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 #98 - WEEK OF JULY 25-31, 2016

Eighties-themed Shrew earns some rep

The Taming of the Shrew (Driftwood Theatre)

Withrow Park, 25 Logan Avenue

Tuesday, July 19; 7:30 p.m.

Theatre Review

There are many interpretations that can be made for and into any Shakespeare play, even four hundred years since his death, show the longevity of his theatrical works are. For the Driftwood Theatre Group touring road show The Bard’s Bus Tour going across Ontario on its twentieth anniversary season, they’ve put a 1980s vibe to his complex romantic-comedy The Taming of the Shrew to give some resonance to today’s world in some workable respect for the company’s week-long residency at Toronto’s Withrow Park.

Substituting Ontario places for Italy, this Shrew is set in the summer of 1989 and prankster Lucentio (Fiona Sauder) and his manservant Tranio (Paolo Santalucia) arrive into Toronto for its Pride festivities when they just happen to witness wealthy businesswoman Baptista (Renée Hackett) arguing with two suitors Hortensio (Drew O’Hara) and Gremio (Tahirih Vejdani) over her youngest daughter’s hand Bianca (also Vejdani).

Also arriving on the same time from Hamilton is Petruchio (Geoffrey Armour) who’s looking for a wife and learns from old pal Hortensio that no one can wed Bianca unless her spirited elder sister Katherine (Siobhan Richardson) – the shrew – is married first, for whom she’s announced she will not for any man.

As a challenge and to help out Hortensio, he takes onto the uneasy seduction of Katherine, while lovelorn Lucentio enters the fray as a suitor for Bianca as her language teacher as Tranio impersonates Lucentio. Before long, wedding bells ring for Petrucio and Katherine during the Pride Day parade in an outlandish fashion and their dominance/submissive relationship stretches itself and themselves to its limits, as further calamity reigns where mistaken identities clashes with a battle of wits between the battle of the sexes.

Driftwood does a light-hearted take with Shrew as a musical-comedy laced with classic Eighties pop hits from Pat Benatar to the Parachute Club, local references and a dosage of sexual innuendo to give it a fun two hour-plus run that gets a little uneven in the first-half but manages to pull through towards its third act that director/scenic designer D. Jeremy Smith manages to work with and by Tom Lillington’s a cappella arrangements.

The cast do their parts convincingly well with Richardson giving a sharp-tongued delivery with her performance, butting heads with Armour even when he’s dressed in a dominatrix outfit (long story) is a good foil to her Katherine; Santalucia does finely as a comic relief type that takes the physical humour more deftly than Sauder does.

Still, dramaturg Myekah Payne takes the unenviable task of slipping in a storyline trying to reflect a era when the global LGBTQ community was starting to make serious gains for societal acceptance and from the devastating emergence of the AIDS pandemic may wobble at times, yet it is a brave effort at that and its commendable. Entertainment-wise, The Taming of the Shrew does its job in bringing those elements together as inventive and compelling to sift the play’s proto-feminist ideologies around in the mix.

***

The Bard’s Bus Tour continues its Southern Ontario tour on a pay-what-you-can admission ($20 suggested) through August 14. For tickets and information, call 416-605-5132 or driftwoodtheatre.com.

Aquatic acrobats take the plunge

Left-right: Cyr wheel performer Angelica Bongiovonni and aerial strap acrobat Benjamin Courtenay discuss their trials and triumphs of training with water in the Cirque du Soleil production LÙZIA, opening in Toronto this week.

Four performers tell of their challenges of performing with water for Cirque du Soleil’s LÙZIA

Theatre Preview

Not all of the daring-dos seen in Cirque du Soleil involving highwire acts and crazy clown buffoonery that looks so easy to perform. In a new frontier to conquer, the Montréal-based company takes the ultimate plunge in LÙZIA, a dreamscape mélange of Mexico, by putting the element of water onstage for the first time in a touring big tent production as it prepares to make its Toronto debut this week (July 28) for a three-month stay. Needless to say, they have a young, eager and capable line-up of talent ready to bring what seems to be impossible possible.

So what is the attraction of wanting to run away to join the Cirque? “I started circus (training) when I was four years old,” said Cyr wheel artist Angelica Bongiovonni. “I was a hyperactive child and my mom found a circus class in my preschool (years) and I was in the L.A. Circus for a week when they were in town. So when I was seven years old, I was kind of a young ‘star.’”

One of the show’s main attractions is having to perform under a indoor “waterfall” curtain that meant to be a cenote or natural sinkhole as a connection to the Mayan spirit world that Bongiovonni has to work with fits right with her thinking, career- and experience-wise. “I had a lot of goals coming out of school to do festivals, to be in a small show with my friends. I didn’t know about how intimate a circus show can become,” she said. “The fact is that looking up, the water comes into your eyes gives you a perception that isn’t by sight, but by feeling.”

While that may seem hazardous in rolling around on stage with water, fellow Cyr wheel artist Rachel Salzman explained the new technology involved with the rubberized flooring that also captures the water to be later recycled for the next show. “Because of the graininess (of the flooring mat), the holes and texture for the rain to pass through it, we can’t do too much sliding on it because it’s kind of like a cheese grater. So it’s a whole different training for us, to learn how to do that.”

Soccer ball jugglers Laura Biondo and Aboubacar Traoré, representing Mexico’s obsession with the globally-loved sport of football; have their own takes in getting into Cirque and the challenge of performing under the rain curtain. “For me,” said Traoré, “it started with freestyle soccer. I started doing it a lot in the streets with my brother. For freestyle, outside is the stage, I’m free and I know the moves in the order I’m going to do them.

“This (show) is different, it’s choreographed and you need to adapt to your partner. At first it was a bit strange working with water because soccer and water don’t usually mix,” he adds with a chuckle.

“When I was a kid I did gymnastics,” Biondo said, “so I know what Cirque du Soleil was and this whole world, so in a way it’s kind of like a dream come true. I actually ended up setting into dance because I saw Cirque du Soleil and I wanted to be in the circus and there was no circus in New York growing up. It’s a whole new world of new opportunities and teaching me so many things.

“If you try to do some juggles underneath the water (wall), then the water does change the bounce of the ball,” she explains in the trick to what is the equivalent of taking a shower with a soccer ball, “which of course makes it much more slippery, so you really have to be careful [with it].”

For aerial straps acrobat Benjamin Courtenay, he gets the task of performing under the waterfall and with a pool that doubles the risk and difficulty. And yet he has developed a certain skill and discipline to maintain with constant water falling on him and splashing around his legs and feet below and retain a certain sense of humility while performing his act.

“When I joined circus school, I just wanted to explore other options and use my gymnastics background to my advantage,” Courtenay said. “And I guess, after a couple of years, I really started to like it and found a passion for it. In the world of gymnastics, it’s all about competition, it’s all about scores, [and] who’s better. There’s a fixed, definitive line of what is good and what is not good. Where in a circus, the door is a little bit left open to your interpretation.

“(LÙZIA is) the first show I’ve ever seen done with water. It’s still a little bit of an obstacle, I’m still getting used to it. Once you work with something and once you’re able to incorporate it with you and your movements, you can use it to your advantage,” he continues. “Very much at the beginning, it was definitely a hindrance, it was definitely something. It was raining down, technically, but now it’s something that is definitely helping me instead of holding me down.”

After its initial opening run in Montréal, LÙZIA has had their performers readied to take it on the road to show what they can do with a controlled rainfall and the acts that accompany it, learning from past experience from their other water-based show in Las Vegas, “O”, that is going with the flow and elasticity of the element and not trying to control it, which is what these four performers have primed themselves for, including with their audiences.

“Any opening night, you’re always nervous,” Bongiovonni admits. “People have a first, fresh regard on the show and you want to be good, you want to be perfect and it’s hard to be perfect with pressure. The water, it’s something that happens in nature and it happens in life, so I’m excited to explore that aspect in this act and this human feeling of, like, total freedom under this water.”

The others feel in the same respect in testing their mettle and talent in LÙZIA. “We’ve done a lot of exploring here and we’ve found a lot of very cool things, a lot of very interesting images in this creation period,” said Courtenay. “It’s really been fun. It’s taken awhile, but we’re getting somewhere of it. That’s what’s really cool to see that, too.”

“It’s really hard [to perform with water], but with training, you start to adapt to it,” added Traoré. “Before everything, we are artists and with time, artists can manage the stress (and) we learn. But I’m ready for challenges, (and) that’s why I’m here.”

***

LÙZIA begins its Toronto engagement this Thursday (July 28; NOTE: opening night is SOLD OUT) at the Port Lands (51 Commissioners Street). For tickets and information, call 1-877-924-7783 or visit cirquedusoleil.com/luzia.

Hondo’s Afro-Modern rare-view mirror

The Indocile Image: The Cinema of Med Hondo

Venue: TIFF Lightbox, 350 King Street West

Dates/Times: August 4-16; various screening times

Admission/Information: Regular $12.50, Students/Seniors $10, Children (under 12) $9. Call 416-599-8433 or tiff.net

Arts Feature

Maybe out of the good that came from French colonialism for its former African possession is the aesthetic and appreciation for film that has produced many pioneers that have contributed to world cinema. One of them gets a rare retrospective at TIFF Lightbox next month (August 4-16) for The Indocile Image: The Cinema of Med Hondo for their TIFF Cinematique series, where the 80-year old filmmaker himself also makes a rarer appearance in North America and will personally introduce a few of his best works on newly-struck 35mm prints for the week of August 4 to 7.

First, some background: Hondo was born in Mauritania in 1936 to a Senegalese mother and Mauritanian father and originally started out his career as a chef in Morocco and emigrated to France in 1959 to practice his craft, but like most Africans of that era (and still) were subjected to manual labour and racism. Like his other counterpart, the legendary Senegalese auteur Ousmane Sembène, he fell into filmmaking by accident by taking acting and directing classes under the tutelage of French actress Françoise Rosay and acting in Shakespearean and French plays. By 1966, he formed his own Griot-Shango theatre company dealing with the African experience along with Guadeloupean actor Robert Liensol, producing works by Guy Menga, Aimé Césaire, Daniel Boukman and René Depestre; showing another side of France that were previously unseen by its audiences.

Hondo has appeared in several films and television series in his adopted home of France such as Funky Cops and Asterix and the Vikings, plus voice-dubbed several American films since, mainly for Eddie Murphy from The Nutty Professor to the Shrek series, Morgan Freeman, Ben Kingsley and Danny Glover; until his falling out with him over a biopic project on Haitian Revolution leader Toussaint Louverture which he claimed the American actor stole from him the idea, script and directorial duties back in 1991, while Glover got financial backing from the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez and an all-star lineup, but the film has yet to be realized.

Med Hondo’s treatise on the scars of slavery between Africa, Europe and the Americas in the rarely-seen West Indies: The Fugitive Slaves of Liberty, done up as a historical stage musical, will be featured in his retrospective The Indocile Image: The Cinema of Med Hondo at TIFF Lightbox on August 5.

In between, his own film projects have won acclaim and awards since his 1965 debut masterpiece Soleil O (August 4), loosely based on his personal experiences; about a West African accountant who moves to France to fulfill his dreams, only to face the reality of racism and restriction; the 1979 historical-musical West Indies: The Fugitive Slaves of Liberty (August 5) all shot on one stage aboard a slave ship being the symbolic focus of the Atlantic Slave Trade and the ugly legacies it carries; his most recent work, 2004’s Fatima, the Algerian Woman of Dakar (August 6), set in the aftermath of the Algerian War of Independence where a Senegalese veteran of the war makes restitution to the Algerian woman he raped and bore him his son which brought ostracization upon them.

Sarraounia, an African Queen (August 7) made in 1986 is based on the true story of a ruler who rallies up her people when French colonialism brings its troops to conquer them by military force; 1994’s Lumière noire (Black Light) is a modern drama-thriller where a aircraft engineer’s investigation over a young African deportee is hampered by political red tape and a police interference (August 9); 1998 xenophobic drama Wantani, a World Without Evil (August 13) looks at two Parisians, one white bank executive who gets laid-off and becomes drawn into an extreme right-wing fascist faction and a African immigrant looking for work after losing his garbage collector job and the 1978 geopolitical documentary Polisario, a People in Arms (August 16) that gives account to the mostly-forgotten liberation struggle of the Sahrawi of the Western Sahara for their small nation that has been occupied and annexed by Morocco since 1975.

Not a lot of films from African filmmakers come that often to conventional art-house cinemas, let alone get retrospectives (although The Indocile Image series was previously show at Carleton University in Ottawa this past spring). Hondo’s films, much like Sembène’s, expose the real truth of Africa’s relationship with past colonialism to current neocolonialist policies and immigration to the West, the collision of modernism versus traditionalism and the corruption of globalization and capitalism brings that raw edge world cinema fans will come to appreciate in this daring and introspective programme from a respected filmmaker.