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.

EDITION #86 - WEEK OF APRIL 25-MAY 1, 2016

Evocative Épocas

Photo credit: © 2016 Hamid Karimi

Épocas (Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company/Harbourfront Centre)

Fleck Dance Theatre, 207 Queen’s Quay West, 3rd Floor

Friday, April 22; 8 p.m.

Dance Review

Épocas, the new ensemble production by the local heroine of Latin dance, Esmeralda Enrique and her noted dance company, strikes up a chord of dance numbers in tribute to flamenco dance and music pioneers whom they own a debt of gratitude with some contemporary measures suited to each piece across Harbourfront Centre’s Fleck Dance Theatre stage for a three-night run in remarkable moves.

Accordionist Jerry Caringi opened up the 75-minute show under a lone spotlight with the segment “Canción del Fuego Fatuo” with Enrique taking the lead with her ensemble group featuring Pamela Briz, Virginia Castro, Paloma Cortés, Noelia La Morocha and Raphael del Pino as vintage flamenco dancer photos rolss backdrops on the stage screen. Some had their fair share of solos and duos, but most surprising was Enrique bursting minutely into song with a graceful husk to it accompanied by her castanets to recognizing 1970s Argentine legend Manuel de Falla.

“Un Rayo de Sol” reflected Spain’s Moorish heritage as Briz, Castro, La Morocha and Cortés done up in reds and bolero hats as they danced under Islamic-patterned images projected onto the flooring while saluting the likes of Carmen Amaya, Pastora Imperio and Manuela Vargas who challenged the feminine stereotypes of their day was a pretty sharp and powerful number.

The usage of purple dominated “Zorongo Gitano” with a more stylish choreography and Andalusian pulse gave it buoyancy, plus having a projected full moon had a smooth touch to this number. Lengthy “Mi Baile” as soloed by Del Pino clearly ruled the production for his shout-out to dance icons Vicente Escudero and Mario Maya, mirroring both their nonconformist attitudes especially when he pulls a few Michael Jackson-inspired spins and brought company singer Manuel Soto to join him for a few steps – Soto also studied the dance in his youth until his passion for singing flamenco upstaged it – made it quite sexy at times.

Riding crops and boots were broken out for the quartet piece “Grazalema” as a rather unconventional costuming choice of the notion of riding about in the Pyrenees range, but presented itself in a balletic fashion, as dusty brown and orange hues closed out the production with ensemble number “Luz del Alba” in remembrance of dancer Cameron de la Isla and Paco de Lucía’s own flamenco form, canastera, mixed the traditional and modern quite easily and passionately.

Backup bandmates Caringi, percussionist Rosendro “Chendy” León, guitarists Caroline Planté (also the music director) and Benjamin Barrite, singers Soto and Tamar Ilana upheld their part in keeping up with the dancers and in their own moments between dances for “Postal de Invierno”and “Esperando el Alba.” It’s not too often you’ll see a woman flamenco guitarist, but Planté definitely has the cred to play with equal fashion as Barrite did.

Enrique and Mary Janeiro’s costume designs are brilliant to be their most colour spectral show to date, along with James Kendal’s expressive video designs and Sharon DiGenova’s technical direction and lighting playing a major part. If there was only one flaw in Épocas, it went to the first-half duo closer “La Caña.” Enrique and Del Pino managed to pull some passionate tension between them and their synchronicity echoed clearly all in their black tones, but it said very little in their choreographic output that one could find anything original, no matter how fiery the music is. Still, the production was fine enough to give the company its merit on being one of the best flamenco troupes in the country.

Satisfying generic fantasy sequel

The Huntsman: Winter’s War (Universal)

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt

Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan

Producer: Joe Roth

Screenplay: Evan Spillotopoulos and Craig Mazin; based on the characters by Evan Daugherty

Film Review

While 2012’s fantasy-adventure Snow White and The Huntsman didn’t win over too many critics for its retelling of the old Snow White fairytale, it did draw in some respectable box office numbers to warrant a follow-up. So now with The Huntsman: Winter’s War, it finds itself in an enviable position in becoming the first-ever prequel/sequel hybrid with some relatively interesting results and being just as entertaining as the last one.

First things first: it sets up the origin story of sorts for the leading hero Eric (Hemsworth) in how he became a Huntsman by being abducted as a child by the (literally) frosty Queen Freya (Blunt) with her special cyrokinetic powers, raising a army of Huntsmen and Huntswomen pillaging across the Northern states to exert her reign as substitutes for the tragic loss of her infant daughter seemingly murdered by her fiancé (Colin Morgan) and the father of her child years ago, banishing all love from her kingdom.

Growing up with and falling for his comrade Sara (Chastain), an equally skilled warrior whom both pledge their love on the eve of their elopement in looking to leave Freya’s command, only to be deceived and separated by her. Seven years later – shortly after the events of the first film – Eric is assigned by Snow White’s consort (Sam Claflin) to perform a task in finding the Magic Mirror which possesses the spirit of fallen queen Ravenna (Theron), who also happened to be Freya’s older sister; has gone missing en route for its destruction, with dwarfs Nion (Nick Frost) and his half-brother Gryff (Rob Brydon) accompanying him on the mission.

Along the journey they run into a couple of bold dwarf highwaywomen Mrs. Bromwyn (Sheridan Smith) and Doreena (Alexandra Roach) who want a reward in helping them out in retrieving the Mirror from some goblins and the surprising return of a seemingly bitter Sara, whom Eric believed to be long dead; before Freya gets her hands on it for her plans for complete domination.

While it sticks to the old standbys of a dark fantasy, the film is a slight improvement over the last one in bringing up themes on love, betrayal and loss in the okay script work of Evan Spillotopoulos and Craig Mazin using The Snow Queen story, plus there’s a bit more humorous in the delivery and performances. With Cedric Nicolas-Troyan at the helm and who did the visual effects for the last film, he manages to guide Winter’s War in that route in getting some thrills in the action scenes in the process.

Very much his own film now, Hemsworth brings out the swagger and style as the capable hero in carrying it with ease, alongside Chastain as his better-half and a serious fighter with her own moves to be reckoned with. Then there’s that undercurrent feeling of sibling rivalry between Theron, who’s eviler than ever in reprising her role; pitting up against Blunt’s buried sentimentality and pain as the sympathetic villainess here. Frost and Brydon to are the effective comic relief duo for the film, but never underestimate the saucy banter that goes on between them and Smith almost taking the show with her toughness while Roach nicely provides the shy, quiet sidekick type.

Generic as it is in its structure, The Huntsman: Winter’s War is a satisfying enough fantasy while not doing anything really new for the genre of remaking the fairytale flick for today’s audiences not afraid to look at the original nadir behind them anymore or accepting women to have a bigger and better portrayals beyond being yesteryear’s damsels in distress.

Dreamers and Rebels: CONTACT at 20

Multimedia artist Mickalene Thomas returns to the CONTACT Photography Festival’s twentieth anniversary with her latest billboard works, What it Means to be Beautiful.

The world’s largest photography festival reflects on two decades of publicly accessible pictures on Torontonian galleries and streets

CONTACT Photography Festival 2016 Preview

Millions and millions of photographs later, it doesn’t seem our affair with the medium has diminished even in the digital era as the CONTACT Photography Festival 2016 celebrates twenty years this May for a month-long fête of every type of camera-related imagery from the aesthetic to the everyday to plaster all around Toronto and in some cases, across Canada; with over 1,500 professional and emerging artists from around the world in over two hundred venues.

“Together we reflect on the last 20 years of the CONTACT Photography Festival and the innumerable encounters with images it has activated throughout the city, suspending movement and provoking imagination,” stated festival Artistic Director Bonnie Rubenstein. “Exploring paths that connect people and photographs, we have led the approach to intersections where meaningful experiences take place. The extraordinary scope of photography and its all-encompassing influence is illuminated by CONTACT, as we present a broad spectrum of work by acclaimed and emerging lens-based artists, documentary photographers, and photojournalists from Canada and around the world. Pursuing innovation and site-specific projects, we also look back at the foundations of the medium.

“Over the years, we have questioned the veracity of images and studied their constructed nature, heralded their pervasive influence, and acknowledged their dramatic social and political impact. Our perception of reality has been challenged by photographs that frame shifting landscapes or serve as markers of history and surrogates for memory,” she further opined. “We have examined photography’s evolution, and how past manifestations continuously inform current practices. After confronting proclamations of photography’s impending death, we ushered in the resurgence of analogue processes. And while amassing vast quantities of images derived from everyday image-making, we prudently distinguished exceptional photographs and their widespread implications. Idiosyncratic representations of identity have engendered our reverence, empathy, and enlightened sense of self, both individually and collectively.”

More than just having a month-long photo exhibition all over town from the obvious to the oblivious places to place them, be in the galleries, community centres and schools, cafés, stores and many unexpected alternative venues; CONTACT has also been a medium for connecting communities and their residents in a large metropolis such as ours that can at times be very isolating for the many who live here. “Positioned on streets, billboards, and subway platforms, or suspended from the façades and interiors of buildings, our public installations transform the experience of the city,” Rubenstein explained; which includes the Open Exhibitions format that is the festival’s democratic foundation started in 1996. “Conveying narratives specific to the environment, its usage, and inhabitants, the interplay between the photographic subject and its surrounding context destabilizes the conventions of advertising and alters the patterns of everyday activity in public spaces.

“Drawn from distinctly varied sources across the city and around the world, these outstanding works offer powerful insights and compelling views of social landscape, political turmoil and cultural change. Underscoring the shadowy territory between fact and fiction, they depict dreamers and rebels, and explore conceptions of beauty and pride,” the director concludes. “Over the years, hundreds of thousands of images have mapped millions of experiences across our urban communities, guiding us to see and better understand the multifaceted nature of our place within constantly changing scenes.”

Christian Patterson’s Bottom of the Lake series graces the CONTACT flagship gallery at 80 Spadina Street.

Highlights for this year’s CONTACT involves art-activists duo Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge and their four decades of collaboration in the expansive exhibit Public Exposures throughout the 410 Richmond complex (401 Richmond Street West) May 14 to June 25; Bottom of the Lake from Christian Patterson about memory, place and identity from his Fond du Lac, Wisconsin home at the festival flagship gallery (80 Spadina Avenue, Suite 205) April 28 to June 30, including the 2015 Paris Photo – Aperture Foundation PhotoBook Awards Shortlist April 28 to May 28; Vancouver First Nations photographer Raymond Boisjoly showing issues of indigeneity and cultural transformation, asserting new possibilities for inhabiting the present with Over a Distance Between One and Many at the Koffler Gallery (180 Shaw Street, Suites 104-105) through to June 12 and The Globe and Mail assembles 175 photos from their vast photography collection for Cutline on what makes (or doesn’t make) the front pages as a last hurrah in their Press Hall (425 Wellington Street West) before its eventual demolition for their new home April 30 to June 26.

Two major venues the Art Gallery of Ontario (316 Dundas Street West) and the Aga Khan Museum (77 Wynford Drive) have Outsiders: American Photography and Film, 1950s-1980s through to May 29 on American photographers that went the nonconformist route and A City Transformed: Images of Istanbul Then and Now through to June 26 about the changing face of the Turkish metropolis over the last century, respectively.

Left-right: We Will Soon Be Nigh! gets to poke at the Apocalypse by Brendan George Ko; Raymond Boisjoly’s Over a Distance Between One and Many showcases indigenous and cultural transformation issues and Instagram parody-celebrity account #DrizzyDoesUTSG puts Torontonian rap star Drake in fictional shots around University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus.

Survey, a retrospective of Joel Meyerowitz from the late 1960s to recently commissioned images get a view at the Stephen Bulger Gallery (1026 Queen Street West) running May 7 to June 18; legendary high-fashion shutterbug Milton H. Greene gets a tribute of his celebrity shots from Grace Kelly to Marilyn Monroe in The Women of Hollywood May 6 to June 30 at 18 Watt (660 Caledonia Road, Unit 202); while more topical works get viewed ranging from the aftermath of Japan’s 2011 3.11 triple-disaster for Post Tohoku by Michel Huneault at Campbell House Museum (160 Queen Street West) May 5 to June 12, Tomas van Houtryve’s controversial Blue Sky Days: A Drone’s Eye View of getting a reversal of drone cameras aimed at American public places, events and security zones in response to military drone attacks at the Nikola Rukaj Gallery (384 Eglinton Avenue West) May 1 to 31 to the disaster-themed satirical We Will Soon Be Nigh!, Brendan George Ko’s jaundiced future view through recent events and pop culture icons May 6 to 28 at the LE Gallery (1183 Dundas Street West).

Commonplace England is caught in all its dreariness by Tony Bock for his No Renumeration for Placekeepers: Social Landscapes of Britain in the 1970s at Fine & Dandy Gallery (2017 Dundas Street West) April 30 to May 28; Mickalene Thomas returns with What it Means to be Beautiful on her take of societal standards on the female image not only on billboards at Front and Spadina Streets throughout May, but also across Canada in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Saskatoon and Montréal.

For the offbeat, there’s the parody-celebrity Instagram account UofTDrizzy #DrizzyDoesUTSG by an anonymous University of Toronto student sending up a Torontonian rap superstar Drake in Photoshopped poses around campus (buildings on St. George Street/King’s College Circle); Aidan, Audrey, Bruno, Henry and 7 more Visionary Mammals at Rawlicious (2122 Bloor St West) where nature-centred photos get viewed in this group exhibit from May 1 to 31; the photo-abstract Cosmos by Maia trips the light-speed fantastic of space-time continuums at the Walnut Contemporary (201 Niagara Street) May 4 to 28. And this year’s festival Scotiabank Award goes to Angela Grauerholz with her thirty-year retrospective at Ryerson Image Centre (33 Gould Street) May 4 to August 21, mostly based on memory, architecture and display modes of archives, museums and libraries shot across North America and Europe.

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CONTACT 2016 runs from May 1 to 31 in various free and ticketed venues around Toronto. For information, call 416-539-9595 or visit scotiabankcontactphoto.com.

High-wired to take the Great White Way…again

Fourth time’s the hopeful charm Cirque du Soleil’s Paramour will fulfil their Manhattan dreams

Left-right: Aerial strap identical twin brother act Andrew and Ken Atherton and leads Ruby Lewis and Ryan Vona do rehearsals for Cirque du Soleil’s latest attempt for a New York audience, Paramour, readying to launch this May.

Theatre Preview

Idealistic as it was back then to stage a residency show at Los Angeles’ Dolby Theater, Cirque du Soleil’s film-themed production IRIS opened with enough critical and audience acclaim, however it really wasn’t enough to maintain a firm toehold – over one of many things, lack of a proper parking space – and reluctantly had to close the show after a year-and-a-half in 2012. Rather than let a good thing go to waste and with their eye ever longing for a spot in that other entertainment capital of New York City, the Canadian neo-circus giant has now repackaged it into a traditional musical, Paramour, currently in previews and set to open in grand style next month at the Lyric Theater.

It’s not Cirque’s first attempt at the New York market, which has been a longtime dream of founder Guy Laliberté, next to London’s West End. After conquering the world with their touring shows when they burst onto the scene in 1984 and scoring a coup in launching a series of residency shows in Las Vegas that increased his and the company’s fortune and brand, the Big Apple’s highly-competitive theatre business that produces more losses than gains (about 20%, to be exact) would seem like a natural. Their first shot for a permanent presence began in 2007 with the holiday family seasonal show Wintuk, enjoying a four-year run at Madison Square Gardens and garnered a modest profit and praise, but little else.

Also came two more attempts: the 2010 neo-Vaudevillian Banana Shpeel that tanked, much to their embarrassment at the Beacon Theater and the back-to-basics rock operatic Zarkana in 2011, which fared better and sold over one million tickets for a two-year summer residency at the famed Radio City Music Hall, before it went on a very brief European tour and relocation to Vegas that recently ended this past April. Plus, trying to cut through the bureaucratic red tape in Manhattan to build their own venue was nightmarish enough.

Now comes the $25 million Paramour, resurrected from IRIS ’ ashes by the same writer/director Philippe Decouflé, who once backed out on directing duties for their saucy burlesque show Zumanity that’s still running in Vegas; along with its cast of acrobats and dancers, plus sixteen actors onboard that includes their leads Ruby Lewis playing rising starlet Indigo, Ryan Vona as the poetic composer Joey and Winnipeg-born Jeremy Kushnier replacing original lead Bradley Dean (more on that later) as the dictatorial filmmaker A.J. Golden, all caught in a love triangle during a filming set during the Golden Era of Hollywood. And helping to bring Cirque to the Great White Way from the Great White North is Scott Zeiger, a musical stage promotion veteran hired by the company back in 2014 to head their Cirque du Soleil Theatrical division as their president and managing director to translate their brand of theatre for the traditional stage, which they had until now found quite a difficult territory to tackle.

“In a traditional Broadway musical, you see a character who might be talking, might be having a general conversation and then will burst into song,” Zeiger explained. “In our show, you’re going to see that singing, you’re going to see that dancing, but you’re also going to see something more physical, more hyper-real, more surreal than what you’d see in a traditional Broadway show. If you’ve seen other Cirque du Soleil shows, they’re primarily visual and extraordinary spectacles and while they do have a thin story, it really is a visual and emotional rollercoaster and you take away from it whatever you wish. The creation of Paramour gives us this extraordinary opportunity to tell a story with a beginning, middle and end. We’ll be doing this in a very, very unique way, meaning we’ll use acrobatics and Cirque du Soleil theatrically for storytelling.

Cast members with Cirque founder Guy Laliberté (second row, centre right with hat) at the April 16th preview opening night of Paramour, a Golden Age-era Hollywood love triangle story at New York’s Lyric Theater.

“For the first thirty years the company existed, every single show that Cirque did was singular,” he added, with more ambitious plans for the show and the division in general. “If we are successful with what we’re doing on Broadway, we will be able to replicate Paramour in London or Germany or Tokyo or Melbourne and take that DNA we were investing real money and real time in creating to enjoy the potential global exploitation simultaneously.”

Unlike their other productions that usually get all straighten out at their International Headquarters in Montréal and gradually change over the course of the show’s lifetime from opening night and out on the road, Cirque has had it fair share of the drama and headaches of aiming for Broadway. Earlier in the year as it was going through rehearsals, it faced a possible confrontation with Actor’s Equity from mixing their acting pool with the neo-circus’ entourage – this also was a concern during the Banana Spheel days – but had managed to come to an agreement that satisfied both parties.

Then until a few weeks ago after a media preview event before Cirque’s executives, commonly known in their circles as the dreaded “Lion’s Den”; veteran actor Bradley Dean who was set to play A.J. Golden, had left the show due to “creative differences.” And on top of that, the creators were under pressure to trim the running time of less than two hours compared to their usual two-and-a-half hour touring shows like their latest one, LÙZIA, not to mention their ineligibility to make the show open on time to beat the June 2nd deadline for a chance at this year’s Tony Awards.

The international cast of forty-plus acrobats and dancers often provide as the backdrops and/or metaphors in Paramour, as scene director West Hyler tells it. “Sometimes we use acrobats to reveal the inner psychology or to physicalize the emotional and psychological struggle of the characters. It’s like the dream ballet in Carousel, which is a musical trope that’s been around forever, except we’re taking the idea of a dream ballet and making it a dream trapeze act. The same characters are embodied by different artists who have the skills necessary at those points in the story.”

Two of those acrobats just happen to be old Cirque favourites identical twin brothers Andrew and Kevin Atherton from Manchester, England who have worked the aerial straps for the company from the early days of Varekai  to the more recent, IRIS and Zarkana in Las Vegas. “We’ve been doing performances with Cirque du Soleil for fifteen years,” said Andrew, “(but) this is completely new. We arrived here to do this project and we’re working with some extremely talented singers, actors, dancers and the key is to blend all that together to what we do. And it’s phenomenal to come to rehearsals everyday and to see it unfolding before our eyes.”

Without bragging too much, he also credits Kevin in getting a good repertoire and solid trust with him for all these years. “I wouldn’t say it’s a twin connection, but we’ve been working together for so long and I know he’ll put my safety before his,” he continues. “So then you can concentrate on making the act emotional and beautiful, not on thinking ‘Is this safe?’ We’re always adding elements of danger into our act and choreography to make it more spectacular.”

For Kushnier, literally the new face here that stepped in as one of the leads after Dean’s departure, he is just as amazed by the working ethos of Cirque, even though he’s been in the Toronto production of Jersey Boys during its 2008 run and in a number of Broadway shows like Footloose: The Musical, revivals of Rent and Jesus Christ Superstar to Shear Madness. “It’s so weird, ‘cause I’ve seen some of the stuff (the cast) have done and it’s like, you can’t get the scale [of the show] ‘til it’s in the theatre,” he said. “Like I seen this trapeze (number) and I have to watch it (from below) and I think ‘Wow! That’s interesting…and terrifying.”

Acrobats tumble during rehearsal in a key scene in Paramour , the marriage of a bone fide Broadway musical and Cirque’s brand of circus stunts looking to please both crowds.

Despite having a $5 million gross advance for 50,000 tickets sold and a healthy $190,774 box office take on its April 16 opening preview weekend to prove it, Cirque has no illusions to how their promising start could take a sudden tumble as well. New York audiences are a tough and unforgiving lot, not to mention they simply can’t do a makeover during a show’s run as past experience has taught them unlike other Cirque shows that can afford such liberties, both artistically and financially, and Zeiger recognizes that.

“We understand Broadway statistics,” Zeiger acknowledged, “and we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. The focus is making New York City a hit. But we do have this fantastically loyal built-in base of Cirque du Soleil fans (in New York and worldwide) who will come to experience the show. We also hope that we will also deliver for that Broadway ticket buyer an experience that they feel is worthy of their ticket dollars. And if we can crack that nut and create the merger of the Broadway fan and the Cirque fan into (Paramour), there is clearly a very large audience potential.”

As to any worries that Paramour will be a warmed-over remake of IRIS, acrobatic choreographer Shana Caroll who’s worked on both shows reassures it’s different this time around. “There was a little bit of a desire to build from IRIS, but in the end we took a completely different direction…I think (Paramour) is the best of both worlds, the best of Cirque du Soleil and the best of Broadway. There’s many things acrobatics can say that you can’t say in words; like when you’re swept off your feet ‘cause you fall in love. We can actually and literally sweep them (acrobats) off their feet.”

And the final words go to the creator and director himself. “For me, working on Broadway is kind of a dream,” said the French-born Decouflé, who also directed music videos in the 1980s for New Order (“True Faith”) and Fine Young Cannibals (“She Drives Me Crazy”). “I’m so proud to be here to work on Broadway where we can create a new art form which can be very beautiful, I hope.”

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Paramour is currently in previews at the Lyric Theater (213 West 42nd Street) in New York City until May 24; indefinite run begins May 25. For tickets/information, call Ticketmaster 1-877-250-2929 or visit cirquedusoleil.com/paramour.