A Dance into the American Frontier

Skipping through the spring issue of Lonely Planet’s magazine, I serendipitously came across the ‘Easy Trips’ featuring San Diego and the Sunset Cliffs as a recommended quick escape to what San Diegans call ‘American’s Finest CIty.’

Having just finished my month-long engagement of Balanchine ballet in this ocean-side resort town, I find it hard to argue!

The introduction of the Lonely Planet article catches evidence of some young guys sporting board shorts (potentially surfer dudes) illegally cliff jumping, off a natural rock arch into the whirlpools below. Launching yourself from an unstable cliff into the rapids below not your cup of tea? Point Loma’s Sunset Cliffs are eye-candy enough for the timid traveler.

But before I urge you to visit these majestic, seaside walls, let me take a moment to warn that according to a recent amount of news stories, deaths by selfies are on the rise.

If there ever was a place to fall to your death, San Diego falls under that category. Backing up along the cliff face may grant you a stunning shot of a sunset dipping below the Pacific’s horizon, but keep your footing on the loose dirt lest you dream of falling off the face of the earth, consumed by the raging tide.

At the southernmost edge of Point Loma, along with a naval base,  lies what may be my favorite natural wonder to date.  After making a steep drive down the edge of a cliff (you’ll notice this area is rather precarious) explorers can park their cars and walk down to a natural phenomenon called tide pools, or rocky intertidal area. When I had heard about these weeks before, I KNEW I had to see the before I left. But to get the effect, one must visit at the lowest tide.

My visit was perfectly timed. As I drove south to drop off my Australian coworker at the airport for an afternoon flight I continued on south to reach my destination exactly at low tide. At this point, the tide has retreated from the base of the cliffs to reveal a stony foundation of varying levels. This causes multiple pools to form, trapping certain wildlife until the water not so subtly comes crashing back up the side of the coast.

At this point in March, it’s just after the recommended time to visit in February, which was perhaps the reason I didn’t spot any octopi; but, what I did see still amazed me. About 20 other people were venturing down to the pools with me, all hunched over peering through water to find signs of life. Some of the spectators were toting a kind of specialized equipment, appearing to be marine biologists.

Desperate to see really awesome sea monsters, I ventured as far out on flat rocks as far as they would reach. With all my things packed to leave that night - my waterproof Sperry’s being tucked safely in my suitcase - the water still beckoned calmly unto me. It felt as if it was offering reassurance I could safely follow the stepping stones further out into the shallow water. Once there, what I had feared became reality when I felt the waves getting too strong and too close. I made a desperate, last-minute attempt to dash to higher ground, but quit as I realized it was too late. Shoes and pants; saltwater washed…

What I had failed to notice were the instructions on surveying the territory where they suggest you just get wet.

Due to the twice daily drastic changes in these critter’s environment, most have evolved to survive harsh conditions, mostly when the low tide exposes the organisms to heat and open air.

For instance, this anemone that collects shells on it’s underside to retain the moisture when it’s exposed during the low tide.

These chitons, of whom fossils have been found dating up to 400 millions years ago, seek shade on the exposed rocks.

And my childhood favorite, hermit crabs, because what’s cooler than crawling back into a shell whenever you want?  But leave all the vacant shells where you found them! As the name suggests, they seek out larger shells as they grow, and competition is high.

While the Cabrillo National Monument Tidepools are by far my favorite national park, San Diego boasts countless other breathtaking, outdoor scenes worth visiting. One of them being Balboa Park.

Following a Spanish and Mexican tradition of creating public places for recreational use, this park on former Pueblo Territory was set aside in 1835 and presently lies just outside downtown. The West Coast equivalent of New York City’s Central Park, this Balboa Park was the site for the Panama-California exposition from 1915-1917. For the event, ornamental buildings in the style of Spanish Colonial revival which now house varying attractions such as: 16 museums, a replica of Shakespeare’s Old Globe theater (a popular venue for Broadway-bound shows) an outdoor stage, greenhouse and the famed San Diego Zoo. The surrounding grounds are portioned off into majestic and exotic gardens, including one showcasing hordes of never-before-seen varieties of succulents.

The park’s location makes it a no-brainer to head down to the historic Gaslamp District or  what may be the USA’s southernmost, Little Italy.

After our first day in the theater, my flatmate, who I know from my first job out of college at Milwaukee Ballet, met up with an old friend from the same time period who coincidentally just happened to relocate west.

Having just visited Searsucker in Las Vegas, I knew it was a my first choice for a night out on the town, especially because it was just blocks from our venue, the historic Spreckel’s Theater. The four of us gathered in time for their happy hour and ended up staying well past that. The manager, Emily, surprised us with their finest small plates. The pork belly and egg, served with hollandaise on brioche was indescribable. I can’t recall a savory dish that was so tender it melted in my mouth, but this one was one for the ages.

Not surprisingly, all of San Diego’s surrounding area is built up with fine beachside dining spots. Just down the street from our Del Mar accommodations was Jake’s - where all of the guest artists were treated by board members to a celebratory final night dinner.

Right on the beach, fashioned out of an old gas station, every seat at Jake’s boats a view of the ocean; and at dinner time, you couldn’t ask for more, as you watch the sun quickly dip under the waves.

No celebration is complete without a colossal dessert. The special here was is hula pie: a literal tidal wave of macadamia nut ice cream, sandwiched artfully between a cookie crust and hot fudge. It tasted as beautiful as it looked. We came crashing down on the natural disaster of desserts just as furiously as I wished this decadent chocolate dream was doing all over my body.

San Diego does not disappoint, living up to it’s nickname as America’s Finest City. I’d be a liar if I didn’t say I would miss this coastal paradise. But all good things must come to an end - a phrase that rings truest for a freelance performer like myself.

With my first Balanchine ballet under my belt I’m ready to move onto something completely different, the musical Carousel, directed by Tony Award winning director, Rob Ashford. First mounted last year in Chicago, this show now makes its southern debut with Houston Grand Opera. While I’m sad I had to turn down the opportunity to be part of the original cast, I’m excited to hit the ground running. This show is full of firsts: my first time performing for my family in Texas and my first time with a supporting role: Enoch Snow Jr.!