Introducing the Virtual Museum Visit Series

the louvre museum, photo by Chris Karidis on Unsplash

Do you miss museums? What do you think about a virtual museum visit?

Back in the old days (before March 2020) I liked to find a reason for a museum visit at least a couple of times a year. For me, it was a great way to break out of my routine and get a different perspective on things.  If there wasn’t an exhibit that I was particularly interested in, the people watching alone was usually well worth the price of admission.

Some museums are beginning to open with restrictions. When I think about recent museum visits, a social-distanced museum experience sounds delightful. But I’m probably not going to make a point of going to a museum anytime soon.

Venus de Milo at the Louvre: Photo by Jean Carlo Emer on Unsplash

Recently, I saw a teaser on the internet about virtual museum tours and thought what a great topic for a blog post! Most of us still aren’t traveling anyway, why not check out some of the great museums of the world from home?

I thought that it would be easy to pull together a list of museums and link to their virtual tours and we would be on our way.

Once I started digging in, the first thing that became clear is that not all virtual museum tours are created equal. The second thing was that trying to wander around a museum virtually is not as easy or as much fun as one would hope.

Like most things on the internet, it is better to have an idea about what you are looking for before you begin. Whereas back in the old days, you could decide to go to a museum and just wander around for a few hours, the navigation of even the most user-friendly virtual museum tour is broken down into layers and layers of sub-menus. There are so many decisions to make before you get near any art.

Some virtual museum tours try to make it seem like you are walking through the galleries. I found these tricky to navigate and started to get frustrated. Some are more like online photo albums – it’s really more of a slide show than a virtual tour.

I realized that what I really wanted was some sort of video where someone would take me through a gallery, give me a good look at the work, and tell me about it. I started to find some videos on YouTube, but there is a lot of variation with these as well. So, what I’ve decided to do is start a series here where I will create a curated virtual museum visit for various places. These may include videos, virtual tours, selections from a collection, and articles about the institution, a particular collection, exhibit, or work.

This will give me an excuse to snoop around and see what I can find with a clear goal in mind: providing you, with a manageable, curated experience. I envision it being the kind of thing that you can just read the post and go on with your life or you can take a little time to click through the various resources I’ll link to and have your own little virtual field trip.

St Peter’s Basilica: Photo by Jan Tielens on Unsplash

Some of the places that I have started exploring for us include:

On the one hand, it’s never going to be the same as being there in person. On the other hand, doesn’t it sound fun is it to get to poke around from the comfort of your own home?

I’m going to try to post at least one a month and we’ll see how it goes. If you have any tips for navigating virtual museum experiences or suggestions for particular things that you would like to see, let me know!

National Book Lovers Day

book stack

August ninth marked the observance of National Book Lovers Day, a day that encourages people to put down their devices (unless that device is an e-reader I suppose) and read a book!

I am currently reading around three and a half books:

  • Women Who Run with Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes (a reread – but this time I’m taking notes)
  • Pilgrimage to Dollywood by Helen Morales
  • Women & Power, a Manifesto by Mary Beard
  • The Dharma Bums by Jack Keroac (this is another re-read and I’m not feeling that into it, I may put it back on the shelf)

Some books I have read recently that I really enjoyed:

  • Dreyer’s English, An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer (yes, it is a grammar/English usage book and yes, I laughed out loud many times while reading it)
  • Range, Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein (I felt my entire existence was vindicated)
  • Circe by Madeline Miller (spoiler – I didn’t love how it ended)
  • Antigone Rising by Helen Morales (if you have two X chromosomes, this might get you riled up)
  • How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
  • Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver (see, sometimes I read fiction; a suggestion from a friend)
  • City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert (see, more fiction; another suggestion from another friend)

As much as I love books and I love to read, I don’t love to keep ALL the books in my house. I was really into Larry McMurtry for a while; I had pretty much every book that he had written through 1998 or so and in the course of one move I got rid of all of them. I’ve only read one new Larry McMurtry book since then, but I loved it so much I’m almost feeling like I need to get my paws on a new copy of Lonesome Dove or Terms of Endearment. But I’m also trying to make a point of reading women authors, so revisiting Larry McMurtry may have to wait a little longer.

Much like all the cat holidays, I feel like National Book Lovers Day can be celebrated year-round. Here are some ways to celebrate National Book Lovers Day any day of the year:

  • Read a book!
  • Pass a book along to a friend.
  • Return a book that you borrowed from a friend.
  • Buy a book from your local, independent bookstore. Or any independent bookstore (they all ship). Page Against the Machine is my favorite independent bookstore here in Long Beach (I might know the owner). Chris carries an excellently curated selection of new and used books in the political and social justice genres.  However, he also is very happy to custom order any title that you are looking for.
  • Order a custom bookstack watercolor for yourself or a friend. Trying to think of what books I would want for my bookstack gives me anxiety, but if you know what you would pick, check out the Etsy shop of my friend Kiersten: ShortstackByKiersten.

Did you or are you going to celebrate National Book Lovers Day? What are you reading now?  Any suggestions of books to check out?

Fresh Flash Fiction

The other week, my writing group had a flash fiction exercise. We were to write 350 words on the photo below.  That was it. The entire prompt.

Photo by Starr Canon

I had a lot of fun writing my story and decided that I would share it with you here. Let me know what you think!

The Unbridled Fury of a Woman of a Certain Age

As I merged into freeway traffic, a smile spread across my face. Ah, this is what they mean when they say precision, German engineering.

The irony of driving a vehicle manufactured by the same company that built engines for the last fascist regime to nearly conquer the free world in order to escape from the current fascist takeover of the western United States is almost too much. I mean, if this car actually belonged to me and hadn’t just been stolen, I might not care about the militarized takeover of every major city on the western seaboard.

Unfortunately, I have the great misfortune of believing in the beautiful idea of constitutional, representative democracy. However flawed the execution of it has been over the past 200+ years, there has at least been a modicum of respect for the rule of law by those who would choose to usurp it. Today, the Constitution may as well be used paper in a golden toilet.

When I arrive at the nearest resistance encampment in the Sierras, the “baby on board” sticker in the rear window will guarantee my access. I was able to procure an older model station wagon, we will have enough seatbelts to take six (not including the driver) on protest runs. I just hope that the fact that I’m not actually a mom won’t keep me from being able to join the most effective resistance faction, the Wall of Moms.

People seem surprised that the most effective, most radical branch of the resistance is middle-aged women. That’s because the patriarchal hegemony doesn’t understand the superpowers that this segment of the population possesses. It turns out that women are born with a finite number of both eggs and fucks to give. They tend to run out around the same age. This is also around the time that women discover that they have the power of invisibility.  

Think about it, what would you do if you were invisible and out of fucks? Drink chardonnay and shoplift? I know, that was my plan too, until the fascists came to town.

Deep Thoughts with Martha Graham

A few years ago, I came across this quote in the course of some random internet trawling that had nothing to do with Martha Graham, dance, or even artistic expression:

You don’t have to believe in yourself or your work.  You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate YOU.

Martha Graham to Agnes De Mille

It really struck me. So I wouldn’t forget, I emailed it to myself and there is sat, in the deep, dark depths of my inbox for some number of years. Recently, I came across the note and thought that Martha Graham would make a good topic for this blog. Of course, today’s post is more of a random survey than a thorough examination of her artistic legacy, but I am just being open to the urges that motivate me.

Did I ever tell you that there was a time in my life that I wanted to grow up to be a dancer in Martha Graham’s company?  It’s true. Although, even in those days I had a hard time visualizing myself living as a starving artist living in New York City.  But there really was a moment in time that I was willing to consider giving up my comfortable, Southern California lifestyle to be a Graham dancer.

Graham technique was very captivating for a young Cynthia whose training up to that point had mainly focused on the classical ballet lexicon.  Not wearing shoes, using the floor in such a way, sure those were novel, but the biggest difference was the power with which one moved.

You see, in classical ballet you are trained to hold your center of gravity roughly around your diaphragm. This enables the lightness and quickness of the legs and feet. Think about lifting, lifting, lifting all of your energy up from your pelvis. Then cap that lift at the shoulders and close your rib cage around it. That energy turns into a little ball that floats around in that area above your waist. You lock it in there and hold it tight, then you move around it.

In Graham technique, you drop your center of gravity below your belly button. I didn’t know anything about Kundalini yoga at that time, but now I would say that you locate your center of gravity in your svadhisthana chakra. All motion then originates and radiates from your center, initiated by either a contraction or release. It creates a very powerful way of moving.

Here is a short video of Graham technique:

Martha Graham (1894-1991) was an innovator during a time of tremendous artistic innovation. She is sometimes referred to as the mother of modern dance because of the thoroughly developed technique and prodigious repertoire that she created. Graham’s early dance training was at the Denishawn School in Los Angeles where she eventually taught before moving to New York City in the 1920’s. There she began creating her own work. She is noted for creating 181 ballets over her 70-year career. Among her students was Merce Cunningham. Isamu Noguchi created sets for many of her ballets including the 1944, Aaron Copeland commissioned, Appalachian Spring.

 Here is an excerpt of Appalachian Spring with Graham dancing the lead role:

 Ok, back to the quote. The thing about it is that in this statement, she completely eliminates the role of ego from artistic expression (at least in principle). What she is saying is that you don’t have to think you’re great (or even good) and you don’t have to like what you create. Your job is just to be open to the act of creation. There are a lot of people who have used a lot more words to express this same idea. I love how Graham is so no-nonsense about it.

Is there something creative that you’ve been putting off?  Maybe it’s time to do it.

White Tutu Moments

After my YouTube ballet class the other day, I got sucked in to watching a video of one of my favorite white tutu moments – the “Dance of the Cygnets” from Swan Lake. It is just so wonderful.

The choreography by Lev Ivanov, circa 1895, features four ballerinas performing a relatively academic, yet precise series of steps. Oh yes, and each is holding the hand of the girl next to her and the girl next to that girl. Dancing in tight quarters like that means that they really need to be together on the movement. If one girl goes up when another is going down, it could be a disaster.

Every time I see this piece, I get the biggest smile.  I don’t know why it makes me so happy, there is something about the combination of all those pas de chats and the tuba that sparks so much joy in my heart. Marie Kondo could never get me to declutter this dance.

I love the repetition and the way that they use their heads – talk about rubbing your head and patting your tummy!  And then they have to do it all linked up together like that.  There is not a lot of room to maneuver there.

Thinking about this made me ask myself what my other favorite white tutu ballet moments are.  If I’m not willing to say this is my ultimate favorite, what are the others?

Of course, “The Kingdom of the Shades” from La Bayadere is a great white tutu moment. No one even bothers to produce La Bayadere anymore, everyone just wants to see that one scene. Those arabesques just keep going and soon the stage is full of white tutus.

And then a different sort of white tutu moment came to mind, the pantomime in Act II of Giselle.  I just love romantic ballet pantomime. It is so corny. It makes me smile every time.  Myrtha, The Queen of the Wilies is so fierce. I guess she is supposed to be the villain, but she is a boss.  I just love when she tells Albrecht,

“You.” (points authoritatively)
“Will Dance.” (hands make a rolling motion over the head)
“To the Death.” (arms crossed at the wrists in front of the body, hands in fists)

It’s no cygnets but it does make me smile so big.

I can’t find a clip of just that part of Act II, so here is a clip of Myrtha’s variation instead.

I hope you enjoyed a little white tutu ballet interlude on your Wednesday.

April was National Poetry Month

Full disclosure: I meant to post this last week when it still was National Poetry Month, but last week got the better of me. And even though National Poetry Month might not be a timely topic right now, poetry itself is timeless.

Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? For me, it’s one of those things that I know which still surprises me every time it comes around.  This year I got a wild hair (recently, I’ve been very inspired to initiate new projects that keep me away from my writing — just wait, there’s more to come) to post a poem on my social media every day. I’m not much of a social media poster, so it was going to be a challenge but why not give it a try.

I went on a hunt for my poetry collection, digging books out of various places (yes, some were in the garage). I managed to post almost every day through April 21. Because I hadn’t started out in a very organized manner, some days I would spend a few hours browsing the collection to find something that spoke to the day.

I did find some treasures in my hunt and I’m going to share them with you here.


may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old

may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it’s Sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young

and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there’s never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile

e.e. cummings, from 100 Selected Poems

The Manoeuvre

I saw the two starlings
coming in toward the wires.
But at the last,
just before alighting, they

turned in the air together
and landed backwards!
that’s what got me—to
face into the wind’s teeth.

William Carlos Williams, from Selected Poems

Weight of Abundance

On days when sun blazes hills awake,
when still damp earth aches dark possibilities,
when crooked teeth of dilapidated barns
and crumbling stucco of lost missions
hum with stories they cannot forget,
I look at my freckled hands and try to find
a cartography for this desire to know
that seems stitched into me, into any
who live where one wakes to a horizon
that is continually blurred by low fog.

Stories are as abundant as the trees
and vines that are repeatedly heavy
with fruit. What to dig up? What is enough?
In a garden so thick with weeds, sustenance
bleeds with what is pressing upon it.  So
days slur past, fat and happy, until
the eye sights it driving past, or the hoe
upturns the hidden artifact.

Iris Jamahl Dunkle, from There’s a Ghost in this Machine of Air

*fun fact: I came to possess this book at a conference (Association of Writers and Writing Programs). I had designed the booth for one of the lead sponsors and needed a pass to supervise the install, so why not go back while the conference was in full swing. I met Iris and we talked about northern California and the biography of Charmian Kittredge (Jack London’s wife) that she was working on (I love biographies about interesting historical women written by women). I bought her collection, put it on my shelf, and forgot about it until this project. Better late than never, it is really a lovely volume (and, it turns out the Kittredge biography is coming out this fall).

**synchronicity: the day that I posted this poem I had been journaling about how there are so many wonderful things to do and to learn and how it can be hard to pick where to invest your time and energy (which is the raison d’etre behind this blog — to explore a lot of things a little bit; to look at the little things hiding between big things). Then I opened the book to this poem which perfectly expressed what I had just been noodling.

The Somnambulist’s Handbook (In memory of James Tate)

By accident, night fell and scraped its knees
against the ragged edge of the horizon.
We called the oozing blood sunset.

I pushed it, and night fell. It spilled its ink
all over everything. The goddamn moon
still shined though, as bright as my rage.

The older you get, the more you fall, night.
As regular as clockwork, the sun goes
then down you come again, all bruised.

After night fell, stars danced around its head
like in the old cartoons. Right afterwards
we both blacked out, til morning came.

Are you drunk on your own beauty again?
Keep falling like that and it will be lights out
for good. Night, don’t pretend you can’t hear!

Imagine night never falling again.
Sun, pure witness. So let night take the fall,
though we’re the ones who need the rest.

Night fell. Someone called the police, who came
with guns drawn, shouting “Stand down!” Shots were fired.
Black, poor night never had a chance.

Succumbing to the armies of despair,
night fell. The terms of its surrender were
to free us all to dream again.

Amazing, how night can fall without sound—
no scream, so silently we hear wolves howl,
forever in awe of its grace.

Rafael Campo, 2016 Bat City Review

What I was reminded of from trying to play along with National Poetry Month is that poetry is fun and that I should make a little bit more time in my life for it.

A History of Art

A long, long time ago, when I was just a wee lass, I went to college. I was looking forward to learning all sorts of new things and exploring all there was to offer. I did what I could but being a dance major and having ballet class every day in the middle of the afternoon put a big crimp in my schedule and I never got around to taking figure drawing or English literature, or the history of art.

After I graduated, I took up reading in a big way. I was going to make up for not taking English literature in the bargain aisles of Barnes and Noble. One day, I spied this tome, the same book that had been used as the textbook for the art history class that I could never work into my schedule.  Now was my chance, I would be my own art history class!

It is an unruly book and did not lend itself to beach chair reading (my preferred reading method).  I tried to be studious and read a bit of it, but I don’t know when last time was that I opened it.

I’ve dragged it around for the past *cough* 20+ years, always telling myself that one day, I would get around to breaking it open again. I would sit at a table with a good reading light and learn everything about art history.

Fast forward to last Monday. Because of the national hermitage movement, no one is meeting in person anymore. But everyone wants to meet on ZOOM.  Which is fine, except for the multi-neck, potato head effect that occurs when I have my laptop on my desk.  I needed a little booster, something sturdy that would raise my laptop enough that the camera was more at eye-level than chin level. And guess what, A History of Art is just the thing!

Since this book will be living on my desk for a while, I decided that I might as well crack it open. When I did, I laughed out loud!  The dust jacket flap was marking the place I had stopped at all those years ago … page 54, Ancient Near Eastern Art.

Here’s the thing, I know why I stopped. I wanted to learn about post-Renaissance, Western European art through mid-20th Century American art. And while I wanted to be a good student and begin at the beginning, I only managed to get from the Paleolithic era to roughly circa 2,000 BC.

It’s not because I don’t think that ancient art isn’t interesting or doesn’t have something to illuminate about the human condition, it’s just that I have a hard time relating when something is so far removed from my frame of reference.

Which got me thinking, I wonder if teaching history chronologically is the wrong approach? I wonder if we might be better served learning history backwards?

I flipped through the book to find where I thought I wanted to start, and I landed on page 636. This chapter deals with the period referred to as Mannerism, which seems to be the late Renaissance period immediately preceding Baroque. I think I’ll start there and work my way forward for a bit, then jump back and take a stab at the first half of the book again.

I’m looking forward to filling in the gaps in my knowledge of art history, even if it is in a haphazard way. And more importantly, to being able to ZOOM without looking like a potato head!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Spring

Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Spring

Last weekend, I headed up to San Francisco for the third ballet weekend of the season with mom and sister.  We were all looking forward to seeing San Francisco Ballet perform Midsummer Night’s Dream, a George Balanchine choregraphed fairytale ballet that none of us had seen before.

I’ll admit that I was feeling a bit ambivalent about being around such a large crowd of people given the current public health crisis, but there are certain things worth risking exposure to infectious disease and Balanchine ballets are one of them.

Unfortunately, the mayor of San Francisco doesn’t seem to share my commitment to the art of dance. As I waited at the airport for my flight to board, I scrolled “the gram” and saw notice that the ballet had been closed, there would be no performances until March 30 (later posts indicated a date of March 20 – we’ll see). At least it wasn’t just the ballet, but all city-owned performance venues.

On the one hand, it was a little bit of a relief. But mostly it was disappointing.  Especially after my sister forwarded the review of the opening night performance that ran in the San Francisco Chronicle.

What the review made clear is that SF Ballet excels at these light-hearted, fairytale ballets, bringing to my mind the excellent performance of Cinderella earlier this season or of Don Quixote last season.

As I had already done preliminary research in preparation for my own review, I thought that I would go ahead and tell you about the ballet and we can all hope that they will re-stage this production for the 2021 season.

Midsummer Nights Dream by George Balanchine

Since I wasn’t familiar with the ballet, I dug out my copy of Balanchine’s Complete Stories of the Great Ballets and looked it up (you know that he would never leave one of his own works out).

Created in 1962, Midsummer Night’s Dream was George Balanchine’s first original full-length ballet.

Balanchine had performed in productions of the play as a child in Russia and previously been asked to do some dances for various productions of the play, so he was familiar with the music that Mendelssohn had written for it. He credits the music more than the story for inspiring him to create this work. But because there wasn’t a complete ballet’s worth of music, Balanchine created a franken-score, using other Mendelssohn pieces.

The overture to Midsummer Night’s Dream by Felix Mendelssohn

The ballet is organized into two-acts, and six-scenes. The first act contains all of the plot of the ballet – the fairy shenanigans, mortals getting caught up in fairy shenanigans, adventures and misadventures. The second act, in the fashion of the romantic ballets contains the wedding scene, the divertissement, and a happily-ever-after ending.

The supernatural elements of any fairytale ballet allow for all sorts of wonderful creatures and characters. Combining such a narrative with Balanchine’s athletic and expressive choreography is a recipe for a delightfully whimsical dance ballet.

Midsummer Night’s Dream hadn’t been performed by SF Ballet in 35 years. I hope that it wasn’t a one-night stand.

Three Visions of Ballet

On February 15, mom and I attended Program 3 of the San Francisco Ballet 2020 Season.  The title of the program was Dance Innovations. It was an evening of three contemporary works (three visions of ballet), The Infinite Ocean by Edward Liang (premiered 2018), The Big Hunger by Trey McIntyre (a world premiere), and Etudes by Harald Lander (circa 1948).

We had just seen Etudes last year and I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing it again. The one thing that I will say about it is that it was a lovely palate cleanser after the two more avant garde pieces and I feel like the dancing was a bit sharper than it had been last year. Both my mom and the woman who sits next to her were delighted by the clean, classical technique and the brightness of the movement. It was very smart to program such a traditional work at the end of the evening.

Since I’ve already discussed that piece, I am going to focus on the other two, which I found tremendously interesting.


Composer: Oliver Davis
Choreographer: Edward Liang
World Premiere: April 26, 2018 – San Francisco Ballet

I had thought that we might have seen this piece last year, but when I went back to check, mom was right, it was not on the program that we saw (don’t you hate it when that happens?).

An interesting synchronicity here is that I have been listening to the City Ballet podcast on my walks and the episode that I had just been listening to that week was Edward Liang talking to Wendy Whelan about his career as a dancer and now as a choreographer. He was talking about a different commission, but it was interesting to hear about his process. I could see how he would have applied the same sort of approach to this piece.

I really enjoyed the music for this work. The composer, Oliver Davis, is Liang’s frequent collaborator.  Liang describes Davis’s style as modern, minimalist baroque. I felt like it enveloped the stage, the dancers, and the movement. There were at least a couple of places in the score that seemed to me like they would make a great car commercial (I mean that as a compliment).

This piece had to do with death and dying, with individuals coming to terms with their own imminent mortality. The interesting things about the movement had to do with how the ensemble would come together, move as a unit, but without any sense of connection – it was as if everyone was one the same journey, but alone.  Even the partnering had that lack of connection.

Liang’s movement vocabulary didn’t fall into the trap of contemporary choreographers trying to make “interesting” or “modern” movements.  He retained a classical vocabulary, but expanded traditional steps with a sense of lightness, softness, freedom. Sort of like the idea of the dancers learning to let go.


Composer: Sergei Prokofiev
Choreographer: Trey McIntyre
World Premiere: February 13, 2020 – San Francisco Ballet

Speaking of synchronicity, there seems to be some synchronicity in my small ballet world these days about Prokofiev. There was Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella last month, this piece, but also a discussion of some of his other pieces on that City Ballet podcast. Before now, the things that came to my mind when I thought of Prokofiev were The Love for Three Oranges and Romeo and Juliet.  I’m interested to discover what it is that the universe wants me to learn from Prokofiev.

The program notes for this piece were really interesting. McIntyre was inspired by a Korean film, to consider the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert’s concept of two hungers. On the one hand is big hunger – man’s search for existential purpose. On the other hand is little hunger – physical needs like food and shelter.  I would equate little hunger to the bottom tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – physiological and safety needs, and big hunger to the top tiers – esteem and self-actualization. For McIntyre, conflict arises when little hunger pursuits are given big hunger value.

The dancers were comprised of three couples and an all-male ensemble. The first couple opened the piece.  They were dressed in pink, short, coverall-style jumpsuits. Were they in charge?  Or were they instigating something?  The backdrop featured a very distinct door with illuminated green EXIT sign above it. Then the ensemble makes a bold entrance wearing bright pink pageboy wigs, white collared shirts and short shorts and the first pair make a run for the EXIT.

In the next scene, the space opened up, became more abstract, and the EXIT was graffiti covering the entire back wall. It was like a warning to get out now. The second couple both wore the same wigs and costumes as the ensemble. Were they becoming assimilated into the rat race?

Next scene, the EXIT is gone, now there is no way out. The third pair (both men) enter wearing grey/blue versions of the pageboy wig and long, grey overcoats. At that point the costumes changed to the grey/blue wigs and grey shirts/shorts for all the dancers including both previous couples. We’ve lost the vibrancy from earlier. The dancers have gotten so wrapped up in their little hunger that they missed their shot to satisfy their big hunger.

I loved the athleticism of the movement in this work and the sense of something just being a bit off. I loved the way that things kept degenerating. Even the change from the bright wigs to the grey/blue wigs was like another step in toward the eventual collapse. I really hope that they program this piece again next year, I would really like to see it again.

2020 Ballet Season Opener, Cinderella

It’s that time of the year again!  What time is that?  It’s Ballet Season of course!

Even though the 2020 season opened much like last year with a fairytale ballet, it was certainly not a romantic-era ballet or even an update of a romantic ballet.  This production of Cinderella was created by Christopher Wheeldon in 2012 as a joint commission of the Dutch National Ballet and San Francisco Ballet. Its War Memorial premiere was in 2013.

The libretto was written by Craig Lucas, the playwright who you may be familiar with from Prelude to a Kiss (there was a 1992 film adaptation with Alec Baldwin and Meg Ryan). He brings that same soupçon of strangeness to this work. There is no fairy godmother or mice.  All of the magic in this version of the story comes from a tree that grows out of Cinderella’s mother’s grave.  Of course, you can’t leave Cinderella sidekick-less but instead of mice and birds, she has four fates who provide the magical catalyst (and help her with the chores). This Cinderella also has a respectable amount of gumption for a story where the happy ending entails getting married (spoilers!).

Wheeldon choose to work with Prokofiev’s 1940 score. For me, the music didn’t do much, it is certainly isn’t on par with his Romeo and Juliet.  But I didn’t find choreography particularly impactful either. I don’t know if one fell flat and impacted my impression of the other or if both were just meh. 

As far as the choreography goes, there was a lot of dancing. Really athletic dancing. Maybe too much, as in too many steps. The principals were on stage for long stretches and the corps de ballet really moved. There wasn’t a lot of standing around or running off and on stage. I don’t tend to miss the conventions of romantic ballet, but I do feel that this work would benefit from some of the pauses, stillness, and space that are traditional in the romantic ballets in order to give the brilliant and athletic dancing space to shine.

The night my mom, sister, and I were there, Cinderella was danced by one of our new favorite dancers, Sasha de Sola. She brought a great combination of sassiness and compassion to the role. Luke Ingham was the Prince.  But the stepsister Clementine, who was danced by Ellen Rose Hummel, was the character who really stole the show.  Clementine is the sweet stepsister, who wears glasses and takes the brunt of her mother’s and sister’s meanness when Cinderella isn’t readily available. She is funny and kind-hearted, and she gets the guy too, winning the heart of the Prince’s sidekick.

The novel libretto allows for creative applications of production elements.  The scene where Cinderella is transformed to go to the ball is wonderfully weird and full of inventive staging and effects. For me, this scene is the highlight of the show.

There is so much to like about this production, but like I said before, there was just something about it that felt overwrought.  The last time it was presented was 2017 and I remember enjoying the innovative elements, but I don’t know that it made my heart leap that time either.