As we were riding through southern Sonoma County today, I was watching the golden rolling hills go by, and I couldn’t help soaking up the beauty of the countryside where I live. It’s a gentle landscape punctuated with trees, oaks and others, close together in some places and widely scattered elsewhere. It’s a place with a character all its own. Even the power lines running next to the freeway, branching out here and there alongside private roads and fence lines, heading west toward the Pacific and east toward the rest of America, have their own kind of charm, like relics of an earlier time.
The reason I had time to reflect on all this was that I wasn’t driving. Mom and I took the bus to Walnut Creek today, about a two-hour ride each way. I don’t get out much, you know, so I tend to drink in the scenery whenever I do. We crossed the Bay and drove straight on past Berkeley and on to our destination, which was the Smuin Ballet performance of their “Dancin’ with Gershwin” show. But first we stopped for lunch at Bing Crosby’s Restaurant.
It’s a classy place. It’s decorated with photos and mementos of Crosby’s career, and the food is first class, at least for lunch. I’m willing to assume the dinner menu is just as good. We were treated very well there, and we were a group of about 45 people, of whom I was (almost) the youngest. That’s one thing I enjoy about these bus trips. There aren’t many places I can go and be one of the youth brigade. (By the way, I had the crab cakes.)
The Gershwin show is not a traditional ballet. In fact, it probably doesn’t appeal much to hardcore ballet snobs, but I’m not one of those. I don’t know good from bad, but I know what I like, and I liked this show a lot. It’s really a series of individual dances, some solos, some duets (I think dancers have a different name for them), and some with the whole troupe on stage at the same time. Each dance is set to a recording of a Gershwin song, from Al Jolson’s “Swanee” to an absolutely riveting, intense version of “Summertime” by Peter Gabriel.
Some of the dances are clever and fun, some are elegant and sublime, but they are without exception entertaining. I was enjoying the show for what it was, but there was a turning point for me, during Lena Horne’s “Someone to Watch Over Me,” which was choreographed with the most romantic pas de deux I’ve seen in a long time, maybe since Travis and Heidi’s park bench routine on So You Think You Can Dance. The first dance after intermission was a full story, beginning-middle-and-end, performed to the Adagio from Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F.
Those were the highlights for me, but really, I loved the whole program. And I know Mom did, too. Suzanne and John and I picked this trip out for her in December as her Mother’s Day present, and I’m pleased to say it was a successful gift.