Left Coast Leaning @ YBCA [Review]

The Left Coast Leaning performing arts festival, organized by the YBCA in conjunction with Youth Speaks’ Living Word Project, kind of oscillated between the two poles of pure visual enjoyment and entertainment, and perplexing uncomfortableness. On the one hand there was the dazzling spectacle of virtuosic tap dancing by Jason Samuels Smith, on the other there was a strange and brain-taxing performance piece by Anna Martine Whitehead. Between were the three remaining works, which attempted both to entertain the viewers as well as elicit an emotional response. Interestingly enough, all three were about love.

What? Love, you say? The prominence of that theme was a little bit surprising. In the current moment, with the country electrified by Occupy, you might expect to see things that are more political than romantic. But that is not to say that Left Coast Leaning strayed far from the zeitgeist. At least two of the pieces explicitly dealt with love in the contemporary world, and one was a response to fairly recent events–namely, Proposition 8.

Alexandro Segade, Replicant VS Separatist, Pictured: Colin Martin and Justin Streichman. Credit: Scott Groller.

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Taste & Tribute 2011 [Review]

Taste & Tribute 2011, which took place in the Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco on November 18, was exceptional. The night opened with a silent auction, during which wine and hors d’oeuvres were served. Among the items on auction, there were paintings, tapestries, pashmina shawls, vases and tickets for luxurious trips. Some people lingered around the meat and cheese plates,while others kept a cautious eye on the items they’d bid on, daring anyone else to write a number down. In this jovial atmosphere, attendees chatted and admired the items on display.

When the double doors to the dining room opened, guests were ushered into a dimly lit room full of glittering lights and 11 beautifully set dining tables. The master chefs who would be preparing the evening’s meal were spread around the periphery of the room at their stations, busily preparing plates for the first course. Once everyone was seated, the charismatic Liam Mayclem took the diners through the opening ceremony. Speakers Pema Gellek and Judy Rasmussen thanked the crowd for their support, and spoke about the Tibetan Aid Project’s continued dedication to ensuring the longevity of Tibetan traditions. After the four-course meal prepared table-side, the night closed out with a live auction with auctioneer Greg Quiroga. However, even amongst all of the glittering silverware, heady wine and extraordinary food, I never once forgot that the people who had gathered for this event had done so for the sake of Tibet. Even with all of that splendor around me, being in that room full of good will was perhaps the most pleasant aspect of the night.

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Climb the Totem of Life with Cirque du Soleil [Review]

Cirque du Soleil: Totem | October 28 – December 18, 2011 | AT&T Park– Parking Lot A | San Francisco

I had been looking forward to last Wednesday night for a few weeks. I had heard all the ‘hoopla’ and now it was my turn to be counted among the millions of wowed viewers. As I walked down 2nd Street to the Grand Chapiteau just south of AT&T Park in San Francisco and readied myself for a night of Totem, I realized that I was hopelessly excited to check out the company’s 31st show. I mean, Cirque du Soleil is a household name with an extraordinary track record of amazing its audiences. In fact, the Montreal-based spectacular celebrated its 27th year of enchantment this past June. And this was my first Cirque ever.

Unicycles & Bowls. Photo by Daniel Desmarais

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The Global Within: Indian Art at the YBCA [Review]

The Matter Within | Saturday, October 15, 2011 – Sunday, January 29, 2011 | YBCA | San Francisco

Whether you’re conscious of it or not, when you go to an exhibition dedicated to India, you expect to encounter pieces that address certain cliches. Maybe not Bollywood or beggars, but at least the IT industry. Thankfully, “The Matter Within” stayed away from “branding” the country (unlike, for example, the YBCA‘s “Brazilian” exhibition “When Lives Become Form” that happened a few years back). The exhibition is international in outlook, taking on such themes as the legacy of colonialism, nationalism, homophobia, and exclusion. One could easily imagine that framework applied to exhibitions dedicated to a variety of regions, from Africa to Latin America to the former Eastern bloc. Maybe some works chosen for those imagined exhibitions would even turn out to be similar to those in “The Matter Within.” Whether this would be the case for a show centered exclusively on a “First World” country, such as the U.S., is a thought-provoking question–but that’s another story.

Sudarshan Shetty, No Title (from "this too shall pass"), gold leaf on fiberglass, mild steel, coin box, etched brass, 2010 — credit: Anil Rane

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Camille Pissarro – The Lonely Anarchist [Review]

Pissarro’s People | October 22, 2011 to January 22, 2012 | Legion of Honor | San Francisco

Strangely enough, at the press preview of the “Pissarro’s People” exhibition at the Legion of Honor, every time the museum director said the painter’s last name, I kept hearing “Bizarro.” That would be an ill-fitting name for the Impressionist master, since there is nothing bizarre in his oeuvre. In fact, he made a point of being very down-to-earth. Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) is known primarily for his rural landscapes. This exhibition, which focuses on images of people, is replete with similarly prosaic subject matter: day-to-day activities of the painter’s family members, laborers in the fields, traders at village markets. Nowadays, when so much work shown in museums and galleries aims to excite your mind and senses, such un-spectacular themes only hold allure for most museum-goers when coupled with the style of a true master. Pissarro’s paintings offer a lot in terms of sensual delight–I particularly prefer his pointillism-influenced works, which seem to extend far beyond the boundaries of the canvas and envelop the viewer. But what is more remarkable is the thinking behind the art. New research by scholar and the exhibition catalog author Richard R. Brettell shows that in all of his art endeavors, Pissarro was guided by anarchist ideas.

Camille Pissarro Apple Harvest, 1888 Oil on canvas 24 x 29 1/8 in. (61 x 74 cm) Dallas Museum of Art, Munger Fund, 1955.17.M. Photo provided by Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

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Opera San Jose’s La Voix Humaine & Pagliacci @ California Theatre 11/13/2011 [Review]

Opera San Jose performs Pagliacci & La Voix Humaine | Saturday, November 12 to Sunday, November 27 | California Theatre | San Jose

For its 28th season, Opera San Jose chose to do something very interesting. Instead of pairing Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci with its usual partner, Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, the company chose to pair it with Francis Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine. Both are verismo (realism, or “truth”) operas, which means that they deal with regular people and their problems as opposed to issues that relate to gods or the nobility.

(L) Tenor Alexander Boyer as Canio in Opera San José’s Pagliacci. Photographer: Chris Ayers. (R) Suzan Hanson in Opera San José’s La voix humaine. Photographer: P. Kirk.

The setting for the two operas is completely different, although both can be said to deal with the issue of communication, or lack thereof. Overall, Opera San Jose did a glorious job with both of them; it was a rare instance when the set design, stage direction and artists all worked perfectly together, with each aspect adding tremendously to the performance.

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Masters of Venice & Ralph Eugene Meatyard [Review]

Masters of Venice | Saturday, October 29, 2011 to Sunday, February 12, 2012 | Ralph Eugene Meatyard | Saturday, October 8, 2011 – Sunday, February 26, 2012 | de Young Museum | San Francisco 

Unlike the Picasso, Warhol, or Impressionism exhibitions that the de Young has presented in recent years, “Masters of Venice” is not very big–only about 50 pieces. But those pieces are extremely famous. One even wonders how the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna let them travel over the ocean, since most of them will soon be 500 years old. Saint Sebastian by Mantegna, Danae by Titian, Susanna and the Elders by Tintoretto, The Three Philosophers by Giorgione–are you kidding me? All of those works stand at the origins of painting as we know it. The Renaissance, after all, was the period when oil painting technique was first mastered, and art became aligned more with the aristocracy than the church.

Jacopo Robusti, called Tintoretto. Susanna and the Elders. ca. 1555-1556. Oil on canvas. Gemäldegalerie of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Image provided by the de Young Museum.

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