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Weekend Roundup: Pinball, Zinzanni, Terminal 2

April 11, 2011

Explored three very different aspects of the local cultural scene this weekend -- all of them a refreshing contrast to Lemi Ponifasio's dark and dirge-like "Tempest: Without a Body" which nearly caused me to slit my wrists last Thursday.

1. Pinball in Contemporary Art exhibition at the Pacific Pinball Museum: I'd been meaning to get to the Pacific Pinball Museum for ages. The fact that it's located on the non-public-transport-friendly island of Alameda meant that it took me a while to organize an outing. I'm very glad I made it over there. The museum features an eye-popping, ear-jangling collection of pinball machines dating back to precursors of the contraptions from the late 19th century all the way to the 1990s. Many of the machines are extremely beautiful, especially those designed in the 50s, which are made of lovely old wood. Of the newer machines (which are generally louder and more garish in appearance) I liked the "Fun House" machine best for its innovative use of ramps and a scary-looking clown's head with a mouth that gapes open and shut as you play. On Friday, the museum was having an opening night party for its new exhibition about the influence of pinball on famous artists. The museum had printed copies of works on display by Bruce Conner, Joseph Cornell, Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha, Wayne Thiebaud, and William Wiley among others. The candy-colored, pop art-infused works imbued pinball, a form of entertainment which I know very little about, with a new significance. It would have been lovely if the Pinball Museum could have collaborated with a larger art institution like SFMOMA on this show in order to have original works represented rather than copies. But in any case the exhibition still succeeded, albeit in a modest way, in drawing a link between pinball and fine art.

2. Teatro Zinzanni's Too Caliente To Handle: The first and only experience I'd had of Teatro Zinzanni, San Francisco's high-end dinner-theatre experience was not altogether positive. Many of the circus acts seemed hackneyed and the food wasn't much to write home about. I went along on Saturday night for two main reasons: 1) to see what was going on in the wake of the announcement that the company's beautiful mirrored Spiegeltent performance space might have to move from its prime location on the waterfront to some other probably less desirable spot, and 2) to check out what Ricardo Salinas, a member of the satirical, high-energy Culture Clash theatre company, and the director of Zinzanni's latest show, would do with the concept of dinner theatre. I came away on a high. The latino theme infused many aspects of the evening, from chanteuse Rebekah Del Rio's heartfelt spanish-language rendering of Roy Orbison's "Crying", to the zapatista slant of the topical political comedy (in which the kitchen workers, in a nod to the company's fears of displacement, stand up to their corporate bosses and insight a grassroots theatrical revolution), to Beaver Bauer's amazing costume designs which playfully combined the Victorian fairground chic that is integral to the whole Zinzanni esthetic with the bullet belts and sombreros of Mexican revolutionaries. The food, which also had a latino flavor, was also more delicious than I had remembered it to be from my last visit.

3. SFO Terminal 2 Open Day: I spent a chunk of Saturday singing with my vocal ensemble, the International Orange Chorale, at San Francisco Airport's newly-opened Terminal 2 as part of its public open day. The airport staff did an amazing job of inviting a very diverse group of artists. There were musical and dance ensembles of all kinds and as the day went on, the place became increasingly packed. As far as the experience of singing away from conventional venues goes, it wasn't the most satisfying of musical experiences. The acoustics were lousy and audiences mostly walked past rather than stopped to listen. But a few people stopped by and seemed to appreciate the music. And it's always fun to get away from singing in churches for a change. Plus, the experience allowed us to be more experimental than usual. We sight-read through a bunch of stuff and even attempted a little bit of performance art at one point by singing a song as we traversed a long corridor on a conveyor belt. The men in the group traveled one way down the belt and the women traveled the other way so that we met in the middle. It wasn't entirely successful musically, but the experiment was a lot of fun.

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