Monet at the De Young

monet water lilies

Monet: The Late Years

I happened to be in San Francisco for the weekend last May for Mother’s Day.  My dear, sweet brother-in-law had arranged for my mom and my sister to see the Monet exhibit at the De Young Museum for Mother’s Day and since I was in town, I had the good fortune of getting to tag along.

I thought that it was interesting that Monet was such a prolific and esteemed artist that the 50 or so works in the show were all made after he was established and successful.  The subjects of these paintings were almost exclusively locations in his own gardens on his estate in Giverny.

For great biographical information and a more comprehensive description of the paintings in the show, check out this page on the De Young Museum website.

The earliest painting in the exhibit is Morning on the Seine from 1896.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take a better photo of it.  At first glance, it seems just very grey, soft, and muted.  But when I really took a moment to look at it, I started to notice a tremendous depth to the foliage.  Monet used many different green and purple tones to build these shapes that appear flat from a distance, but up close have an unexpectedly rich dimensionality.  Once I got sucked into this painting, I started to notice the subtle contrast between the way that he rendered the landscape and its reflection in the water.  This is the kind of painting that you could look at for years and notice something new every day.

Morning on the Seine, Claude Monet

More than 20 of the pieces in the show were water lily paintings.  This is such an iconic Monet subject and one that is so often reproduced on merchandise that it seems like something that you think you have already seen and not necessarily special.  But seeing so many different variations on the same subject all together was fascinating.  Particularly when there were multiple paintings in a series that all portrayed the exact same vista from the exact same spot.  When was the last time that you really looked at something that you see every day?  Try it.  And then go back again a few hours later and take a moment to look again.  Think about how it now appears different from what you saw just a bit earlier.  What a wonderful reminder that everyday things we think we have already seen have something new to offer us if we can be bothered to take a moment to open ourselves up to them.

I took many notes on the differences in paintings of similar subject matter, the variations in color and texture and focus and size of various pieces.  Another subject of Monet’s that gives a very explicit example of this were the paintings of the Japanese Bridge. 

One thing that I found even more unexpected and interesting were the paintings where he really just seemed to have to get the idea on canvas as quickly as possible.  These were paintings where the canvas showed through.  There was a raw-ness and an energy to these works that really spoke to me. 

Toward the end of the exhibit was a series of Weeping Willow (1918-1919 and 1921-1922). I think there were more than the three that I photographed.  The later piece just blows my mind a little bit. This is the same guy painting the same thing that he had already painted over and over and it is so different and unexpected!  Now, this was all during the period when his vision was degenerating, but that alone does not explain the difference.

I am so glad that I had the opportunity to tag along with some of my favorite mothers on their special day.  It was a great opportunity to be reminded of how much there is to see if we just take the time to look.

Stories of the Great Ballets

I just finished perusing this book titled, Balanchine’s Complete Stories of the Great Ballets .  I won’t claim to have read it since I *may* have skipped the first 734 pages. Those pages contained an exhaustive catalogue of “great ballets” according to George Balanchine (from skimming the table of contents, it appears that some of those listed are greater than others). 

It is certainly a “great” reference tool and I will plan on keeping it handy for the next time that I’m going to see a pre-1977 ballet (this was the fifth edition).  I just can’t imagine that anyone would need/want to read that whole list.

The remaining 150 pages seemed interesting so I dug in. 

First was a chapter titled “How to Enjoy Ballet” where Mr. Balanchine explains his thoughts on how someone who is new to ballet should approach seeing a ballet performance for the first time.  What was interesting to me is how much importance he ascribed to familiarizing oneself with the music before one attends a performance.  He didn’t feel that it was necessary to have any technical knowledge of dance, just an appreciation for the skill of the dancers.

The other key piece of Mr. Balanchine’s advice for the novice balletgoer really made me smile. It was basically, “if you go to the ballet and you think you don’t like it, just keep going and eventually you will like it!”  I suppose that you could call that the “eat your vegetables” approach to ballet appreciation.  

The next chapter was “A Brief History of the Ballet,” followed by “Chronology of Significant Events in the History of Ballet.”  This was a detailed timeline beginning with Lorenzo de Medici (ballet was imported to France by Catherine de Medici as a part of courtly spectacles). I felt that I had a good grip on the timeline, dissemination, and evolution of ballet, but this had some interesting details in it that raised some questions – I have a few things to look into and will report back!

Next is a brief autobiography by Mr. Balanchine, “How I Became a Dancer and Choreographer.” 

Then, “Ballet for Your Children,” “Careers in Ballet,” and a glossary which contains some very good illustrations of positions and steps.  It was surprising to me how adamant Mr. Balanchine was that children shouldn’t begin studying ballet until they are eight years old.  It just goes to show how long I’ve been away from that world that his talk about dancers’ development was a bit shocking in its frankness.  It certainly isn’t the way that those things are talked about these days.

I love classic books, and this is certainly a great addition to my dance book collection.  If you have questions about a “great ballet,” please let me know and I can tell you what Mr. Balanchine has to say about it!

Shostakovich Trilogy

This past Saturday marked the end of our 2019 Ballet Season. Happily, the program was excellent and left us excited for 2020 (yes, we have already renewed our seats).

This program was comprised of three works choreography by Alexei Ratmansky, all to music by Dmitri Shostakovich. Shostakovich Trilogy was co-commissioned by San Francisco Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. The SF Ballet premiere was in 2014.

Alexi Ratmansky is a Russian choreographer who is currently artist in residence at American Ballet Theatre. Previously, he held the position of artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet where he is known for remounting some of the Soviet-era ballets. You can see the influence of his experience with artistic productions of that era in the deft way that he layered the pieces in Shostakovich Trilogy with nuance evocative of the time and place in which the music was created.

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) was an early-twentieth century, Russian composer. Unlike Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) and Stravinsky (1882-1971), Shostakovich spent his entire career in Stalinist Russia where he experienced constraints on his work. Despite these constraints, his music is powerful and timeless. One has to wonder what he could have accomplished if he had the artistic freedom of some of his contemporaries.

Symphony #9 has a movement vocabulary that combines classical ballet steps with traditional Russian folk-dance movements in a very elegant way. The music, composed in 1945, was commissioned by the government as a celebration of the victory of the Soviet people over the Nazis and the conclusion of WWII. This piece sort of switches back and forth from a feeling of self-conscious restraint to rah-rah proletarian propaganda, highlighting the dichotomy of Soviet society at that time.

Chamber Symphony was the most narrative piece in the program. The backdrop for this work was a series of oversized, cubist-style heads suspended in front of the back scrim. The heads shifted and different effects were created with lighting throughout the course of the piece. It created a sort-of “big brother is watching you” feeling. At one point, the music become quite bombastic and the most center-stage heads became quite prominent and menacing.

The main character in this piece represents Shostakovich. Watching it without reading the program notes first made for an interesting exercise in deciphering a story. I was left with the firm conclusion that the central character was a depressive cad.

The corps de ballet in this piece is composed of eight couples who seem to be exerting influence on the behavior of the main character. He alternates between going along with the group, acting out, and utter dejection.   There are also three female soloists who represent different women in the composer’s life. These roles were danced divinely by Sasha de Sola, Yuan Yuan Tan, and Mathilde Froustey.

Piano Concerto #1 was my favorite piece of the three. That being said, I can’t describe the dancing to you at all. I was completely mesmerized by the costumes, which were these extremely simple and effective two-tone unitards. Yes, that’s it. The front was blue, and the back red and it was visually spectacular. I guess that I could say that the dancing was interesting and dynamic because it didn’t detract from the excellent effect of the costumes.

There was an energy to the dancing on this night. We all got the impression that the dancers really enjoyed performing these works (maybe they were just happy that it was the end of the season). It was nice to see such a consistent program of interesting, contemporary work, I think this had to do with the strength of the music.

At any rate, it was a satisfying end to the season.

The Little Mermaid

San Francisco Ballet 2019 Program 7, The Little Mermaid

This weekend’s ballet adventure was a performance of The Little Mermaid.  This is not your Disney Little Mermaid.  This version, choreographed by John Neumeier, more closely resembles the original Hans Christian Andersen fable.  The ballet was created in 2005 for the Royal Danish Ballet to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Andersen’s birth, and it was first staged by the San Francisco Ballet in 2010.

The Little Mermaid is considered one of Andersen’s most autobiographical stories due to his well-documented history of unrequited love of both men and women.  Neumeier inserts an Andersen-like character in the ballet, in the form of “The Poet.” This is a very successful element of the libretto in as much as it clarifies the way in which the little mermaid and the sea witch represent different aspects of the poet’s inner emotional landscape.

The story begins with the poet aboard a ship, remembering when the object of his love, Edvard married Henriette.  A single tear falls into the ocean, serving as the catalyst to ignite the story of the little mermaid in his imagination. The poet spends most of the production on stage, sometimes mirroring, other times seeming to direct the actions of the little mermaid.

Ok, now let’s talk about the production and the dancing.

In addition to the choreography, Neumeier also created the sets and costumes both of which are innovative and interesting.  The way that irregular lines of light (think stage-width florescent light tubes flown in from above) are used to delineate the surface of the water is highly effective.  The combination of the light tubes with stage lighting changes were used to great effect to indicate location changes from onboard the ship to under the sea to on land.

The mermaid costumes are very clever.  They wear these extra-long, wide-legged, silky pants. The ends of the pants can be manipulated by other performers to create the effect of swimming, but the dancers can move around the stage and dance (carefully).  One (three) of my favorite characters were the magic shadows (or as I like to call them, the Dread Pirates Robertses).  These three guys partnered the little mermaid when she was enjoying her happy life under the sea.  One would lift her and the other two would each manipulate one of the long legs of her flowy pants, it was a fantastic effect.  Later, they became the sea witch’s henchmen.  They wore black, billowy pants, long-sleeved black shirts, eye masks and black head scarves the whole time, so no matter what their function was, they were the Dread Pirates Robertses to me.

The dancing was very good.  Again, this is a ballet with characters (even the background dancers were characters) which suits San Francisco Ballet’s strengths.  A couple of crowd scenes on the ship made me think of Sweet Charity.  There was an eclectic assortment of characters and everyone had their own little schtick/movement vocabulary.  I’m a huge fan of Fosse’s work, so those moments were delightful to me.

Yuan Yuan Tan, our favorite, favorite ballerina was the little mermaid.  This role calls for tremendous emotional expression more than virtuosic dancing and she was very effective.  She was not just acting with her facial expressions, her hyper-flexible back and lithe figure helped to convey the difference between her happy, carefree life under the sea and her painful (physically and emotionally) life on land.

This was a psychologically deep ballet.  All of the elements of the production worked together to tell a complex and nuanced story and I really enjoyed the performance.

One Inch of Art for a Week

In October, my neighbor and I went on an open studio tour in our neighborhood.  At one studio, the nice woman gave us both a handful of 1” squares and encouraged us to try to find the time to make 1” of art.  Miraculously (or maybe she knew exactly how many squares she was handing us) I wound up with seven squares.  I resolved to set aside a time to make one inch of art for a week, as a tribute to my artist friend, MaryBeth Leonard.

A few years ago, MaryBeth created a project for herself she called “A Drawing a Day for a Year.”  She catalogued all of her drawings on a blog and even wrote great descriptions and stories about each drawing.

Those little squares sat in a pile on my hutch for five-ish months. I looked at them every day.  Eventually, they began to turn into clutter, and I decided that it was time to act.

The first thing that I did was set out all of the squares on a sheet of paper and tape them down.  There were all sorts of fun colors and deciding on an order and a pattern gave the project a defined scope that made me comfortable.

Next, I decided to choose one medium for all of it.  Instead of colored pencils or markers or crayons, I decided to use my collection of teeny nail polishes.  Sort-of weird, but also sort-of artsy.  I like the dimension that you can create with nail polish, I had a bunch of different colors, and it would be a challenging medium.  I would use the bottle brushes and a toothpick to apply the paint.

Another interesting component of using nail polish was the patience factor.  I learned this lesson the hard way when I tried to add different colors without letting the first step dry. Once I figured that bit out, it was a nice part of the process to step away from the work for a few minutes at a time.

I left the whole project sitting out on the dining table all week so that I wouldn’t forget.  I liked not having to set up my art supplies to get to work on my project, but I don’t like having stuff just sitting out all the time.  Obviously, this is why serious artists have studios.

Here are the results of my inch of art experiment.  Maybe I’ll stick with writing.

Wendy Whelan, Associate Artistic Director, NYCB

Something happened recently that I think is very exciting – Wendy Whelan was hired as associate artistic director of New York City Ballet (NYCB). Together with Artistic Director Jonathan Stafford, she will be helming the country’s largest ballet company as it emerges from years of scandal following #METOO allegations of misconduct by former AD Peter Martins as well as several male dancers.

You might be saying, “yes, but she is only the associate artistic director, big whoop,” or asking, as the New York Times did, “if the AD job is too big for one person, why not make Whelan and Stafford co-artistic directors?” Fair enough.

Research shows that women are often appointed to C-level roles at organizations in crisis. But not because women are deemed the most qualified to turn things around. The underlying attitude with these appointments seems to be, “well things are already a mess.” It has also been demonstrated that women are judged more critically than their male counterparts for their performance and given less credit for creating positive outcomes.

I think that what NYCB is doing here is a really interesting way to avoid this paradigm. The position that they created for Whelan has clearly defined responsibilities focused around her sweet spot – programming and dancer development.  They are elevating her to a leadership role in which she is likely to be successful, not just to serve as a female figurehead or sacrificial lamb.

Wendy Whelan’s Career

Whelan is one of my all-time favorite ballerinas. Seeing her perform Agon when I was in college was such a formative moment – the way that she attacked the movement, the way that you could see the power radiating from her. From then on, I strove to infuse my dancing with that kind of fearlessness and energy.

As an artist, she was fierce and precisely technical. Her lines were always correct, and she owned the stage. I saw her and Craig Hall perform After the Rain by Christopher Wheeldon at USC on March 24, 2011. I had seen this piece before in San Francisco, with Yuan Yuan Tan performing, and had a very vivid memory of the work. For a few minutes, I thought I may have been mistaken, it looked like a different piece. It was Whelan’s clean lines and exacting positions. I was blown away!

She retired from NYCB in 2014 after a 30-year career. I watched the snippets of her farewell concert on the internet, disappointed that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to see her dance in person again. Fortunately for me, retirement was the beginning of her career as a modern dancer, and I was able to see her in 2015 and 2017 here in Southern California.

New York City Ballet Leadership

New York City Ballet has a long and storied history. Founded in 1948 by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein, Balanchine served as artistic director (and force of nature) until his death in 1983. Jerome Robbins, who had been assistant artistic director since 1948 and Peter Martins then assumed the roles of co-ballet masters in chief. When Robbins retired in 1990, Martins was solely in charge of the company until 2009, when NYBC created an executive director position to oversee the administrative functions of the company. Martins continued to run the company from an artistic perspective until 2018.

I see Whelan’s appointment as the board’s way of signaling an earnest endeavor to change the culture. Beyond her esteemed 30-year career as a ballerina, she has pursued innovative artistic paths and actively worked to cultivate young talent. I am optimistic that the organization will give her the resources and support required and that she will have a significant and lasting impact on the dance cannon beyond her career as a performer.

Merce Cunningham, Part II

I recently made a trek to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) with a couple of friends for a day of culture and artistic inspiration.  My ulterior motive for our little excursion was to see a special video installation of Merce Cunningham’s work.  The exhibit is called Merce Cunningham, Clouds and Screens and is on display through March 31, 2019.

Last week’s post focused on Merce Cunningham’s background and artistic legacy.  Today I will tell you about the exhibit at LACMA.

Merce Cunningham, Clouds and Screens consisted of two installations and two video projections.  It was housed on the first floor of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum building at LACMA.

In the foyer was a work called Silver Clouds by Andy Warhol and Billy Klüver .  The label explained that the silver mylar “pillows” were originally a work exhibited by Andy Warhol in 1966.  Cunningham approached Warhol about adapting the work as the scenic elements of his dance, Rainforest (1968).  It was a fun, interactive way to begin to experience the exhibit.

Next, we spent a few minutes watching a piece called Changeling (1957) that was being projected in an adjacent gallery.  It was a great illustration of the way that Cunningham would use random chance to create movements.  The way that movements of the head, torso, arms, and legs were combined randomly created very complex and unnatural feeling movements.

After watching Changeling briefly, we were ready to enter the main exhibit, Charles Atlas’s installation, MC⁹ (2012).  Well, as ready as we were going to be.  It was a fantastic sensory immersion.  There was so much to look at.  It took a while to realize that there wasn’t any specific order or right way to experience it.  One great aspect of the installation was that if there was something that you missed or wanted to spend more time watching, it would likely be coming up on another screen in the gallery sometime soon.

The installation consisted of a black box room with nine 8’x12’ double-sided projection screens (get it, nine screens, wink, wink) at various heights and on various angles throughout the space.  Interspersed among the projection screens were a number of smallish (36” to 48”) monitors.  The screens and monitors showed seemingly random clips of various Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC) performances and Cunningham himself performing.  A clip may be on one or both sides of one of the large screens, on a small monitor next to it, and on another screen on the other side of the exhibit simultaneously.  One of the gallery attendants who I spoke to said that the entire piece is a loop that runs for more than an hour.

We spent nearly an hour walking around the space, experiencing the exhibit from different perspectives.  Eventually, I let go of my obsessive desire to try to determine some sort of pattern in the way that the clips were shown on various screens at certain times.  I’m not convinced that it was completely random, but whatever pattern existed was complicated enough that it would have taken more time than I was willing to devote to deciphering it.  It was enough to step back and just let the experience happen.

In general, I find the concept of random chance in the creation of artwork fascinating.  It is one of those things that does not discard technique and virtuosity.  Randomness does not mean that the elements are not carefully considered and created.  In some ways, I would think that the component elements of a work would need to be more precisely crafted.  Cunningham was certainly a pioneer in applying this methodology to creating dance.  The only contemporary choreographer who I am aware of who is currently working in a similar milieu is Bill T. Jones.  I hope that there are others.

Merce Cunningham

I recently made a trek to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) with a couple of friends for a day of culture and artistic inspiration.  My ulterior motive for our little excursion was to see a special video installation of Merce Cunningham’s work.  The exhibit is called Merce Cunningham, Clouds and Screens and is on display through March 31, 2019.

I find Merce Cunningham fascinating, so this will be a two-part post.  Today will be some background about him and next week’s post will be about the exhibit.

Merce Cunningham (1919-2009) was a mid-20th century, American, modern dance pioneer. 

Growing up, Cunningham studied tap dancing.  This medium emphasizes precise musical timing and rhythm, which would become foundations of his technique.  His first professional dance experience was with the Martha Graham company.  He danced with Graham for six years (1939-1945) before leaving to establish his own dance company, Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC).

A prolific creator, over the course of his 60+ year career, Cunningham created 190-200 dances and 700-800 events.  A Cunningham dance is a stand-alone piece of choreography, which could be recreated.  By contrast, an event is defined as a site/time specific performance.  Mindful of his artistic legacy, he established the Merce Cunningham Trust in 2000 to hold and administer the rights to his works after his death.

His work is known for innovative use of collaboration, chance, perspective, and technology.


Cunningham’s most enduring collaboration was with his partner, composer John Cage.  The two presented their first collaborative performance in 1944 and continued to work together until Cage’s death in 1992.  As collaborators, they provocatively asserted that dance and music should not intentionally be coordinated.  This is a radical departure from dance convention.

Cunningham’s collaborations with visual artists included Robert Rauchenberg (MCDC resident designer 1954-1964), Jasper Johns (MCDC artistic advisor 1967-1980), Rei Kawakubo, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and filmmaker Charles Atlas.


To me this is the most fascinating and innovative facet of Cunningham’s work.  Cunningham and Cage became interested in the concept of chance in the 1950’s when a translation of the ancient Chinese text, I Ching was published in the U.S.  They began using stochastic operation (random chance) to determine musical composition and dance movements. 

Stochastic operation was employed by Cunningham in a number of different ways.  It could be used to create steps, to determine the sequence of steps, and/or even the number/composition of performers.

In order to create steps, Cunningham divided the body into parts – head, arms, torso, legs.  He would generate lists of all possible movements for each part, then use random chance to determine the movement of each part in order to create a step.  This created choreography that was often exceedingly difficult to execute.

Often sequences and dancers would not be determined until just before the performance.  Further, this was all done without regard to the music, which would be determined by its own chance procedure. 

As someone who likes to plan and prepare, this concept is mind-boggling and maybe slightly terrifying.  However, as someone who has had the opportunity to experience performances structured by this method, I find it an amazing opportunity to create great art.


Cunningham discarded the conventions of proscenium orientation.  Work could occur on any part of the stage, oriented in any direction (not necessarily front) at any point.


The most long-reaching facet of Cunningham’s work may be his pioneering use of technology in dance – video in the 1970s and computers beginning in the 1980s.  I believe that one key reason that he was able to so successfully translate his work to the video medium is his abandonment of proscenium perspective.  Dance that is oriented to and filmed from an exclusively front-facing perspective tends to lack dimension to the viewer.  By abandoning this convention, he enabled the camera and by proxy, the viewer, to become a part of the movement.

He was an early adopted of a computer program, DanceForms which enabled him to create choreography via computer that would later be translated onto living dancers.

Cunningham viewed randomness as a positive, naturally occurring quality.  I find his dedication to the concept of chance both contradictory and inspiring.  He very consciously committed to developing and cultivating a level of virtuosity that would allow his dancers to execute movement that however randomly generated had begun as a very specific and defined idea.  In his work the movement stands alone, it does not represent a narrative or ideas such as emotions.  He was very self-consciously trying to avoid imposing his own biases upon his work. 

Next week, part II of this post will talk about the exhibit, Merce Cunningham, Clouds and Screens.

Don Quixote

San Francisco Ballet, Program 1: Don Quixote

It’s Ballet Season 2019!  Time to dust off something cute to wear and wing up to San Francisco for a fun night out with mom and sister.  This is our 14th year of having season tickets to the San Francisco Ballet, which seems substantial until you learn that Robbie and Gail who sit in front of us have had their season tickets for over 40 years!  Apparently, it’s the kind of tradition with staying power.

San Francisco Ballet opened their 2019 season with Don Quixote, the rom-com of the classical ballet cannon.  It is silly and corny, and it knows that it’s camp.  At the same time, the Spanish flavor lends a bit of flair to the performances.  It’s like Diana Vreeland would say, “a little bad taste is like a nice splash of paprika.”

Don Quixote premiered in 1869 with music by Ludwig Minkus and choreography by Marius Petipa.  Modern productions retain the Minkus score; however, the choreography is derived from Alexander Gorsky’s 1900 update of Petipa’s original.  The San Francisco Ballet version, staged by Helgi Tomasson and Yuri Possokhov, premiered in 2003.

The libretto is based on two chapters from Cervantes.  The story begins with Don Quixote dreaming of his beloved Dulcenea and resolving to go on a quest to find her.  From there the story transitions to a town where the inn-keeper’s daughter, Kitri, is rendezvousing with her beloved Basilo, the town barber.  Conflict arises because Kitri’s father wants to betroth her to a rich nobleman.  Soon Don Quixote and Sancho Panza arrive in town to exacerbate the shenanigans.  After much hijinks, including a gypsy camp, tilting at windmills, and hallucinatory driads, Kitri and Basilo are allowed to wed and there is much rejoicing.  Let’s just say that the plot of a romantic ballet is only there to give the illusion of a structure for a bunch of dancing.

The performance that we saw featured Sasha de Sola as Kitri and Aaron Robison as Basilo.  Sasha has been with San Francisco Ballet since 2007 and was promoted to principal dancer in 2017.  I don’t think that we had seen her in the lead of an evening-length story ballet before and I was very pleased with her performance.  She is a stunning, petite blonde with big blue eyes and a radiant smile.  Sasha studied at the Kirov Academy, formerly the Russian Imperial Academy, and her Russian training is evident in her precise technique.  Her Kitri was athletic and joyful.  She wasn’t as sassy as some Kitris, but she didn’t need to be, it wouldn’t have suited her.

There is a ballet term, “ballon” which refers to the illusion that a leaping dancer floats through the air momentarily.  In general, I don’t find San Francisco Ballet dancers possess much ballon; they tend to telegraph the effort of take-off and you hear every ounce of them land. 

The role of Basilo is known for its many virtuosic leaps which Mikhail Baryshnikov immortalized with his ability to appear to actually fly. Aaron also executed these leaps in a powerful-yet-effortless manner and landed every one of them silently.  He managed to be elegantly graceful and cool at the same time, even during the more comic scenes. Aaron first performed with San Francisco Ballet during the 2016 season and returned in 2018.  I hope that he is here to stay.

Now, I can’t neglect to tell you about the real star of the show, Oreo the pony.  Oreo played the part of Sancho Panza’s donkey, Dapple.  The horse who played Don Quixote’s Rocinante was an elegant white gelding.  But Oreo is this adorable, dark-brown, fuzzy pony with a huge, unruly blonde forelock, mane, and tail.  Yes, there is a horse and a donkey in this ballet, why wouldn’t there be?  How would the Don and Sancho make their dramatic entrance without them?

Ballet Season 2019 is off to an auspicious start.  More to come!

Pointe Shoes

After my World Ballet Day post, one of my dedicated subscribers mentioned that she thought that the video of the ballerina prepping her pointe shoe video was very interesting and wanted to learn more. So today, I will attempt to briefly explain pointe shoes.

A ballet slipper is a soft shoe worn by all ballet dancers.  This type of shoe has a flexible, soft sole and is secured to the foot with one or more elastic straps.  Ballet slippers can be made of leather, canvas, or satin and are usually a flesh-colored pink (ballet pink) or black.

A pointe shoe is generally only worn by grown ballerinas.   It is the same sort of shape as a ballet slipper with small but significant differences.  First is a rigid toe box that is flat on the end.  This is the “point” that the ballerina dances on. The box is made from layers of paper and/or fabric that are stiffened with glue.  The shank of a pointe shoe functions to stiffen the sole and provides support to the arch of the foot when on pointe.  The shank can be made from layers of burlap, cardstock, or leather that is again hardened with glue.  A pointe shoe is secured to the foot with satin ribbons. 

One important part of both ballet slippers and pointe shoes is the vamp.  Both types of shoes will have a vamp that is high enough to cover the metatarsal phalangeal joints (where your toes meet your foot).  This provides important support to those joints which is particularly important for dancing on pointe.

The shape of the toe box and the hardness of the box and the shank vary among brands and models of pointe shoes.  One brand, Freed, has each shoe marked by the shoemaker as there can be variations that certain dancers prefer.  I never wore Freeds, but on more than one occasion I did witness a gal trying to find two shoes in her size from her preferred maker at the dancewear store (it was a big deal).

During my years of dancing on pointe, the brand and style of shoe I preferred evolved.  I began with the Capezio Contempora, which has a tapered toe box with a long, V-shaped vamp and a firm shank.  I have a very high arch, so the long vamp and the firm shank supported my foot well. 

Eventually, I switched to the Chacott Coppelia II, which were made in Spain.  I can’t remember why that was such a big deal, but I do remember that it mattered.  The Coppelia II was similar to the Contempora, but the big difference that made me switch was that it had a flatter toe box.  This meant that my toes were more constricted in the shoe which meant less rubbing (that is a good thing).

My last pointe shoes were Chacott Veronese, which are made in Japan.  The Veronese are more lightweight; they have a shorter, more square-shaped toe box with a firm shank.  By that point in my life as a dancer, my feet were very strong, but I was starting to feel the years of wear-and-tear.  The lighter box took a lot of pressure off of my metatarsal phalange joints, particularly on my big and pinky toes.

Anabel thinks pointe shoes are interesting too.

And that is a brief discourse on pointe shoes.  Let me know if you would like me to do another post in the future to talk about how ballerinas prepare their pointe shoes.

By the way, get excited – Ballet Season is almost here!