California Literary Review

Profile of Toba Singer


Toba Singer, author of “First Position: a Century of Ballet Artists” (Praeger 2007), was Senior Program Director of the Art and Music Center of the San Francisco Public Library and its dance selector until her retirement in 2010. Raised in The Bronx, she graduated from New York City’s School of Performing Arts with a major in Drama, the University of Massachusetts with a BA in History; and the University of Maryland with an MLS. Since high school, Singer has been actively engaged in a broad range of pro-labor, social, and political campaigns. She has lived, worked, organized and written in Baltimore, Boston, The Bronx, Cambridge, Charleston, West Virginia, Jersey City, Richmond, Virginia, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., working in steel mills, chemical refineries, garment shops and as an airlines worker; also editing, teaching and as an office worker. Singer has contributed articles to the “Charleston Gazette,” “San Francisco Chronicle,” “Dance Magazine,” “Dance Europe,” “City Paper,” “Provincetown Advocate,” “Voice of Dance,”, “InDance,” and “Dance Source Houston.”

Singer returned to the studio to study ballet after a 25-year absence, and in 2001, was invited to become a founding member of the board of Robert Moses’ KIN dance company. Singer studied ballet with Svetlana Afanasieva, Nina Anderson, Perry Brunson, Richard Gibson, Zory Karah, Celine Keller, Charles McGraw, Francoise Martinet, Augusta Moore, E. Virginia Williams, and Kahz Zmuda; and Modern Dance with Cora Cahan, Jane Dudley, Nancy Lang, Donald McKayle, Gertrude Shurr, and Zenaide Trigg. Her son James Gotesky dances with Houston Ballet. Singer lives in Oakland, California, with her husband Jim Gotesky.

Articles written for the California Literary Review:

  • San Francisco Ballet Presents Criss-Cross, Francesca da Rimini and Symphony in Three Movements
    Posted on 02 May 2013 in Dance

    Vilanoba leads Zahorian in a promenade on bent knee. They exchange coy glances, and one surmises that the charged exchange is more about Vilanoba’s last moments onstage than the choreography. From plié he places a straightened leg behind her. He weaves over and under her extension, teasing out elements of quieting mime in an otherwise equine-inflected piece to rich orchestration studded with kettledrum and slide trombone embellishments.

  • San Francisco Ballet Offers Raymonda Act III, Ibsen’s House and Symphonic Dances
    Posted on 26 Apr 2013 in Dance

    It was a pleasure to see such a splendidly danced and produced Rudolf Nureyev version of Act III of Marius Petipa’s Raymonda. Nureyev challenged the dancers to aim for a perfectly stylized and detailed result, and they joined forces to sign, seal and deliver it in keeping with Nureyev’s demanding expectations.

  • Dance Review: Onegin, Performed by the San Francisco Ballet
    Posted on 02 Apr 2013 in Dance

    It is as if this pas de deux was made so that Onegin could teach Tatiana to fly. She follows in the wake of the shapes he models. They offer her courage, and as he lifts her, for the first time, she holds her horizontal position with the directness of an arrow.

  • San Francisco Ballet Offers Scotch Symphony, Within the Golden Hour and From Foreign Lands
    Posted on 22 Mar 2013 in Dance

    One of the benefits of having enrolled in San Francisco Ballet’s Ballet 101, a six-part course aimed at developing a deeper appreciation of ballet among audiences, was gaining a more precise fix on George Balanchine’s Scotch Symphony. Not only did the course offer a comparison between it and August Bournonville’s La Sylphide, but we had a chance to put on our practice slippers in a rehearsal studio, and learn a snippet of choreography that soloist dancer Courtney Elizabeth dances in the piece.

  • San Francisco Ballet Presents The Rite of Spring, Beaux and Guide To Strange Places
    Posted on 14 Mar 2013 in Dance

    At the first sensual strains of a bassoon made to sound like an archaic oboe in the Igor Stravinsky Sacre de printemps score, dancers begin to differentiate themselves from the mound they appeared to be half buried by. Heads, eyes, then bodies become perceptible as lighting by Sandra Woodall extrudes more humanoid clues, and the deepening tones of the woodwinds transport us to an earlier time in a sylvan setting.

  • San Francisco Ballet Offers Suite en blanc, Borderlands and In the Night
    Posted on 25 Feb 2013 in Dance

    Suite en blanc is a work plucked out of the archival past, cut and pasted onto today’s stage so that we may glimpse the oddest of baby steps taken toward breaking with convention in the name of purity. Arguments for and against tend to sidestep the nagging and disturbing fact that the modernist who birthed them provokes our outrage because his fascination with purity led him, eyes open, into the reactionary political camp of racial “purity,” the kissing cousin of The Final Solution.

  • Interview with Maina Gielgud
    Posted on 24 Feb 2013 in Dance

    Natalia Osipova’s first Giselles in London are for me unforgettable… All the steps are there, and I could agree if it were someone who was less of a genius, that they were not in the Romantic style, but I have my own ideas. She just gave you Giselle’s soul on a platter; I can’t think of it without being in tears. You believe in what she does. She takes the majority of the audience with her. It was the specialists who were revolted.

  • Dance Review: Hamburg Ballet’s Nijinsky
    Posted on 18 Feb 2013 in Dance

    Moments of stillness offer the only pauses in the unrelenting choreography that Neumeier devotes to telling a story that is in equal parts the history, illusion, delusion, social commentary, creative epiphany, intimacies and betrayals of the dancer whose stratospheric jumps descended into a mania that consigned him to an asylum.

  • Review: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Alonzo King LINES Ballet
    Posted on 06 Feb 2013 in Dance

    little mortal jump, by Hubbard Street’s Alejandro Cerrudo, was the evening’s ingenious piece de résistance. Artistic directors everywhere should give this young innovator a call!

  • Dance Review: Joffrey Ballet
    Posted on 31 Jan 2013 in Dance

    The courage of this company is a reminder that art has a role to play not only in re-enacting the artifice of past pleasures, but also awakening us to the real horrors of the present.

  • Interview with Joffrey Ballet Dancer, Fabrice Calmels
    Posted on 30 Jan 2013 in Dance

    The Joffrey gave me confidence because it lifted my morale. I’m considered a giant in the dance world at 6’ 6”. I haven’t seen anyone who is my equal in height. When you are that tall, all you hear is, you’re not fast enough, there’s nothing we can put you in because you dwarf the other dancers, the girls are too short for you to partner—all negatives, and it is true that I can’t move as fast as short people, but Balanchine training at SAB helped get me get up to speed.

  • 2013 San Francisco Ballet Gala
    Posted on 29 Jan 2013 in Dance

    Maria Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz capture the thrill in the dream pas de deux from John Cranko’s Onegin. The duet carries into the ballet the titillating but terrifying complications and implications of a love that arrives post-maturely, offering both too much and too little. Luiz appears in the magical mirror that suddenly opens a window of opportunity, and Kochetkova comes to him like a lost kitten. Their fluidity in the three arabesque lift-turns float her deeper into her joyful illusion. To me, this is one of the most beautiful pas de deux in ballet, offering an equality of expression to both partners to which each must contribute fully and blissfully in order for it to succeed.

  • Interview with Priscilla Lopez and Matthew Lopez, Star and Writer of Somewhere
    Posted on 29 Jan 2013 in Hispanic American, Theatre

    Bob Fosse walked to the front of the house, put his hands on the rail, and said, “Now that’s what I call a well prepared audition.” Then he jumped up on stage with me and started giving me his signature bumps and grind moves to try out. I waited three days to hear if I got it. After three days I was a very happy girl.

  • Theatre Review: Somewhere
    Posted on 28 Jan 2013 in Hispanic American, Theatre

    If you were born in New York and see a set that has been detailed with a rollaway folding cot in the hallway, and a living room view of not only the standard-issue brick wall of the building behind yours, but also the laundry hung out wherever space permits, you know that this is the Bronx, Brooklyn or Manhattan West Side post-war apartment that your parents grew up in, and spent their lives striving to escape.

  • Book Review: Raised from the Ground: A Novel by José Saramago
    Posted on 09 Jan 2013 in Books, Fiction Reviews

    While he has an ear for both the humdrum and the eccentric dissembling pronouncements of the landowners, Saramago primarily concerns himself with capturing the diametrically opposite and logical sentiments of the workers. To dub him the John Steinbeck of his people and generation would at once amount to a compliment and faint praise of the singularity of his writing…

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