to perfect their chili.”

Details:  1 to 5 p.m., rain or shine at Herzog Hall and Behren’s Park, Sonoma Marin Fairgrounds (at East Washington Street and Payran Streets), Petaluma, CA.  Tickets: Chili and Salsa tasting only $25; kids under 12 $10, under 5 free.  Chili, Salsa and Beer tasting: $40.  Purchase in advance online or in person at event.

May 5, 2011 Posted by | Food, Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment