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 #100 - WEEK OF AUGUST 15-21, 2016

Psyching out and jumbled juxtapositions

SummerWorks 2016 Reviews

Part 2 of a 2-part series

Left-right: SummerWorks Music series coordinator Adam Bradley leads the discussion on how artists can and cope with social anxiety at the Factory Theatre with screenwriter Crystal and musicians Kurt and Kallie on August 10.

Social Anxiety in the Arts Community (SummerWorks)

Factory Theatre Lobby, 125 Bathurst Street

Wednesday, August 10; 2 p.m.

Why does anyone want to become an artist, other than to be able to visually, verbally and physically express oneself? Talent often plays a part, but also it’s used to function within society when one is unable to socially connect like regular people can. In the Conversations forum “Social Anxiety in the Arts Community,” the music series curator Adam Bradley brought three other SummerWorks artists who share the same psychological affliction of social anxiety, which is often misunderstood by the general public and given labels like “shy,” “introvert,” “loner” and unjust titles of “misfit” and “weirdo.”

For about an hour running the panel was treated like a free-for-all format with no basic direction in guiding the talk being mostly musicians with an agoraphobic drummer Kurt, who suffers from panic attacks; Crystal, the soft-spoken screenwriter/arts therapist and extrovert musician Kallie, who hides her anxieties by being more outspoken as a façade than a character trait.

Bradley was able to bring up some related topics to the forefront, seeing that the arts can be instrumental to interact with the audience from social media usage, turning music jam sessions into “group therapy meetings,” learning to get over it is as “part of the job” as artists, fixating on other people’s anxieties to calm your own and being aware of one’s limitations to the classic psychology trick of imagining everyone in the audience in their underwear (sometimes it works, not always).

Despite the topic as presented, the lobby area of the Factory Theatre was not a decent choice location to hold it since there was stage rehearsal going on nearby and the acoustics weren’t that great for the well-attended small audience that participated. Still, advice on conquering social anxiety when performing and at receptions were given out near the end but they’re never easy to put into practice since every situation can differ when you have to force yourself out of your shell or “psyche out,” as it were.

[decoherence]/NEW RAW (Vazari Dance Projects/Mutable Subject/SummerWorks)

Theatre Centre Mainspace, 1115 Queen Street West

Saturday, August 13; 9 p.m.

An experimental dance double bill featuring the Vazari Dance Projects’ [decoherence] and Mutable Subject’s NEW RAW was a mixed bag of ideas displayed with the same type of results. First is [decoherence], performed and choreographed by Jessie Garon and Jarrett Siddall; is meant to be about quantum entanglement, a scientific theory of when particles interact in ways such that the quantum state of each particle cannot be described independently, giving into a system as a whole. In layperson terms, if you move one particle on one side of the universe, its entangled partner will mirror that movement at the same time.

For twenty minutes, Garon and Siddall mostly run around, tumble, convulse, tremble and wither to Lyon Smith’s gangly ethereal sound design to the theme in question, yet the conceptual production leaves one empty, even if Shannon Lea Doyle’s minimalist set/lighting design fits the mood enough to make sense of the constant subconscious’ playing field.

NEW RAW offers some better coherence, yet just as daunting to follow. Creator-dancer Deanna Peters with Elissa Hanson, Alexa Mardon and Jeanette Kotowich does this dance party/variety act/fashion show about voyeurism, gender politics, identity issues empowerment and desire while creatively manipulating the speed of a record turntable to tunes by Fritz the Cat, Rose Melberg, Art of Noise and Nitzer Ebb.

Peters’ choreography feels nuanced for all its juxtapositions in the first half then picks up in the latter half to be kinetic, if unfortunately subdued to save it face in the thirty-minute production. Under James Proudfoot’s lighting to the costume/set designs of Natalie Purschwitz, they all seemed like good ideas and do work when they do but these measures feel too little, too late to make amends with it.

Festival Summary

SummerWorks 2016 had a lot to offer with the issues of the day we’re coping with now, be it immigration (Amanah), sex education in schools (SExT) or the increase of urban violence in our cities (Nize It); and there were lots the artists involved did bring to make it a varied and progressive one. Some could have been better than others, but all in all there was heart in the making and presentations of them.

My only real complaints were a lack of visual arts offerings, compared to the last couple of years and a better space to hold the Conversation series since the acoustics in the Factory Theatre Lobby space is rather poor and wireless mikes would have helped big time. Otherwise, SummerWorks allows works that probably wouldn’t get the ample opportunities of mainstream theatre they’ve been doing for about twenty-six years.

Lofty family remake flutters along

Pete’s Dragon (Walt Disney)

Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Oakes Fegley, Oona Laurence

Director: David Lowery

Producers: James Whitaker

Screenplay: David Lowery and Toby Halbrooks; based on the screenplay by Malcolm Marmorsite, based on the story by Seton I. Miller and S.S. Field

Film Review

Pete’s Dragon, probably one of Disney’s underrated projects from the 1970s done in their live-action/animation formats; gets a remake minus the songs like most of their revamps of late like Cinderella and Maleficent this time around. As a family film, it works for the most part and upholds the traditional wholesomeness they’re best known for, yet it feels just a touch average seemingly missing its vibe from the 1977 original.

Set in the present-day Pacific Northwestern small town of Millhorn, park ranger Grace (Howard) discovers a ten-year old orphan Pete (Fegley) living out in the forests that she’s trying to protect from the expansionist ambitions of Gavin (Karl Urban), who also happens to be her fiancée Jack’s (Wes Bentley) brother, the town’s lumber mill manager. Trying to figure out how the boy managed to survive all alone in the wilds, Pete tells her a furry green dragon that’s been part of the town’s folklore for decades that he named Elliot has been his guardian and best friend for the last six years.

Rather skeptical at first, she employs her tall tales-telling father Meacham (Redford) who claimed to have run into the same dragon years ago whether this is some kind of kids’ game. As Pete tries to reacquaint himself with civilization which includes befriending Jack’s daughter Natalie (Laurence), Gavin plans on catching Elliot for fame and glory Pete is determined to save from his clutches.

Some things going for this modern-day fantasy update are the cast’s roles here of Howard playing the motherly type that needs to be more open to the unexpected with warmth; Redford as the grandfatherly Meacham in brief parts hold some levity to the film; Fegley’s wildness moppet is cute by maintaining all the innocence, wonder and adventurism a kid can pull off in a fare like this and even Urban is kind of fun being the film’s benign antagonist.

It’s almost a pity that co-director/screenwriter David Lowery with Toby Halbrooks aren’t able to make the middling second act of the film as interesting in regards to the pacing but rescues it in the third act when the action really begins and partly redeems itself. There’s quiet humour displayed, so the chuckles are well earned and one notable feature of this remake is that Millhorn sticks to being pretty much having an old-school feeling without turning the film into a period piece. You won’t find any computers, cellphones, internet or iPads – a rarity in current cinema – seen in these here parts, that is a refreshingly humbling and homey touch.

The friendly dragon itself, all in its CGI form, does provide some charm in a klutzy comical fashion and the special effects impress, however Pete’s Dragon runs on the sentimentality laced in the script that might keep the younger kids entertained at best but some adults might find it plodding sometimes although they won’t get really bored with it either.

Nairobi Masala

Who Will Catch Us As We Fall

by Iman Verjee

442 pp., OneWorld Publications/Publishers Group Canada/Raincoast Books

Softcover, $15.95

Fiction

Book Review

For her second novel on the East Asian diaspora in Africa, Iman Verjee’s Who Will Catch Us As We Fall dressed up as a romantic melodrama without many clichés involved to off-put any reader interested in seeing a contemporary Africa with its basic problems as it looks at the country’s social, cultural, class and racial divisions of modern Kenya void of any stereotypes.

Returning home from her university studies in England after a four-year absence, Leena Kohli arrives in 2007 Nairobi as the nation prepares for general elections which are usually fraught with political rioting to follow while her fellow Indo-Kenyans try to leave to avoid them. Being from a well-off mercantile family, she’s also home to finally come to grips over a traumatic moment which led to the self-imposed exile and to rebuild her shattered life.

She goes back and forth over that incident while remembering her preteen years in the mid-1990s when she and her elder brother Jai lived with their mother Pooja and father Raj in their palatial home with their carefree lives as children not caught up in the cultural taboos imposed by their mother against the African populace that isn’t always welcoming to anyone Indian, whom they feel act privileged and separated from the political and social realities left behind by the British during and since independence.

Among those who feel that way is Jeffery Omondi, a police constable in the Kenyan Police who once joined the force in order to provide for his aging mother in the urban slums he grew up in and idealistically dreamed of cleaning up the corruption within. But now he’s pretty much part of that rotted system and does almost anything to maintain a certain lifestyle from bribery to peddling influence, that makes him emotionally dead inside and his conscience conflicted.

There’s also the sensitive mural artist Michael, Jai’s best friend since his mother used to be the household domestic help as kids and a adult partner-in-crime as they graffiti the city walls at night about the country’s ills that simply can’t be handled by the unwilling political process to improve the democratic institutions.

As they grow up together, Michael and Leena feel a connection that runs deep despite Pooja’s fearful prejudices and neo-colonialist attitudes (ironically) as well as from the Hindi community, while Jai and Raj ever remain the idealists that Kenya belongs to all those born, raised and live there to build a better society, even after the incident that somehow involved Omondi years ago; refuses to create the barriers between them.

Verjee writes of a cosmopolitan Nairobi – where she also was born and raised in – on both sides and all of its characteristics and various characters from hustlers, ambitious student leaders, artisans, crooked cops and party henchmen trying to survive daily living and ethnic rivalries so richly detailed of late-2000s Kenya and more with a flair and certainly has tapped into its pulse to be believable.

It’s a love story about Kenya and of two people done in realistic and grounded terms and doesn’t get too flowery or mushy thankfully for all the obstacles the characters endure in Who Will Catch Us As We Fall’s pages, and yet is uplifting all at once that eventually they’ll be conquered by hope and in faith that human nature will prevail.