A veteran photojournalist on the Toronto 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 #53 - WEEK OF JULY 27-AUGUST 2, 2015

Luscious landscaping

Picturing the Americas: Landscape Painting from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic

Venue: Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas Street West

Dates/Times: Through September 20; Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m.- 5:30 p.m (Wednesdays 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m.)

Admission/Information: $25 Adults ($12.50 Wednesday nights 6-8:30 p.m.), Seniors $21.50, Students/Youths (6-17) $16.50, Child (under 5) FREE. Call 416-979-6648 or ago.net

Gallery Review

Left-right: Cornelius Krieghoff’s Québec wintry day depiction “Montmorency Falls”; “The Plough” by Anne Savage and Lawren S. Harris’ “Grounded Icebergs (Disco Bay)” represents Canada in the Art Gallery of Ontario’s transcontinental exhibit Picturing the Americas: Landscape Painting from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic

Probably the most ambitious exhibit the Art Gallery of Ontario has put on in ages, Picturing the Americas: Landscape Painting from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic is a painstaking labour of love put together by the AGO along with three institutions and fourteen countries from across North, Central and South America. Rooted in the basic idea of national identity and the physical character of regions through the artistry of landscape painting done for almost half a millennia in creating their own language and history with over 100 paintings dating from the 1800s to the early 1900s, the exhibit looks into cultural traditions and colonial connections from Europe (and some integrated ones from Africa) in how we make our homes and find our place and belonging here.

One has to take note on viewing Picturing the Americas with a grain of salt when you have to consider the state of mind most of these artists’ eras when most of them were European (and a few local-born) projecting their views in the New World and in reflecting the timeframe’s politics and values with some kind of gushing romanticism of the new frontiers they painted like Albert Bierstadt’s “Yosemite Valley” with its misty yellowish hue bathed in its own light against a changing skylights; the ruggedness found in “Morning in the Peruvian Andes” from Henry Augustus Ferguson relying heavily on the browns to depict the vastness of the mountain range and gaucho (cowboy) life or “Valle de Oaxaca” done by José María Velasco Gómez showing a more vibrant scenery of his native Mexico of a 1888 small town richly detailed of life carved out in the middle of a desert plain.

Cornelius Krieghoff takes advantage in the nature of a Québec wintry day in the frozen terrain shown in “Montmorency Falls” of awash in neutral blues; “Guanabara Bay Seen From Snake Island” teems of coastal life of a prosperous Brazilian town near Rio de Janeiro by Félix-Émile Taunay, while Juan Manuel Blanes pretty much captures pioneer life in Uruguay for “Country Scene” drenched in various reds and earth tones.

Left-right: American painters at the AGO’s Picturing the Americas feature Alfred Thompson Bricher’s “The Sidewheeler “The City of St. Paul” on the Mississippi River, Dubuque, Iowa”(detail); “Yosemite Valley” of Albert Bierstadt and “Niagara Falls” painted by William Morris Hunt.

One of the more interesting pieces of the exhibit is a graphite, ink and watercolour on paper piece amongst all the oils on canvas collection is “Panorama do Rio de Janeiro” depicting a colourful and expansive view of the city in the 1880s on varying themes and vistas by artisan-diplomat Benjamin Mary or the comparison paintings of two majestic waterfalls of their own rights sided together by William Morris Hunt (“Niagara Falls”) and Pedro Blanes Viale (“Iguazú Falls”) settling the borders of respective nations Canada and Argentina, as does most of the nature works around like Canadian artist Paul Hinds using vast amounts of whites and greys to depict “The Cackabakah Falls” that took eight years to complete to America’s Martin Johnson Heade’s “Two Hummingbirds with An Orchid.”

Industrialization and modernization get a better focus on later works from Anne Savage (“The Plough”), Joaquin Torres García (“Constructive City with Universal Man”) and Pedro Weingärtner (“The Fall”) leaning heavily on the affects and views of progress on the ecology and other 20th-century art forms used from Cubism to Constructivism fighting amongst the grasping of what ecology beauties remain from Emily Carr (“Inside a Forest II”), Georgia O’Keefe (“Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico/Out Back of Marie’s II”), Lawren S. Harris (“Grounded Icebergs (Disco Bay)”) and Tarsila do Amaral (“Postcard”). But it does come down to the touchier subject over the relationships between the aboriginal and settler societies found in the exhibit’s fair viewings on it (with my only complaint about Viewing the Americas is that there’s just one painting from the Caribbean here, makes it lacking in a full representation of the regions).

Left-right: Latin America as seen through the AGO’s Picturing the Americas from subjugation of aboriginal societies across the Americas in José Maria de Medeiros’ “Lindóia”(detail); the urbanized city life of “Constructive City with Universal Man” by Joaquin Torres García to the deforestation of South American rainforests from the brushes of Pedro Weingärtner’s “The Fall” (detail).

Works by William G. R. Hinds (“Drawing Map on Birch-Bark”) and Ferdinand Bellermann (“Guácharo Cave”) are seen in positive veins just as much as the darker chapters of the Americas emerge in regards to expansionism and conflict, be it shown in Thomas Cole’s “Landscape with Figures: A Scene from The Last of the Mohicans”, Pedro Gualdi’s “Grand Plaza of Mexico City, Following the American Occupation of September 1847” or a Cleopatra-like suicide committed by a wife of a fallen chief shown in José Maria de Medeiros’ “Lindóia” based on the epic poem O Uraguia; won’t be lost to anyone looking at them.

But as a quote on the wall near the exhibit’s exit for a display of the Crown Treaty 13: The Toronto Purchase which established this city’s foundations between the Canadian government and Mississauga (Anishnaabe and Haudenosaunee) Nations in 1787 and awarded in 1805 – then finally resettled in 2010 – as stated by Hayden King, a First Nations writer/educator, offers this healing thought: “When we think about moving forward together in a productive way, we have to think about telling the truth and being honest with each other. In some ways that takes a degree of bravery on behalf of everybody, because it means feeling uncomfortable. Discomfort can [also] lead to, hopefully, a positive relationship in the future between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Toronto.”

SummerWorks’ quarter-century of dog days theatre

Canada’s largest juried and curated performance theatre festival turns 25 this August

Clockwise from the left: MacArthur Park Suite: A Disco Ballet; Let’s Not Beat Each Other To Death; The Emancipation of Ms. Lovely and Counting Sheep make up the roster for SummerWorks theatre festival, as well as celebrating 25 years of theatricals around Toronto.

Theatre Preview

Where else can you find a theatre festival that can deliver a disco ballet, a Ukrainian revolutionary folk opera, a feminist self-discovery road trip drama involving a First Nations and Palestinian and a Canadian superhero musical eschewing over mindless consumerism? Taking over stages and other venues around Toronto, SummerWorks marks its twenty-fifth year with its eclectic and often thought provoking docket with 50 productions and performances starting August 6 to 16.

More than just your eleven-day fodder of theatre, music, dance and live art, SummerWorks also provides discussion forums through their daytime Conversation Series and for the first time this year, a professional development workshop series called SummerWorks Lab, each hosted by a fest artist involved in one or more productions from August 10 to 14 for actors and creators.

Some of the highlight productions for this year includes the experimental dance Mexe: Capoeira X Wearable Technology involving a live soundscape of the African-Brazilian martial arts dance with mobile devices and one family’s journey to find their roots and culture to the solo performance of Charisma Furs by Katie Sly taking a her personal examination over her relationships in funny and bizarre moments.

Recreating the 2014 Maidan Revolution in the Ukraine that ultimately launched its current war with Russian-backed separatists, Counting Sheep goes the route of a folk opera with its soundtrack provided by the popularly local world music party-punk band Lemon Bucket Orkestra. Originally performed to standing ovations at this year’s Buddies in Bad Times’ Rhubarb Festival, the dance/theatrical fantasia MacArthur Park Suite: A Disco Ballet comes as revamped two-part performance for SummerWorks about falling in and out of love in the disotheques of the 1970s; while Lac/Athabasca examines a fictionalized natural/man-made disaster in the making crossing between time and history in Alberta, inspired by the 2013 Lac-Mégantic incident.

The part-concert, part-monologue Let’s Not Beat Each Other To Death looks at the LGBTQ community in Halifax reacting to the brutal murder of a gay activist and the assault on a openly-gay musician, being a celebratory tribute on sexual orientation and a spotlight on gay-bashing in society; while Return Home talks about physical and psychological exile of two women, one from the Québec Anishinaabe Nation and the other from the Palestinian diaspora; both searching for identity under the victimization of colonialism to find their worth.

Sexual and racial topics back The Emancipation of Ms. Lovely as this one-woman show follows the titular African-Canadian character in her quest for love beyond the body politic with her sexual awakening on the rise, whilst interweaving between the real-life story of 19-century South African slave Sarah Baartman and the present-day trend behind twerking with her looking to escape from all these stereotypes; the dark comedy The Tall Building on the effects of condo culture and neighbourhood gentrification on the human psyche and the comic book heroism behind the musical Mapleman: Canuck Crusader! as created and performed by students from Mississauga’s The Woodlands School on the fall and resurrection of a Canadian superhero out to battle a villain out to replace our national identity with songs about materialistic greed.

“Over the past twenty-five years, SummerWorks has become an important space for artists to meet and develop new work,” said Artistic Producer Michael Rubenfeld. “Our new festival model is a move towards becoming an even more community-oriented, collaborative, and evolutionary organization. Instead of solely being programmed by the artistic producer, the majority of programming now lies in the hands of professional artists that are currently working in their respective fields. This new model represents an exciting future for the festival with curators revolving from year to year, exposing our audiences to new ideas and perspectives and creating new opportunities for local artists.”

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Tickets now on sale. For schedule and information: call 1-800-838-3006 or visit summerworks.ca.

Madame Steel Butterfly

Modern Filipino history gets recreated by Carlos Celdran in his multimedia production, Livin’ La Vida Imelda

Theatre Preview

In any governance sometimes the spotlight shines most on the woman behind the power of the throne as being, more or less, the “public” figure face of a leader running a democracy or dictatorship. And history has had its more than its unfair share of the unjust first ladies from the past like Romania’s Elena Ceaușescu and Nicaragua’s Hope “Madame Somoza” Portocarrero to the current-day of Zimbabwe’s Grace Mugabe and Syria’s Alma al-Assad for showing benevolence to the eyes of the world, while maintaining their habitual feast of influence and decadence, adored and hated by their citizenry.

Among that dictator’s wives club to show such behaviour was Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines under her late husband Ferdinand for twenty-one years from 1965 to 1986; becoming the prime target for performance artist and cultural activist Carlos Celdran’s Livin’ La Vida Imelda for the local Filipino-Canadian cultural festival KULTURA (August 5-9) for its tenth year in operation, which is sort of like a homecoming since the show got its preview run courtesy of the Kapisanan Philippine Centre for the Arts (167 Augusta Avenue) before becoming a hit with audiences and critics abroad. Here, Celdran gives an e-mail Q&A interview on the show and its responses on the infamously celebrated Filipino First Lady, still alive at age 86, known back home as the “Steel Butterfly.”

What is your background in theatre and previous works?

I’m a visual artist who found himself dabbling in theatre. My first college part-time job was with the theatre company, Repertory Philippines back in the ‘90s. I was their designer and in-house graphic artist. I was totally behind the scenes. But after graduating from the painting department of Rhode Island School of Design in 1996, I interned with Blue Man Group and Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane dance company in New York City. This was my introduction to performance art, a discipline where I believe the visual arts and theatre intersect and I’ve always been fascinated by the process ever since.

And I’m lucky that this process has brought my Imelda shows to such places as Art Dubai [in the United Arab Emirates] and just last year, Off-Broadway at the Clurman Theater on 42nd Street. I’d like to think of my Imelda and Intramuros (a historic district in the capital, Manila) performances as a process where history, architecture and performance art intersect.

Tell us about what inspired you to create Livin’ La Vida Imelda.

Well, first and foremost, it was the architecture that she commissioned. The Cultural Centre of the Philippines complex is truly a sight to behold. One can look at it as a garden of Imelda’s follies, but there was no other time in Filipino history that we built structures with such exuberance and pride.

Manila was completely razed in World War II. Post-war and post-colonial Manila was truly devoid of any architectural significance. Intramuros was destroyed and 80% of the metropolis was laid to waste by U.S. army artillery and fires started by the Japanese Imperial army. When these structures were built, they became symbols of Manila’s new found modernity and it solidified our national identity, even though that identity was totally constructed and state sanctioned by Ferdinand and Imelda and their propaganda machine.

The Marcos dictatorship was prime example of excess and ego, considering the situation of the era LLVI is situated in. Was it easy or difficult to mine such material for satire on Imelda?

As I said, [it’s the] elephant in the room. My god, it writes itself. The excess, the drama, the abuses – all theatrical. It will never happen in Filipino history again. And that may be a good thing.

How does the concept of LLVI work with audiences unfamiliar with modern Filipino history over the last 35 years since the People’s Power Revolution kicked out the Marcoses?

Even though one may not know much the Philippines, Imelda’s story will still resonate because it’s a story about the struggle of a people and the struggle of an individual. The narrative of her rise, her transformation and fall is really a trope in history and literature. [Examples like] Marie Antoinette, Eva Peron, (the play) Pygmalion. People are always obsessed with stories about celebrity, intrigue and drama. The Marcos era was really kinda like Game of Thrones, but in bell bottoms and barong tagalogs (a traditional embroidered Filipino shirt).

Stepping away from the artistic perspective for a moment, can you explain how someone like Imelda and her whole family was not only allowed to return from exile – and to bury her embalmed husband Ferdinand – but also run as a senator despite having purged the public purse for her own expenses (who can forget that infamously massive 3,000-shoe collection?) and absconding millions of dollars abroad while hundreds still live(d) in sometimes abject poverty?

That is a question that Filipinos still have to ask ourselves as a people. I wish I had an answer. But maybe if one looks at what happened to the Philippines post-Marcos, after the People Power revolution of 1986, maybe we can get some leads.

Are (a) majority Filipinos better off today? Are we truly free as a People? What dictates us as a people? Have things REALLY changed? Why are we complaining about the same things? Imelda has been gone for almost 30 years. Filipinos can blame Marcos for everything that ails the Philippines, but that's just an easy way out.

What been the reaction of the Filipino community that have seen LLVI?

Some good. Some bad. Whatever the case, I don’t want the performance to polarize. I try to present every side of the issue. Naturally, I can’t include everything but if the show helped you start a conversation about the Philippines and Filipino society and history, then my job is done. I want to spark discussions, not control it.

LLVI was a hit on off-Broadway New York in 2014. Any plans to take it to the Philippines in the foreseeable future and would you consider giving Imelda Marcos a ticket to see it on opening night?

Actually, Imelda as a stage show debuted here in Toronto. Kapisanan helped me dramaturge the tour into a performance and we premiered it at Twist Gallery on (1100) Queen Street (West) back in 2011. That was an awesome time. There’s talk of bringing the New York City version to Manila in 2016, but things aren’t firmed up at all yet. And yeah, of course I’d give a ticket to Imelda. I’m sure she’s heard worse things about her.

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Livin’ La Vida Imelda runs August 5-8 at 8 p.m. at OCADU Auditorium (100 McCaul Street); opening night Kapisanan fundraiser August 5 at 8 p.m. For tickets/information,call 416-979-0600 or kultura.ca.