Matt Alber at Hotel Utah

On Friday night Thom and I went to see Matt Alber sing at the Hotel Utah. He looked and sounded great. We fell in love with his music back when his video for “End of the World” came out, with its unabashedly gay romance. (In 2009 when Thom and I had our wedding, we put his song “Walk with Me” on the CD favors.)

Matt Alber

He sang a bunch of songs from his CD Hide Nothing, including “Monarch,” “Field-trip Buddy,” “Walk with Me,” and “Rivers and Tides,” as well as other songs, both his own, like “The River,” and others’, like “Take a Bow” and a slow, soulful “Walking on Sunshine.” The Hotel Utah is a very small venue, and so it was packed and “sweaty” (his words) in there, but it was nice to see him in such an intimate space and hear him sing with just guitar or piano. He says he’s coming back to San Francisco this fall (Cafe du Nord next time), with a new CD, so I’m looking forward to seeing him again. Do check him out for heartfelt music and a voice you just want to curl up in.

Here’s the video for “End of the World,” which he sang and dedicated to his father for all his help and support:

Update: Matt Alber’s show at Joe’s Pub in New York on Monday, June 6 was webcast live and the video is now available online:

Dance diary: End of Workshop 1

Class notes

Last Saturday (May 28) was the last class in the four-week “absolute beginner” ballet workshop I’ve been taking. New stuff:

  • cambré
  • fondu
  • balancé: we actually started balancé in the previous class, but this time added the arms, changing from side to side
  • across the floor: polka steps (step, step, step, hop; most of my background is in jazz dance, but there’s a lot of crossover… I wanted to be all, “Oh, so chassé, hop?”)

As I mentioned last week, my teacher is on a ballet-related trip to Saint Petersburg, Russia, so I have a couple of weeks coming up without a regular class. She suggested a particular intro class, which I plan to drop in on tomorrow and the following Sunday. Then on June 19 she returns to lead the the next phase of her ballet workshop. I’d gone online yesterday to register for it and was disappointed to see it was already full. So I called the dance center, and apparently they’d gotten similar inquiries about it; they got back to me and said they would let a few additional people register, so I’m in. Yay!

Dance around town

San Francisco Ballet: I renewed our subscription for the 2012 season. I’m especially looking forward to Onegin and Don Quixote, as well as Chroma, which we didn’t see last season. We’ve been doing a partial-season subscription (five of eight programs) for the last few years; we’re doing the same for next season but we decided to forgo the LGBT Nite Out receptions. I appreciate them, but for us it just wasn’t worth the added expense for all three receptions as a package. We’ll maybe go to one à la carte, if friends are going.

Royal Danish Ballet: The RDB is currently on a U.S. tour and we saw them last week in Berkeley performing The Lesson and La Sylphide. They’re also performing a more modern program on other nights, but after reading about August Bournonville and the RDB origins of La Sylphide, I definitely wanted to see it, one of their signature works. They did not disappoint. Both pieces were lovely and entertaining, and I wish I could’ve come back to see their other program as well. During the Sylphide Act I reel, I leaned over to Thom and asked, “So when are we having our Scottish Highland-theme wedding party?”

La Sylphide

Men in tights? No, men in kilts! (Photo:

Pie project: Pastel na manok

Over the last several months I’ve been baking pies at the rate of one pie a month, and the other day I got in just under the wire for May. To mix things up I switched gears from dessert pies and at my mother’s suggestion decided to make pastel na manok, or Filipino chicken pot pie. I used a recipe from a cookbook I received as a gift a few Christmases ago, The Filipino-American Kitchen: Traditional Recipes, Contemporary Flavors by Jennifer M. Aranas.

Some of the ingredients, shiitake mushrooms, ginger, and leek:

Pastel ingredients

The recipe calls for chorizo de bilbao, which I couldn’t find at the supermarket (granted I didn’t look very hard; I could have gone to one of the many ethnic food markets around us), so I substituted Mexican-style chorizo and pre-cooked it before adding it to the rest of the ingredients. It all turned out pretty well, and the pie definitely had the gingery, pepper-y flavors I recall.

If I make this again, though, I think I will make my own regular pie crust — ooh, I feel all culinary as I say that — as I’ve done for the other pies. This recipe recommends using store-bought puff pastry for convenience, and though it tasted fine, I guess I’m not used to working with it. I didn’t roll out the sheet large enough, so it sunk down the sides. (That’s when you just call it “rustic.”) No pictures of the final product, since I give it for dance, 10. For looks, 3. Trust me, the picture from the cookbook is much more appetizing:

Pastel na manok

In any case I can even see making just the filling as a stew like caldereta and serving it over rice or with potatoes.

So it’s already June and time to start thinking of this month’s pie! Any suggestions?

‘I’m the same… You just know me better now.’

Happy LGBT Pride Month! I just wanted to post one of my favorite coming-out stories, Michael’s “Letter to Mama” from Armistead Maupin‘s More Tales of the City. By the way we saw the new Tales of the City musical at A.C.T. last week and it was fantastic. We lucked out with friends’ extra tickets, so we will end up seeing it again next week with our original tickets. Definitely go see it if you can! It’s playing at A.C.T. on Geary in San Francisco through July 10. [Update: It has been extended through July 31.]

Tales of the City

By the way, the Tales of the City TV miniseries, which aired on PBS in 1994, is now available for streaming on Hulu.

The letter comes later in the original stories, but I’m so glad they worked it into the musical. I always get a little misty-eyed when I read it, so you can imagine I was full-on crying when it was sung on stage. Enjoy, and Happy Pride.

Continue reading “‘I’m the same… You just know me better now.’”

Dance diary: Sous-sus(sudio)

I just like saying that. (Though Thom would roll his eyes at me for making any kind of Phil Collins reference, ha.) Anyway, just a quick post this time to go over last Saturday’s class.

Class notes

New steps:

  • battement soutenu
  • sous-sus
  • petit battement

Actually we had started doing battement soutenu and sous-sus at the very end of the previous class, but we only just put together the names to those steps in this class. All seems to be going well so far. Along with a few corrections I also got “good job!” a few times from our teacher, so that’s encouraging.

Every now and then I wish the pace would pick up, but then I realize how demanding ballet technique is, even for simple steps, especially for someone like me who hasn’t danced regularly in a long time. So, slow and sure is good for now. That said, I do feel myself becoming a bit more flexible, which is another bit of encouragement. Also, as if ballet steps weren’t already creeping into my everyday life, we did enough port de bras last class that now when I reach for anything, even a pen at my desk, I’m all, round the arm, relax the hand…

By the way here’s a video on arm positions from the Royal Ballet glossary (though the thumbnail image was unfortunately captured between positions; that’s not actually fifth):

This coming Saturday is the last class of this workshop, which is only four weeks because our teacher is going on a trip to Russia. I had wondered what to do with myself dancewise before she returns to lead the next phase of the workshop, and she recommended a class for us to drop into in the interim. Good stuff.

Dance diary: Papa got a new pair of shoes

Shoe business

If I’m going to dance again, I need new shoes, right? A few weeks ago I bought a couple of pairs of ballet shoes: black Capezio split soles, one pair in leather and another in canvas. I love how Capezio’s main men’s ballet shoe is called Romeo. It’s all very “I’ll be doing pas de deux in no time!”

My previous shoes, which are several years old from a ballet class I took in college, have full soles and are kind of beginner-y. So with my new split-sole shoes, I feel like I’ve “graduated.” In any case, they conform to your arches and show off your feet better. Here you can see the difference between my old shoes (leather full sole) and new shoes (canvas split sole):

Ballet shoes

Side note while we’re talking about shoe photos: For my Stanford application (lo, those many years ago), the main essay prompt was to take a picture of something important to you and write about it. The subject I chose was my jazz shoes. I guess quirky does indeed help.

OK, curious Tiki kind of photobombed this one:

Ballet cat

I sewed the elastics on the canvas pair–not rocket science, but I was proud, since I sew so infrequently–and wore them for class the next day. I definitely like the look and feel. Pretty feet! I mean, strong, manly feet!

Another wardrobe change: I haven’t quite made the leap to tights, though I did buy a suitable pair of thin Adidas pants apparently meant for soccer, but they work well for class.

Class notes

This was the second meeting of my beginner ballet workshop, and most of it went over the previous class’s steps, plus a few additional things:

  • toe and pointing exercises
  • rond de jambe à terre
  • more work from 3rd position
  • across the floor: turning waltz steps, basically like ballroom turns
  • more step combinations, like one that starts with plié, tendu side (still in plié), straighten/close, then repeats with the final step changing to relevé, then again changing to jump/changement

Stuff I need to work on:

  • arms: rounding arms more in 1st and 2nd position, hands closer to chest in 1st
  • turnout: though like flexibility, this is more of a long-term goal of course

And with that, the four-week workshop is already half over! I definitely want to sign up for the next phase, which is thankfully more substantial at eight weeks long.

Dance around town

Last week I went to see Smuin Ballet‘s spring program, a mixed bill of three pieces: Momentum by Choo San Goh, set to Prokofiev; Mozart Requiem, a world premiere by Amy Seiwert; and To The Beatles by Michael Smuin. I think my favorite piece has to be the Requiem. It was totally mesmerizing. (Though I have to admit a kind of soft spot for Mozart’s Requiem; Thom and I once sang it at a choral society sing-along at National Cathedral, and it kind of kicked my ass so I give it respect.) I especially liked how the choral movements with the four vocal soloists corresponded to four dancers in the choreography. Here’s a Facebook album I found with some great shots of the piece by photographer Keith Sutter.

The next performance to see on my calendar is the Royal Danish Ballet, which is going on a four-city U.S. tour and will perform in a couple of weeks at Cal Performances in Berkeley.

Dance diary: Your fingers are alive

So the first class of my absolute beginner ballet workshop was fun! Very basic but still fun.

LINES Dance Center is in an old-school building in the Civic Center area of San Francisco. It’s on the edge of mid-Market sketchville, but conveniently just one block away from a BART entrance. I got there about half an hour before class and had time to change. There isn’t a specific dress code, other than general suggestions about ballet shoes and close-fitting clothing, so I wore a T-shirt, shorts, and a pair of old shoes that I had from a ballet class back in college. I do have two new pairs of shoes that I bought recently, but I figured I would wear the familiar old shoes for the first class. (Also, I’m probably just procrastinating on sewing the elastics on the new shoes.)

The previous class in our assigned studio was running long, so a bunch of us waited on the benches outside. It was neat to hear both hip-hop and classical piano coming from opposite ends of the hall. I met the teacher and we chatted a little about my jazz experience; she mentioned how ballet is much more structured and rigid than jazz, and I was like, I know! Bring it on!

Class notes

The studio was large and bright with mirrors along one wall. We all kind of lumbered in together, but if I had a moment alone, I would be trying hard not to run around singing “The Music and the Mirror” (maybe mashed up with “As If We Never Said Goodbye”). Our class has about sixteen people, all women plus me and one other guy. (Yay, not the only one.) We ran through a typical class: barre then center. Here are the steps and positions we went through in varying degrees:

  • warm-up: stretches at the barre
  • plié, relevé, tendu, degagé (and with piqué), cou de pied, frappé
  • jumps: échappé, changement
  • feet positions: 1st, 2nd, 3rd
  • arm positions: preparatory, 1st, 2nd, 5th
  • across the floor: walks in 3/4 time
  • révérence

I like our teacher. She’s very friendly and attuned to beginners. While explaining the port de bras, she talked about maintaining energy in our arms all the way to our fingertips. “Your fingers are alive!” she said. Love that. I’m going to remember that every time I extend my arms. My fingers are alive. Alive!

By the way, a couple of good resources about ballet technique: the American Ballet Theatre online ballet dictionary, which has concise definitions and videos; and Gretchen Ward Warren’s book Classical Ballet Technique, a large, comprehensive volume with tons of photos. The latter was published in 1989 so it feels kind of dated (especially since there are references throughout to “Soviet” this and that), but it’s a great reference book.

It’s going to seem like forever until the next class. I’ll continue to work out during the week as I usually do but maybe balleticize my exercises a bit. Squat jump? Pimp it out with some arms and turnout and pointed feet, and boom, plié and échappé, baby!

» Previously in the Dance Diary: Prologue.

Dance around town

Our subscription to San Francisco Ballet may have ended (and it’s already time to think about renewing for next season), but I needn’t worry about a lack of dance since there is a trickle of want-to-see performances on my calendar. I’ll try to add some occasional performance news and reviews to my dance diary entries.

Sometime this week (I still need to get tickets!) I plan to see Smuin Ballet‘s spring program, a mixed bill of three pieces: Momentum by Choo San Goh, set to Prokofiev; Mozart Requiem, a world premiere by Amy Seiwert; and To The Beatles by Michael Smuin. It runs through May 15 in San Francisco and later this month in Walnut Creek and San Mateo. Half-price tickets are available on Goldstar.

Dance diary: Prologue

Long story short: Tomorrow, after a hiatus of several years, I finally return to dance. I start ballet.

Long story:

First steps

Apparently I have loved to dance as long as I can remember. But it wasn’t until high school that I sort of fell into it seriously. The school was starting a dance program my freshman year, and at auditions for the play, they also had everyone try out for a dance workshop (jazz/musical theater styles), which would meet weekly and perform at the school fashion show and put together a dance concert. I didn’t make it into the play, but I did get into the dance workshop. Honestly I was bewildered at first, but little did I know that dance would turn out to be the one of the most enjoyable activities of my life.

Cue that Billy Elliot song about how dancing makes you feel: “Electricity.”

Throughout high school my weekends and evenings were often spent in the theater: dancing for the workshop or singing in the chorus or all that plus acting in musicals. I loved it. In college I kept up with doing musicals, but for one reason or another I did less and less dance. I did occasional ballroom dancing, and took one jazz class and one ballet class, but that was about it. After college I meant to keep taking class or performing, but you know how it is. Years go by, and you think, oh someday. Eventually.

‘Eventually’ is now

I’d been vaguely keeping my eyes open for dance classes I might eventually take, and a couple of months ago I saw that LINES Dance Center in San Francisco had an “absolute beginner” ballet workshop. Well, I’ve always loved ballet, and even though I have a teeny, tiny bit of experience, “absolute beginner” was just the kind of gentle re-introduction I was interested in. So I signed up. And it starts tomorrow. Excitement!

The workshop meets weekly for only four weeks, but that’s just the first phase, and at that point I can figure out whether to continue (most likely) with the longer next phase and/or if I want to add a drop-in class during the week.

Here is a video about LINES Dance Center, the diverse adult dance school affiliated with Alonzo King LINES Ballet, on the occasion of their twentieth anniversary a couple years ago:

When I decided to do this, I threw myself into everything ballet. For example I’ve been reading ballet blogs, and it’s great to find several written by and/or for adult beginners. I’m very tempted to spin this adventure off into a new, separate dance blog, but we’ll give it time and see.

OK, that’s enough prologue. And now we dance!