A veteran photojournalist on the arts and entertainment scene, Julian Bynoe is a Toronto-based cartoonist, artist and arts blogger. From 1996 to 2014, he was the arts/entertainment editor for the street publication The Outreach Connection, and has had articles featured in Realms Magazine, among others.

 

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Updated: March 27, 2017

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EDITION #128 - WEEK OF MARCH 27-APRIL 2, 2017

Epic stage musical exiles itself

Sousatzka (Garth Drabinsky/Teatro Proscenium Limited/Sousatzka Broadway Limited/Two Headed Productions)

Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge Street

Thursday, March 23; 6 p.m.

Theatre Review

To pour such a massive collection of talent and energy into an original musical for the stage, it’s almost a shame to say that Sousatzka, under the guidance of producer Garth Drabinsky; gives it the old college try and struggles to become a production ready to tackle on a bigger audience, but in fairness is a noble attempt at doing so even when it doesn’t aim at the high mark.

Two souls come together in 1983 London as talented teenaged piano prodigy Themba Khenketha (Jordan Barrow) is sent to study under Madame Sousatzka(Victoria Clark), whose patronage from her benefactor, the Countess (Judy Kaye) and her other oddball boarders Mr. Cordle (Nick Wyman), a actor-turned-doctor and the sensually flirty Jenny (Sara Jean Ford) try to encourage him to see his fullest potential, although his slightly eccentric piano teacher subconsciously tries to hold him back.

As if the young man doesn’t already have his own problems, what with dealing with his family of activists, starting with his overprotective mother Xholiswa (Montego Glover) trying to supersede anything from pursuing his career and torn in trying to find his own voice in the world, plus courting a possible crush (Virginia Preston) at school he has a eye on.

Mainly, the musical tries to tell the story of two exile families in Thatcherite England both brought together by their own personal tragedies – Sousatzka in her early days in her native Warsaw prior to World War II and escaping the impending Holocaust and Themba growing up without his activist father (Ryan Allen) locked away in a South African prison for opposing the apartheid government during the 1976 Soweto uprising – and finding commonality is not altogether a new idea done in theatre, as Craig Lucas’ book adaptation of Bernice Rubens’ novel tries to do.

The things going for it are some of the songs by David Shire and lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr. like “Music Is In You,” the disco-pulsing “All I Wanna Do (Is Go Dancin’),” teen meet-cute awkwardness personified in “I Don’t Know Anything,” the poignantly moving “Let Go/Diaspora Memories” and “So Sing” are among the brighter tunes, as opposed to overly done if inspirational anthems like “Rainbow Nation” and “Song of the Child” to the underwhelming “Brand New Family.” And while the performances by Barrow, Clark, Glover, Kaye and Fuschia! as Themba’s effervescent singer-activist aunt are stellar,the whole premise of these two worlds coming together is clunky in places that director Adrian Noble knows where he wants to take it, but feels just as lost as the concept is.

Set designer Anthony Ward over-relies on too many of Jon Driscoll’s visual projections in lieu of physical set pieces that clash with the vibrant costuming of Paul Tazewell and Howell Binkley’s lighting designs. There’s a lot of ideas being kicked around on identity and what it means to be a political refugee in a cold, unforgiving world has potential, yet the pacing is rushed, dialogue is somewhat talky and the songs need more polish to go along with Graciela Daniele’s cohesive choreography in the two-and-a-half hour run of Sousatzka that deserved a bit better. If it truly wants to take Broadway by storm as they plan to this fall, hopefully it’ll learn a lot from here first.

***

Sousatzka continues through April 9. For tickets/information, call 416-323-0431 or visit sousatzkamusical.com.

Multimedia artist takes the helm of b current’s ship

Alt-theatre company b current anoints Catherine Hernandez to Artistic Director

Arts Feature

b current, Toronto’s culturally-rooted alternative performance arts company of feminist and gay theatre, announced the appointment of a new Artistic Director on March 15, writer/performer/producer Catherine Hernandez, an artist with a ten-year association with the company; replacing its two departing artistic directors Jajube Mandiela and Alison Wong after working for the company for four years together.

“The Board of Directors is happy to announce the appointment of Catherine Hernandez as the new Artistic Director. A staple in Toronto’s theatre community, Catherine joins b current bringing with her a wealth of knowledge from her work as an accomplished artist, writer, producer, educator, and administrator. Her zeal and creative exuberance will undoubtedly serve the organization immensely during its transition of leadership and into the future. Please join us in welcoming Catherine Hernandez,” said Chair of the Board of Directors Karim Morgan.

Mandiela and Wong worked for four years together culminating in the company’s 25th anniversary season which included the re-visioning of dark diaspora ... in dub into the epic diaspora Dub, and the launch of the company’s first Canadian and international tours with Brotherhood: The Hip Hopera, currently touring across Canada and in India. With years of performance work under her belt, Mandiela now craves to deepen her own artistic voice and will pursue solo projects in theatre and on-screen.

During her tenure as Artistic Director she helped raise the company’s profile and proudly developed bcHub, b current’s new training program. And after seven years with b current, Wong will continue her ongoing work in theatre and opera as a director and performer, as well as a producer with Small Wooden Shoe with Jacob Zimmer. She looks forward to bringing the spirit of advocacy and culturally-rooted arts practice as she had fostered at b current into her future work.

Catherine Hernandez is a proud queer woman of colour, twice-published playwright, performer and award-winning author. Her one-woman show, The Femme Playlist, premiered at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre back in October 2014 as part of b current’s afterRock Plays series co-produced by b current, Eventual Ashes and Sulong Theatre. She has served playwright residencies at b current, Theatre Passe Muraille, Carlos Bulosan Theatre, Shaw Festival Theatre, Blyth Festival Theatre and Nightswimming Theatre and her skills in producing, arts administration, marketing and education have been put to use at Native Earth Performing Arts, Theatre Passe Muraille, Aluna Theatre, Cahoots Theatre Projects and countless other companies.

Hernandez is currently the Thinker in Residence at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre; plus being an accomplished author, her children’s book, M is for Mustache: A Pride ABC Book, was published by Flamingo Rampant Press in 2015 and her award-winning novel, Scarborough, is set to be published by Arsenal Pulp Press this coming April.

“My political activism in the areas of uplifting and amplifying the voices of black, indigenous, of-colour and LGBTQ2S communities through arts education and production is a lifetime journey for me” said Hernandez, “and I am excited to continue this allyship as Artistic Director of b current.”

***

For more information on b current, visit bcurrent.ca.

Turtle Island gets a double spotlight at the Junos

Canada’s folk-rock veteran and globally-recognized Native Rights activist star Buffy Sainte-Marie gets honoured with a humanitarian award at the 2017 Juno Awards this weekend.

Music Feature

In rethinking our relationship with the indigenous community for Canada’s 150th birthday, the Juno Awards do a double ceremony in honouring the First Nations with a renaming of the music category honouring aboriginal music by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Science (CARAS) and awarding one of our best-known and beloved singer/songwriters, Buffy Sainte-Marie, with the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award this coming Saturday (April 1) at the Shaw Centre in Ottawa.

Given out annually at the Junos, the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award celebrates and recognizes the philanthropic efforts made by Canadian musicians that have created a positive impact on the social welfare of society as whole. Named after CHUM Ltd. founder Allan Waters, the award is made possible by funding from BCE-Bell Media Benefits which will be given to the iconic (and previous Juno winner) performer who pioneered “powwow rock” and protest rock in her fifty-year career, including “Starwalker,” “The Big Ones Get Away,” “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee” and her 1964 antiwar classic hit “Universal Soldier.”

“It’s our privilege to present the legendary Buffy Sainte-Marie with the 2017 Allan Waters Humanitarian Award,” said Randy Lennox, President of Broadcasting and Content at Bell Media. “Her dedication to improving the lives of Indigenous people is truly humbling. We look forward to celebrating this iconic artist and her inspiring philanthropic work at this year’s Juno Awards.”

“I’ve had some great partners in mobilizing my ideas in art, education and technology, especially the W.K. Kellogg Foundation who taught me that there’s a difference between an administrator and a visionary,” said Sainte-Marie, in her acceptance of the award. “Both are important but visionaries are seldom pushy in that business way that administrators learn; and visionaries don't think in corporate pecking order terms so often get squashed out in normal business systems. I’ve been lucky enough to work in both worlds, and although my timing has sometimes been off and gotten my big mouth into trouble, other times, with the help of other people, I’ve been effective beyond my expectations. So I thank all my colleagues in and out of the music business for helping put my songs to work.”

Also the award previously known as Best Aboriginal Album of the Year will be renamed as Indigenous Music Album of the Year that covers the First Nations experience and culture in Canada through words and/or music. The category accepts all traditional Indigenous music including: traditional Aboriginal music: Iroquois, Social Pow Wow Drum (Sioux, Assiniboine, Cree, Ojibwe, Blackfoot, etc.); all Hand Drums (Inuit, Dene, Cree, Mi’kmaq, West Coast, etc.), Inuit Throat Singing; Traditional Flutes; Métis, Cree and Mi’kmaq Fiddling. In addition, fusions of all genres of contemporary music that incorporate the above and/or reflect the unique Indigenous experience in Canada, by virtue of words or music, with this year’s nominees including Ojibwe country-blueswoman Crystal Shawanda’s Fish Out of Water, Bryden Gwiss Kiwenzie of Nova Scotia’s Round Dance & Beats (Powwow) and Inuit groups Quantum Tangle’s Tiny Hands and Silla+Rise’s Debut to be awarded on April 2nd.

“The renaming of this award to Indigenous Music Album of the Year aims to honour, respect and acknowledge the Indigenous peoples of Canada and their long standing contributions to the Canadian music industry and their rich history in this country,” said Allan Reid, President and CEO of CARAS/The Juno Awards and MusiCounts. “At CARAS we always strive to provide equal celebration for all of Canada’s diverse musical specialities.”

Clockwise: Crystal Shawanda, Bryden Gwiss Kiwenzie, Silla+Rise and Quantum Tangle are the nominees in the newly-recategorized Indigenous Music Album of The Year for this year’s Juno Awards.

“Our committee asked CARAS to consider the change because we felt that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People provided a stronger foundation for our collective movement than what had been established around the term ‘Aboriginal,’” explains Alan Greyeyes, Chair of the Juno Awards Indigenous Music Album of the Year Music Advisory. “Our music community is made up of artists from many Nations who bring their own languages, perspectives, truths, and styles to the table and I'm glad that CARAS is committed to helping us share these gifts with audiences and media here on Turtle Island and beyond.”

***

2017 Juno Awards will be broadcast on CTV this Sunday (April 2). For more information, visit junoawards.ca.

EDITION #127 - WEEK OF MARCH 20-26, 2017

Live-action remake retains some magic

Beauty and the Beast (Walt Disney)

Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad

Director: Bill Condon

Producers: David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman

Screenplay: Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spilliotopolus; based on the 1992 Walt Disney animated film and tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont

Film Review

Oftentimes as they’ve done in the last few years in rehashing their animated masterpieces into live-action versions, Walt Disney has had a pretty good record in maintaining the spirit of the original inasmuch as inject some fresher material to stand it apart. For their remake of the 1992 musical fantasy-romance classic Beauty and the Beast, they’ve kept it aloft in the same manner, yet some of the magic is kind of missing.

Our heroine Belle (Watson) is a bright and bookish young lady in her provincial town in pre-revolutionary France which is frowned upon (most telling moments are when she’s scoffed at by teaching a young washer girl to read by one of the menfolk and being inventive in finding a new way to wash clothing) while trying to fight off the advances of the hunky, narcissist hunter Gaston (Evans) to be his bride, when all she wants is to find a kindred spirit to her liberated soul.

Finding out that her doting widower father Maurice (Kevin Kline) has been imprisoned by the Beast (Stevens) for plucking a rose from his garden on her behalf, she takes his place and finds that the Beast’s castle is filled with inanimate objects bearing the spirits and personas of his servants. As the illuminating candelabra footman Lumière (Ewan McGregor), cautious clock butler Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) and motherly teapot cook Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson) see Belle as the one who can break their master’s spell if she could fall in love with him, unless time and Gaston and his sideman LeFou (Gad) conspire against them in their plans of making them all human again.

Creating more fleshed-out back stories – in particular of how the Beast became the cursed beast to why Belle is a motherless daughter – and a couple of new tunes to the soundtrack catalogue with surviving tunesmith Alan Menken with the help of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s go-to lyricist Tim Rice like “Days In the Sun” and operatic (if slightly overkill) “Evermore,” gives some depth and punched-up humour to it from screenwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spilliotopolus’ to the original screenplay of Linda Woolverton and Anthony Van Laast’s choreography is on par here.

And announcing that Gad’s LeFou is a “openly” gay Disney character that yearns a unrequited love for Gaston, supposedly in keeping the film’s LGBT history in line from the late lyricist Howard Ashman who posthumously co-won the Academy Award for Best Original Song “Beauty and the Beast” to Cogsworth voiced by the then-closeted David Ogden Stiers and now in the flesh by McKellen; does add more a little more fun to the role but it wouldn’t offend for today’s younger audience members for concerned parents (unless you live in Alabama, Russia or Malaysia).

While it entertains for the most part thanks to the radiant performances by Watson and McGregor in song and act (“Be Our Guest” is still the showstopper highlight next to the iconic ballroom dance scene to the title track and barroom sequence to “Gaston’s Theme” led by Gad) and Stevens brings a honourable grace to the Beast, director Bill Condon really had a hard act to follow despite his deft direction and dramatic poses without, thankfully, doing a shot-per-shot remake that wouldn’t have done the film any justice, that this version lacks a certain vibe to it that made it lovable in the first place.

If you loved the original like I do, this slightly darker version will make some of its fans happy enough – compared to its IMAX, sing-along and 3-D reissues of 2002, 2010 and 2012, respectively and the 1994 Broadway musical version – but this Beauty and the Beast feels like it has finally exhausted its energy in the pop culture lexicon its beholden onto for so long.

TIFF Kids film fest turns twenty years young

The Academy Award-nominated Québécois antiwar classic The Dog Who Stopped the War gets a free showing April 16 as part of TIFF Kids Film Festival, celebrating twenty years this year.

The family component to TIFF’s cinematic mandate marks two decades of children’s films this April

Film Preview

In the days way before TIFF Lightbox (350 King Street West) was still a mere twinkle in the cinema organization’s eye, the film advocacy was reaching out toward its future audiences by exposing the littlest filmgoer to what film can do in terms of growth and educating, as well as amusing its toughest audience and critics of all: kids. Thus, the TIFF Kids International Film Festival was born with this year hosting 18 diverse programmes and showcasing over 125 Canadian and international live-action and animated films, starting April 7 to 23 with free and ticketed events.

“We are thrilled to be celebrating our twentieth anniversary with a programming lineup that reflects that excitement and features our biggest and best programme to date,” said Elizabeth Muskala, Director of TIFF Kids and Youth Learning. “With over one hundred-and-sixty films from over forty countries, the range and breadth of work presented at this year’s TIFF Kids Festival is sure to enlighten, entertain, and engage audiences of all ages. The 2017 lineup shines a spotlight on thought-provoking stories that explore diverse themes of home, family, identity and immigration. With titles such as Mauro D’Addio’s road adventure On Wheels; Michel Boujenah’s touching Heartstrings; the sweeping new Disneynature documentary Born in China directed by Lu Chuan; and the beautifully animated Ivan Tsarevitch and the Changing Princess from master storyteller Michel Ocelot – the festival presents films that tell both unique and global stories that moviegoers are sure to connect with.”

As a charitable cultural voice for the city and the nation at large, the fest isn’t just some money-making venture for TIFF to expose children to cinema beyond the mindless Saturday morning TV cartoon trappings (but more on that shortly, ironically enough). All proceeds from the screenings will support its Pocket Fund, which provides free access to TIFF programming for thousands of young people in need each year. Contributions to TIFF Pocket Fund will ensure children and youth, no matter what their financial circumstances are, to be able to experience the joy, wonder and universal power of film.

In view, it’s a lot more extensive children’s film festival than those times when they had to rent out several downtown cinemas to present their roster and more interactive with not only issuing kids their very own TIFF Kids Passport and tour the world, with 41 countries represented in this year’s line-up, where kids can get a stamp for every feature film and shorts programme they attend. Once they have collected three stamps, they can visit the Passport Bureau during the weekends of the TIFF Kids Festival to claim a prize; as well as being part of the critical process of film judging through the TIFF Kids Festival Young People’s Jury Awards, People’s Choice Awards and two awards selected by an adult jury, the TIFF Kids Festival continues to create a forum where kids’ voices can be heard on April 23.

Opening night film is the third Smurf film given its Canadian premiere on April 7, Smurfs: The Lost Village , based on the beloved Belgian comic characters and 1980s Americanized cartoon series; where a 5 p.m. pre-screening party will commence as TIFF Lightbox will be transformed into a colourful Smurf Village; including other features ranging from the Academy Award-nominated flicks My Life As A Courgette and The Dog Who Stopped the War; the coming-of-age 2002 TIFF People’s Choice Award winner Whale Rider celebrating its fifteenth anniversary release; last year’s TIFF Kids Official Selection, the antiwar The Day My Father Became a Bush from the Netherlands to Germany’s Rabbit School.

Eimi Imanashi’s Battalion to My Beat showing in the Reflections programme (April 10, 13-15, 18 and 23) explores a young teen (Mariam Omar Ahmed) trying to find liberation for her people and herself in the disputed Western Sahara region.

Shorts to be shown include Elephants as kids will stomp along with the elephants to the music of They Might Be Giants; the critically-acclaimed Côte d’Ivorie short Get Up Kinshasa! about ten-year old Samuel trying to improve his appearance to be able to go to school; Mexico’s animated parable about patience with a young gardener in El agujero (A hole) ; the Netherlander film Safia’s Zomer (Safia’s Summer) of a refugee girl relocating from her native Libya; from Brazil comes a tale about a mysterious cloudy mountain with Nimbus, The Cloud Catcher and a couple of rarities from the Western Sahara on a rebellious teen girl growing up in a Saharawi refugee camp in Battalion To My Beat and the Maltese family melodrama of a boy in search of a rare fruit for his grandmother’s birthday, Bajtra tax-Xewk (Prickly Pear).

With a focus on Canada’s sesquicentennial, the fest will have the free screening of the classic CBC miniseries adaptation of Anne of Green Gables as introduced by its director Kevin Sullivan; the Canada on Screen: Short and Animated programme showing its short animated masterpieces ranging from Norman McLaren’s Begone Dull Care, Oscar winner The Sand Castle and the ever-immortal tale on our national winter pastime, The Sweater, which will also be part of the one-day, coast-to-coast celebration of Canadian features and shorts National Canadian Film Day 150 on April 19.

French-produced pantomime short Jubile follows the funny journey between a Buckingham Palace guard and one of Queen Elizabeth’s corgis through the streets of London in the Loot Bag Senior: Inspiration x Imagination programme (April 8, 16-17 and 23).

For the April 23rd closing night comes four episodes of Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter directed by Goro Miyazaki follows the adventures of a young girl raised in a mountain fort by her parents and a loving band of robbers. Based on Astrid Lindgren’s book of the same name, this all-new series beautifully blends the classic storytelling of the original with the magical visual style of Studio Ghibli, which also was the winner of the 2016 International Emmy Kids Award for Animation.

The fest will also show the Canadian premiere of two episodes from Disney Channel’s new animated prequel series Tangled: The Series with Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) and Eugene “Flynn Rider” Fitzherbert (Zachary Levi) on more hair-raising adventures to the 2010 hit feature and the shorts programme New York International Children’s Film Festival: Birthday Shorts, which is also celebrating their twentieth anniversary this year with a selection of new and classic shorts from their two-decade history, filled with stories of growth, change and transformation.

Apart from film, families can explore the current digiPlaySpace, an interactive exhibition dedicated to interactive art, design, technology and free onsite activities; the mystery breakfast event Pancakes, Waffles and Garfield and Friends on April 15 where pancakes and waffles will be served along with a screening of the animated classic series of the comic strip cat and Collaborative Art Project: Northern Lights headed by Toronto-based artist and designer Molly Grundy who works in everything from stop-motion animation and illustration to costume design and installation, as this Canada on Screen collaborative art project will transform TIFF Lightbox’s third floor using 16mm animation filmstrips made by TIFF Kids participants for Canada’s 150th birthday.

***

Tickets and passes now on sale. For more information, call 416-599-8433 or visit tiff.net/kids.

EDITION #126 - WEEK OF MARCH 13-19, 2017

Toronto Vice

Richard Baigent’s "Bloor’s Brewery" painting is among the many artworks and artefacts on display at the Metro Reference Library’s TD Gallery exhibit, Vice & Virtue: Booze, Broads & Sunday Laws.

Vice & Virtue: Booze, Broads & Sunday Laws

Venue: TD Gallery, Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge Street

Dates/Times: Through April 30; Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-8:30 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday 1:30 -5 p.m.

Admission/Information: FREE. Call 416-395-5577 or tpl.ca/tdgallery

Gallery Review

On the eve of Canada legalizing recreational marijuana use this spring, the Toronto Public Library takes a look at local prohibition and moral reform in the late 19th- to early 20th centuries for their archival exhibit Vice & Virtue: Booze, Broads & Sunday Laws at their Metro Reference Library’s TD Gallery space, bringing in material and memorabilia from the Baldwin Collection of Canadiana; to remind us that we were too a town full of bluenoses that would continue right up until World War II.

Under the rule of William Holmes, who was elected mayor of Toronto in 1886 on the moral crusade platform to clean up the city already bursting at the seams with bars and brothels, which are well presented with interactive screens describing the local booze operations stretching from the expansive Gooderham & Worts site that now makes up the historic Distillery District near the Port Lands right to the Don Valley brewery of Helliwell Brewery & Distillery that is part of today’s Todmorden Mills Historical Site, even the way long-gone Severn Brewery in the nearby Yorkville area.

Photos of local temperance societies, mostly women who would later be campaigning for universal suffrage and child welfare reform as well as anti-drinking and –smoking laws; and charts explaining how the city established its first police vice squad under Howland to crackdown public drunkenness to those breaking the Sunday observance laws (repealed since 1992 in Ontario, the rest of Canada since 1985).

A temperance pin from 1910 to promote the abstinence of alcohol consumption is viewed with other items in the Vice & Virtue exhibit.

They also hired its first two female officers on the force to mainly keep an eye out for single young ladies from “sinning” in parks, theatres and dancehalls, but also targeted the poor and people of colour. As well as busting up opium dens up until the mid-1920s, the vice squad arrested street buskers and public-playing card players too who were labelled as “disorderly persons.”

One of the more interesting artefacts is the authentic Don Jail Registers from 1847 to 1877, which was the largest jail in North America at the time and held the last execution by hanging in Canada in 1962, which included children as young as 11 to be jailed there, among the other diaries, ads, paintings, posters and prints filling the room. Check Richard Baigent’s nicely faded 1865 watercolour “Bloor’s Brewery” holding some simple if pointed details of the brewer’s property whose name now runs along the downtown core next to the library to the more recognizable “Gooderham & Worts, Ltd.” print and watercolour lithograph by Arthur Henry Hider in 1896.

Expanding closer to the postwar era, the exhibit views defunct local publications like Flash, Justice Weekly, Hush and Tab that dished the juiciest gossip from outing gay cruisers and sexual “deviants” from the 1950s, that ironically tried to stand on moral grounds (on a surprise footnote, Justice Weekly was the first Toronto paper to discuss LGBTQ issues and print same-sex classifieds long before the now-defunct Xtra and its pioneering predecessor The Body Politic ever did).

It’s even hard to believe that before the birth of the LCBO that it operated in a bank-like structure unlike their blue-collar Beer Stores and tonier operations of today did, or that one could openly smoke in bars, restaurants, shopping malls and bookstores (!) as the archival news photos reveal, including the 1981 “Operation Soap” Bathhouse Raids that galvanized the Canadian gay liberation movement as our own Stonewall event – just minus the riots. To ever say that we are a placid and boring country, seeing the Vice & Virtue exhibit extolling against the evils of liquor and prostitution would make one think twice with its fascinating display of our more button-downed society of the past.

The Sesqui gets a classical tune(-up) this summer

Clockwise: Violinist Mark Fewer, soprano vocalist Soile Isokoski and the St. Lawrence String Quartet are part of the musical celebration of the 2017 Toronto Summer Music Festival this July with the heavily-focused theme of Canada’s 150 years of Confederation.

An emphasis of Canada’s 150th makes an imprint on this year’s Toronto Summer Music Festival

Music Preview

Nothing can escape the sesquicentennial of Confederation as it inches closer to our official birthday on July 1, including the music festivals. In his first season as Artistic Director of the annual Toronto Summer Music Festival – running July 13 to August 5 – Jonathan Crow has programmed a festival where the music of Canadian composers including R. Murray Schafer and Gary Kulesha and new works by Carmen Braden and Jordan Pal, will be heard alongside repertoire from around the world that influenced Canada’s burgeoning musical scene.

“Music continues to play an integral role in defining what it means to be Canadian,” said Crow in his explanation of the recently released line-up. “As we celebrate Canada’s 150th, we reflect on the musical influences that have shaped our musical journey and we showcase some of today’s composers and performers who are leading us forward.”

Opening night at Koerner Hall (273 Bloor Street West) has the world-renown St. Lawrence String Quartet Thursday, July 13 with Haydn’s String Quartet No. 32 in C Major, Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14 and Shafer’s String Quartet No. 3; on July 17th, Canadian violinist superstar James Ehnes brings his virtuosity to this recital which is bookended by two glorious works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Partita No. 1 in B Minor and Partita No. 2 in D Minor and also on the program is the world premiere of Sonatina No. 4, Op. 375 “In Homage to J.S. Bach” by Austrian-born Canadian composer Barrie Cabena and composer Eugene Ysaÿe’s Sonata No. 3 in D Minor “Ballade.”

At University of Toronto’s Walter Hall (80 Queen’s Park) features distinguished Canadian violinist Martin Beaver headlining the July 14th concert with pianist Angela Park, St. Lawrence String Quartet violist Lesley Robertson and cellist Christopher Costanza joining him for Beethoven’s Sonata No. 7 for piano and violin in C Minor and the folk-flavoured style Piano Trio No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 32 by Russian composer Anton Arensky in tribute to his teacher, Tchaikovsky; while in a jazz mode has the Mark Fewer Jazz Trio on July 20th with Mark Fewer on violin, David Braid on piano and Joseph Phillips on bass performing an evening of classic jazz tunes from Ellington and Strayhorn to Canadian works by Jan Jarcyzk, Jodi Proznick and Phil Dwyer.

As a tribute to the two founding European nations, festival Artistic Director Crow himself draws his own bow and joins with pianist Philip Chiu for a program of French, English and English/Canadian pieces on July 31st, also at Walter Hall. The recital offers the opportunity to compare violin sonatas by the two most important French composers of the early twentieth century: Debussy’s crisp, neoclassical Sonata for violin and piano in G Minor, Ravel’s jazz and blues-inspired Sonata No. 2 for violin and piano in G Major, plus Sonata No. 1 in E Minor by the English-born composer Healey Willan, who immigrated to Canada in 1913 where he earned high distinction as a composer, teacher and organ soloist. Willan’s music follows traditional late-romantic models like Elgar, whose engaging violin miniatures, with selections for violin and piano rounding out the evening.

The tradition of free and pay-what-you-can concert series continues with their first-ever one-hour free Kids Concert specially designed to introduce children ages five to twelve to classical music. These free concerts are held during the festival on Wednesday mornings at 10 a.m. in Walter Hall; the audience PWYC favourite Shuffle Concerts are casual, hour-long concerts featuring Festival artists and next-generation stars taking place Tuesdays through Thursdays at 5 p.m. at Yorkville’s Heliconian Hall (35 Hazelton Avenue); the free Events Festival Insider events are the behind-the-scenes offerings held Tuesdays through Fridays at 2 p.m. in the Edward Johnson Building, University of Toronto (80 Queen’s Park) and general public is invited to observe as three internationally-renowned performers give free master classes to emerging young artists during the 2017 Festival with violinist James Ehnes (July 16), soprano vocalist Soile Isokoski (July 23) and pianist Jane Coop (July 30).

And perhaps in its most sobering reminder that we are on native land, the fest has a free performance with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada July 25 at Koerner Hall, conducted by Jonathan Darlington which will include works by Borodin and Strauss as well as “The Unsilent Project,” a special Canada 150 signature project that tackles issues of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

***

Festival passes currently on sale; single tickets go on sale this Wednesday (March 15). For more information, call 416-408-0208 or visit torontosummermusic.com.

EDITION #125 - WEEK OF MARCH 6-12, 2017

Moody yet momentous Cirkopolis

Cirque Éloize: Cirkopolis (Canadian Stage/Sony Centre)

Bluma Appel Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre, 27 Front Street East

Wednesday, March 1; 7:30 p.m.

Theatre Review

Reimagining a circus into a gritty noir may seem like a daunting task, yet Cirque Éloize manages to pull it off in their return to Toronto for their award-winning 2012 production Cirkopolis. A more scaled-down show than their previous one iD a few years ago here, the Montréal-based company keeps the basics down to pat in an entertaining way, even if some of their stuff tends to wobble a bit here and there.

In a cloistered, imaginary metropolis with endless skyscrapers and gigantic industrial gears lurking in every corner and portal with that unrelenting feeling of being crushed of any kind of expressive freedom and individuality, the figures of Cirkopolis find ways to break away from the monotony that represses their lives through several acts dispensed over the 90-minute production directed by Dave St-Pierre and Jeannot Painchaud.

Where it works as a updated Modern Times are performed by the troupe range from the near-balletic Cyr Wheel act by Nora Zoller, the company ensemble looser juggling banquine line, the Chaplinesque clown antics of Jérémy Vituper, Jérémie Robert and Antonin Wicky and the most daringly energetic Chinese pole act I’ve seen in ages by Alexie Maheu and Wicky; all against the impressive greyish video projections to embellish the feeling of loneliness in the city’s edginess with occasional bits of brightness peeking out as it does for Selene Ballesteros-Minguer’s seamless climbing rope act.

Where it doesn’t, unfortunately, is the stiff Plus Cubic act and the oft-jarring soundtrack to the show that tries perhaps too hard to sound a little bit like Leonard Cohen’s lyrical compositions that make little sense to whatever is going on at times – with those minor exceptions whenever they go into a jazz swing mode or the high trapeze act working in a playfully childlike manner to some whimsical Peter Gabriel-inspired number – and is somewhat repetitive in places.

However, if you’re looking to get your Cirque fix, Cirque Éloize will fill that prescription for all the darkness it encompasses in Cirkopolis that offers some surprises, humour, slapstick wit and melancholy in these times of darkness that does promise a light at the end of the tunnel despite in what seemingly is a long way off, but at least it tries its best.

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Cirkopolis continues through March 18. For tickets/information, call 1-855-872-7669 or sonycentre.ca.

Controversial procedural psycho-drama a tad tedious

Smyth/Williams (One Little Goat Theatre Company)

Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, 16 Ryerson Avenue

Friday, March 3; 7:30 p.m.

Theatre Review

In one of the more shameful and shocking chapters of sexual predators in loom in Canadian history in recent times came not by some average, nondescript person from the hinterlands of suburbia, but from a highly-regarded and once-trusted member of the Canadian Armed Forces. Former colonel Russell Williams, who was commander of the CFB Trenton, a part of our national security inner circle – he even flew on a couple of VIP government flights from former Prime Minister Stephan Harper to Queen Elizabeth II – and his promising star on the rise to maybe becoming a general one day; came to a end when the double life he was living as a underwear-stealing cat burglar in the Ottawa and Belleville areas turned to extremes by branching into sado-sexual murders that finally caught up with him and rocked the military and the nation.

Poetic theatre company One Little Goat takes a huge risk in staging the true-life ten-hour procedural transcript interrogation of Williams by Ontario Provincial Police Sergeant Detective Jim Smyth by crunching it into the 90-minute, female-centric play Smyth/Williams is nothing short of disturbingly mesmerising, yet it does encounter a few bumps along the way.

Performed by Deborah Drakeford and Kim Nelson, who tend to alternate between roles of the investigator and the investigated along with drummer Lynette Gillis punctuating certain moments and the (heavily) censored transcript gaps with her drum beats and percussions; start off as a casual interview in a OPP police station interrogation room on February 7, 2010 with both men seemingly calm and assured.

As it stretches into a four-and-a-half hour session, it uncomfortably unravels when Smyth talks about the home invasion rape-murders of Jessica Lloyd and Marie-France Comeau, the latter an army associate of Williams; plus two other sexual assaults that the evidence slowly leads toward him, it turns into a psychological breakdown of the disciplined career military man who’s order crumbles away into confession and self-admittance to his crime spree.

Smyth/Williams is a atypical production that doesn’t play it straightforward in order to give it some sense of aesthetic composition as directed by Adam Seelig, as the two actors and musical accompanist try to give it some weight and scale as it does in the beginning, but by the middle the play tends loses cohesion before it saves itself when it comes to the damning confession that the tension fully comes out, all on a punk-inspired set design by Jackie Chau and conspicuous lighting from Laird Macdonald in the restrictive if appropriately-sized venue to give it more atmosphere.

One cannot fault Drakeford and Nelson with the play’s sagging middle, as their performances are heavily stark and focused on the material and topic. Without going into the gory details of Williams’ crimes, neither one does offer (and nor should it) any off-stage explanation as to what possessed him to rob 82 houses and steal pubescent girls’ underwear and women’s lingerie that later developed into something abnormally heinous, and nor is it ever exploitive in looking to gain some sense of sensationalism.

And that’s mainly the point of the play, as it offhandedly addresses the issue of women serving in our Armed Forces where one quarter of them have been sexually assaulted by their male comrades and officers, as well as engage into a discussion of rape culture in society that sorely needs to be addressed.

In all my years of reviewing theatre, Smyth/Williams is the very first time there wasn’t any after-performance applause from the audience. Given the heavy nature of the play, it lets one allow something to sink into the mind about violence against women and whatever demons permitted Williams, now serving two life sentences at a Port-Cartier, Québec maximum-security prison; to succumb to his darker nature. It’s not an easy sit-through and the play unnecessary wears itself down, but you won’t walk out of it untouched by the performances and its story.

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Smyth/Williams continues through to Sunday (March 12). For tickets/information, call 416-504-7529 or theatrepassemuraille.com or onelittlegoat.org.