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 #38 - WEEK OF MARCH 23-29, 2015

Survivalist drama fully-charged

The Unplugging (Native Earth Performing Arts/Factory Theatre)

Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street

Wednesday, March 18; 8 p.m.

AUDIENCE ADVISORY Language, mature subject matter

Theatre Review

Our wired world tends to take things for granted until suddenly it doesn’t work anymore and we find ourselves adrift, for the most part. Playwright Yvette Nolan’s The Unplugging firmly looks at this from the First Nations perspective, serving as a cautionary tale, survivalist story and social commentary all at once minus the preachy stuff, but in this case it’s hardly necessary to do so.

Two elderly women, Elena (Diana Belshaw) and Bern (Allegra Fulton), cross a frozen wasteland after cast out by their community for their perceived uselessness in a everyone-for-themselves world after an unexplained catastrophe renders the entire world’s technology ineffectual. But these two have the know-how to make it through the worst when they find refuge in an abandoned cabin.

Before long, the young exile Shamus (Umed Amin) enters into the scene and conflict rises between the ladies with eternal pragmatist Bern willing to share their survival skills while bitter Elena has her suspicions about possible ulterior motives at work that could undermine their own existence.

Director Nina Lee Aquino allows moments of humour and drama go unhindered in Nolan’s straight-line parable about the under-appreciation of elder wisdom in a disposable culture of ours and sharply mocks technology as no substitute for lessons learned over a lifetime by the cast in the 90-minute production, all utilized by the frosty, blanketed set placed by Clare Preuss under Michelle Ramsey’s well-placed lighting and the ethereal eeriness of Romeo Candido’s score.

It takes courage to defend the use of white actors to play the leads (upon Nolan’s request, herself a Native) of aboriginal women getting the rough deal from their own community in this topical forum, but at least Fulton and Belshaw play them with grace, honour, emotion and acuity and Amin, making his professional acting debut; is convincing to a degree of being the young man crippled by inexperience and low self-esteem trying to learn something out of all this.

The Unplugging reaches out to bring humanity and compassion in a post-apocalyptic world isn’t a loss on the audience in a very sturdy story and presentation by the Factory Theatre that should open our eyes in saving ourselves from technological overreliance that we’ve become of late and begs that age-old question: what happens when the lights go out?

***

The Unplugging continues through April 5. Tickets/information, call 416-504-9971 or factorytheatre.ca.

Horse Play

Cavalia gallops back into Toronto by popular demand with Odysseo

Theatre Preview

With animal-based entertainment becoming more and more passé – from bullfights in Spain to Ringling Brothers circus recently announcing their phasing out of elephant acts – they aren’t exactly dead yet and there are some that are trying to change that with better treatment of the animals, such as the Québec-based Cavalia with the return of Odysseo to Toronto after their highly-successful 2012 run here, starting April 8.

The brainchild of Normand Latourelle, one of the co-founders of Cirque du Soleil and Managing Director and Executive Vice-President in its juvenescence from 1985 to 1990; formed the company in fashioning the Spanish (caballo) and French (cheval) words for horse with the English word cavalry respectively, mainly for his love of the equine quadruped. “I was very attracted to the aesthetics of the horse,” Latourelle said. “This is the most beautiful animal on Earth.

“We take the time to train the horse. We don’t hit the horses with whips. We do use some sticks to give commands for the horse to understand – (like) go backward, go [forward] – but we don’t use spurs…The bits we have are soft bits” and he is fully committed to the well-being of the horses, as Latourelle has vowed: “I said if ever we have to abuse an animal to do a show, I will stop.”

After launching Cavalia’s acclaimed self-titled debut in 2003 (and still touring the world), Odysseo continues the theme of the shared histories between humans and horses by boasting with the world’s largest touring tent – 100 x 73 metres – in a climate-controlled environment to hold 2,300 spectators per show. The stage is “naturalized,” courtesy of 9071.8 metric tons of gravel, dirt and sand and a 1,490 square-metre pool liner for the show’s splashy finale to flood about 300,000 litres of water.

On its breezy March 18 tent raising down at the Port Lands site where workers were kicking and dumping off sheets of ice formed the night before in order for the 26 motors to raise the White Big Top canvas, it’s an arduous process that does takes its sweet time, along with setting up the “village” of tents from its Rendezvous VIP tent to the horses’ stable.

Artistic Director Nicolas Zlicaric took time to answers some questions in regard to Cavalia and Odysseo’s themes:

Cavalia is often confused for being a “Cirque with horses.” How do you differ from that company, other than the obvious?

Nicolas Zlicaric: You mentioned circus! (Laughs) Well, it’s a show with animals, so that’s the only similarity that we have with a circus-type show. What’s different about our show is that we’re telling the story of the relationship between man and horse. It’s an odyssey, that’s the name of the show (Odysseo) that we tell the story of a voyage between man and horse through time.

After the doing the highly-successful self-titled debut, was it hard to come up with the themes surrounding Odysseo?

The owner Normand Latourelle wanted a second show since 2004 when the first show was born, he contemplated the idea of another show. He got inspired by his ranch in the (Québec) Eastern Townships close to Montréal. It has a mountain and lake and he got inspired by what he saw from his house and decided to build a “mountain” and “lake,” so we have to build a mountain and lake in every city we visit! (Laughs) It’s a huge undertaking, it’s very costly and very time-consuming. It takes a lot of resources to do it. Not only do we have that scenic element, the show is really beautiful. And these elements are supporting the story also. We’re really happy to come to Toronto to present again this show to Torontonians.

You’ve managed to convey the shared history of the horse with humans from all parts of the world. Is there any more of a message of a spiritual connection between the two species?

It’s not only a show about telling a story about man and horse, also [we’re] telling a show about the relationship between man also, about man coming from any place and anywhere in the world that’s what we also want to represent a place where all men are created equally and they play with the horses and a place of tolerance, a place of beauty, so that’s what we try to present with the show.

Commentators who’ve had a chance in viewing the stables and have compared them to a spa. How much is that true?

It’s completely true! (Laughs) We pride ourselves for having great facilities for the horses. So you see the stable tent that will be raised…has more than 70 stalls that are big in comparison to any stall that you can find in other stables. The horses are showered three times a day, they’re fed two times a day. We have twenty people on tour from vets to groomers taking care of those 63 horses, so there’s one person per three horses [and] the horses get manicured! Of course, they’re athletes, so we have to take care of them, so we do everything that is possible to keep them in great shape. These are our performers. Sometimes, we like to say, that we take more care of our horses than our humans on tour! (Laughs)

***

Tickets now on sale. For information, call 416-368-3110 or canadianstage.com (Canadian Stage/How Do I Love Thee?); 416-973-4000/harbourfrontcentre.com (Harbourfront events); 416-538-0988/theatrecentre.org (Small Axe); 416-866-8666/soulpepper.ca (Soulpepper Theatre); 416-872-1212/mirvish.com (Cannibal!); 416-538-0988/thisisprogress.ca (PROGRESS); 416-546-2745/wavelengthtoronto.com (Wavelength Music Fest) and winterfolk.com (Winterfolk XIII).