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Weekend Roundup: Pig Pong in the Mission, Mark Morris and a new film about Fado

September 19, 2011

A few thoughts about the weekend past, and two recommendations for the one that's just around the corner...

1) Mark Morris' Dido and Aeneas at Cal Performances: The famed American choreographer made his Bay Area conducting debut over the weekend, leading the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, a cast of superlative soloists including Stephanie Blythe and dancers from his company, in performances of his 1989 dance version of Purcell's opera. No complaints about the musical side of things. Morris has a great sense for tempos and the combination of lightness and gravity that Purcell's music requires. It was also a tremendous treat to hear Blythe singing Dido and the Sorceress. I only wish that I could have SEEN her sing the roles. Like all the musicians, she was stuck in the pit and didn't even emerge for a curtain call. (I hear that the views from the nosebleeds were much better -- a friend sitting up there said she could see all the singers and instrumentalists quite well, albeit with the aid of binoculars.) I also had difficulty, as I often do, with Morris' taste for high camp in the choreography. There's only so much arm flapping and hip swaggering and shoulder shaking one can take in an hour. And the choreographer's habit of using actions to "mime" particular words (eg snapping arms together to illustrate a reference to a crocodile, clutching one's midriff and cupping one's hand to one's ear for "breast" and "listen / hear" etc) is also tedious after a while. I'm all for irreverence and playfulness, but Morris' take on Purcell's Opera seems to be entirely encased in speech marks.

2) Pig Pong at Stamen: A reception at Stamen, a trendy design firm in San Francisco's Mission District on Friday night, held several delights. On the more serious side is the company's fascination for creating unusual ways of mapping the world, such as through its collaborations with National Geographic. On the more fun side, I found out about and played "Pig Pong" for the first time. The game involves a ping-pong table with a net, a "ball" made of very light paper and two miniature rubber pigs in place of ping pong bats. The players squeeze the pigs, which emit little gusts of air, sending the paper ball into the air. Tremendous fun. I guess new media companies have come a long way since the days of fussball and plain old table tennis over the past decade.

3) Joshua Dylan Mellars' Heaven's Mirror: The Sonoma Film Festival screened the premiere of Bay Area filmmaker Mellars' documentary about fado this past weekend. There have been a lot of documentaries made on the theme of fado, but this one seems quite different. It's very personal, as it covers the filmmaker's own philosophical journey into attempting to define the undefinable Portuguese concept of "saudade", the idea which is at the heart of fado. I appreciated the range of wonderful Portuguese singers and instrumentalists captured in the film. I also loved the scenes depicting Mellars' voyages to Goa, an Indian state which was once occupied by the Portuguese and still carries fado in its soul. The cinematography is often gorgeous. But what chafed slightly for me is that it was a little too gorgeous. I felt like I was watching a promotional video for the Portuguese tourist office at times.

Looking ahead: If you're in the Bay Area next weekend, here are two free events worth knowing about:

1) San Francisco Opera Opera in the Ballpark: Bring your kids and a picnic and enjoy Turandot on the jumbotron with about 30,000 other opera lovers. For free. (Sunday September 25, 2pm)

2) Cal Performances Fall Free for All: The wonderful Berkeley-based performing arts presenter is showcasing the talents of a wide array of great artists for a day throughout the UC Berkeley campus. Highlights include the New Century Chamber Orchestra, AXIS Dance, Sarah Cahill and Melanie DeMore's Community Sing. (Sunday September 25, 11am-6pm)

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