Tuesday, April 30, 2013

carried away on the crest of a wave
the sum of all its parts

As a sporadically beautiful poetic treatment of an intensely tragic event David Yee's current production, onstage at Tarragon Theatre until May 26th, is a valiant, frequently flawed attempt to reveal the global interconnectedness of individuals affected by the 2004 tsunami. 

Nina Lee Aquino's direction, although sharp and sensitive in some instances, takes on almost parodic proportions in certain scenes - rupturing the gentle poetry of a script that moves into very human, oddly comic encounters at a moments notice, jarring the audience into a bewildering sense of narrative disarray.


Moving tableau like moments between a child and the man who has saved her life are beautifully directed instances of physical precision that are at once poignant and humourous. A kind Alice in Wonderland scene, however, falls into a strange, fantasy laden abyss of confusing visual and narrative chaos, utilizing props and lighting that detract from the simple almost proverb-like qualities of some of the dialogue. 


Aquino hits a number of highs and lows as her direction excels within individual performances but falters here and there due to broad, obvious staging often hindered by an overly ambitious set that impresses at the outset yet becomes somewhat water-logged with overwhelmingly obvious production values  - literally and figuratively - by the end of the evening. At a certain point one simply tires of seeing actors traipsing through giant puddles when the narrative doesn't necessitate any obvious reference to the devastating effects of the mammoth wave that took the lives of so many. Intending to perhaps drive home the point regarding a water ravaged landscape, the onstage small lake-like environment tends to trivialize the overall aesthetic of the play's uneven poetic message.



Standout performances by Richard Zeppieri and Mayko Nguyen reveal elements of a kind of white colonizing influence in the midst of an otherwise non-white, ethnically diverse cast. The brief insertion of a conflicted media presence gives Zeppieri the opportunity to deliver a very satiric political song that creates an extremely uncomfortable and darkly comic commentary on the ways in which western media and celebrity often attempt to save the world through dubious artistic endeavor. Later, an extended scene between Zeppieri and Nguyen creates intense and conflicted sexual connections rooted in one man's futile search for a partner lost in this apocalyptic act of nature.                                

Ultimately, carried away on the crest of a wave tries very hard to portray the terrible loss and pain experienced by a hand full of individuals representing the thousands affected. By degree, the script delivers tenderness, bravery, poignancy, and great human struggle, yet falters at crucial moments due to an uneven equation of both direction and narrative - reducing the sum of this plays many parts to a frequently shallow, fragmented ride through a profoundly disturbing emotional and physical landscape.


Esmeralda Enrique'S -
Esmeralda Enrique's unfailing ability to consistently explore new gender horizons within traditional forms was well represented in a superb evening of Spanish dance at the Fleck Dance Theatre last week. Costuming, lighting, and powerful voices that engaged in harmonic, good natured 'duels' with the dancers gave audiences an exhilarating two hours of intense power and sensuality. 

Opening with the full company, the initial offering featured the precision and seamless syncopation Enrique's choreography is always sharply attuned to. The following sequence, featuring the company's musical ensemble, subtly highlighted the vocal work of a lone female musician, in tandem with one of her male colleagues, as they wandered among the dancers revealing their physical and musical agility at every turn - elegantly and robustly sculpting a kind of physical and vocal call and response path across the entire stage. Their beautifully self-possessed virtuosity of both voice and movement matched the power of the women's dancing ensemble as well as a featured solo by the lithe, mesmerizing, loose limbed, gender diverse presence of El Junco.
Enrique brilliantly brings a large company of artists together in ways that create a collage of male and female power that moves in and out of gorgeous gender reflection as masculine and feminine bodies match each other with precise and physically intense execution. Juan Ogalla and El Junco gave spectators the opportunity to watch two very contrasting male bodies as they embodied elements of strict, tight masculinity and limber, fleet-footed movement. Enrique herself delivered beautiful solos that gave the evening a complex inter-generational quality, enlivening the overall program with a refreshing physical diversity.

Friday, April 19, 2013


Jordan MacLachlan's
"comfortably housed on a condo 
floor plan, yet possess[ing] 
barbarism that one would not expect 
to find beyond the walls 
of our neighbours"

as you enter the gallery you quickly begin to feel 
that you are intruding on someone's privacy

and then your friend, who has accompanied you to the show points at one piece, resplendent on its own grey plinth, 
and says -
"That's how I felt last night, but there was no dog"

Jordan MacLachlan says that she makes 

"figurative narratives that are meaningful to me, 
and reflect the life i have lived, 
often appearing quite frank, 
while at the same time 
possessing an 'aliveness' 
as though there were 
someone home inside 
each piece"

yes, indeed, someone is home 
and making merry 
with a variety of poses indirectly 

influenced by the artist's exposure to a 
Metropolitan Museum of Art book 

Playing With Fire, European Terracotta Models, 1740-1840 (2003)

delightfully voyeuristic,
an array of 
"true-to-life narratives 
that reflect the often raw and contradictory 
nuances of human nature...afford[ing] viewers 
poignant glimpses of a brazen underside, 
revealing the teeth of life 
through emotional grit" 

cast in the perfect medium for a playful, 
frequently 'natural' foray into the many scenes 
that play themselves out 
in the spaces we call our homes

"Condo Living is a series of figurative sculptural vignettes...derived from [the artist's] Unexpected Subway Living installation, originally shown at MOCCA in Ineffable Plasticity: the experience of being human exhibition 
[2011], curated by Camilla Singh"

Condo Living is a must see because 
it dares to be bold and simple

utilizing the artist's love of a natural substance 
that she has always been attracted to, 

creating 'natural' scenes that we may be frequently attracted to despite any desire to hide the rituals & routines we may find ourselves immersed within -

 "I have always been partial to working with clay 
because it has been able to fit into 
just about any of my life circumstances, 
big or small"

much like the "big or small" scenes crafted by a hand 
adept at representing intimacy in the most ordinary places, 
MacLachlan's talent for displaying life as she has seen it 
rests beautifully within a field of grey and white at -

until May 11th   

                                                                                                                              photos by Walter Willems

ARTBARRAGE, 80 SPADINA, SUITE 208, 647 895-3374

Friday, April 12, 2013



When an incomplete intimate gesture, hinting at a variety of sensually interconnected emotions, becomes a measured, at times playful, at times mournful array of sight and sound, the possibilities for onstage passion are endless. The world premiere of Akshongay, the latest collaboration from acclaimed artists Nova Bhattacharya and Louis Laberge-Côté, possesses a rare intimacy that allows these very different types of dancers to engage in a variety of emotional and physical configurations that depend upon a delicate sense of coming together in explicit, gorgeous units of physical and spiritual entanglements. 

Losing themselves in each others embrace, to powerful gestural moments where separation becomes provocation for laughter, joy, tears, and fleeting erotic tableaus, this fifty minute evening of provocative dance explores "cultural backgrounds, dance backgrounds, passions, regrets, past, and present." 

The Bengail word for together, akshongay is an intensely appropriate term for the ways in which both artists seamlessly fill the stage with a broad spectrum of dance phrasing, ranging from Bhattacharya's loose joyful gestures and sweeping elegance to Laberge-Côté's precise, physically agile way of embracing his dance partner with a wide open muscularity, allowing her strong presence to wrap him in an environment filled with turmoil, gleeful love, and gratifying individual and partnered moments. 

At one moment he twists from a reclining position, away from her horizontally inclined movements, and the swiftness and agility are startlingly and beautifully executed. For close to an hour these two dancers move gracefully and turbulently in and out of each others spheres - all the time keenly aware of the others presence onstage gliding toward worlds together and apart. 

As they frequently unite, the incomplete quality of the movement/physical caress, moving toward a final consummation, suggests a careful attention to detailed choreography whereby dramatic and physical tension is built up through a sense of gradual interconnected segments of union and individuality. Teasingly, they sometimes touch, and they sometimes don't quite touch - all the while enraptured by a single drive to excel. Music by Philip Strong provides a wide range of emotional intensity and gives the finale a beautiful and overwhelming tone, punctuated with an unexpected yet well rounded serenity of mind and body.

The evening is filled with vocal nuance, moments of spoken text, and beautiful instances where Bhattacharya is taken blithely into the arms of her cohort yet somehow crouches within his  magnanimous arms in a way that gives her a corporeal power that simultaneously nestles and springs forth. Opening with a profoundly contrasting pair of emotions, one never gets the sense that these two artists are ever very far apart. Akshongay finds both spiritual harmony and physical dissonance in many beautiful and paradoxical ways, hinting at complex friendship, genuinely felt conflict, and beyond...

Akshongay runs at the Enwave Theatre 
(Harbourfront Centre) until April 13th  

Monday, April 8, 2013

Butterflies are free?

What’s love got to do with it…

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose
and nothing ain’t worth nothing but it’s free
Kris Kristofferson

What’s love but a second hand emotion. 
Graham Lyle and Terry Britten

I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free.
Charles Dickens

The West is the spectator, the judge and the jury, 
of every facet of Oriental behaviour. 
Edward Said

There are so many clichés and insightful perceptions available regarding the nature of love, freedom, and cross-cultural chaos it is difficult to choose the most effective ones. Three current Toronto productions flirt wildly with clichéd romantic mayhem, sexual behaviour, and issues surrounding social and carnal liberation and they all come up with bewildering yet vastly entertaining non-solutions to a problem we seem to be a little obsessive about here in the west. Love - what do we do about it? From Kris Kristofferson’s iconic claim about the empty nature of certain forms of romantic escapism to Tina Turner’s provocative question regarding what love has to do with anything at all, Soulpepper and Buddies In Bad Times have some sexually appetizing and politically charged recipes for audiences to savour.
Daniel MacIvor’s Arigato, Tokyo attempts to unpack cross-cultural cliché’s about Japan and delves into the timeworn abyss of the Madame Butterfly narrative. A stellar cast takes spectators on a sexy journey through a Canadian writer’s foray into global tourism with a lot of sex and drugs to bolster his decidedly self-professed self-obsessed ego. David Storch plays the largely unsympathetic literary icon with an impeccably brash bravado that can be difficult to watch when he moves into the most unflattering kinds of Western mimicry regarding vocal inflection and the ways in which arrogance and xenophobia can mark even the most intelligent voices. MacIvor has flirted with a vague form of queerness and homosociality for a very long time and always has insightful, entertaining, and provocative things to say. Brendan Healey’s direction is spare, concise, and powerful. Cara Gee, Michael Dufays, and Tyson James all give beautiful, standout performances as they surround the central character with forms of ‘Orientalism’[1] that represent (as characters constructed by a queer’ish white pen) sharp critiques of the ways in which cultural stereotypes continue to wreak havoc among the romantically inclined. 

There are beautiful bodies everywhere in Arigato, Tokyo. Sumptuous nostalgic, frequently lip synced music provides a strong 'nostalgia for the present' as inter-cultural sounds and images provide melodic dramatic tension within and between scenes. At the end of the play and the end of the day, however, one wonders whether the playwrights flirtation with social and sexual triangles might have gone a little further than the heart wrenching finale, rather than perhaps subtly re-instating particular notions around the ways in which men often fight for the object of their desire and then leave that object dangling like a lotus blossom about to fall. MacIvor did this with great success in Never Swim Alone, and tests his hand once again in his latest homo-socially minded offering. All of these cross-cultural, inter-sexual concerns are, of course, up to individual audience members to consider. I for one was a little frustrated, immensely titillated, and predictably bewildered.

Ultimately this is a must see production of a new Canadian play that tries to explicate the sensational ways in which we can lapse into forms of clichéd talk and physical objectification around the exoticized othered body.

 True West takes an even more male-centered triangle fraught with sibling rivalry and demonstrates the conundrums at play in mid to late twentieth century consciousness when a wayward cowboy and his Hollywood screenwriting brother lock horns in their mother’s pristine California kitchen. Stuart Hughes never fails to amaze as he delivers a kind of vigorouos comic masculinity that Mike Ross matches for the most part, yet falters near the end for the pivotal explosion of Shepard’esque dysfunction. His violence is a little too milky and his angst a touch sitcom-ish. Patricia Hamilton as the mother of these two flagrant heterosexuals creates a delightful form of internalized iciness, yet errs on the side of detached control when a more smouldering reflection of her two son’s half -crazed personas might have served her well. Ken Mcdonald’s set, although effective at the outset through its impeccable attention to detail, is a bit too crisp and lighthearted for the one hundred degree heat of a summer confrontation that the characters speak of and escape from as they move in and out of the comfort of a suburban kitchen. Moments of Neil Simon meets Sam Shepard rear their unlikely heads as violence erupts in very cheery passive surroundings. The contrast of human emotion and object emotion (set and character) don’t quite gel periodically. And the plants never really look all that dead, just a bit wilted. A kind of earthy, vibrant Tex Mex ambience might have served the finale better and given the powerful and evocative lighting a more suitable world to inhabit as music, shadows and Graeme Thomson’s fabulous lighting effects give the ends of scenes a wonderful parodic tone well suited to this production of Sam Shepard’s iconic 1980 play.

Jason Sherman’s clever fast-paced contemporary Toronto adaptation of La Ronde had Stuart Hughes and Mike Ross at odds again in the evening installment of Soulpepper’s well rounded repertory fare. Comic clichés filtered in and out of a script that gives Rosedale a disturbing and intriguing global connection to brutality and sexual collapse. Near full frontal nudity is always a delight, and Ross and Hughes do not disappoint. Hughes is able to represent a smouldering sexual energy while Ross delivers a much more measured buttoned down angst and lustful connection to the women they attempt to hookup with. Standout performances by Maev Beatty, Grace Lynn Kung, and Paul Sun-Hyung Lee grace the stage with diverse levels of corporeal sensuality. Nancy Palk’s direction begins with very sharp, controlled blocking and pacing that quickly seduces the audience into La Ronde’s maze of interconnected narratives, but could have utilized a somewhat more raunchy tone for the sex scenes. Similar to the same-sex connections in Arigato, Tokyo, Palk and her cast have not achieved the kind of wild carnally crazed energy one might have hoped for. Brendan Healy’s same sex kisses in Arigato, Tokyo also lack the form of manic groping head twisting movements any of us familiar with the real life enactment of sexual frenzy might be interested in seeing depicted in plays about these timeworn, relentless energies.

Ultimately, three plays spanning decades of theatrical history flirt wildly with some of our favorite guilt laden pastimes and deliver entertaining products that are well worth the price of admission. But they just don’t go far enough into the wild and wooly psyches that inhabit the scripts, suggesting, beyond the shadow of a stereotypical doubt, that even now, in 2013, alluring butterflies of all kinds are definitely not free.



[1] See Edward Said’s ‘Orientalism’ 1978, or wikipdeia, or whatever suits your fancy...