Geneva Anderson digs into art

Michael Londra’s “Celtic Yuletide:” A Great Night’s Craic, at Marines’ Memorial Theatre through January 1, 2012

Irish tenor Michael Londra privdes an entertaining evening of Irish music in "Celtic Yuletide," at Marines' Memorial Theatre in San Francisco through January 1, 2012. Photo: courtesy Michael Londra

“Craic” is a Gaelic word with no exact English translation but, for the Irish, it’s synonymous with good fun.  And good fun, great music and holiday spirit are plentiful in “Celtic Yuletide,” a wonderful performance of song and music featuring internationally renowned Irish tenor Michael Londra (of Riverdance on Broadway fame) currently at Marines’ Memorial Theatre in San Francisco. Londra performs a mix of traditional heartwarming Irish carols like “Winter, Fire and Snow” and Gaelic versions of Christmas songs, including “Silent Night” (“Oiche Ciuin”) and “The Wexford Carol.”  The evening also features songs Celtic songs of a new Ireland, such as Londra’s popular crossover song “Beyond the Star,” which has been recorded by choirs the world over and Sting’s “Fields of Gold” and the signature ballad “Danny Boy.”  Accompanying Londra are an 11-piece orchestra and Irish band  that incorporate a bodhrán (the national drum of Ireland) and the plaintive uilleann pipes (Irish bagpipes) to produce rhythms, low whistles and haunting intonations that infuse a mix of tunes ranging from frenetic reels to heartbreaking ballads.

Londra is accompanied by some of the world’s finest Celtic musicians including Sephira, the fiery red-haired Irish sister duo Joyce and Ruth O’Leary, whose hauntingly beautiful voices and mastery of their violins are mesmerizing.  They slayed the house with a piercing rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (1984).  

Celtic Yuletide also showcases some of the best Irish stepdancers in the world, including featured dancer Owen Barrington, the 2008 Senior Men’s World Irish Dance Champion and Riverdance alumnus.  It’s a pure adrenaline rush just watching these young dancers in varied formations execute precision footwork and high kicks in perfect sync with one another without appearing to move their upper bodies.  The costumes too are gorgeous–colorful and ornate dresses in a variety of styles and dress shirts and black trousers for the men. 

Afternoon Yuletide Tea and Celtic Menu: For an even more authentic Irish feel, The Marines’ Memorial Club Leatherneck Steakhouse and Lounge (located in the same building as the Marines’ Memorial Theatre) offers special Celtic holiday menus during the show’s run.  Celtic menu additions include Guinness braised short rib with barley risotto and roasted winter vegetables, Shepherd’s pie (lamb stew with peas, carrots and whipped potatoes), potato crusted salmon with oyster stew and braised kale with bacon, and a special Bailey’s Irish Creme cheesecake. An Afternoon Yuletide Tea, offered on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 4 – 6 p.m. after the matinee performance and on Sundays from noon – 1:30 p.m. prior to the matinee performance (Christmas and New Year’s Eve excluded), includes an assortment of savory tea sandwiches, lemon tarts, a variety of tea cookies and scones as well as tea or coffee. (415) 673-6672 ext. 254.

Details:  “Celtic Yuletide” plays through January 1, 2012, at San Francisco’s Marines’ Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter Street., 2nd  floor.  Tickets: $35 – $70.  Premium tickets, Celtic 4-packs and family matinee specials are available at the Marines’ Memorial Theatre box office (415) 771-6900 or

December 19, 2011 Posted by | Classical Music, Dance | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God Bless us, everyone! A heartwarming performance of Dickens’ classic “Christmas Carol,” through December 24 at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre

In A.C.T.’s annual holiday favorite, “A Christmas Carol,” the Ghost of Jacob Marley (A.C.T. core acting company member Jack Willis, left) haunts Scrooge (James Carpenter) on Christmas Eve to save his soul, warning him of the three other ghosts that will visit him. The play runs through Christmas Eve. Photo: Kevin Berne

The holiday season for me means time spent with family and friends and getting back in touch with my “goodwill towards all” vibe.  Tuesday evening, after a romp through a bustling Union Square, I had the pleasure of attending A.C.T.’s “A Christmas Carol” and highly recommend this family-friendly classic for setting spirits right.  This classic and beloved tale of transformation just doesn’t get any better.  The performance (with intermission) runs two hours and the evening show begins an hour early at 7 pm, with additional 1 or 2 pm performances nearly every day through Christmas Eve.  This makes it a doable evening outing for families with kids or for those who are from the greater Bay Area and face a long drive home.

 “A Christmas Carol” was written by Charles Dickens and published in somber Victorian-era Britain in December 1843, when new customs such as the Christmas tree and greeting cards were just being introduced.  This was before Christmas became today’s highly commercial venture but also during a time when there wasn’t much gleeful celebration.  The novella was an instant hit, largely for its memorable characters and its realistic depictions of the hardships of the working class which people related to.  It also infused people with hope and has been credited with putting the “merry” in Merry Christmas in England and America during a stifling period.   It was pirated immediately and adapted to the stage and the rest is history.  Now in its 35thyear at ACT, the play is a cornerstone of ACT’s repertory and has become a holiday tradition for families all around the Bay Area.  Adapted by Paul Walsh and Carey Perloff, and directed by Domenique Lozano, this version has been around since 2004 and has been performed over a thousand times and stays true to the heart of Dickens’ timeless story of redemption. 

Ebenezer Scrooge (James Carpenter, right) scolds his overworked employee Bob Cratchit (A.C.T. core acting company member Manoel Felciano) on Christmas Eve. Photo: Kevin Berne

 We all know the classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s wake-up call which rings ever true today.  Rich Ebenezer Scrooge was a miser and a kill joy–not very loving, giving, or even friendly.  James Carpenter, now in his fifth year in this role, doesn’t flinch from playing Scrooge’s harsh sides to the hilt but he also shows us a man who is completely and tragically unaware of how stuck and disagreeable he has become.  In Northern CA, we all know what happens when there’s no positive energy flow and Scrooge embodies the big “NO” with every ounce of his being.  

By contrast, impoverished Bob Cratchit, A.C.T. core acting company member Manoel Felciano, who is Scrooge’s clerk and whipping boy hasn’t a schilling to his name but he has vast inner resources– a true heart of gold- and a large loving family.  Cratchit is played with genuine warmth and dignity by Felciano whose radiance is matched by Delia MacDougall’s portrayal of his equally good-hearted wife, Anne Cratchit.  The Cratchit’s material hardship makes the wealthy Scrooge seem all the more despicable, even pitiable, because he cannot enjoy or share the massive fortune he has amassed.   Dickens realized that if Scrooge’s

The dancing is delightful in A.C.T.'s "A Christmas Carol." The produce sellers (A.C.T. core acting company member Annie Purcell, right, and Cindy Goldfield) bring in the bounty of the season, including belly-dancing Turkish figs (on cart: Emily Spears, left, and Elsie Lipson). Photo: Kevin Berne.

imagination could be stimulated, it would be possible for him to wake up on Christmas morning an entirely new man and that’s the message of the play.  Scrooge’s remarkable transformation—ideological, ethical and emotional– is brought about by the visits of four ghosts on Christmas Eve—Jacob Marley (his former business partner) and the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future.   At Tuesday’s press opening, the show was full of marvelous special effects associated with the visits of each of these ghosts who led Scrooge through some very poignant and harrowing scenes from his life.  Jack Willis, who returns as the Ghost of Jacob Marley, set the pace by robustly rising from Scrooge’s bed, rattling chains and warnings amidst clouds of smoke. The Ghost of Christmas Present, played delightfully by A.C.T.’s Omozé Idehenre, emerged in striated green velvet as a Bacchic spirit of abundance with lusty vibes.  

The Cratchit family toasts to Scrooge's health on Christmas in A.C.T.'s annual production of "A Christmas Carol," thorugh December 17, 2011. Photo: Kevin Berne

And then there’s Tiny Tim (little Timothy Cratchit), the play’s emotional center, played wonderfully by young Graham Bennett.  When Scrooge is visited by The Ghost of Christmas Present, he learns just how ill Tim really is, and that Tim will die unless he receives treatment (which the family cannot afford due to Scrooge’s miserliness). When he’s next visited by The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, all he can see is Tim’s little wooden crutch because Tim has died.  This and several other harrowing visions, lead Scrooge to reform which begins from the moment he wakes up on Christmas morning and shocks his cleaning lady Mrs. Dilber (Sharon Lockwood channeling Bewitched’s dingy Aunt Clara ) by thanking her, paying her generously and giving her the holidays off.

A reformed Scrooge (James Carpenter, center) celebrates the season with his nephew, Fred (A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program student Jason Frank, far left), Fred’s wife, Mary (A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program student Maggie Leigh, second from left), and the Cratchits: Bob (A.C.T. core acting company member Manoel Felciano), Anne (Delia MacDougall), and Tiny Tim (Graham Bennett). Photo: Kevin Berne.

Val Caniparoli’s choreography is fantastic—lots of lighthearted dancing and movement that show off the period costumes designed for the production by Beaver Bauer of Teatro ZinZanni.  Dickens’s lovely descriptions of the abundance of Christmas bounty are staged creatively at the start of Act 2 as “The Waltz of the Opulent Fruit,” with six charming young Bay Area actors taking on the roles of dancing French plums, Turkish figs, and Spanish onions.  The production will infuse one and all with holiday cheer and is highly recommended for families and children of all ages.

Details:  American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco.

7 p.m.: December 20, 21, 22, 23

5:30 p.m.: December 18

2 p.m.: December 21, 22, 23, 24

1 p.m.: December 18

Run-time: Two hours including one intermission. Tickets: $15-$105, available online through the A.C.T. online box office , or by phone (415) 749-2228.  For all performances, no children under the age of 5 are permitted

December 18, 2011 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Nutcracker:” the holiday classic runs through December 27, 2011, at San Francisco Ballet—ARThound talks with two participating Sonoma County musicians

Val Caniparoli is the toymaker, Drosselmeyer, in Helgi Tomasson's “Nutcracker,” at San Francisco Ballet December 9- 27, 2011. © Erik Tomasson

Nutcracker season is here and San Francisco’s Ballet’s production, which opened last Friday, is one of the best in the country.  Its sumptuous blend of Tchaikovsky’s music, exquisite dance, and Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s ingenious bow to San Francisco─setting the ballet in San Francisco on Christmas Eve during the 1915 Pan Pacific International Exhibition─make it a unique treat.  And there’s nothing like the festive experience of dressing up and celebrating the season at the stunning grand War Memorial Opera House.  For the musicians in the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, the experience is also one of endurance.  This year, the orchestra, under the direction of SF Ballet Music Director Martin West, will perform the beloved production 30 times throughout December, often twice daily, and it’s estimated that close to 100,000 people will attend.  For listeners in the audience, it’s impossible to imagine that Tchaikovsky’s score ever palls.  Parts of it are so familiar─the Sugar Plum Pas de Deux or the Danse des Mirlitons or the March of the Toy Soliders─that they are steeped in our subconscious and always enchanting.  Aside from its difficulty─it’s Tchaikovsky─one of the challenges Nutcracker presents for musicians is simply keeping it fresh performance after performance. The orchestra finished up with Carmen at San Francisco Opera and began rehearsing Nutcracker the first week of December and had a rehearsal with the actual dancers just prior to last Friday’s opening performance.  I spoke with two Sonoma County musicians in the orchestra who have each played countless Nutcrackers─bassoonist Rufus Olivier, of Sebastopol, and cellist Ruth Lane, of Petaluma and our conversations are below.   If you’re attending the ballet, especially with children, a wonderful opportunity exists before each performance to walk right up to the pit and meet and greet and observe the musicians in the orchestra who play such an integral part in the magic of the ballet.   

San Francisco Ballet Orchestra Principal Bassoonist Rufus Olivier, of Sebastopol. Olivier has played the “Nutcracker” for over thirty years at the San Francisco Ballet and will perform it thirty times this season. Olivier has recorded many movie, video, CD and TV soundtracks including Disney’s “Never Cry Wolf” and he won a Grammy for the soundtrack “Elmo in Grouchland.” Photo: Geneva Anderson

Rufus Olivier, Principal bassoonist, SF Ballet and Opera Orchestras, is a Sebastopol resident and is one of two bassoonists with the ballet orchestra.  Even before arriving in the Bay Area, Olivier had quite a reputation.  In 1975, Zubin Mehta, the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, gave the 18 year old Olivier a chance to play a concerto with the orchestra and he did such a good job that, afterwards, Mehta immediately offered him a co-principal position.  Olivier went on to play with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra under Neville Marriner, and the Goldofsky Opera Tours.  He moved to the Bay Area in 1977 and by 1980, he was the youngest principal to ever play in the SF Opera Orchestra and started playing Nutcracker in San Francisco some 30 years ago with Christensen’s production which predates both Martin West and Helgi Tomasson.  Olivier studied under David Breidenthal of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and currently teaches at Stanford one day each week.  Olivier has been guest soloist with numerous orchestras all over the world.   He has recorded many movie, video, CD and TV soundtracks including Disney’s Never Cry Wolf and San Francisco Opera’s Grammy-nominated CD Orphée et Eurydice, and he won a Grammy for the soundtrack Elmo in Grouchland.  Olivier’s son, Rufus David Olivier, is also an accomplished bassoonist.

With over 30 seasons of Nutcrackers under your belt, how do you keep it fresh?  

Rufus Olivier: First of all, it’s Tchaikovsky and very, very good music.  Second, Tchaikovsky keeps you on your toes─it’s very hard─ and that’s takes care of keeping it fresh.  That’s pretty much it.

What is the most challenging part for you as a bassoonist?

Rufus Olivier:   There’s two—in the very beginning, in the first minute or two, there’s the woodwind interlude where there are these wild triplets, very high, and technically hard.  And then there’s the Arabian Dance (Act II) which is musically hard and, by that, I mean it’s hard to put across the expression that I would like to convey, which is actually harder than being technically proficient.  You can work through technical issues but it’s very hard to get to the point musically where I can make someone feel something that I want to convey and I want the dancers to feel something so that they dance better.  If I play it more expressively, maybe sweetly, then anything can happen with the dancers and with the audience and they won’t know why but they will feel it.  At a certain point in one’s career, the competition is with oneself.  You’re not competing with anyone except yourself and you are challenging yourself all the time.  All of my colleagues are trying, all the time, to sound as good as they can sound.

With Helgi Tomasson’s production, are there any cuts to the original score? 

Rufus Olivier: Yes. The original score would come in at over three hours and Helgi’s production comes in at about 2 hours, but all the important and well-known parts are there and, actually, he’s added some things that weren’t in the previous production.

How aware are you of what the dancers are doing? 

Rufus Olivier: I can’t see the dancers at all and completely reply on Martin who is watching the stage and I am watching him.  Unlike the opera, I can’t hear anything.

What is the most challenging thing about playing the bassoon in an orchestra? 

Rufus Olivier: Coming in when you’re supposed to (laughing).  There are so many things you have to do and you are operating at a very high level of consciousness.  By the time you reach the level of the opera, symphony or ballet, it’s almost automatic but your ears are everywhere.  You are hyperaware even though your heart rate may be at rest.  Everything can be hard but trying to play in tune with other instruments can be challenging and so can solos and dealing with conductors who can be crazy at times. And, when you’re not playing, whether it’s 3 bars or 20 bars, you can’t leave, you’ve got to sit there and be engaged and stay awake and count so you know when to come in. 

What are the great bassoon solos in orchestral music?

Rufus Olivier:  Two of the most famous symphonic solos for the bassoon include the theme for grandfather in Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and the opening solo in Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring.

What performances are you looking forward to musically in the coming season? 

Rufus Olivier: We are playing RakU, which is one of the pieces written by our bass player Shinji Enshima. (RakU is part of the SF Ballet’s Program 6, and plays March 23-April 3, 2012. Click here to read more.)  The piece just premiered last year and one day it may well be one of the premiere bassoon solos. 

San Francisco Ballet Orchestra Cellist Ruth Lane, of Petaluma, in the pit before Thursday’s performance of “Nutcracker,” which runs through December 27, 2011. Lane’s cello, which is painted with images of the Sistine Chapel, was custom made for her by her husband, Anthony Lane of Lane Violins in Petaluma. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Ruth Lane, cellist, is a Petaluma resident and has been playing with the San Francisco Opera and Ballet Orchestras since 1990.  This is her 6th year of playing Nutcracker for an entire season’s run and she is one of six cellists in the ballet orchestra.  Prior to that, she played several performances annually as a substitute musician.  Lane has performed Nutcracker under Music Directors Dennis de Coteau and Martin West and under various guest conductors.  Lane came from a family that was passionate about classical music and started studying cello at age 10 and received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from USC.  In addition to the Bay Area, Lane has been heard in recital in the Los Angeles, and London.  She is a member of the Bay Area’s Temescal String Quartet and she performed this September in Petaluma in “The V Concert” (click here to read ARThound’s coverage.)  Strad magazine calls her “a cellist of scrupulous intentions and dexterous manual coordination . . . unimpeachable intonation and admirable poise.” (as quoted on the Temescal String Quartet page.)

What are the most important and challenging parts of Nutcracker for cello? 

Ruth Lane:  We don’t have any solos and I am one of six cellos and we are all playing the same music.  Woodwinds have the solos and the strings, which are a quieter instrument, tend to be like a chorus—it’s all the instruments together that create this blanker of sound that you recognize as the orchestra.  The cellos play throughout but, in Act 1, we play what used to be a bear dance but is now a solider dance.  We also play a lot in the battle scene and also in the Russian Sailor’s Dance.

All Tchaikovsky is challenging because he writes for the breadth of the cello and its very passionate music, so it really takes your all to play it well.  You’ve really got to draw on that emotional level of interpretation beyond the technical.  Performing a piece like Nutcracker so many times and trying to really keep it vital is very demanding emotionally.

With so many Nutcrackers under your belt and so many coming up, how do you keep it fresh night after night?  

Ruth Lane: What I always draw on is the audience.  Every night, at least 30 children with their parents will come up to the orchestra pit before the performance and they are pointing and waving and they are so excited.  It’s so different from the opera performances where some of the front row is falling asleep.  This just doesn’t happen in the Nutcracker.  We’re always joking about how the age goes down by about 20 to 30 years across the board, from the performers to the audience, when you go form opera to ballet and the Nutcracker is just full of children. It’s that and the music itself which requires a lot from you.

How aware are you of what the dancers are doing? 

Ruth Lane: From where I sit, I can usually see the dancers from the chest up, so I see them moving up and down.  I follow the conductor and it’s his job to keep the orchestra and the dancers all together.  I really like Martin West in conversation with Tchaikovsky─it’s passionate but he doesn’t tend to go overboard.   He keeps the tempos up.  Martin is very very good at coordinating the action he is seeing on stage with the sounds that come out of the pit.  I haven’t worked with anybody who is as good as doing that as he is. 

What’s your favorite ballet in terms of music?

 Ruth Lane:   Well, Nutcracker has some of the greatest music but my very favorite ballet is Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev which we are also performing later this season. The cellos do the love scene on the balcony, which is incredibly emotional and passionate, which keeps coming back again and again. 

The scene on the back of Ruth Lane’s exquisite custom-made cello was inspired by a dream her husband Anthony Lane had. Lane, a highly respected violin maker, drew the basic design and artist Margrit Haeberlin did the actual painting and the cello was Lane’s gift to his wife. Photo: courtesy Anthony Lane Violins of Petaluma.

I know that some string instruments are extremely valuable and are meticulously handcrafted.  Is there anything special about your cello? 

Ruth Lane:  Yes, my husband, Anthony Lane of Lane Violins, custom built my cello for me about 10 years ago and it’s got a wonderful sound and is beautifully decorated with painted images from the Sistine Chapel and the life of a violin maker. I’ve really enjoyed this special gift.

What’s the biggest challenge during the Nutcracker? 

Ruth Lane:  It’s stamina.  The Nutcracker and Tchaikovsky in general require a lot of muscle when playing the cello.  For example, the Pas de Deux (Act II), at the end, is so rigorous that I have to know when to lay back and when to really pull out all the stops.

Do you have a favorite part? 

Ruth Lane:  I’ve always like the Trepak or Russian Sailor’s Dance (Act II) and the Pas de Deux (Act II) at the end.

Two Great SF Ballet Orchestra Nutcracker Recordings: 

 Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker (1991) with Denis de Coteau.  This recording is groundbreaking.  The San Francisco Ballet Orchestra collected money from each individual musician and recorded this on their own at Skywalker Ranch in 1988.  They were the first group to record and self-produce Nutcracker and received all royalties. 

Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker- San Francisco Ballet (2008) with Martin West, available as a DVD of the ballet performance or as a CD of the music.  

Details:  San Francisco Ballet performs at the historic 1932 War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco. Nutcracker runs December 9 through December 27, 2011.

Tickets: $22 to $275 available (415) 865-2000 or

Parking:  Civic Center Garage (on McAllister Street between Larkin and Polk); Performing Arts Garage (on Grove between Franklin and Gough streets); Opera Plaza Garage (valet only, 601 Van Ness, enter on Turk).

Arrival Time:  Plan to arrive early to enjoy the sumptuous atmosphere and to ensure that you are seated.  The theater enforces a no late seating policy and guests will not be seated after the lights have dimmed. Latecomers will be asked to stand until there is a break in the program, and will be seated at management’s discretion. 

Run-time: Two hours with a 20-minute intermission.

December 18, 2011 Posted by | Classical Music, Dance | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Wild Bride:” dark, fascinating, and mythically marvelous─at Berkeley Rep through January 22, 2012

Adapted and directed by Emma Rice.  Text and lyrics by Carl Grose / Music by Stu Barker / Choreography by Etta Murfitt

Featuring:  Audrey Brisson (the Girl), Stuart Goodwin (the Father and the Prince), Patrycja Kujawska (the Wild), Éva Magyar (the Woman), Stuart McLoughlin (the Devil), and Ian Ross (the Musician)

Designed by Bill Mitchell (sets), Myriddin Wannell (costumes), Malcolm Rippeth (lights), and Simon Baker (sound)

Details:  The Wild Bride closes January 22, 2012.  The Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Thrust Stage is located at 2025 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley, CA 94704.  Tickets and Info: (510) 647-2949,

December 14, 2011 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Nutcracker:” A Holiday Classic opens Friday, December 9, 2011, at San Francisco Ballet

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson's “Nutcracker,” at San Francisco Ballet December 9- 27, 2011. © Erik Tomasson

The San Francisco’s Ballet’s production of Tchaikovsky’s beloved Nutcracker opens Friday and is always a festive treat with its distinctive bow to San Francisco.  Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson’s production is set in San Francisco on Christmas Eve during the 1915 Pan Pacific International Exhibition and the ballet opens with a stunning collage of black and white photos from the actual world’s fair that gradually narrow in on period shop windows until landing at Drosselmeyer’s window and the world of magic and wonder contained therein.  ARThound was curious about the music and the challenges it presents and spoke with two Sonoma County musicians who have each played countless Nutcrackers─bassoonist Rufus Olivier, of Sebastopol, and cellist Ruth Lane, of Petaluma─who share what it’s like to participate in this yearly extravaganza and how they keep it fresh.  Stay tuned to ARThound for a feature on these Sonoma County musicians.   

Val Caniparoli in Tomasson's “Nutcracker,” at San Francisco Ballet December 9- 27, 2011. © Erik Tomasson

Details:  San Francisco Ballet performs at the historic 1932 War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco. Nutcracker runs December 9 through December 27, 2011.

Tickets: $22 to $275 available (415) 865-2000 or

Parking:  Civic Center Garage (on McAllister Street between Larkin and Polk); Performing Arts Garage (on Grove between Franklin and Gough streets); Opera Plaza Garage (valet only, 601 Van Ness, enter on Turk).

Arrival Time:  Plan to arrive early to enjoy the sumptuous atmosphere and to ensure that you are seated.  The theater enforces a no late seating policy and guests will not be seated after the lights have dimmed. Latecomers will be asked to stand until there is a break in the program, and will be seated at management’s discretion. 

Run-time: Two hours with a 20-minute intermission.

December 9, 2011 Posted by | Dance | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chalk Hill’s Fall Open Studio introduces Ayla Nereo, its latest artist in residence, Sunday, December 11, 2011, at Chalk Hill Preserve

Video still, artist and musician Ayla Nereo at Chalk Hill Preserve, Windsor. Nereo was one of five artists selected this year for the Chalk Hill Artist's Residency. Photo: courtesy Chalk Hill Artist's Residency.

Ayla Nereo is a Windsor musician and artist who has released two full-length albums and is working on her third.  Her melodies are woven into complex electro-acoustic compositions, guitar ballads and intricate harmonies layered in vocal looping and projected visuals that create an epic journey into poetry and the struggles of contemporary living.  She sings with wry humor about topics like fatigue, mothers, and relationships, and often creates accompanying animated videos.  Nereo is also one of five artists who were selected this year for the Chalk Hill Artist’s Residency at the Warnecke Ranch and Vineyards, near Windsor. For Nereo, that meant she could live and work in Hazel’s House on the extensive Warneke ranch for ten weeks and also utilize their re-purposed barn for creating her art.  This Sunday, Chalk Hill is having its fall open studio and the public is invited to take a walk around the gorgeous ranch, have a cup of tea and to meet Nereo and experience her amazing creativity.  Nereo will show three of the music videos she created while in residence at Chalk Hill and will also give a 20 minute live performance against a video backdrop. 

2011 was the Chalk Hill Artist’s Residency program’s inaugural year and five artists were selected: cellist, composer and sound installation artist Hugh Livingston; multimedia and performance artist Tramaine de Senna, who was also the recipient of an Emerging Artist grant in 2010 from the Arts Council of Sonoma County; painter Naomi Murakami, Jeff Glauthier; and Ayla Nereo.  

“There is a loose emphasis on artistic projects that interpret the land, but we basically invite artists whose work we like to come here and live and create,” said Alice Warnecke, the residency’s program director.  “Ayla’s enthusiasm is nice to be around.”  The selection committee has four members from the Warnecke family, a board member, and an investment consultant.  Warnecke, an artist herself, has high hopes for the program.  “We are learning as we go and want to plan more events that involve the artists with the community.”

“It’s been amazing,” said Nereo, “challenging in all the best ways (like being alone for whole days at a time) and wonderful in all the best ways (like learning how to really enjoy — and then adore — all this alone time).  This is really my first opportunity to fully dedicate myself to my music and poetry and art-making and it’s helping me launch my career by just having that space, time and solitude in nature to devote to my creativity.  It’s been huge and wonderful and it’s really grown me and connected to me why I am on this planet. ” 

In her seven week stay at the rustic Hazel’s House, Nereo created two new music videos (one an animation), a book of poetry, new live video projections, and lots of drawings.  She’s also been moving in a new direction musically, away from the folk elements which characterized her first album “Floating Felt” and Sunday’s open studio attendees will have a chance to hear some of the new songs that will appear on her forthcoming third album, “BeHeld.”  Click here to see a video of Nereo’s new work, which includes Chalk Hill footage, and to support her new album through the IndieGoGo funding platform.  (IndieGoGo offers anyone with an idea—creative, cause-related, or entrepneurial—the tools to effectively build an online money-raising campaign.)

“The newer stuff is a lot more with a loop pedal (into which she feeds vocals and guitar) which produces interesting vocal layering and harmonies and beats and you are really building structure into the track,” said Nereo.  “I’ve been told that I need to figure out what genre this is because it’s no longer folk but it’s really getting to who I am now.”

Ayla Nereo, still from "Wasted Hours" animation. Photo: courtesy Chalk Hill Artist’s Residency.

The Warnecke Ranch:  The Ranch was purchased by the Warnecke family in 1911.  Architect John Carl Warnecke (1919-2010) expanded the original boundaries and ran the ranch for many years before passing in 2010. The property is now run by Margo Warnecke Merck and Fred Warnecke, with help from the 4th generation of Warneckes on the Ranch: Alice, Pierce, Grace and Tess Warnecke.

The Residency:   Chalk Hill Artist’s Residency is devoted to supporting artists of all types and at all levels by providing open space and free time at Hazel’s House on the Warnecke Ranch.  2011, the centennial year of the Warnecke Ranch and Vineyard, marks the opening of the Residency. 

The concept for the Residency is based on the vision of the late John Carl Warnecke.  In 1983, he laid out plans for an artist retreat on his 280-acre property near the town of Healdsburg, bordering the Russian River.  The plan included multiple houses, conference rooms and studios.  He established a 501 c3 non-profit and began a master plan for the property to fulfill his vision: artists could live and work together in what he deemed the most beautiful place in the world. Key parameters for the residency come from JCW’s extensive writings about his vision around spending time with friends and fellow architects and artists:

Why not, he wondered, set up a retreat for artists on his own ranch land? But not just for his established professional friends, the architects, but also for established writers, composers and other visual artists, as well as those artists who were just starting to be recognized in their fields. This would give the younger, promising architects and artists an opportunity to mix and work with their peers. Few artists enjoy the luxury of full-time devotion to their work, and most have to work at odd jobs or seek subsidies. An Artist’s residency has long been one form of subsidy.~ JCW  

(Click here to see ARThound’s previous coverage of Chalk Hill Artist’s Residency and photos of the Warneke Ranch)

Details:  Sunday, December 11, 2011, 4:30 p.m. 13427 Chalk Hill Road, Healdsburg, CA  95448.  Please RSVP to Alice Warneke at (415) 218 – 4912 or .
For more information about the Chalk Hill Residency, visit the website:

December 9, 2011 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Ancient Iran from the Air:” acclaimed archaeologist David Stronach presents Georg Gerster’s forthcoming book on Iran, at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor this Saturday

Georg Gerster's aerial photograph of the Sassanian City of Gu/Firuzabad, Iran. The city is divided into 20 parts, radially structured and extends over a plain crossed by pathways, drainage ditches, and irrigation channels. The tower at the heart of the city was essential for measuring the radial lines and also had a symbolic significance, as did the city’s circular shape. Gerster is about to publish a new book of aerial photographs of ancient Iran. Photo: Georg Gerster.

My first encounter with Swiss photographer Georg Gerster’s magnificent aerial photographs of the monuments of the ancient Near East opened up a fascinating new world—one of tantalizing beauty,  riveting abstraction and amazing compositions.  For over 50 years, Gerster has been delighting audiences the world over with his breathtaking aerial shots, ranging from mountains and deserts to agrarian and industrial landscapes as well as world’s most spectacular archaeological sites and ancient monuments─from the temple at Karnak, Egypt, to the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, to the Great Wall of China, to the “big houses” of Caserones above the Tarapacá Gorge in remote Chile.  Not familiar with his work?  Google his name and the images are immediately familiar—they’ve appeared frequently in National Geographic and, in the 1970’s, Gerster did a series of now highly-collectible aerial images for Swiss Air, images which they developed into posters that represent a fabulous fusion of land art, minimalism and Gerster’s brilliant artist’s eye.  He started in the Sudan in 1963, on board a Cessna 72 with a Swedish pilot and has since taken photographs in 111 countries on all six continents.  

Desertification: Sistan, Iran. Barchan dunes in the process of reburying the remains of Dahan-e Ghulaman, an Achaemenid site first excavated in 1962. Georg Gerster, 1977. Photo: Georg Gerster copyright.

Gerster is about to make big news again with the publication of Ancient Iran from the Air, a new book of aerial photos of ancient Iran.  Between April 1976 and May 1978, Gerster flew across the length and breadth of Iran to photograph the memorable landscapes, archaeological sites, and historical monuments that characterize this storied land—the Sassanian city of Bishapur, the Sassanian imperial sanctuary at Tak-kt-I in Suleiman, Luristan, and Cheqa Nargesm in Mahidsasht, Iran—to name a few.  Most of the photographs were safely stashed away in his archives in Switzerland.  

Quite recently, David Stronach, Professor Emeritus, Near Eastern Studies, University of California at Berkeley and Co-Director, UC Berkeley-Yerevan State University Excavations at Erebuni, working with Gerster and a number of reputed specialists in the art and archaeology of Iran, arranged to have these images published.   Ancient Iran from the Air provides—from a distinctly novel angle—a fresh appraisal of the greater part of the long history of the built environment in this crucial part of the ancient Near East.

Isfahan, the Pre-e Bakran cemetery, near Isfahan. Photo: Georg Gerster copyright.

On Saturday, December 3, 2011, at 2 p.m., Stronach will give a presentation at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor featuring a selection of Gerster’s most arresting aerial views—and include the latest background information about those prehistoric, Achaemenid Persian, Parthian, Sasanian, and early Islamic sites “visited” through the medium of aerial photography.  Stronach is one of the world’s leading experts on ancient Iran, particularly the ancient city Pasargadae, the capital of Cyrus the Great (559-530 BC).  In 2004, he was honored as the recipient of the Archaeological Institute of America’s Gold Medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement, the highest honor bestowed by the AIA.  In the 1960s and 70s, Stronach was the Director of the British Institute of Persian Studies in Tehran.  In addition to a long and distinguished teaching career at UC Berkeley, he has delivered lectures on ancient Persia all over the world.

“It is a miracle that these precious images dating before the revolution were preserved,” said Dr. Renée Dreyfus, FAMSF curator of ancient art and interpretation.  “Today, it would be impossible to fly over Iran and capture its dramatically varied landscape and its ancient and fabled sites and monuments.  From these aerial images, you can observe so much more than you can ever glean from visiting this wonderful land.  David Stronach’s new publication will be an invaluable addition to the study of Iran, both ancient and more modern.”

This program, sponsored by the Ancient Arts Council, continues the celebration of Professor David Stronach’s 80th birthday.  The Ancient Arts Council is one FAMSF’s many specialized groups.  It offers regular programming, including lecture and tours, for those who share an interest in ancient art and the preservation and promotion of antiquities and culture of the ancient Mediterranean and Near East.

Lake Maharlu, Iran. The level of Lake Maharlu, a salt lake, fluctuates over the year. When it is low, mature reddish brine collects at deep points of the drainage channels near the shore, and salt crystallizes on the lake. 1976. Photo: Georg Gerster, copyright.

In his best-selling catalog The Past from Above (2003)(p. 10) Gerster is quoted as saying ”distance creates an overview, and an overview creates insight,” a truism which is integral to archaeological research.  Aside from their aesthetic impact, Gerster’s photos show the landscape, the geographical context and the area covered by a settlement, together with surrounding natural resources.  An aerial view also occasionally allows for the discovery of some previously unknown monuments that have been invisible from the ground.  

“William M. Sumner, who excavated the Elamite capital at Anshan (Tal-I Malyan) in south-western Iran, wrote to tell me that when he saw an aerial photograph of the site that I had taken when the sun was low in the sky, he saw and understood more in ten minutes that he had done in ten years of regular work on the ground. (The Past from Above, p. 25)  

If you go:  Allow ample time as you won’t want to miss the Legion’s other rare treasures in stone:

The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy on loan trhough August 20, 2011 from the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon, which is undergoing renovation.  The exhibition, in Galleries 1 and 2, consists of 37 exceptional 15th Century devotional figures, mourners in a royal funeral procession. The sculptures, each approximately sixteen inches high, and carved from the finest alabaster, are from the tomb of John the Fearless (1371–1419), the second duke of Burgundy.  The figures are all cloaked and are representative of all different strata of society.  They appear to be sharing grief by praying, reflecting and singing and represent the highest level of artistic accomplishment, with exquisite treatment of drapery and detailed carving extending to areas not be visible to the public eye.  The figures are displayed so that they can be walked around and examined up close.  In their original setting, the elaborate tomb of John the Fearless located at a monastery on the outskirts of Dijon, they would have been displayed flush against the tomb.  The Mourners are one of the centerpieces of the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon. (Preview the sculptures in 360º and 3D at

Bernini’s Medusa: on loan from the Museu Capitolini, Rome (through February 12, 2012), Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s remarkable Baroque masterpiece Medusa, believed to date from roughly 1638 to 1648, is on exclusive display in the U.S. at the Legion.  The sculpture has been newly cleaned and restored and installed in the museum’s Baroque gallery 6 with impeccable lighting and nuances previously unnoticeable are detectible.  Believed to date from around 1638 to 1648, this extraordinary work takes its subject from classical mythology, as cited in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It shows the beautiful Medusa, one of the Gorgon sisters, caught in the terrible process of transformation into a monster whose hair is a mass of twisting snakes. Onlookers staring directly at her would turn to stone.  The Medusa will be displayed exclusively in the U.S. at the Legion of Honor in the museum’s Baroque gallery 6, where it can be seen in context with the Museums’ great collections of paintings and sculpture from the era of Bernini.  (Take a virtual tour of the Musei Capitolini here.)

Details: “Ancient Iran from the Air,” Saturday, December 3, 2011 – 2:00 pm, Florence Gould Theater, Legion of Honor, San Francisco.  Cost: Free with Museum admission to Ancient Arts Council members; $5 suggested donation/non-members.

December 2, 2011 Posted by | Art, Legion of Honor | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment