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 #77 - WEEK OF FEBRUARY 8-14, 2016

Take this waltz

Photo credit:© Rachael McCraig

Chelsea Hotel: The Songs of Leonard Cohen (Firehall Arts Centre/Theatre 20/Theatre Passe Muraille)

Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace, 16 Ryerson Avenue

Thursday, February 4; 7:30 p.m.

Theatre Review

For over five decades, Leonard Cohen’s poetry and music have been part of the broad artistic landscape of contemporary Canadian and universal culture that has spoken on the darker part of the human existence of its unrealistic or unattainable wants and needs. Chelsea Hotel: The Songs of Leonard Cohen by the Vancouver-based collective Theatre 20 brings alive these themes through classic tunes and dialogue in this cabaret of the nadir over a physical and emotional plane.

In a fleabag hotel room, a depressed and frustrated musician (Ben Elliot) is surrounded by mountains of crumpled-up ideas and his own melancholy until a motley bevy of figures representing his feelings interact and bring him inspiration through song and a little dance, ranging from the familiar tunes threading through each other; be it pining over the loss of lover left behind over “That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” in a bluegrass notion, a hard rock-fuelled rage with “The Future” about disorder and indecision, the jazzy pedigree around “Dance Me to the End of Love,” the spoken-word erotic voyeurism of jealousy in “Paper Thin Hotel” to the blues-drenched “Tower of Song.”

As created, directed and choreographed by Tracey Power, her grasp of the Cohen songbook is structurally stable enough to carry itself over Chelsea Hotel ’s two-hour running time along with her cohorts Elliot, Jonathan Gould, Sean Cronin, Rachel Aberle and Christina Cuglietta. Power’s choreography tends to feel a bit economical, considering the stage size the ensemble is confined to, but nonetheless makes good use of what is available to them despite its limited freedom.

There’s no waste or overuse with the material the cast deals with, for there certainly is plenty to interpret with and one does not need to be a Cohen fan to appreciate it either to understand about life, loss, desire, regret and agony done by the performers and musicians in cabaret costuming by Barbara Clayden, as arranged and directed from Steven Charles on Marshall McMahen’s ragtag set design and the lighting designs of Ted Roberts.

Chelsea Hotel grapples with the questions of the human conscience, for all of its pleasures and its pains it dives head into with this production is a honourable tribute to the singer/poet/songwriter and the universe Power has created with the songs, rumpled-up characters and their segments of reflection, remorse and of course, humour.

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Chelsea Hotel: The Songs of Leonard Cohen runs through February 21. For tickets and information, call 416-504-7529 or artsboxoffice.ca.

Going Home Star bright

Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation (Royal Winnipeg Ballet/Sony Centre)

Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, 1 Front Street East

Saturday, February 6; 7:30 p.m.

Dance Review

History, as it has been said, is usually written by the victors and seldom is the vanquished ever heard let alone seen. We as Canadians, perhaps more so than anyone in the whole of the Americas; have tried to rectify our relationship with the First Nations that got a serious wake-up call during the Oka Crisis of 1990, which has culminated in varying forms from since up to the current Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) regarding their treatment in the residential school system that in reality, was another form of forceful assimilation.

One would never think that turning one of the ugliest chapters of our history in a work of art could be possible. Yet the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation, based on a story by the Giller Award-winning author Joseph Boyden (Through Black Spruce; The Orenda); not only accomplishes in beautifying of what would be a challenging and awkward attempt at recognizing this dark blot, it also provides it as a communal catharsis at a recent two-night stop at Toronto’s Sony Centre, as part of its ongoing national tour since its 2014 debut.

The two hour-plus production follows two figures, Annie (Katie Bonnell), a young First Nations hairstylist living in a nameless metropolis and engaging in the single life of work and play, completely disconnected with her own heritage until she comes across a homeless native man, George (Tristan Dobrowney), who’s endowed with the power of the Anishnaabe trickster figure. Through a spectrum of dreams, they both encounter two Native children in the distant past, Niska (Yoshiko Kamikusa) and Charlie (Ryan Vetter), as residential school students taken away from their families and placed under the tutelage of the Clergyman (Liam Caines).

Seeing how life is harshly imposed in attempting to drive out their culture and language by the clergy through physical and sexual abuse, they are initially overwhelmed by anger, grief and helplessness. In turn, they look toward the night sky as their guidance through the North Star – known as the “Going Home Star” – for their salvation in healing their own personal wounds as much as for Niska’s and Charlie’s in the hope that after such pain, forgiveness and inner peace can be achieved.

Understandably why it would be overbearing for some to witness, Going Home Star can be intensive watching considering the subject matter at hand. Yet it doesn’t intentionally or subconsciously sets out to invoke guilt or blame of any sort about past wrongs committed, but acknowledges them in context and celebrates mostly about resistance and survival through the freshly imputed choreography of Mark Godden and artistic director André Lewis’ guidance.

Dobrowney puts a lot into the soul of homeless trickster in his movements, as does Bonnell taking on the reversal role of the healer trying to build bridges with clarity and grace. Caines is convincing and intimidating as the dance’s spectre in his flowing priest’s robes, where Kamikusa and Vetter wear their playful innocence well, torn as may seemingly get at times; never allows their spirit and culture to be broken at any moment.

A complex and eclectic score by Christos Hatzis amalgamates classical, tribal and techno into a phonic soup, backed up by noted Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq, the choral harmonies of Steve Wood & The Northern Cree Singers and interweaving snippets of Boyden’s text and TRC transcript accounts; give it a distinct flavour that remarkably works to the troupe’s movements and storyline instead of hampering it, coming all together from Sean Nieuwenhuis’ effective projection designs and Pierre Lavoie’s lighting, the adept set design by K.C. Adams and the well thought-out costuming of Paul Daigle.

Thankfully without falling into any patronizing mannerisms, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet takes a bold, even emotional undertaking for Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation of the loneliness, isolation and terror of the residential schools is something of a triumph demonstrated in exorcising those ghosts of the national conscience. Highly recommended.

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Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation continues its nationwide tour through to April 2016. For more information, visit rwb.org.

Quirky Hollywood satirical love letter

Hail, Caesar! (Universal)

Cast: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson

Writers/Directors: Ethan Cohen and Joel Cohen

Producers: Ethan Cohen, Joel Cohen, Tim Beven and Eric Fellner

Film Review

Long gestating among their many projects in development hell, the Cohen Brothers return to their caper comedic roots for Hail, Caesar!, a Hollywood Golden Era satire wrapped around a mystery familiar to their fans after a string of dramas and seriocomic offerings since 2008’s Burn After Reading is a amusing welcome back while paying tribute to that period in their own unique brand of humour.

Running under the twenty-four-hour clock day of Eddie Mannix (Brolin), a tough-guy fixer for the fictional Capitol Studios who keeps a tight noose on his superstar actors from any and all scandals that may come and the business he operates during the 1950s, while conflicted with his Catholic faith and tempted to leave it behind with a offer from a Lockheed executive.

But first things first: Mannix has to work on hiding unmarried starlet DeeAnna Moran’s (Johansson) pregnancy from the public eye and comfort temperamental directors like Laurence Lorenz (Fiennes) having to endure a young Western star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) into his socialite romantic-drama with extreme difficulties over dialogue, but his major headache at the moment is the forthcoming titular Roman epic that’s gone over budget.

And it gets worse when his leading star in the film, Baird Whitlock (Clooney), gets kidnapped after someone drugs his drink on-set and is absconded by a group calling themselves The Future – actually a group of Communist screenwriters in a Malibu hideaway led by their leader, Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) – asking for a $100,000 ransom for Whitlock’s safe return, while having to keep twin sister columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker (both played by Tilda Swinton) at bay from dishing out any particular celebrity dirt.

Shot in almost the same vein as their earlier classic Raising Arizona and narrated throughout by Michael Gambon, the film certainly does enjoys biting the hand it feeds the filmmakers with gleeful abandon by getting swirled up in the showbiz and Cold War politics of the day with a touch of crime noir on the surface that the Cohens, of a industry that has not changed all that much; capture all of its workable quirkiness rippling through.

Going for the “film(s) within a film” concept are Hail, Caesar! ’s brightest moments, from the film musical “No Dames!” is a obvious wink to On The Town, penned by Harry Krieger and deftly choreographed by Chris Cartell; with a little suggested gay innuendo abound, the Ethel Merman-esque water ballet spectacular with Johansson is a treat through Roger Deakins’ robust cinematography to Whitlock’s most impassioned speech as a privileged Roman Centurion during the crucifixion scene is probably one of Clooney’s personal career bests – until the hilarious end part, are campy, nostalgic love letters to all those classic genre flicks.

The major leads are great in their roles, what with Brolin’s tough-sensitive Mannix – a fictionalized portrayal of the real-life MGM studio executive and producer during the 1940s and ‘50s – feeling both his personal and professional lives seemingly going off the rails; Clooney gaily spoofing himself as a Kirk Douglas-type who almost gets suckered into the Marxist cause (and even quoting Das Kapital yet!) and a gathering of religious figures debating with Mannix on how to handle the cinematic depiction of Christ, especially with Robert Picardo as a rabbi in the lot, is a riot.

But it’s the smaller roles that shine the most coming from Ehrenreich – a name to watch – as the singing cowboy ingénue Hobie from trying to articulate a line with deadpan precision in the “Merrily We Dance” segment and keeping his boyish and gentlemanly mannerism with a studio-arranged date with another rising starlet (Veronica Osorio) is brilliant and Swinton, Frances McDormand’s chain-smoking film editor and Jonah Hill’s notary public handler cameo parts are way too short, but memorable watching.

Every now and then, it’s good for the American film behemoth that is Hollywood to laugh at itself behind the scenes by one of its own movers and shakers and the Cohen Brothers do so with Hail, Caesar! in helping the audience laugh along over its golden years when its cinema actually mattered in contrast to what it has become with sense of sentimentalism hanging over it.

Mimi back on the beach

Canadian indie art-rock/pop legend Jane Sibbery embarks on her twelfth album launch tour

Music Preview

About thirty-three years after “Mimi On the Beach” first hit Canadian radio airwaves and into MuchMusic video rotation, Jane Sibbery makes her return to music with her twelfth studio album Ulysses’ Purse with a North American mini-CD launch tour set to start off at a already sold-out date at Hugh’s Room on February 19 and a newly added second show on February 17, with opening sets by local artist/musician Laura Barrett.

A fixture on the Canadian independent music scene, Sibbery’s varied career has garnered accolades worldwide in following the same principles in music like Laurie Anderson and Kate Bush, eschewing the need to follow fads, trends and fashions of the day has been her credo since the earliest days of her musical career and creating her own type of artistic chameleon module. Her unending desire to find and describe the essence of human experience has led her through numerous musical inventions in a multitude of forms, earning her the passionate loyalty of music-lovers worldwide.

With the 1993 breakthrough album When I Was A Boy produced by Brian Eno, Sibbery’s status rose considerably enough to launch her own record label Sheeba, which physically closed in 2006 but maintains an online presence for her work, and imputed other classics like “Calling All Angels,” “Bound By the Beauty” and “Everything Reminds Me of My Dog.” Working with other high-ended contemporaries from Peter Gabriel, The Indigo Girls, Joe Jackson to Nigel Kennedy, her influence has not only brought on those looking to follow the independent route and covers of her songbook, it even brought out a tribute album from Rhino Records in 2002, Love is Everything.

Her sudden if brief departure from music came from a spiritual awakening over a decade ago along with the closure of Sheeba, led her to selling off most of her worldly possessions with only one guitar, living a spartan existence and going under the name Issa; until her 2009 comeback to touring and recording and reverting back to her birth name was duly welcomed.

The self-produced Ulysses’ Purse (originally entitled Consider the Lily), made through a highly-successful Kickstarter crowd-sourcing campaign last year, which includes a special “ambassador” album for supporters to give to others unfamiliar with her music – or need to be reintroduced again – has a few friends helping out onboard like k.d. lang, Rebecca Jenkins, Mary Margaret O’Hara, Ali Hughes and Maria Doyle Kennedy; guitarists Ken Myhr and Kevin Breit and horns David Travers-Smith, who’s also a co-producer on the album; plus string ensembles from Toronto and New York contributing on the album.

Those days in the locker room may be long past for Sibbery, but they haven’t diminished her artistic pursuits for carving her own identity and path isn’t a loss on her fandom or the music industry that could still learn a lot from her in how to maintain one’s stakes in its ever-changing game, since she’s learned long ago how to go with personal conviction.

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Jane Sibbery performs February 17 and 19 (NOTE: February 19 show is SOLD OUT) at Hugh’s Room (2261 Dundas Street West). For tickets/information, call 416-531-6604 or hughsroom.com.