Mar 31, 2010
That's a big part of what I so love about Spectacle: its stripping-down of fancy-dancy songs to their bare essentials. Rather like a less-hip cousin to Unplugged (but one with an incredibly good wine cellar), the show features a good slather of intelligent, artist-to-artist chat, discussing woodshed-ish chord-change stuff as well as inspiring books, poems, and places. Simply put, the show is a celebration of musicianship, artistry, and sonic inventiveness, with a good dose of humanity, curiosity, and discovery. These are human beings in Costello's able hands, not mere superstars. His fascination and respect for his guests shows, and it's inspiring to watch.
Rounding out the big-name guests on April 3rd will be the repeat showing of the Spectacle taster offered back in December, with Bono and The Edge of U2. I first heard about this episode far before its airing, when the program was taped the week the band were in Toronto last September. My curiosity was stoked, if only because the opportunity to see members of a super-mondo-mega-band in a small venue struck me as a unique opportunity to see taken-for-granted artistry up-close.
Stadium theatrics aside, U2 have always struck me as keenly aware artists. It was good to hear bands like Kraftwerk and Neu! get a mention by Bono as important influences; I sometimes don't think a band of U2's stature are given proper credit in terms of their passion for the decidedly non-mainstream sounds that have influenced them. Maybe it's because those kinds of bands -the stadium-filling ones -aren't thought of as artists, ergo, they never get asked the kind of artist-focused questions Spectacle specializes in. I've always heard a lot of different influences in U2's work, while marveling at the way such off-the-radar sounds can be re-envisioned and rejigged for mass consumption and appreciation. Is that the mark of true artistry? Or just being clever? I'm still working that one out (though I'm sure longtime producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois would have something to say, being incredible artists in their own right. I'm still waiting for Costello to interview them...).
Whatever the case, friends will probably tell you I have an unusual (bizarre, offbeat -take your pick) appreciation of U2's creative output. Part of that appreciation includes a song called "Please", taken from U2's woefully under-appreciated 1997 album, Pop. I was excited when I heard Costello had opened this particular tune; Mr. Pump-It-Up taking on "Please"? Yes please.
Words, together in some mystical sacrament with music, have always provided a heady, hearty kind of sonic seduction for me, and "Please" is the dark, dangerous lover in the night: imposing, insistent, important, passionate, scary, mysterious, operatic. Oh, and smart. Touching on themes common to U2's music -God, choice, humanity, a capacity for love, forgiveness, violence and intransigence -the song had, at the time of its release, a particular connection with the Irish peace process. Seeing it live (for the epic PopMart) had precisely the same effect on me as seeing Pavarotti at The Met many years before: it was shattering. "Please" is a very underrated piece of art that is every bit as vital, moving, beautiful, sad and searing as it was when I first heard it. (Also, the video for it is genius. Kudos, Mr. Corbijn.)
When I tuned in to Spectacle last December, I was dismayed to find that Costello's cover had been cut from the broadcast. I can only speculate the reasons why, but suffice to say it was a huge bummer. But the woe was replaced with a chorus of Hallelujah for the internet: I found another acoustic version of "Please" performed by Elvis Costello in 2000. I can only imagine the audience that September afternoon was treated to something similar.
Years may have etched a few more lines into faces and made hitting those high notes a bit more trying, but time has done nothing to that dark dangerous lover of mine: "Please" is every bit as breathtaking, thrilling, and overwhelming as the first time. Spectacle is so much more than mere spectacle, and sometimes -just sometimes -so are super-mondo-mega-bands.
Spectacle: Elvis Costello With... airs in Canada on CTV and in the U.S. on the Sundance channel. Check local listings for air times.
Mar 30, 2010
I have a little movie confession to make: Hot Docs is my favourite film festival. Sorry, Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), don't get jealous. The problem with TIFF is, despite its marquee appeal and oodles of excellent, beautiful content, it still feels chalk-full of sparkly, starry hype; it's like putting ten cans of frosting on one cake. I kind of like cakes on their own, actually, with a nice cup of tea. And Hot Docs (running April 29th to May 9th) is just that.
There's also a certain timeliness to the Hot Docs works that come to Toronto every spring. For instance, the documentary coming to Hot Docs about assassinated Pakistani PM Benazir Bhutto, has a true resonance, especially as the country is rapidly becoming a fixture on the nightly news, and there is more coverage than ever -even give years ago -with a diverse array of topics on Pakistan, including (incredibly) fashion. The film, Bhutto, by filmmakers Duane Baughman and Johnny O’Hara, had its world premiere in the U.S. Documentary Feature competition at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, and is making it Canadian Premiere at Hot Docs May 1st.
On to another kind of powerful woman: the one who serves you food. Dish: Women, Waitressing, and the Art Of Service, by Maya Gallus, explores the world of the female-dominated service industry. The full spectrum of the waitressing experience is documented, with the film moving from gritty truck stops to "sexy restos" and even Tokyo maid cafes. Gallus recently won a Gemini Award for Best Direction In A Documentary for her feature-length film, Girl Inside, which premiered at Hot Docs and launched the 2007 season of The View From Here on TVO. Her film Erotica: A Journey Into Female Sexuality premiered at TIFF in 1997 and was nominated for a Genie Award for Best Feature-Length Documentary. This interest in female stories makes me think Dish is going to be less dishy and more dramatic, in that good, involving, I-want-another-plate way.
Now, having served, and danced, and even done some mad combinations of the two (oh, those wild Dublin pub nights), the screening of A Drummer's Dream intrigues, for its dance-y possibilities. The beat of not food but skins sits at the heart of this NFB work, written, produced, and directed by Canadian John Walker. Drummers who've kept the beat for Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Carlos Santana share their knowledge with forty students during a week-long retreat in the Canadian wilderness The film features the talents of celebrated drummers Nasyr Abdul Al-Khabyyr, Dennis Chambers, Kenwood Dennard, Horacio “El-Negro” Hernadez, Giovanni Hidalgo, Mike Mangini and Raul Rekow, and looks like big ole' noisy celebration. I would imagine this is one of those inspiring stories that makes one want to shimmy up the aisle exiting the theatre. Or start banging on pint glasses with a spoon.
Lots more Hot Docs coverage in the weeks leading up to the fest's kick off on April 29th. Stay tuned. And TIFF? Stop pouting. You have plenty of time to make it up to me before September rolls around. Get busy on that cake.
Mar 28, 2010
Photographer Viviane Sassen captures a gorgeous Africa. According to PLANET magazine, the fashion photographer's work is "(n)ot quite haute couture, not quite documentary" but is "the result of directed African pilgrimages. (They) fall into an enigmatic category incorporating personal memory, imperialism, and sensual beauty." The exhibit, on now through April 10th at Danziger Projects in New York City, is the photographer's first American exhibition and incorporates images from past series based around the cultures and peoples of Ghana, South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Beautiful stuff.
Photographer Izabella Demavlys documents scarred lives in her latest series. The former fashion photographer took pictures of women in Pakistan who survived acid attacks in Without A Face; she also document their family time with Saira. In an interview with Eyeteeth, she explains her move away from the world of fashion, to a wider definition of beauty:
One of the reasons I shifted over from fashion photography was its conceptualized views of women. I came to a point where I couldn’t work in that environment anymore....nor did my work change perceptions, behaviors, or engage the viewer in any issues. I simply fueled the fashion world with more images of young women who would represent what I believe is a distorted idea of beauty.It's so encouraging to see Demavlys actually living the old adage, of being the change she wants to see in the world. She has a real artist's eye for the female face, combined with an unerring love for her subjects. Inspiring.
Zimbabwean artist Owen Maseko has been arrested. His crime? Daring to question the government in his latest exhibition of graffiti work, 3D installations, and paintings. Artist Voti Thebe, who is also the director of the National Gallery where Maseko exhibited his work, was also arrested. Maseko's own website is here. I'm angry and disappointed this didn't make bigger news, or garner outrage from fellow artists in North America; Maseko and Thebe are both hugely talented and they truly deserve every bit of support here.
Photographer Matthias Heiderich captures a colourful Berlin. Despite rising rents and a rapidly homogenizing "underground" culture, I'm still sensing the weird, wonderful, experimental Berlin of old through Heiderich's beautiful shots contained in his series, Color Berlin. Anyone else?
A moving collection of photographs captures seven years of war in Iraq. March 19th marked the seventh anniversary of the invasion of Iraq; the Denver Post has an incredible compilation of photos that are tragic, heartening, funny, sad, infuriating, inspiring, and will, frankly, give you a whole new appreciation of the art of photojournalism, and the resiliency of those who do it.
English artist Antony Gormley gets spacey in his latest New York exhibit. Gormley's bio describes his work as "a radical investigation of the body as a place of memory and transformation" and the exhibit, Breathing Room II (running at the Sean Kelly Gallery in New York City through May 1st) takes those notions and uses you, the viewer, as a prime subject. Heady, fascinating, and ultimately revealing about the comfy, pre-conceived notions we hold about space and time.
The Art Gallery of Ontario is featuring the concept of time too. Running through August 1st in Toronto, Sculpture as Time: Major Works. New Acquisitions features a bevvy of international artists' works including that of Tino Sehgal, whose last exhibit at the Guggenheim caused a stir about the role of performance art in the 21st century. Prepare to re-think ideas and preciously-held beliefs. In other words, you may get uncomfortable -which is sometime a good thing. Right?
Loopy (pun unintended) Frenchman Sebastien Tellier has a cheeky (pun intended) new video out to commemorate the tenth anniversary of stylish French music label Recordmakers. This video really makes me want to pick up line drawing again. Surreal, funny, sexy... I see Bunuel smiling at this one. Nice tune too.
Man writes Shakespeare anagrams, s=l=o=w=l=y. No, it isn't a joke. K. Silem Mohammad, a published poet and professor, is using a painfully meticulous process based around anagrams whereby he'll render all 144 of the Bard's sonnets into new expressions of poetry. So far, he's finished 68. I like that he's into both traditional, metered poetry, as well as the "collage" approach. Re-defining the definitions is what keeps art -and life -interesting.
This week: Posts on Hot Docs, Spectacle: Elvis Costello With... , the latest Daniel Lanois video, and more food features and recipes. Happy last-week-of-March!
Mar 27, 2010
Now, I'd been told grannie is "more of a song" than a formal play. Well, what a beautiful song -and what a delightful, wholly satisfying, of theatre it is! Exploring ideas around family, community, loss, and black identity in the 21st century, the work carefully, masterfully incorporates musical elements into its rich, poetic dialogue; it reminded me of Beat poetry, of jazz, of Caribana, of church, of things intimate and epic and singularly, defiantly boundary-crossing -all elements that, to my mind, should be playing a part in humming the tune of contemporary Canadian theatre.
Characters like the bespecled likklebit (Miranda Edwards), the cellphone-addicted vilma (Andrea Scott), yuppie kris (Marcel Stewart), and rebel tyetye (Joseph Pierre), as well as grannie herself (Ordena) are all well-drawn and eagerly performed. Despite their different journeys, mandiela has created a vital thread of connection running between them, a thread that's given physical manifestation in the form of multi-coloured lines of cord running across the Factory's wide stage expanse. Used alternately as clothing lines, cages, lines of demarcation and nationality, Julia Tribe's inspired design is a beautiful compliment to mandiela's writing and direction, demonstrating the twin notions of separation and connection, distance and intimacy, past and present (and even future) all at once.
Combined with the live percusison of Amina Alfred, who knew grannie: a dub aria is masterful, moving theatre that salutes the past (be it conventions, generations, people or places) while moving boldly into new, exciting realms of performance possibility and the outer reaches of the human heart. I had the opportunity of interview ahdri zhina mandiela about the work; her answers are, unsurprisingly, every bit as poetic as her show.
What inspired who knew grannie: a dub aria? Was it a specific person, or situation?
the aria is inspired by my mother, who is the eldest daughter of her mother, the grannie on whom the central character is based. my mother is in her mid-80's and may pass on soon; this is my way of facing that impending loss.
How did you decide on the show's format? Was music always a major part of it?
as a performance poet, mos
How does the language inform and shape the narrative and characters?
verbal language is just one of the communication principles in the narrative. emotional language, language of space & movement are others; each contribut(es) to shaping the characterpersonalities, journeys, and interactions.
the 'languages' needed to have their music highlighted/enhanced/
plus, the drum is a primal musical instrument, and very much represents grannie's voice: that's the musical instrument sh
Who is this for?
everyone: we all have a grannie still living or on the other side. and we all have some memories of relating to a grannie or grandmother figure.
Photo credit: Nicola Betta Photography.
Mar 25, 2010
Two days ago I wrote a post about a Drunken History episode, in which comedian Duncan Trussell tried to explain the significance of Nikola Tesla astride a toilet bowl. It was gross, it was funny, it was weirdly educational. Mainly, I posted a feature on it because I find the entire concept highly creative and original. Would any of us (okay, most of us) care about the history of electricity if it were presented with less... flair (or alcoholic influence)?
The video was removed owing to copyright claims, which rendered my original post useless; currency being vital online, I quickly pulled the post, entirely bummed out. Trussell was trying to explain the history of Nikola Tesla and his stormy relationship with Thomas Edison. I loved Crispin Glover's glaring Edison, and John C. Reilly's whole-hearted earnestness. (The video was over at Inquisitr but alas, has been pulled there, too.)
Following my original post, I was surprised to see I'd lost a follower here. I don't know who, and I don't know why, but it made me wonder: why? Surely there's far more offensive material on the internet than a sloshed Trussell explaining the foundations of electricity.Created by Derek Waters (who worked on The Sarah Silverman Program as well as Funny Or Die), the series' premise is to get a celebrity inebriated before having them expound on a particular point in history. Past episodes have featured Jack Black, Michael Cera, Zooey Deschanel, Don Cheadle, and Will Farrell, talking about Benjamin Franklin, William Henry Harrison, Frederick Douglass, and other important American historical figures.
Drunk History may not be your textbook history, but it is very funny, and it's also weirdly informative. What with American history being re-written lately anyway, who's to say Drunk History isn't a better -and more approachable -information source than textbooks? Somehow, the drunken lessons have an indisputable kernel of truth that combine with a youthful spark of fire and ingenuity. That's what inspires curiosity and creates a thirst for more. Score one in the education column for Drunk History: smart, sarcastic, and slurringly educational. Somewhere, somehow, I can hear Charles Bukowski cackling.
Mar 23, 2010
"WAR! HUH! WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR? ABSOLUTELY NUTHIN'!"
So sang Edwin Starr, and later Bruce Springsteen. War is hell, yes, but how do you translate that onstage without pummeling your audience with a pile of sloganeering and agitprop? British playwright Joan Littlewood confronted this question when she set out to write a work about World War One. Back in 1963, memories of "the Great War" -to say nothing of WW2 -were still fresh, and there were plenty of veterans about to share tales. Littlewood was never exactly a conformist; determined to go to America as a young woman, she tried to walk from Liverpool to the sea dock, but collapsed after 130 miles. Having already directed and starred in the well-received British premiere of Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children, Littlewood, like many theatre artists of her time, was sick of the chest-strutting proud model of British military excellence in the First World War, but seeking a creative way of staging her ideas.
Working with longtime love Gerry Raffles, radio producer Charles Chilton, and the rest of her theatre company, Oh, What A Lovely War made its debut in March 1963. The work, carefully monitored by government officials, was a huge hit and opened on Broadway the following year, where it garnered four Tony nominations. It's unique for the ways it combines dance, song, drama, clowning, and vaudeville. Yes, you read that right: clowns are in a war drama. What starts out as an innocent celebration turns into something considerably darker by the piece's end. Deeply theatrical and unrepentantly musical, generations of directors have longed to staged it, and now Toronto's Soulpepper Theatre gives it a go, using current members of their Academy to flesh out Littlewood & Co's vision. Soulpepper Artistic Director Albert Schultz has staged the piece with an eye to times past and present, using white Pierrot-like costumes and the Academy's considerably musical talents to create a heightened world that seems strangely familiar.
I had the chance to interview cast and Academy members Raquel Duffy and Brendan Wall about the challenges of the production, as well as the play's incredible staying power.
What was the hardest part of Oh, What A Lovely War? It isn't 'realistic' in any sense and yet you have to bring a lot of truth to the roles you play.
Brendan: One of the most difficult things for me to embrace with this play is the fact that we all play very particular –and sometimes isolated -pieces of an elaborate puzzle. The whole picture and its effect on the audience is something that I’m not ever fully aware of. This is a show, perhaps more so than any other, where I have no idea what it’s like to sit in the audience and experience from beginning to end. I’d love to watch this show.
Raquel: The most challenging part of the piece for me was working out the technical aspects of transitions – both on a physical level and mentally. Jumping from scene to scene, all of which carry very specific and varying energies or, for lack of a better word, ‘moods’, and not letting the effect of one spill into the other. The convention of us all being a group of "performers" helped me deal with the fact that we aren’t attempting to make the piece realistic as much as we are attempting to tell the story as clearly as possible.
What sort of direction did Albert Schultz give you in terms of balancing the music with the work's other elements?
Brendan: Albert and Marek Norman (the show's Musical Director) had a beautiful working dynamic. Both aspects of the storytelling -the music and scenes –influenced each other. I always felt like I was in good hands. I think I play a half a dozen characters and a half a dozen instruments in this show, and I certainly don’t stop moving once the curtain goes up. There are moments where a scene is being played out and a single chord is struck and it crystallizes the whole essence of what’s going on. The play grew out of these songs.
Raquel: Both (Albert and Marek) wanted the songs sung by the soldiers to be less ‘musical’ -by that I guess I mean the songs still have historical context or a sense of the period. We did a lot of research regarding how these songs came about. It was very common for the soldiers to sing while spending endless hours in the trenches; for example, the song set to "Auld Lang Syne" only has the lyrics “we’re here because we’re here because we’re here, because we’re here.”
How timely a piece did you think this is? Littlewood's work feels very tame by today's standards, even quaint. How did you give the work immediacy?
Brendan: I have two young sons and I’d like them to live in a world where the notion of war is something that is only seen on a stage as a quaint piece of theatre from bygone days. I can’t think of a timelier piece. As for the show being tame or quaint, yes it is at times -that’s an important part of the show. A play that screams at the top of its lungs about how war’s is bad is not telling us anything new. I think we always have to be mindful in the theatre that we’re here to entertain first and that only by doing that can’t we hope to have any effect on our audience.
Raquel: In my head I hear the phrase, ‘Lest We Forget’. It was very different from the war we are presently engaged in and yet there are a number of parallels that I believe the audience will recognize. The piece was formed through a collective and we’ve embraced that through all of us playing various instruments, making the gunshot noises, moving the set…I think the idea of a group of players trying to tell the story of that war through the convention of a music hall lends itself to being as present as possible.
Who is this for in the 21st century?
Brendan: First and foremost, this play is for anyone who wants to see a great ensemble of artists working and playing together to create an entertaining evening of theatre. This play is also for my two little boys who, at the age of five and two, know too much about war in that they know anything at all.
Raquel: We lost our last Canadian World War I Vet while we were rehearsing this project. He spent his life trying to keep the history of that War alive. I feel this piece carries his legacy forward.
Production photos by Cylla von Tiedemann.
Photos of Brendan Wall and Raquel Duffy by Bruce Zinger.
Mar 22, 2010
Last year I had the opportunity of interviewing the festival's leaders, including Executive Director Helen Zukerman, who explained to me that the point of the festival isn't to engage in political debates but to facilitate dialogue and understanding, all while celebrating the past, present, and future of Jewish culture. A big part of that culture is comic -as in funny, sure (works of the Marx Brothers were featured in years past) -but also in an artistic, literal sense. People of the Comic Book: The Creators Of Superheroes, Graphic Novels & Toons is a series running as part of TJFF that explores the connection between the best-known superheroes (Superman, Batman, Spider-Man), and their Jewish creators. Animators, authors, and filmmakers will be attending to mark the occasion, among them writer Harvey Pekar (American Splendor), and award-winning graphic novelist Ben Katchor. The series will also include a film about animation legend Al Hirschfeld, a screening of Ron Mann's Comic Book Confidential, as well as a midnight screening of Ralph Bakshi's hilariously ribald Fritz The Cat.
Within the Festival programming, there's also (much to my delight) a nice focus on the experiences of Jewish women. Among the huge number of selections is Ahead Of Time, the story of the truly incredible Ruth Gruber, a photographer, journalist, foreign correspondent and humanitarian. After World War Two, Gruber campaigned to allow Holocaust refugees from Europe into the United States; she also covered the Nuremberg trials, which are covered extensively in another work at the festival, Nuremberg: Its Lesson For Today (details below) Gruber was witness to the Exodus 1947 ship enter Haifa Harbour following its being attacked by by the Royal Navy. She subsequently flew to Cyprus to meet and interview the refugees, and later, was the only journalist allowed by the British to accompany the refugees on their tragic return trip to Germany. Gruber was honoured in 2008 by the National Coalition Against Censorship. And that's just part of her life.
Ahead Of Time is paired with The Irene Hilda Story (L'Histoire D'Irene), detailing the history of Irene Hilda herself, a cabaret singer who was forced to flee Paris. Still in the music vein is The Jazz Baroness, which traces the relationship between Pannonica ("Nica") Rothschild and jazz legend Thelonius Monk. Rothschild left her wealthy background, her husband, even her children, to follow the married Monk and his magical sound. Even when her family cut her off financially, she still helped out her jazz musician friends as best she could, giving them what money she had for rent, food, and instruments. Monk took her deep into the bebop world of the day -so deep in fact, that she was exposed to the ugly, unpoetic side of the scene; like a sad badge of cred, Charlie Parker wound up dying in Nica's suite at the Stanhope Hotel. The film, made by Rothschild's great-niece, includes readings of the Baroness' letters (by Helen Mirren) as well as music Monk wrote specifically for Rothschild. Dreamy.
Returning to the hard edges of history, however, and that dreaminess is soon vanished. Berlin '36 portrays the Nazis' recruitment of Gretel Bergmann, a world-class Jewish high jumper. The Nazis were so stunned by her mastery, and so worried about that mastery discrediting their racial theories, they took a rather drastic step to ensure her failure at the Olympics: they hired a man in drag to take her place. Berlin '36 is complemented by What If? The Helene Mayer Story, which tells the story of fencer Helene Mayer who won a gold medal for Germany in 1928. She moved to the U.S. in the 1930s after being kicked out of her German fencing club for being half-Jewish. Her return to Germany however, after IOC pressure on the country, may have helped to whitewash Nazi racial policies internationally.
Those policies are explored in detail with Nuremberg: Its Lesson For Today. Completed in 1948, the film was widely shown in Germany in '48-49, though its release in the U.S. was withheld, in part because of the graphic, upsetting nature of its content. Original footage was painstakingly restored by filmmakers Sandra Schulberg and Josh Waletzky. The film documents how Allied prosecution teams built their case against Nazi War criminals; courtroom sequences are edited together with the Nazis' own documents and films, one of which depicts the concentration camps that so shocked the military tribunal. Even nearly 70 years later, those images are still totally gut-wrenching and horrific. I want to see Nuremberg but I'm not sure I'll be able to.
Then again, those symbols of hate aren't so far from current reality. Hearing about the awful racial slurs that were hurled today at black politicians today in the United States over recent health care reforms, I can't help but feel that a film like Nuremberg: Its Lesson For Today is, in fact, just that. It's more relevant and timely than ever; hatred still exists, however gussied-up and hidden (or not) it might be. All it takes is a mob fueled by ignorance and fear to spread hatred like a cancer through society. Showing Nuremberg: Its Lesson For Today is a vital reminder for us -all of us -that hatred is never a wide road leading to greener pastures, but rather, a cracked narrow path of stones leading to a crushing dead end. The Toronto Jewish Film Festival remains as relevant, fresh, and important as ever.
For full information on the Festival, including schedule and ticketing, go to www.tjff.com.
Mar 21, 2010
Paint It Orange: Artists in Detroit are painting derelict houses. Why? Well... why not? As well as bringing attention to the jaw-dropping economic disparity in Detroit, the work brings a kind of joie de vivre and creative, improvisatory to areas that badly need that kind of play. The spirit of openness is infectious too; as the artists explain, the projects lead to opportunities and area regrowth. Yes, artists can make a difference. Thanks to Good Magazine and Halogen TV for a truly good story.
Speaking of which: Bono attended the Pan African Media Conference last week in Nairobi. Yes, I know there's a lot of strong opinions out there about his involvement in world issues and his passionate activism, but as a user named ewangu commented on this (Kenyan) post, "At least he is trying, he has the influence and resources.... someone has to!!!" I've always seen his efforts less as patronizing and meddling, and more humanistic and matched to the old white-flag-waver of yore (minus the mullet). Would North Americans (much less CNN) have paid attention to the Pan African Media Conference without his presence? Debate amongst yourselves.
Ring Ring: Teddy Ruge of Project Diaspora was in Austin, Texas last week, taking part in the Africa 3.0 conference at South by Southwest. In the video clip below, he says that "aid agencies do great job perpetuating the model of 'Africa needs aid'", echoing an argument made last year by Dambisa Moyo.
Ruge, who is critical of the One Laptop Per Child program, notes that "those of us in Diaspora are starting to wake up to the fact that we have the power to make a difference in Africa -by starting social entrepreneurship programs. Hopefully we can create a wave of change that can have Africans taking responsibility for Africa as opposed to looking to the West constantly for assistance. It's time we started providing solutions for ourselves." One of those solutions is via mobile technology, something software developer (and Appfrica CEO) Jonathan Gosier compellingly explores. As he writes, "Africa doesn’t default to the mobile device because they want to, they do it because it’s useful for them."
Mali Cool: A exhibit by Malian photographer Malick Sidibe is on now through March 26th at the Bekris Gallery in San Francisco. Titled "Other Africa", Sidibe's shots capture a time in 1960s/70s Western Africa that, frankly, is dead cool-looking -full of gorgeous people dancing and having fun. It's so far from the stereotypical image of Africa that North Americans are fed -which is important -but his work also shows an incredible eye for shape, form and detail. You can tell why his studio became a popular hangout for the beautiful people in the 70s too. I hope this show tours. I want to see these prints in-person.
Not useful but fun: Here's an entertaining list of ten inspiring mash-ups/remixes/ re-envisionings compiled in the New York Times' Arts Beat blog. I was particularly moved by the 3D version of Guernica set to the music of Manuel de Falla by artist Lena Gieseke; going behind, through, an around Picasso's figures is a surreal, if very immediate way to experience his work in a brave new way. I love the Obama/McCain Dance Off too (I wonder if the Health Care Vote hostilities could be resolved this way...). The Sinatra/B.I.G. mash-up beat-filled ode to New York is also affecting, not just for its balls-out bravado and macho swagger, but for the sad reminder that both its artists -so symbolic of the Big Apple in their own times -aren't with us anymore.
Art+Trash Squared: Artist Justin Gignac takes on New York City in a whole different way. He takes inspiration from trash -literally. The enterprising artist sticks city garbage in a sealed plastic cube and then sells it (for $50 each, in case you want one). Recycling? Smarmy post-pop culture commentary? Opportunism? All of the above? As Web Urbanist notes, "It’s a little bit Andy Warhol, a little bit street-corner-junk-hawker and a whole lot of kitsch, but it’s clearly a hit – over 1,200 NYC Garbage cubes have been sold to buyers in 25 countries." Everyone wants a bite of the Big Apple -no matter how much it might hurt the teeth.
My Anansi moment: I'm one of the many people part of the current round of the Review Crew, the online review site for publishing powerhouse House of Anansi. Yay! The chosen book is award-winning author Pascale Quiviger's hauntingly gorgeous The Breakwater House; it's been months since I finished reading this slim book, and I'm still thinking about it. You know it's good when...
Coming up this week: pieces on the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, Hot Docs, and current theatre in Toronto, including Art, Oh What A Lovely War, and who knew grannie: a dub aria. I'll also be posting about the delicious, inspiring links between Stratford, Ontario and the recent (and inspiring) food event, Terroir 4, that happened earlier this month. Oh, and tomorrow is World Water Day; to mark the occasion, I'm hoping to speak with Maude Barlow about a documentary she's part of that airs this week on TVO. Whew! Hang loose, stay tuned, hang on, stay strong.
Mar 19, 2010
But what happens when love gone wrong goes public? Celebrated Russian writer Leo Tolstoy imagined such an ugly scenario when he sat down to write The Kreutzer Sonata, based on Beethoven’s fiery music. The story revolves around a man sharing his tale of love, jealousy, suspected infidelity, and finally murder. Upon its publication in 1889 it was perceived as perverted, disgusting and scandalous; authorities promptly banned it. A year later, Tolstoy wrote a kind of apology for it, though it did nothing to dim the bright salacious bulb of the original, its glaring light shining capturing the money-spot of sexy pain and orgasmic violence.
Toronto’s Art of Time Ensemble decided to stage Tolstoy’s work, adding, as befits their collectively experimental soul, elements of dance, theatre, and of course, music to the works. The Kreutzer Sonata was performed last year in Toronto to great acclaim, and is currently receiving a revivial, on now through March 21st (Sunday) at the Enwave Theatre at Harbourfront Centre. I had the chance to chat with one of its performers, actor/director Ted Dykstra, who had so impressed (and scared) me doing a brilliant rendition of Allan Ginsberg’s Howl at a previous Art of Time Ensemble event. Dykstra, ever the insinghtful artist, had some fascinating things to say about Tolstoy, marital jealousy, and the idea of a “world-class” city.
What's different about this year's performance?
Last year I read my own adaptation, but this year I’m stupid enough to try to do it without reading it.
How much humour comes through?It comes the day I’m doing it –and it can go a lot of different ways. I like to let it do me rather than me do it. What’s great is that, first of all, live music. Andrew (Burashko, AOT’s Artistic Director) is actually playing, underscoring bit of narration. I have the advantage of these live people underscoring (what I’m doing). In the second half of it, the same music is used to celebrate nothing but beauty. It’s a celebratory thing about love.
How timeless/timely is The Kreutzer Sonata?Anyone who’s ever experienced marital breakup or jealousy in any form will see themselves in it, either as the aggressor or the victim, and that’s a pretty large section of the human population. Also, we really think so little of what’s behind a crime, and this lets you into the mind of a person so you can understand his madness. I have to be sympathetic to the character I’m playing; this is a guy who murdered his wife, and that’s an interesting thing to watch. As far as timely goes, it’s not anymore or any less timely, it’s just universal.
Talk about the synergy between disciplines in the Art of Time: music, theatre, dance.It’s there between Andrew and I for sure. Neither of us is content to just be one thing. We both like to cross boundaries and disciplines. I’d like to do it even more and so would he. I think the city is starting to be ready for it. I do get frustrated with Toronto sometimes. The very fact one has to say “world-class” is embarrassing! Nobody in any great city, ever, has to say they are “world-class” –and that’s what makes it world-class. Andrew would be a celebrity in Manhattan. He’d be at BAM, doing the cool stuff. He’d be sold out, sought after, written about. He’s one of those artists. Here, except for a small group of our population, he’s literally unknown. I’m tired of telling my friends in theatre who he is –I mean, I’m happy to do it really, but it is frustrating to have such great work going on so below the radar. There is a slow sea change, though, so it’s exciting.
The Kreutzer Sonata runs at the Enwave Centre at Harbourfront Centre March 18th through 21st.
Photo credits, top to bottom: The Kreutzer Sonata, painting by Rene Francois Xavier Prinet (1901); photo of Ted Dykstra courtesy Soulpepper Theatre Company; photo of Andrew Burashko courtesy the Art Of Time Ensemble.
Mar 18, 2010
As a child, I was exposed to a number of different sounds: opera, classic country, disco, pop-rock, jazz. And then there was Queen. I've often said their crazily loud soundtrack to Flash Gordon was my entrance into heavier sounds, and I don't think it's gauche to admit it. If it wasn't for the "FLASH! AH-AHHHH!" I might not have ever gone on to the snarling sounds of punk or the clanging cacophony of metal. Hell, I may not have even enjoyed ballsy, loud blues. I don't know how many times I made my mother sit through Flash Gordon, but ... it was a lot. My friends and I used to literally dance in our seats to the music. Poor mum eventually relented and bought me the soundtrack to the movie, and from there I explored the Queen catalogue backwards and forwards.
Much-loved albums included A Night At the Opera and A Day At The Races (yes, I was a Marx brothers fan too, and immediately caught the vaudeville refence) and I remember borrowing a friend's (vinyl) copy of News Of The World and listening to it ad nauseum. The cacophony from my bedroom provided good competition to the opera that blasted from the living room -especially on a Saturday afternoon.
Having been exposed to opera at an early age, I was particularly enchanted with Freddie Mercury's wide range and spine-tingling tone. He could move from soft and tender to aggressively sinister in a heartbeat. I loved that he did a duet with Monserrat Caballet; it only increased his cool-factor for me. What other rock figure would dare it? Opera was resoundingly uncool at the time, and yet Freddie openly embraced it. Even my mother became a Freddie fan.
I remember seeing clips of Queen live on television -all those hands clapping in unison! -and thinking, "He has something magical." Freddie was unapologetically operatic in his approach and bearing; walking slowly across the stage at the end of Queen shows to the metal-ized stylings of God Save The Queen draped in velvet cape and crown was certainly among the campiest moments in rock, but it was also brilliant spectacle. In many ways now, looking back, Freddie revolutionized onstage rock presence. Standing and playing your instruments, shaking your hair, and looking only at your bandmates wasn't enough to him; connecting with your audience and breaking down barriers of acceptability (especially in terms of gender and aesthetic expectations) came to matter deeply, and it shows, even now. Watching him on the telly or the computer monitor, it's a presence you can feel.
Now, adoring a variety of genres and sounds, I still have to absolutely credit Queen and its magnetic, theatrical frontman for introducing me to the wonders of guitar rock as a child. Craig Pesco understands the magical presence of Freddie Mercury, too. The Australian-born performer is renowned worldwide for his onstage tribute to Freddie Mercury. Pesco seems to possess his own incredible sense of stage presence along with strong pipes to match. Currently on tour with It's A Kinda Magic, and set to hit Toronto's Massey Hall tomorrow night (March 19th), the performer knows he has big shoes to fill every time he steps onto the stage. "It's on my shoulders to fulfill what they expect from Freddie," he says. Scary? Yes. Thrilling? Probably.
I had the opportunity to ask Pesco about inspiration, singing, and the spooky kind of channeling that goes on with playing the enigmatic, operatic frontman born Farrokh Bulsara live, in front of cheering Queen fans.
How old were you when you first heard Queen? Do you remember the song and your reactions?
The "Bohemian Rhapsody" video I was maybe 6 or 8. I thought Freddie was an exotic Asian woman.
How much of your own music and personality are you able to bring to It's A Kinda Magic?
I have been a performer for many years prior to this role. My old friends say they don’t see Freddie onstage; they see me. In their eyes I have always been that type of performer, so I guess I'm in there somewhere, though I try to stay true to Freddie.
How much of performing as Freddie is theatre? Do you sometimes feel like you're 'channeling' him, or is it a mask you put away at the end of the day?
I think it’s a little of both, it certainly has a spiritual aspect to it and I forget who I am most of the time. For good or bad, I enjoy being in a dream like state up there. It's like I'm watching a video of Freddie somewhere in my head, maybe like an out-of-body experience, I guess.
What do you think accounts for Queen's enduring popularity?
Great songs and production! Also, a revolutionary concert production and a genius frontman who was not afraid to express himself however he felt.
What is your favourite Queen song to perform? Which Queen song have you not performed but you'd like to do?
I enjoy the heavier material. I would love to do “It's Late" or "Millionaire Waltz”. I love the album tracks much more than the hits.
It's A Kinda Magic plays Toronto's Massey Hall on March 19th. The Canadian tour continues through March 29th, before stops in Hong Kong and South Africa this spring and summer. Check the show website for full information.
Mar 17, 2010
Behold, a very young Lady Gaga pounding out her life's passion in New York City back in January 2006. I love this video. It shows Ms. Germanotta's incredible musicianship, strong vocals, and most of all, her absolute dedication to her craft. She's clearly enjoying the relationships she shares with her bandmates, instrument, and audience. She might seem to be an entirely different beast now, with choreographed dance numbers, flaming bras, big wigs and crazily inspired outfits, but I'd like to believe a true artist's heart still beats within her Armani-clad chest.
Also: this is one damn catchy tune.
I recall parties thrown by Irish friends, where the adults drank whiskey and us kids got milk with mint syrup. I remember more debauched celebrations in university that involved continual tar-and-malt-coloured libations through the day (and into night). In 2003, I met my mother at an Irish pub. She made the black remark that, "we'd better get good and drunk; there's going to be a pile of dead people tomorrow." The second Iraq war was on the cusp of starting; that sore festering pimple left the pallor of St. Pat's particularly scarred, especially since pub patrons were taking sips between quick, nervous glances at the telly, as if CNN was the band-aid one could put on the bruised complexion of the world. Of course, my mother was right: three days later, we awakened to news of bombs, rockets, blood and screaming. And plenty of speeches and chest-thumping. Drinking didn't make it that much better but the communal experience of being in a pub helped immeasurably.
St. Pat's also has a personal dimension for me: today marks the day that, in 2007, I moved from a bittersweet, happy/sad life in Stratford, Ontario. I toasted my new circumstances that night, with dirty hands and sore arms, in a newly-painted room with a gleaming hardwood floor. The future was a huge question mark yawning forth with fangs and tongue flicking. Everything was new and old at the same time. "Woe to me," I thought between bouts of self-pity, "if I wound up nothing but the undigested afterthought of a Beelzebub offering sin and redemption one foul swoop." I still can't figure out if I'm cud or steak, but one thing's clear: that painful St. Pat's made me stronger.
Before the fortifying challenges of adulthood however, I remember another St. Patrick's Day. I was living in Dublin (yes, Ireland). I was in my early twenties, and my definitions of love, worth, security, friendship, play -hell, even art -had been turned upside down in the six months I'd been there. After weeks of gloom and wet, the dampness so keen it stained the walls of our ancient flat and made wearing three layers de rigeur, St. Pat's was bright, sunny, and mild. Joyful crowds lined O'Connell Street: apple-cheeked grannies, sozzled students, North African immigrants, people from the numerous outlying suburbs, all enjoying a day off. Everyone was smiling, even the Gardai, in their uniforms, with buttons eye-searingly shiny casting rings of light along the cracked cement.
I'd stood on the thick concrete rail of the O'Connell Street Bridge weeks before, a friend holding a leg each, imploring me to "hurry up!" as I happily, manically snapped pictures of the buildings and houses cupping the Liffey like a cooing grey dove. Cold winds had whipped me to and fro, as hands gripped my ankles, then pant legs, and then the inevitable comment of "you're insaaane!" floated through the rain-soaked air, chiming in harmony with the metallic ca-chunks of the camera lens. I'd gone to Dublin because, as a first-time move-out, I thought it would be easier to negotiate than the busy, buzzy shock of Gotham-like London; I was also in love with words, and had been intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually sustained by the likes of Yeats, Heaney, Joyce, Beckett, Behan and O'Casey for years. It's no accident I wound up living mere blocks from the Dublin Writers Museum, the Gate Theatre -and the GPO.
As I stood that day in Dublin slowly inhaling the joy, the sunshine, and riotous celebration, there flashed a pang of sadness in my chest -that familiar, oh-so-Irish sense of doom, drama, and joy, melded together. I was already making plans to move to London. I didn't know what the future held. I wasn't even sure why I was leaving. And then I saw it: a float, featuring players from the popular television series Father Ted. I'd come to adore the show before I'd moved, thanks to PBS airings, and living in Dublin cemented my adoration. It was a ringing success in Ireland for simple reasons: the gentle mocking of the Church, the ironic winks to tradition, the celebration of community and friendship. Pauline McLynn, who played Mrs. Doyle, and Ardal O'Hanlon, who played Father Dougal, were on the float, and were greeted with manic waves and cheers. But their appearance was tinged with sadness: their co-star Dermot Morgan (who played the title role) had died very suddenly the previous year.
I came out of a darkened pub to blinding sunshine later that day, feeling overwhelmingly sad yet happily content, all at once.
"Moving?!" an Irish co-worker and friend had exclaimed, "you're moving? Why??"
Bittersweet. Good and bad. Yin and yang. Stout and whiskey. That's Ireland. That was my life there. And Dublin gave me the greatest St. Patrick's day ever.
Father Ted - Lingerie
Mar 16, 2010
Jocelyn aims to "redefine Canadian Stage as a home not only for great Canadian and international plays, but also for trans-disciplinary theatre that pushes the boundaries of convention and reflects a resolutely 21st century aesthetic." That aesthetic includes featuring the work of Quebec native -and theatre visionary - Robert LePage in the 2010-2011 season. LePage's The Andersen Project will be making its Toronto debut in October; according to the release, it's "a modern-day multimedia fairytale" that is based on the work of Hans Christian Andersen. LePage? Andersen? Sounds like all kinds of mad, manic magic. I was bowled over by the artistry LePage brought to The Nightingale at the Canadian Opera Company last October, and though The Andersen Project isn't new (it was commissioned by Denmark in 2005 to mark the 200th anniversary of the famous writer's birth), there's always something so inspiring and fresh about seeing LePage's work in Toronto. It feels as if he's bringing a European sensibility that Toronto, for all its talk of being a "world-class city", is still deathly afraid of truly embracing.
Come November is the multimedia production Studies in Motion: The Hauntings of Eadweard Muybridge by the Electric Company Theatre, featuring the poetic choreography of accomplished Canadian dancer Crystal Pite. Quebecois dancer Edouard Locke will also be part of the Canadian Stage season with his grond-breaking La La La Human Steps company in as-yet-untitled work set to premiere in May 2011. (You might recall La La La worked with David Bowie in the 1980s.) I love the fearless combination of dance and drama here; again, it's a European approach to theatre (and its integration of other artforms) that is indicative of the kind of worldly thinking Jocelyn's experience (mainly with Atelier du Rhin) entails.
That experience also lends itself to reaching out to Canada's national arts organization. Thus, the National Arts Centre's English Theatre head honcho Peter Hinton arrives in 2011 to direct Saint Carmen of the Main by Michel Tremblay; the work is a co-production with the NAC and runs February 7th to March 5th. Canadian dynamo Jennifer Tarver will also be directing for Canadian Stage. She might be best-known outside of Canadian theatre circles for her celebrated production of Beckett's craggily moving work Krapp's Last Tape featuring Brian Dennehy that ran in Stratford and then Chicago. Come April 2011, she'll be helming the Canadian premiere of The cosmonaut's last message to the woman he once loved in the former Soviet Union, by David Greig. The work was first produced at the Edinburgh Festival in 1999 and went on to run at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego and the Donmar Warehouse in London. Now there's a play with passport cred to burn.
Along with smaller productions at the Berkeley Street Theatre (the smaller stage used by the Canadian Stage Company) involving local companies like Nightwood and Studio 180, the Berkeley will also host a Spotlight On Italy series March 15th through 26th, 2011. Programming is totally intriguing, and includes many works that won't be familiar to Canadian theatre audiences. Nunzio and La Festa, two award-winning plays from Sicily's Compagnia Scimone Sframeli will see productions, along with the dance theatre of la natura delle cose by Florence's Compagnia Virgilio Sieni, whose Artistic Director, Virgilio Sieni, has twice received the UBU prize, Italy's top theatre award.
"The Spotlight Festival," notes Jocelyn, "demonstrates (the Canadian Stage Company's) commitment to showcasing some of the most extraordinary international companies that challenge the classical notions of theatre." I can hear some Canadian arts types moaning that we already have companies that do that -but how much more can they -and we -learn by including the works of others within our own diaspora? Culturally, they inform our "Canadian-ness" every bit as much as works by Michel Tremblay, David French, Judith Thompson, Florence Gibson, George F. Walker, and the myriad of other playwrights who are studied and produced across this country. If the 1960s and 70s were all about establishing a distinctly Canadian voice, the 21st century is about seeing how much that voice can sing with other voices -in harmony, or not. Will audiences go for it? That remains to be seen. But it's surely good to see Jocelyn's vision of the Canadian Stage Company going above and beyond the predictable, the safe, and the well-worn. It's time for something new. Welcome to the world, Toronto. I think you're going to like it.
Photo credits, from top to bottom: The Andersen Project starring Yves Jacques, photo by Emmanuel Valette; La La La Human Steps dancers, photo by La La La Human Steps; La natura delle cose, choreography by Virgilio Sieni, photo by Compagnia Virgilio Siena; Matthew Jocelyn photograph by George Pimental.