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.
Left-right: Cirque Éloize’s Cirkopolis; comic prima donnas Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo and Throwdown Collective make up part of the winter season of 2017 in Toronto.
Winter Events 2017 Listings
As the winter solstice makes one retreat for the indoors cuddled within a comforter, a hot beverage and a crackling fire – or for the binge-watchers, Netflix or Crave TV – there’s also nothing like venturing into the great outdoors, at least for theatre, dance and other events around Toronto to make the first chilly months of 2017 more palpable.
If those who were too young or weren’t born yet to witness one of the greatest rock documentaries ever made of one of the greatest farewell concerts ever given, The Last Waltz 40 Tour: A Celebration of the 40th Anniversary of The Last Waltz makes a swing on its first leg of a North American tour at Sony Centre for the Performing Arts (1 Front Street East) on January 31; featuring an all-star ensemble paying tribute to The Band’s final concert in 1976 filmed by Martin Scorsese, with Allman Brothers guitar legend Warren Haynes, Doobie Brothers’ alumnus Michael McDonald, singer/songwriter Jamey Johnson, John Medeski of the jazz super-trio Martin, Medeski and Wood, legendary producer/musician Don Was, drummer Terrence Higgins of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and perhaps a special guest or two to make an appearance; plus the return of Batsheva Dance Company (January 14), Cirque Éloize with Cirkopolis (March 1-12) in collaboration with Canadian Stage and So You Think You Can Dance choreographer Travis Wall with his new production SHAPING SOUND: After the Curtain (March 4) about love and loss.
Those popular pranksters of the pirouette are back after a five-year absence as the all-male Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo make a two-night stand the Winter Gardens (189 Yonge Street) February 10-11 where these parodists do a lovely mockery of the classic balletic arts that have endeared them from their home base of New York to over five hundred cities in thirty countries for the last four decades. For their Toronto appearance, they’ll perform Swan Lake , Act II’s “Le Lac Des Cygnes,” the Dying Swan scene, Don Quixote, the rarely-performed La Esmeralda , (very) loosely based on Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris and a surprise closing piece for the audience; and The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West) has The Magic Hour (January 10-21), a solo performance by Jess Dobkin who uses magic to explore trauma and transformation, asking us to consider who we are beyond the stories we tell about our lives and of what is deemed public and private, hidden and revealed and to make visible of what is not seen.
Award-winning actor Sheldon Elter brings his critically-acclaimed semi-autobiographical performance piece Métis Mutt to Daniels Spectrum’s Aki Studio (585 Dundas Street East) January 25-February 5; where he expertly switches between storytelling, stand-up comedy, music and multi-character vignettes to expose the impact of family dysfunction, internalized racism and spiritual growth of his Métis roots that will help him find his identity and destiny.
The east end’s Coal Mine Theatre has the racial comedy-drama Superior Donuts by the Pulitzer Prize- and Tony-winning actor/playwright Tracy Letts February 5-26 at the Coal Mine Theatre (1454 Danforth Avenue); where a despondent post-baby boomer donut store owner named Arthur Przybyszewski has pretty much withdrawn from life until Franco Wicks, a troubled 21-year-old black writer from the neighbourhood, talks his way into a non-existent job there. The heart of the play is the budding relationship between Arthur and Franco as they circle each other, and the gap between youth and age, idealism and experience, black and white played by Robert Persichini and Nabil Rajo respectfully under the direction of Ted Dykstra.
Continuing on the indie theatre scene, Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst Street) has a couple of offers into their current season with the Toronto premiere of Empire of The Son (January 18-29), a one-man show by writer/performer and CBC Radio personality Tetsuro Shigematsu about his complicated relationship with his Japanese father and the encore presentation of last spring’s sold-out smash How Black Mothers Say I Love You from ‘da Kink in My Hair playwright Trey Anthony February 9-March 5, just in time for African Heritage Month and Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman Avenue) has two world premieres, Peace River Country (February 14-March 26) inspired by the life and times of Albertan eco-activist Reverend Weibo Ludwig and his decades-long fight against the province’s oil and natural gas industries that gained him both notoriety and admiration and The Millennial Malcontent (February 28-April 9) where the current young generation goes under the microscope in the examinations of social posing, sexual frankness, emotional minefields and YouTube through a twenty-something couple’s discontented marriage.
Soulpepper Theatre marks two decades in their continuing season with The Last Wife (January 20-February 11) in looking at the British crown under Henry VIII and his new wife Katherine Parr where sex, violence and women’s rights shape their relationship that sculpted a ruling dynasty; three award-winning return engagements of Of Human Bondage (February 23-March 11), Kim’s Convenience (February 8-25) and rootsy bluegrass musical hit Spoon River (March 31-April 15) and two Solo Series, Cage (March 11-25) with Diego Matamoros looking toward the physical and mental cages of humanity and Karen Hines’ cautionary Kafkaesque satire on the housing market and the downside of home ownership inspired by true events, Crawlspace (March 23-April 8).
Harbourfront Centre presents their annual Kuumba festival and for the first time in years spreads it over two weekends (February 4-5 and 10-11) with this year’s theme on Black Lives Matter, Women’s Empowerment and The Invisible Majority with free and ticketed events starting with Trey Anthony’s lecture “A Black Girl in Love with Herself: A night of self care, laughter, sharing and fun” (February 11); local award-winning dub poet, playwright and performer d’bi.young anitafrika backed by her Afro-fusion-reggae band The 333 (February 3) which made its debut at last year’s SummerWorks festival; Kuumba Welcome Home Comedy Night with headliner Trixx and fellow comics Sarah Adjepong Duodu, Paul Thompson and Big Norm (February 3) and Marc Anthony Sinagoga and Sterling Scott (February 4); a hip-hop and soul music showcase for local artists (February 10) and the book launch of entrepreneur Denham Jolly’s memoirs In the Black (February 11) on his personal and professional struggles and triumphs from his successful nursing and retirement-home businesses to the decade-long struggle of getting a urban music radio station in Toronto, FLOW 95.3 (now The Move) that became the blueprint for similar formatted stations across Canada; plus family-oriented workshops involving gumboot and Afro-fusion dance, family crafts, Saturday night DJ skate nights with soca (February 4) and Afrobeat (February 11) tunes and a shorts film programme (February 11).
Family Day (February 20) at Harbourfront has a full day from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. with its theme on Northern tundra culture with an interactive play space Discover the Night installation; a daylong art project Northscapers that recreates the wintry Northern landscape with found objects and art supplies with stories and memories; Shadowland Theatre’s Snowshoe Walk on making your own snowshoe costume and a on-the-hour walk through Discover the Night and children’s concert Giggle and Stomp! with percussionists Bruno Roy and Marton Maderspach in English (1 p.m.) and French (3 p.m.), both with complimentary milk and cookies.
And Harbourfront restages Sandra Shamas’ popular midlife comedy The Big ‘What Now?’ January 25-February 5 at the Fleck Dance Theatre (207 Queen’s Quay West), which premiered at the PANAMANIA Festival last summer and played to sold-out houses; where she examines on life after fifty with her brilliant wit and candid insights and continues its NextSteps dance season with DanceWeekend ’17 showcase of Ontario dance companies January 20-22 with Ritmo Flamenco, New Blue Festival, Egyptian Dance Company, Canada’s Ballet Jorgen, Alyssa Martin, Ryan Lee and an urban battle presented by TUDS (January 20), Arkan Dance Company, Peggy Baker Dance Projects, COBA (Collective Of Black Artists), George Brown Dance, Janak Khendry Dance Company, Alyssa Martin, Ryan Lee, Mi Young Kim Dance Company, the Theatre Program at Ryerson, Tziporah Dance, The Garage and City Dance Corps (January 21) and Jade’s Hip Hop Performance Co., Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company, Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre, Little Pear Garden Dance Company, Alyssa Martin, Ryan Lee, Arabesque, Motus O Dance Theatre and Gadfly (January 22); the magic-realism of Throwdown Collective with their award-winning creation Various Concert and world premiere piece Ylem (3 Eggs Ago) by Montréal choreographer Lina Cruz (February 11); the hip-hop dance workshop Open Art Surgery (March 18) and the Indian contemporary bharatanatyam group inDANCE’s Holy Cow(s)! , as they tackle the taboos of gender, identity, sexuality and cultural (mis)appropriation.
Tickets now on sale. For information, call 416-973-4000 or harbourfrontcentre.com (Harbourfront events); 1-855-872-7669/sonycentre (Sony Centre events); 416-314-2907/ticketmaster.ca or showoneproductions (Trockadero); 416-538-0988/theatrecentre.org (The Magic Hour); 416-504-9971/factorytheatre.ca (Factory Theatre); 416-531-1827/tarragontheatre.com (Tarragon Theatre); 416-866-8666/soulpepper.ca (Soulpepper Theatre); 416-531-1402/nativeearth.ca (Métis Mutt); 1-800-838-3006/ coalminetheatre.com (Superior Donuts).
A Monster Calls (Focus Features/Universal)
Cast: Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell
Director: J.A. Bayona
Producer: Bélen Atienza
Screenplay: Patrick Ness; based on his novel from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd
It’s ultra-rare for any film that can move me to tears as much as A Monster Calls did in regards to dealing with the impending death of a loved one. But it does provide a strange comfort in providing life lessons about familial love, letting go and the sense to move onwards from director J.A. Bayona (The Impossible) in bringing Patrick Ness’ fantasy-drama onscreen to credible life.
Twelve-year old artistic British schoolboy Conor O’Malley (MacDougall) has more than enough on his plate besides adolescence to deal with for one so young. His divorced mother Lizzy (Jones) is dying from cancer while his absentee father (Kebbell) is living with his other family out in America and being bullied by his peers, plus the prospect of having to live with his uptight grandmother (Weaver) in her orderly house; makes him feel completely powerless and alone.
When his nightmares start becoming more real, a monstrous yew tree (voiced by Liam Neeson) comes alive to visit him for the next three nights at seven minutes past midnight to tell three stories to him – all fashioned in brilliantly gothic watercolour animation sequences – and to have Conor ready to tell him a fourth story on what his worst fear is, while giving him a sense of hope that his mother will pull through.
Shown earlier this year at TIFF, the noir cinematography by Oscar Faura and CGI effects has a heavy feel and mood for A Monster Calls pretty much akin to Pan’s Labyrinth as a dark fairytale Bayona metes out along with Ness’ agreeable script adapted from his own novel. And yet for its entire nadir atmosphere laid in, there’s a sense of tenderness and emotion pouring out of the performances.
MacDougall dutifully plays out his role as the troubled Conor mired in his pubescent inner fears and angers with such realism, as Jones being the dying mom is handled with a brave, quiet dignity. Weaver actually dons on a pretty good British accent here as she does as a grandmother steeling herself for a double whammy of having her child predecease her and to raise another child; and Neeson’s motion-capture role of the woody beast that might not be as beastly as he appears in a mixture of gruffness and warmth.
As I said earlier, bring plenty of tissues for A Monster Calls as it packs an emotional wallop on all levels on the unfairness of life, that it goes on and love is the true key to survival which can bring us together and comfort us at our darkest moments.
The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson
by Nancy Peacock
326 pp., Atria Books/Simon and Schuster Canada
What is the measure of a man when faced with the very limited opportunities of his era as the titular character of The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson undergoes in Nancy Peacock’s first-narrative epic tragedy of a slave who survives through pre- to post-Civil War America by any means necessary, is as sweeping and emotive as the story progresses at every turn of the page the reader will find themselves in.
In from a jail cell in April 1875 in Drunken Bride, Texas, the former African-American slave Persimmon “Persy” Wilson writes what will be his life story in the little time that he has before his hanging for the murder of his master and kidnapping and rape of his wife. Yet it’s not a clear-cut confession of any kind, but of the real truth to the events that brought him here from the slavery pens of New Orleans fifteen years earlier.
Sold to a Joseph Wilson to work in his Louisiana sugarcane plantation in 1860, Persimmon also meets the house slave Chloe at the slave docks and instantly there’s a forbidden love between them, since she’s of mixed parentage that almost makes her pass for white and before long is her master’s mistress by force. With each rendezvous, including one close call that almost costs him his life; they constantly make plans to escape Sweetmore Plantation together to the North in spite of all this until the American Civil War breaks out leaves the hope of freedom in their hearts.
As the Southern Confederacy starts to falter in the middle of the war and emancipation upon the horizon, Master Wilson takes whatever possessions are left after the deaths of his soldier son and sickly wife, including Persimmon and Chloe; for a fresh start in Texas. Knowing full well of their feelings for one another for a long time, Persimmon’s jealous master shoots him en route during a riverboat trip along the Mississippi River and leaves him for dead.
Miraculously surviving, Persy begins his obsessive search for Chloe and vengeance upon his former master through a series of circumstances from joining and serving in the Union Army after his recovery, working as a frontier cowboy on the range for a tobacco-chewing cowpuncher to being captured, spared and adopted into the Comanche Nation as a raider in Texas as Kweepoonahduh Tuhmoo – Twist Rope, for the ironical souvenir noose keepsake from his childhood – in the hopes of finding his beloved and regaining his soul in the freedom he’s so longed for.
Peacock manages to mesh into Persimmon Wilson a complex Civil War drama, a romance and a Western tale here something like Quentin Tarantino’s 2012 cinematic mash-up Django Unchained (yet of a different nature as well), in the language, styling and mode of the period it inhabits of the eponymous character’s incredible journey of hardships and dogged determination in the name of love.
The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson might make some uncomfortable with the honest brutality of slavery and revenge despite its lighted take on said actions and goes toward a unhappy ending, it’s a realistic Southwester tale of the times loaded with colourful characters and a steady feel about a man who even at the end, still holds his head up high along with his self-dignity.
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