During the last week of July, the Ballet Hispánico, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, and Dance Theatre of Harlem shared their passion for dance with the public through a free series of 20-minute performances.
As we know them, fairy tales often involve a protagonist lacking control over her or his fate. Snow White and Sleeping Beauty were driven into hiding, yet were doomed with a sleeping curse anyway—curses that could only be broken had their true love decided to awaken them. Rapunzel is locked away in a tower with no doors, needing a hero to rescue her. It’s exactly this what Siyu Liu set out to deconstruct in her directorial feature debut (and original screenplay) Flaming Cloud.
There are no villainous characters with wicked intentions to be found in Siyu Liu’s fairytale story, but Gods and Goddesses with voyeuristic tendencies and penchants for placing wagers pulling the strings. The story begins when two of the deities boldly place the most consequential wager any of them have ever witnessed—the existence of true love. Because of the wager, a randomly chosen baby, and the story’s hero, Sangui (played by Hu Xian Xu), is doomed to a curse of putting whoever he kisses to sleep, stripping him of agency over his destiny (or so we think?)
Branded a freak by his fellow villagers and socially ostracized at a young age, Sangui sets out on a hero’s journey, albeit one of a long period of loneliness, to the idyllic White Stone City. On his journey, he meets two women who represent fairy tale archetypes we’re well-acquainted with, each with their own wishes, but also unfulfilled needs.
Instead of making their own fairy tale wish come true, each character instead finds satisfaction in growing—by learning what they needed all along. For Sangui, this means finding the courage to confront his fears, and for the “wicked witch” character, who is very much the heart of this story, means facing her regrets. “Regrets can be curses too.” she whispers to Sangui in between exhausted breaths. In using surrealism, Siyu Liu reminds us that realizing what we needed all along can better than anything we can wish for.
Siyu Liu’s use of anachronisms in the costumes beautifully speaks to the timelessness of fairy tales, from 1920s flapper headbands to 1970s boho dresses—even the 1950s Philco Predicta televisions, which the Deities huddled around in sport to watch Sangui for a long period of his life. Combining the motifs and lessons of European fairy tales (and classic Disney films, by extension) and Chinese mythology, she masterfully tells a cross-cultural story, as seen from the moment the story begins with a kingdom of deities placing a wager on a “flaming cloud.”
Perhaps the biggest lesson of all from Flaming Cloud is that true love does indeed exist, but it does come to die one day—and yet, we all still reach for these stories for comfort. “Not everyone believes in true love,” Siyu Liu writes in the final frame of the film. “But we all long for that moment when it arrives with its magic.” Yes, yes we do.
Are celebs just like you and me when it comes to pandemic travel? We caught up with a few you may know — and others you may not have heard of — to hear their travel tales.
Jacques Torres, celebrity pastry chef
I went to Bandon, a city between Toulon and Marseilles in Provence for five weeks in 2021. I grew up there. It’s famous for wine. I went to the beach. I enjoy the south of France for wineries and tastings. I felt safe traveling because this is a house I own.
Photo Courtesy of Facebook
Ben Johns, pro-pickleball player
No international travel. We go all around the US for tournaments. We don’t vacation. We just play pickleball. Even in 2021, there were full crowds. In July of last year, I played pickleball in Hawaii. October 2021, Las Vegas. I did go to Ecuador, but not too recently. I own a pickleball vacation company called Pickleball Getaways.
NOTE: Johns and his business partner, pro-pickleball player, Dekel Bar, have led trips to destinations including Riviera Maya, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic and Richmond, British Columbia.
Photo Courtesy of Facebook
Collin Johns, pro-pickleball player
A lot of times the pickleball tournaments are in locations where there are vacations. The PPA Masters November 2021 in La Quinta, California was like a hotel. It’s a nice area — essentially like a vacation. I go on all of the same tours as Ben. In the height of Covid-19, they were shut down for a couple of months, and there were travel restrictions.
Photo by Laurie Heifetz
Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada, artist
I did a trip from Barcelona to New York. We were in lockdown in Barcelona in the middle of the pandemic when no one was flying — May of 2020. I did an homage piece next to the Queens Museum to a Latino doctor who passed away. That flight was bizarre. It was a huge plane with two passengers. There was no food in the airport. The reason why the plane was larger was that it was used for cargo. It was filled with cars on the bottom floor!
Photo by Laurie Heifetz
Jet Tila, celebrity chef (“Food Network”)
I took my family to Hawaii in the height of Omicron, November/December of 2021. We were on the island of Oahu, which I love. We based ourselves at the Disney Resort, but we’d take day excursions. One callout excursion families need to know is Kamoauli, a 100-year old wooden canoe from Tonga staffed with teachers and native experts who tell the history. Basically, you’re whale watching, while they’re preparing native foods and teaching native history. It’s like a luau in a boat!
Photo by Laurie Heifetz
Photo by Pat Lambert
Deana Martin, singer-actor
My trip to Toronto last year was fantastic! I had light drinks — “sippy-poos,” as my dad would say — on the plane because you didn’t have to have your mask on. I did a debut of the documentary, “Dean Martin, King of Cool,” and won the IItalian Contemporary Film Festival (ICFF) Excellence Award. It was one of those experiences where you go to this party and this press conference. We had excellent meals in Toronto.
Interviewed in NYC at: “Taste of the Upper West Side”; “Live with Kelly & Ryan”; “The Hug” statue unveiling for me2music.org’s “Monumental Moments” at Lincoln Center; CAMP’s flagship store Visit California media event; and Frank Sinatra’s birthday party at Patsy’s Italian Restaurant.
The interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.
The first thing you’ll notice about Barbara Tober is that she’s a sharp observer, picking up on the slightest of details and reacting to them. During a speech to a roomful of guests at the St. Bartholomew’s Conservancy Gala Organ Concert (an event which she chaired), Mrs. Tober vocalized her observations in real time, from the heft of the award she was giving to the decor of the space, to the size of the paper her speech was written on.
During my interview in her private office at her uptown home, she was at it again. As she told a story about growing up near New Jersey’s “Pre-DDT” Kittatinny Mountain, Mrs. Tober watched my eyes drift toward a plate of cookies. Instantly, Mrs. Tober interrupted her own line of thinking with a remark on how delicious they were. “Try those chocolate ones. You must take some home.” I do, then we’re back on track: “Anyway, that’s my childhood.”
I soon learned that this was partially Mrs. Tober’s wry sense of humor at play. Mrs. Tober isn’t constantly cracking jokes, but by sharing her thoughts- big and small- she is inviting you to enjoy the world with her. When telling a story, she sometimes speaks in what sounds like vocal italics, imbuing a certain amusement by the very thing she’s thinking before she ever finishes the thought. Pair that with a penchant for incidental pauses and whole sentences effortlessly shift meaning, gaining humor or becoming grounded in seriousness. She is a master of the language, running the full gamut of its tricks and tools.
Mrs. Tober’s love affair with details and language has defined her career, beginning with a copywriter job at Vogue Magazine which eventually led her to the role of editor-in-chief at Conde Nast’s Bride’s magazine. Along the way, she’s written two books, The Bride: A Celebration, featuring fascinating lore as well as facts about courtship, engagements, weddings, and honeymoons, as well as ABCs of Beauty, from when she was a beauty editor.
Mrs. Tober speaks candidly about how important language is to her, remarking, “I like to put everything in words in a way that is graceful, gracious, charming… interesting. You use interesting words. I love the language. I love being involved in a language.”
Mrs. Tober isn’t hesitant to verbalize how impactful her time at Bride’s was on the broader culture, where she was the editor-in-chief for 30 years. “We changed the way America married!” She smiled. “We asked so many questions. ‘Why is the bride the only person in the picture? Why is he over there? Why don’t they write their own vows?’ We just kept saying, ‘Why is this the way it is?’” It wasn’t about solving anything, but a matter of knowing something else was possible, if you wanted it.
“In those days, they had these huge weddings in Vietnam and in Russia where they’d have 50 couples getting married at the same time. It wasn’t personal at all. A lot of these people escaped and came to the United States. They wanted to have a wedding for themselves. We started there. It was really a matter of anthropology.” Indeed, Mrs. Tober surrounded herself with people who wanted to observe the condition first, heavily influenced by the theories of Margaret Mead, the foremost anthropologist of the time. “One of my best friends is Helen Fisher. She’s an anthropologist and both of us sat at the feet of Margaret Mead. Together we explored so much. It was only the tip of the iceberg.”
Under Mrs. Tober’s bold leadership, the content of Bride’s magazine expanded as Barbara’s interests did. Eventually, Bride’s magazine went so far as to change its name to Brides & Your New Home. “That was done for one simple reason. Everyone knows we have fashion because we have a bridal dress on the cover. But not everyone realized we talk about decorating and entertainment as well. Marriage is a lot more than the ceremony.”
One of Mrs. Tober’s most prescient quotes captures the scope: “When people marry, other people work. A wedding brings economic health… It is a great banquet from which everyone can derive a living. It makes enormous economic sense to me.”
Indeed, in her personal life, marriage has had a near-perpetual presence. Tober has been married three times, but it’s impossible to chat with Mrs. Tober without a mention of her late husband of 49 years, Donald Tober, who died in early 2021 amid a challenging diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. Over the course of their long marriage, while Donald found success leading Sugar Foods Corporation, the couple rose to the top of the New York City philanthropic scene; becoming increasingly involved in the intersection of craftsmanship and art.
It’s on this topic that Mrs. Tober becomes particularly enthusiastic, demonstrating her passion for craft in real time. She tells me about a few details of the office we’re sitting in. A pair of columns: “Those are tribute to the Isabel O’Neil school. That’s not pore-free concrete. They’re painted.”
They’re truly remarkable, impressing a sense of heft and realism that feels increasingly rare. The walls and molding: “It’s paint behind you. It’s not Cinnabar. That’s paint. The artist was here for six months painting and sanding and painting and sanding and painting until he had it the way he wanted.” She finishes it off with a charming bonus, the classic extra detail: “Polish guy; a fabulous guy.” Without missing a beat, “Come to the living room”. The living room is vast and painted, of course, with commentary on every detail. She describes everything with a juvenile sense of giddy. “We took everything out and started over. We redid it.”
A some point, Mrs. Tober becomes a bit woeful. “You see how they decorate now. I know whoever buys this will paint it white. People shouldn’t do that!”
After his passing, Mrs. Tober turned Mr. Tobers’s bedroom into a well-preserved memorial space, packed with notes of appreciation, condolences, and a variety of ephemera and photos of the loved man. “I still visit him. I still talk to him. We did everything together.”
Mrs. Tober, now 87, hasn’t slowed down by any measure. If anything, she’s more active than ever, having treated her staff to a holiday in Abu Dhabi (“I’ve never seen anything like it.”) and returning to New York City in the middle of the crowded Spring social season. “Mrs. Tober does have an engagement this evening, we’re going to have to get ready.”
An early woman in the male-dominated world of advertising and magazine editing, Mrs. Tober has served on the Boards of a number of women’s oriented organizations including the Women’s Forum and the Women’s Leadership Initiative at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Just recently, Play for Pink, the Breast Cancer research initiative founded by Evelyn Lauder (herself a breast cancer patient), is honored the philanthropist for her contributions to the cause.
Her all-female staff supports the efforts of her venture capital fund, Acronym, Inc., which focus on art-related projects including The Guild Publishing Company, Inc., publishers of The Sourcebook for Architectural and Interior, and CODAworx, a global online hub for commissioned artwork where Mrs. Tober serves on the Advisory Board.
A true patron of the arts, Mrs. Tober has collected works by established as well as emerging artists such as Dale Chihuly, Bernar Venet, Boaz Vaadia, Michelle Oka Doner, Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Otterness, Olga de Amaral, William Morris, Betty Woodman, Lino Tagliapietra, and more. Her collection is defined by the practice and technique of the creation itself; an obsession with the how of the work.
Currently, Barbara Tober serves as Chairman Emerita at the Museum of Arts and Design, where she was Chairman of the Board of Trustees for 15 years, critically seeing the completion of the new museum building, now sited at the southern curve of Columbus Circle. Mrs. Tober now heads the Museum’s International Council and Education Committee and remains an active member of the Amati group at the Metropolitan Museum, New York City Ballet, Lincoln Center, The Metropolitan Opera, and New York Philharmonic.
Her enthusiasm for the beauty of the natural world, first instilled as a young girl in the hills and farms of New Jersey, continues with her support of the Central Park Conservancy, Friends of Wethersfield organization, and the Duchess Land Conservancy. She maintains Yellow Frame Farm in Millbrook, New York, a working farm where she’s able to indulge her green thumb.
Kinuyo Tanaka is an unsung talent deserving of more attention.
Exclusive: Robert Pattinson, Paul Dano, Andy Serkis, Alesso, John Turturro & More Talk ‘The Batman’ At World Premiere [Video]
It’s hard to believe but it seems the pandemic may be finally coming to a close, at least in the world of cinema. Nothing indicated this more so than the New York Premiere of “The Batman”.
Sean Baker’s latest feature film reveals the grating reality of a decadent West.