As a rule, shoes come in identical pairs, but for Michelle Chang, creating an ideal ‘fit for the SF Salon Music program requires mixing and matching two surprisingly disparate threads.
The creator and curator of the singular Verdi Club series that combines performance, lecture, discussion and noshing, Chang hit upon her latest theme, “Heels: Walk and Dance in Your Own Shoes,” after months of research and mulling over possibilities.
Sunday’s event focuses on shoes, specifically the titular soleful appendages, with a talk by Sara E. Melzer, professor emerita in French and Francophone studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, about the symbolic power and ankle-busting reality of high heels. She’s followed by nine dancers from the Northern California Dance Conservatory in Roseville and actor and choreographer Kayla Johnston.
“They’ll present five dance styles, ballroom, ballet, modern, tap, and contemporary, and before every dance, I’ve asked the dancers to talk about their relationship to shoes. I adore ballerinas when they dance and when you get to their feet, they’re holding their entire body weight on this little box. Those pointe shoes hurt so much.”
Melzer also brings a very personal connection to the topic. While she once saw heels through a feminist lens as a tool for disabling women while seeking favor from men, her love of tango dancing gave her a different perspective.
“She realized that when you wear the heels your upper body leans forward to your partner,” Chang said. “It changes the dynamic of the dancers, so we developed a little theme about feminism and symbolism, explaining shoes, high heels and the feel of contact with the floor.”
A conservatory-trained opera singer and educator, Chang launched SF Salon Music early last year as a response to her musical friends and colleagues losing all their work with the advent of Covid-19. Since moving from Zurich, Switzerland, to San Francisco with her tech-employed husband in 2016, she’d worked largely as a voice teacher in Palo Alto until the pandemic abruptly changed her course “from singer and educator to curator and impresario,” she said.
“Heels” is her sixth program, and the final event of the spring before she takes a summer break. With three programs in the pipeline, Chang sounds confident that she’s found a winning formula. Each event starts with 20 minutes or so to socialize and imbibe. After the presentations and performances, there are further opportunities to talk with the artists and other audience members.
Recent SF Salon Music events, such as “Roaring ‘20s: Jazz and Cabaret In Silent Film” and “Tradition And Celebration: The Way of Tea and Alphorn Music” give a good sense of Chang’s knack for finding cultural themes that resonate together. In many ways she’s channeled the creativity she used to express through singing into programming, “trying to connect two things into one story,” she said.
“I have so many ideas. I want to try to find something to pair with an art form, and when it comes together nothing can describe that. Finding the right people within my budget is the challenging task. When it comes together I can’t even sleep. I love offering opportunities for performers to be on stage, to get their names out there, to show their skills.”