Sunday, February 28, 2010

COBA's Diasporic Dimensions at Harbourfront

Diasporic Dimensions
Fleck Dance Theatre - Harbourfront February 26, 2010

The Collective of Black Artists, or COBA, celebrated their 17th season with a performance of four pieces under the title Diasporic Dimensions.

Just as what we typically call simply contemporary dance speaks with a vocabulary developed through history via classical ballet and European/North American traditions, the pieces in this programme speak from African traditions. The vocabulary of movement is uniquely African in nature, a subject, as it happens, studied and written about on an academic level by choreographer/dancer/COBA co-founder BaKari E. Lindsay. That language has different dialects depending on where exactly it comes from, which handily plays back into the show's title. It wasn't necessary to have any particular background in dance at all, though, to enjoy what was an energetic, very interesting and engaging show.

The first two pieces, Mandé Variations and Maa-Keeba, were choreographed by Lindsay. The first presented an intriguing modern dance that took as its inspiration the layered, polyrhythmic playing of the kora, a traditional West African instrument, to the music of Toumani Diabaté and others. The kora is played on many levels at once, and the dance captured that sense of many threads woven and interwoven in a fluid group that came and went on stage, smaller groups that formed, then dissolved and went their separate ways.

Maa-Keeba - the only piece of the evening that wasn't a premiere - celebrates the life and work of Miriam Makeba. The popular South African singer who came to be known as Mama Africa passed away after her last performance on stage in 2008. Naturally, the music was her own, including the Click Song she made famous, in a journey that began with young love and threaded its way in and out of her life story. In it, the dancers showed their considerable and appealing dramatic skills to bring the scenes to life. It was a fitting tribute, lit up by Makeba's music and its gorgeous harmonies.

Next up was Moments, a work by Haitian choreographer Jeanguy Santus to music by Haitian groups like Lataye and Zao, and including an interlude of what sounded like French Baroque, (although I can't say whose it was off the top of my head). Moments had a very contemporary and at times avant-garde feel. In it, that African and Caribbean vocabulary of movement was abstracted. He used diverse elements like the dancers' long, unbound hair or reams of cloth among others to amplify the dancers' movements in a piece that had what felt like spiritual dimensions. Interestingly, the dancers remained in character even to the curtain call.

The evening ended on an energetic note, with Julia Morris' Hightal. It was the third piece Jamaican born Morris, also a member of the company, has choregraphed for COBA, and it's a meditation on her roots to traditional Nyabinghi rhythms. Nyabinghi is one of the oldest "mansions" of the Rastafarian religion, and their religious chants (or binghi) form the basis for what we know as reggae and ska today. The music was played live with four drums and two singers, and kept up a hypnotic pace for the ensemble of dancers, rising and ebbing in intensity. It was a rousing way to close off the night.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Madagascar Slim plays the Gladstone March 5

Madagascar Slim
at the Gladstone Hotel

Friday, March 5 - 7 to 10pm
Presented by Batuki Music Society

Madagascar Slim, as he's been known to blues/roots/world music fans in the Toronto area for decades, was born as Randriamananjara Radofa Besata Jean Longin in Antananarivo, capital of the sunny island of Madagascar. Teaching himself to play an older brother's guitar at an early age was just the beginning of a long career.

"I grew up listeninig to a lot of music from Madagascar, traditional music. At the same time, Western music was very popular, like the Rolling Stones, Santana. I listened to that type of guitar driven music."

Salegy is the traditional Malagasy style Slim grew up with. Here's a little modern salegy if you're not familiar.

It's the kind of music that won't let you sit still, and involves really intricate finger picking - among other things.

"First, I was trying to play note for note, people I like - like B.B. King. But over time, I discovered things on my own. I came up with my own style. It's improvisational." Madagascar Slim's work is often called "bi-cultural", which sounds a little too pedantic for his infectiously likable music. "I would describe it as an amalgamation of Madgasy music, particularly the rhythmic elements, with guitar rock."

Although he's been in Canada "since the dinosaurs roamed the earth" (actually 1979 - he came to study accounting at Seneca College) it's the rhythms of his childhood that still echo most deeply. "I have a rhythm that I hear in my head that comes from Madagas," he says. "It's a different way of keeping time - the 6/8, they hear it as a jig. I hear it as Madagas."

Sweet voices and harmonies come together with that fluidly kinetic guitar playing. Along with this solo work, he's also known and been recognized for his work with Tri-Continental - Roots & Traditional Album of the Year Juno Winner in 2001 - and African Guitar Summit - World Music Album of the Year in 2005. His third Juno was won in the same category in 2000. For Slim, it's all about playing though.

"I've played in all the blues clubs in Toronto," he says, either alone or in collaboration. He's also known for his live playing with blues singer Ndidi Onukwulu. He's seen musical tastes change over the decades. "A lot of people are branching out, listening to new types of music," he says. Slim points to the influence of the internet, where more and more people are reaching out to find music that falls beyond the confines of a commercialized pop music market, along with the importance of some of the country's cultural institutions. "That's why we need institutions like the Canada Council for the Arts and the CBC - to offer an alternative."

The concert this Friday at the Glad is FREE of charge - I'll be sure to get there early.

Check out an excerpt from a documentary that followed Slim on his return to Madagascar after 25 years - and you can download his music here.

Friday, February 26, 2010

24 Preludes by Chopin & More - the National Ballet of Canada

24 Preludes by Chopin & A Suite of Dances & The Four Seasons
National Ballet of Canada
March 3 - 7, 2010
at the Four Seasons Centre

Chopin may not be the first name that comes to mind when you think ballet. The great Romantic composer is most often known for his piano works, after all, but dancing to his expressive pieces is not at all uncommon either. "I think most of us have danced to this music before," says Corps de Ballet member Tiffany Mosher of 24 Preludes by Chopin, one of the pieces in their upcoming show, "but with a very different mentality." The piece was choreographed by often controversial artist Marie Chouinard. "It's different - but it's so nice to be able to move different muscles, to move differently to classical music."

"Different" as a description is just scratching the surface of Chouinard's contemporary choreography, at times known for incorporating elements like on stage urination and a fan of Nijinksy and his famous onstage masturbation. But while the vocabulary of movement may be striking in this piece as well, you won't see that in particular in 24 Preludes. Mosher's enthusiastic about working with her. "We actually started with learning the vocabulary of the piece," she explains, "without necessarily putting it into context." That language was then woven into Chopin's expressive, emotional music. "It was quite a long process to understand what she wanted to see," she says of the challenging but rewarding work. "She's so inspiring, so involved."

While it's quite demanding, Chopin's music emphasizes its richly expressive character and not the technical gymnastics, which seems entirely in keeping with the choreography. "I think everyone finds this piece rewarding. Each night is a little different - we're free to take it to a different place - unlike in the Corps de Ballet, where it's free but very precise." Mosher clearly relishes taking up a role in the production she danced with in its National Ballet premiere in 2008. "It's definitely one that I look forward to doing - each time it comes around."

Ms Mosher has been a member of the National Ballet of Canada since 2000 and has danced in numerous of their productions, including the world premiere of James Kudelka's The Contract and Crystal Pite's Emergence, and featured roles in The Sleeping Beauty, The Dream and Les Sylphides. Tiffany just got back from performing with other members of The National Ballet at the Vancouver Cultural Olympiad.

Also on the bill:

A Suite of Dances - choreography by New York native Jerome Robbins, (pictured,) whose work encompassed modern dance from Broadway shows to ballet. A Suite.. is his last of three collaboratiosn with Mikhail Bariyshnikov, conceived in 1994 as a 14 minute solo. The piece is performed to selections from Bach's suites for unaccompanied cello, and in it, the dancer and cellist respond to each other in sometimes playful ways.

James Kudelka created The Four Seasons in 1997 as his inaugural work as Artistic Director of the National Ballet. The piece was made for ballet superstar Rex Harrington (and was the last piece he danced with the company in 2004, as it happens,) and traces the seasons in the life of a man to Vivaldi's famous music. In each season, he dances with a different woman.

About the images:
Top -
portrait of Chopin by Eugène Délacroix;
Middle -
Tiffany Mosher and Noah Long in 24 Preludes by Chopin, photo by Sian Richards. Courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada.;
Bottom - Image of Jerome Robbins is a studio publicity still now in the public domain.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Peggy Baker Dance Project - confluence

Peggy Baker Dance Project
Harbourfront/EnWave Theatre

Continues to February 28

"Legend" is a word that can be bandied about perhaps a little too readily in the world of arts and entertainment, but in the case of dance diva Peggy Baker, it's really the only just term. After founding Dancemakers in Toronto in 1974, she toured extensively with New York's Lar Lubovitch Company in the 1980's, then joined with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Mark Morris for the inaugural season of their White Oak Dance Project. As a choreographer, she works through her Toronto based Peggy Baker Dance Projects. She's Artist-in-Residence at the National Ballet School, recipient of the Premier's Award for Excellence in the Arts (2006), three Dora Mavor Moore Awards for performance and two for choreography, she's a member of the Order of Ontario, Order of Canada, and won the 2009 Governor General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts. Whew!

The life of a dancer, inevitably, is a finite one, and in recent interviews, Ms Baker has contemplated the end of that part of her career. Lucky for us, though, that it hasn't happened yet, and lucky for audiences in the Toronto region, her newest work, confluence, is on stage now until the 28th at Harbourfront. As she describes it in programme notes, the set of three dance pieces was inspired by the work of Montreal artist Sylvia Safdie along with the science essays of Lewis Thomas in his decades old work The Lives of a Cell. The first two, earthling and coalesce, Baker choreographed, and the final piece, armour, was choreographed by NYC based Doug Varone.

If you've ever watched insects, or cells in a microscope, you will have seen their elegant, often repetitive, and sometimes impassioned movements, the cause and effect of which remain a complete mystery to our understanding. That's the sort of movement that is captured in confluence, from the opening of earthling, a solitary exploration of that idea. In it, Baker's limbs and torse seemed at times to move entirely independent of each other, while staying almost entirely in a horizontal position. "...collective societies with the capacity to behave like organisms." so mentions Lewis Thomas in The Lives of a Cell, and that's how the trio of Kate Holden, Sean Ling and Sahara Morimoto perform coalesce, a fascinating and absorbing piece. At times their movements are independent of each other, at times echo each other, and at times they are perfectly in synch, with an obtuse sense of purpose - obtuse, as if originating from some other kind of consciousness or awareness, yet at the same time, we can (or believe we can?) perceive moments where we find recognizable emotion. armour, a duet between Baker and Larry Hahn, watched the two veteran dancers explore the idea that "It is the being touched that counts, rather than the touching." - another quote from Thomas' book - in a piece performed horizontally. They tangle and untangle in a kind of sculptural display.

As a whole, confluence is a seamless marriage of performance and staging, thanks in no small part to Marc Parent's ingenious and very effective lighting design. Smoke was discretely puffed into the EnWave Theatre, and spots came from near the ceiling two floors up to create an otherworldly, diffused glow for Baker's solo piece. In other segments, the light came directly from the sides, or left the figures in outline. Self taught, Parent has been lighting up Montreal's vivid dance scene for more than 25 years.

It adds up to a really engrossing hour+ of contemporary dance that, like all great art, makes you see something in a different way.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Going Off-Off Broadway for Wake-Up Marconi! and The Weird

Wake-Up Marconi! presents: The Weird
Cast: Matthew Cohn, Lucky Gretzinger, Allison Hirschlag*, Melissa Pinsly, Mark Rosenthal and Mark Stetson
*Member appears courtesy of Actors' Equity Association
Directed by Celine Rosenthal and Erin Gilmore
Produced by Celine Rosenthal

Continues nightly thru Sunday February 28th at 8pm
Saturday 27th & Sunday 28th at 2pm
At Manhattan Theatre Source
177 Macdougal St, West Village (near Washington Square Park)

On my latest venture to New York, (just got back this morning!) I went off-off Broadway to discover The Weird, a funny, well acted show at Manhattan Theatre Source, snugly ensconced in Greenwich Village. The Weird, by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, consists of a series of six short-ish scenes based on pulp fiction, mixing horror, camp, sex and pop culture and played out by a cast of six young actors who were clearly having great fun with the material. The scenes were connected by Mark Rosenthal's ghoulish M.T. Brave as a sort of emcee for the damned.

The venue is small, perhaps 50 seats or so in an upstairs room of what was once a residence by the looks of it, but the staging made clever use of the limited space and a few generic props. The appeal of the show lies entirely in the cast in any case, who attacked their roles with delightful gusto. Each brought a different quality to their various and sundry roles, like Allison Hirschlag's gleefully demented Southern belle or hapless Rosemary in The Ten Minute Play About Rosemary's Baby, or Melissa Pinsly, a chameleon who went from winsome assistant to Cohn's soulful scientist (a story of repressed desire - and bugs) to Rosemary's creepy older neighbour to that pulp fiction staple, the bored, dissatisfied housewife without skipping a beat. Without listing everyone in every role, suffice it to say that, from feckless teens on their way to Shadow Lake to overweight Southern boor to vampire/overnight appliance repairman, they maintained the overheated pulp mood without letting it drop, aided by Aguirre-Sacasa's cleverly written script.

It's cute, fun, funny, and probably the best theatre bargoon in town at a mere $18 a pop.

Both Wake Up Marconi! and Manhattan Theatre Source are on my list to keep an eye on for future productions and such - check them out at the links above.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

COBA - Diasporic Dimensions at Fleck Dance Theatre

(Collective of Black Artists)
Diasporic Dimensions
February 26-28

Fleck Dance Theatre/Harbourfront Centre

If you're familiar with the work of Toronto's COBA, you might be a little surprised at Diasporic Dimensions, their upcoming show at the Fleck Dance Theatre. "The entire production is contemporary dance," explains Charmaine Headley, co-founder, dancer and choreographer. The company typically performs either traditional West African or Caribbean dance. "We normally keep it as authentic as possible," she says, "but this is contemporary work - based on our African heritage. This is contemporary dance to traditional music - live music."

Diasporic Dimensions comes as part of Black History Month celebrations, exploring the richness of Africa and the Diaspora through dance in a programme that will present four pieces, three of them world premieres, including one piece by Haitian choreographer Jeanguy Saintus. Headley describes the experience of working with Saintus as "...brief but intense. He had 15 days only, so he came with the piece set in his head. He came with structured choreographic phrases, steeped in Haitian culture." It's the third time now that Headley has collaborated with Saintus, which made the experience a little easier. "I'm experienced with the vocabulary," she notes.

COBA member BaKari Eddison Lindsay, also co-founder/dancer/teacher, has choreographed a piece called Mandé Variations, based on the kora, a West African instrument. "He's created a complex movement based piece, based on the playing of the instrument," Headley explains. If you've ever listened to the kora, it's music played in multiple layers, ending up as a complex web of sound. "What Lindsay has done is created movement phrases that echo the movement of the musician."

The third new piece was choreographed by company member and dancer Julia Morris. "It's a contemporary take on the Nyahbinghi culture of Jamaica," Headley explains. The Nyahbinghi Order is one of the oldest of the three Rastafarian orders. "It's her third work choreographed with us." Headley notes COBA's emphasis on supporting younger and up and coming artists and choreographers.

Sounds like an interesting show - live music, dance, and I'll be checking it out on the 26th - review to come.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Year of the Tiger - Tigers in Film

Happy Year of the Tiger!

Tigers are my favourite animal, (although I have more than one or even two faves). I actually met a tiger live and in person once, when I was modeling for animation classes at Sheridan College. They would hire this tiger to come in and model too, once in a while, and one time, I worked for the first 2 hours of the class, then they got the tiger (Qaadesh was her name,) to come in for the last hour. I had dressed already, and was waiting on the model stand, a kind of raised podium, to check her out. Someone just opened the door, and in she walked. Huge, bigger than you think in person. Qaadesh had been hand raised from birth, and she used to do shows with strippers and such. Anyway, in she comes, and lies down in front of the podium, but of course they wanted her to get up on it to see her better. Her owner prodded her a little to get her to step up on it, and she let out a complaint, not a roar, but a throaty growly sound that made me think, if I had a tiger, I'd be very, very nice to it always. Qaadesh turned finally and stepped up on the podium, and that's when she spotted me sitting on the opposite edge. She made a beeline for me, and I heard the owner saying something about her wanting to be petted around her ears. She shoved her enormous head into my chest, and my arms just barely reached around to scratch behind her ears obediently. And while it was thrilling, at the same time, an animal voice inside my head was saying There's a tiger's head in your chest! Her 6-inch fangs are a hair's breadth from your soft underbelly and vital organs!. It was a very humbling experience, to think all of us in that room were only still alive because of the good graces of this incredibly gorgeous, incredibly big and strong creature. The ear scratching lasted a few minutes, and left me covered with burnt orange hairs my dogs were very, very interested in later on.

In honour of the brand new Year of the Tiger, here is a look at some great tiger action in film.

Tyger - Guilherme Marcondes (2006) an animated short in which a giant Tiger takes over a city, and inspired by William Blake's poem.

KAAL, The Wildest Tiger Movie Ever Made, a Bollywood film released in 2005 with magnificent beasts terrorizing gorgeous young actors.

Double Team - Mickey Rourke, Jean Claude Van Damme and a tiger, what more could you ask?

Shere Khan, the evil tiger from Rudyard Kipling's (Disneyfied) Jungle Book, 1967, with the voices of Sterling Holloway as Kaa and George Sanders as Shere Khan. (the engraving of Mowgli & Khan, above, is by Kipling's father, by the way, and was produced for one of the early editions of the Jungle Book, volumes 1 & 2)

There's that scene in Russell Crowe's Gladiator - but here's the real guy with the tiger, (Randy Miller, who's got the greatest job ever!)

And finally, a tiger movie about tigers, Jean Jacques Annaud's 2004 flick Two Brothers.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Film News - imagineNATIVE Embargo Collective at the Berlin Film Fest

Hot Off the Presses:
(and gosh, doesn't that expression sound quaint these days?)

to have its European Premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival 2010
(Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin 11.-21.02.10)

(Toronto, February 3rd, 2010) The imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival is pleased to announce the official selection of the festival’s Embargo Collective programme for the Forum Expanded section of this year’s Berlin International Film Festival. This programme of works was commissioned by the imagineNATIVE festival for its 10th anniversary and will have its European premiere Monday, February 15th, 8.30pm at Cinema Arsenal 2 and a repeat screening Wednesday, February 17th, 4pm at CinemaxX 6.

Curated by imagineNATIVE’s Artistic Director Danis Goulet, the Embargo Collective is an international group of seven Indigenous artists at the forefront of the changing global landscape of Indigenous cinema. Inspired by Lars von Trier’s The Five Obstructions, the filmmakers brainstormed individual rules and restrictions for one another, resulting in seven new short films that forced each director in a completely new creative direction.

The three Canadian directors’ obstructions were severe: Heiltsuk/Mohawk writer/director and Sundance Lab alumni Zoe Leigh Hopkins* was pushed away from her dramatic leanings and ordered to make a comedy in a changing static location in Tsi tkahéhtayen (The Garden); Anishnabe documentary filmmaker Lisa Jackson* was challenged to make Savage a musical with heavy metal – she added zombies to match the residential school subject (image from the film above); and Tsilhqot'in documentary director Helen Haig-Brown* was “pushed beyond belief” and scored a coveted spot on the Toronto International Film Festivals Top Ten Shorts of 2009 list with her stunning science fiction retelling of a traditional story in ?E?anx (The Cave).

The international contingent was just as challenged: Australian Bulgunnwarra/Nga Ruahine Rangi filmmaker Rima Tamou scaled down his usual approach to production and was required to work with non-actors to create First Contact; American Sundance stars with dramatic features under their belts, Blackhorse Lowe (Dine) and Sterlin Harjo (Seminole/Creek) were steered away from familiar themes, processes and shooting styles into new territory to create the moody romantic comedy b. Dreams and the poignant Cepanvkuce Tutcenen (Three Little Boys - image above); and New Zealand’s renowned Oscar-nominated Te-Whānau-ā-Apanui filmmaker Taika Waititi* (also at Berlin and Sundance this year with his feature Boy) flagrantly and hilariously addresses and breaks almost all the rules imposed upon him in The White Tiger. (Image from First Contact below.)

An important link in the programme was the universal rule that all of the films had to be in a language other than English. This resulted in a landmark exhibition of six new works shot entirely in original Indigenous languages, a significant accomplishment and fitting celebration of the diversity of the world’s Indigenous nations in an anniversary year.

Curator Danis Goulet stated: “The growing international recognition of Indigenous made works is a testament to the creativity and distinction that imagineNATIVE has been celebrating for ten years. The presentation of the Embargo Collective programme represents yet another breakthrough year of Indigenous-made works at the Berlin International film festival. Over 20 months, these filmmakers worked in the true spirit of collaboration to push each other out of their individual safety zones and, for some of them, to produce the best work of their careers.”

The Embargo Collective’s programme originally premiered at the 10th Annual imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival in Toronto on October 17, 2009. imagineNATIVE’s impact in Berlin extends to its Talent Campus where previous imagineNATIVE mentorship award-winner Adam Garnet Jones is one of this year’s participants.

The Embargo Collective was generously supported by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Angela Hewitt, pianist

Angela Hewitt in Concert
Friday, February 12, 2010 at 8pm, Roy Thomson Hall
60 Simcoe Street, Toronto

On May 10, 1985, pianist Angela Hewitt stepped out on stage at the 1st and only ever Toronto International Bach Piano Competition for her own-choice virtuoso piece, knowing her career was virtually in the balance. While she wasn't available for an interview, understandably, she does like to share with her fans and fellow music/Bach enthusiasts online in various forms, including her own website, and in an online post reminiscing about the win, she says,

For ten years, since the age of 16, I had been on the international piano competition circuit, winning many prizes but lacking the “big one”. Winning this would, I knew, launch me worldwide and put an end to competitions for life.

She launched into a version of Liszt’s “Aprės une Lecture de Dante” that left the competition behind, and a jury that included pianist Leon Fleisher, composer Olivier Messiaen and his pianist wife, Yvonne Loriod, and Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin awarded her first place. As she had judged, it launched an enviable professional career of concerts, collaborations and recordings. Enviable - but nonetheless a life she took on with a sense of responsibility.

And I say “the door had been opened” because in fact that is all it is. An immense opportunity to then build a life with music: to keep showing time after time that you were worthy of it; that you can continue to grow as a person and as a pianist; that you can withstand constant, enormous pressure; that you have the repertoire to sustain 100 concerts a year; that you can put up with constant travelling and never being at home.But that after 25 years of doing so, you can still get up on stage and feel the freshness of a piece you have played all your life and play it with all your heart.

On February 12, at that same Roy Thomson Hall, Hewitt reprises the programme that won the prize, including Bach’s Italian Concerto; Beethoven’s Sonata in D major, Op. 10 No. 3; and Brahms’s Sonata in F minor, Op. 5. Her current tour has seen her play Carnegie Hall (February 6). That concert ended her tour with the celebrated Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and she'll cross the continent to Oregon later this month before heading back to Europe.

Ms Hewitt grew up in Ottawa, born into a musical family that included a father who was a church organist. Her own musical involvement began early, at age 3, and she gave her first solo recital at Toronto's Royal Conservatory of Music at the tender age of 9.

In 1994, well established in her professional life, she set out to record Bach's complete Well-Tempered Clavier, an undertaking whose results are available on Hyperion Records, and one that took her 11 years. The results were immediately acclaimed as the new gold standard for Bach on the keyboard - described as “one of the record glories of our age” by The Sunday Times. She was Gramophone's Artist of the Year in 2006 not for Bach, but a recording of Beethoven Piano Sonatas.

In 2007 she took WTC on the road, a long road that took her from Colombia to South Africa, playing an exhausting repertoire of both books in full over two concerts on two consecutive days. Indeed, if you read a few of the reviews here and there, the only complaint seems to be the amount of time the reviewer had to spend sitting on his duff while Ms Hewitt played. You can check a taste of it out yourself here Live from Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, U.K. in June 2008 as part of her Bach world tour. In 2008, after 58 cities on 6 continents, the tour ended, and she recorded a new version of the Well-Tempered Clavier to universal accolades.

Ms Hewitt recently won Artist of the Year - Instrumentalist at the 2010 MIDEM Awards. Nowadays she lives in London, with homes in both Ottawa and sunny Italy, where every year she runs the Trasimeno Music Festival.

You can read the rest of Angela's reminsces on her 1985 win at this link. The evening - on the 12th - should prove sublime.

Friday, February 5, 2010

And So It Goes - George F. Walker's new play at Factory Theatre Toronto

And So It Goes
Written & Directed by George F. Walker
Starring Martha Burns, Peter Donaldson, Jerry Franken & Jenny Young
Factory Theatre, Toronto

Continues to February 28

George F. Walker's latest play, And So It Goes, unfolds in a succession of brief scenes, and it's that format - and the flashes of humour in the superbly written dialogue - that keep the piece from becoming too dark. It is, after all, dark material that it explores. Ned (Donaldson) has lost his job at an age where few are willing to look at him, and in an era where the opportunities are few to begin with. His daughter Karen (Young) is locked in a druggy schizophrenic hell where brushes with police and the judicial system have become routine. Gwen, (Burns) the wife and mother, tries to carry on through sheer will and the help of her own secret therapist, the ghost of none other than Kurt Vonnegut (Franken). Son Alex, who appears only in mention, left the scene long ago. (Donaldson - standing, and Burns consult with Franken's Vonnegut in the image.)

Things go from bad to worse. The house they live in becomes a series of ever smaller apartments, Ned flunks chef school and Karen runs away, disappears to go back to hooking on the street, where the police don't even try to find her anymore, until she turns up as yet another sad statistic. So what do you do when when the very underpinnings of your life give way, and you're left with nothing but despair and a palpable sense of grief? (Young as Karen in the image.)

It must be something of a challenge as an actor to so fully flesh out your role in the brief scenes and snippets of dialogue in Walker's play, but the casting here is virtually perfect. Donaldson and Burns, both veterans of the stage, don't have a false note as the parents who go from trying to manage and move on to simply trying to get through the day, morphing from middle class respectability to dirty denizens of the street and homeless shelters. Jenny Young turns in a wonderful performance as Karen, showing us the sad, confused soul inside the craziness. Franken has perhaps the hardest role of all, since his imaginary character is a reflection of those who imagine him, and provides much of the play's humour in the role of the self satisfied auteur. They're aided by an ingenious minimalist set design by Shawn Kerwin, consisting of a dimensional backdrop that handily switches from living room to park to street side and homeless shelter with a few props here and there. (The wall that was postered with Reg Hartt notices was my favourite touch!)

The house was deservedly packed for opening night. It's gritty, but not depressing, and while I wouldn't exactly go as far as to call it uplifting, it does speak to the strength of the human spirit, to that determination to continue and find purpose in life in the face of the worst of it. Walker's script is nuanced and keenly observant of human nature. You'll laugh as you sympathize, and you really must see it.

All the images are by Ed Gass-Donnelly, courtesy of Factory Theatre.