Friday, November 17, 2017


“Mr. Shi and His Lover carries the full impact and provocative power of a grand theatrical drama”, “Jordan Cheng is mesmerizing” – Toronto Star

“An engaging, provocative evening for mind and ear that will intrigue lovers both of theatre and of opera”, “fiercely committed performances” – NOW Magazine

“Musically delightful”, “a constant delight”, “A show for the musically adventurous” – The Globe and Mail


Mr. Shi and His Lover is an elegant and powerful addition to the Madame Butterfly narrative, ranging from citational gestures toward  Puccini's iconic version and David Henry Hwang's queer take (M Butterfly) on the story of a diplomat and his affair with a performer from the Beijing Opera. And yet, despite it's presence as an intensely moving extension of gender queer politics found within the core narrative of a feminine character caught within a complex relationship with a man who seems unsure of his lover's gender identity, Mr. Shi and His Lover also stands alone as an even more complex contemplation of the fine lines between performance and reality, sex and love, and even the political construction of nations for political and economic purposes. The production is a 75 minute long exploration, written with exquisite philosophical queries that, once sung, and at times spoken, create a kind of exercise in gender politics that never feels didactic or academic. Instead the beautiful varied tones and the emotional prowess of the actors and musicians as they infuse the score with great passion and subtlety creates an incredible intimate salon-like experience within music theatre and opera.

The music is a continuous and gorgeous onstage delight, and is the key to the success of the overall piece - with layered and beautiful performances by both actors and two onstage musicians.


Thursday, November 9, 2017



Factory production in association with b current performing arts

trace follows three generations of mother and son from the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong to Canada in the 21st century. Combining virtuosic original piano compositions with an incredible performance and lyrical text, this exquisite and stimulating one man chamber play offers a new look into the lasting implications of sacrifice across generations.


could you talk about how the story/play began in your mind as a playwright, and how the concept became a reality with the support of a director/dramaturge 

JEFF: The core story of trace stemmed from various myths and memories from family - a collection of mysteries that my mother shared with me when I was a child. One particular memory, of my Great Grandma's exile from China to Hong Kong during WWII stuck with me. She had two sons, and during her journey, something happened to her youngest son and he disappeared. My Great Grandma was a resilient, powerful woman and shame is a very thorny subject in our culture, so she simply dismissed any conversations around her missing son. My mother took a similar journey (though not during war times) when she uprooted her life in Hong Kong and immigrated to Canada with my brother and me, so I became fascinated with these parallels within our family, and wrote this play as an attempt to trace the stories of survival, sacrifice, and strength in my bloodline. 

Initially, I wrote this piece as part of a 2nd year project at the National Theatre School: it was a long form piece of poetry, dealing with the imagined scenario of what could have happened to this missing son. I shared it with Nina while she was teaching there, and we began our working relationship on the piece from then on. Under the guidance of Iris Turcott, Matt McGeachy, and Nina, I began to expand upon these initial myths to three generations of women (Great Grandma, Grandma, and Ma), and we begun to piece together these memories (both imagined and true) to what it is today, with classical piano becoming a huge part of the structure and motion of the piece. 

how did the director approach this script in order to make it a staged reality 

NINA: - Always with love. Always from an authentic, therefore vulnerable, place.
- I like looking at plays from the outside-in, that’s how I access the work. If I understand the container of the words (text), then my understanding of how the characters and why they operate the way they do in the world of the play opens up immensely.
- From there, then my designers and I can build the theatrical world of the play and my rehearsals become discovering that world, inhabiting it (and all its laws), mining it deeply.

how did the playwright approach the construction/representation of the female characters, i.e. what nuances speech patterns etc. were you able to tap into in order to bring these characters to life - and how might this have been a consideration for the playwright and director during the dramaturgy and/or directing process

JEFF: In doing research for the writing period of the piece, I interviewed my mother quite a bit, and recorded her storytelling. Because my partner (who's anglophone) would come to these interviews with me, my mother always felt compelled to articulate these memories in English (her third language). I noticed the rhythms, succintness, and grammar of her stories, and noticed how factual the memories became. It was hard for her to articulate the depth of emotion in many of the harsher tales, simply because of the limits of a learned language - for example, in one interview, she said: "Your uncle. he was just a boy. he swam and swam and swam across the ocean. then, he was safe." This was fascinating to me, as one can imagine all the horrors, and terror, and all that involved in the story, but the simple facts of the narrative was what she could articulate... and that was enough. This lack of sentiment is something I've attempted to capture, this surgical precision to speaking deep pains in the simplest way possible. 

NINA: - Again, we approached everything with love, authenticity but with great theatricality.
- Even though this is lifted and inspired from Jeff’s history, I didn’t want it to be just an autobiography on stage. I did not want it to be a documentary on stage. We needed to find theatrical elements and magic that represented his emotional journey -- that to me is more interesting; more powerful.
- It was important for me to allow Jeff to express his fullest self in this piece, embracing all the facets of the man he has become because of all these women.

what was the inspiration for the idea of the pianos as representation of the male characters

JEFF: Initially, and pretty early on, we landed upon the piano acting as various periphery characters in the play, men and women alike. However, for claritys sake (since what the piano speaks is never literal, and can never be as clearly articulated as language), we came upon the idea that all the pianos represented the men. I also felt jazzed about this idea, because the men in my family have often been the homewreckers/the troubled ones, and the women were the survivors that simply brushed away their nonsense, to live their lives to the fullest, with or without these men. 

what is the underlying theme/message of the piece

JEFF: For me, the core theme for this piece deals with the reckoning that life is only possible because of the joys, woes, and sacrifices of our ancestors. This feels obvious as I type it, but laying out each thread of my familial past has given me a deeper gratitude and perspective on what it means to live... to survive. 

trace runs at Factory Theatre 
November 16th until December 3rd 





“to take a photograph is to participate in another person's mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time's relentless melt.” 

“To suffer is one thing; another thing is living with the photographed images of suffering, which does not necessarily strengthen conscience and the ability to be compassionate. It can also corrupt them. Once one has seen such images, one has started down the road of seeing more - and more. Images transfix. Images anesthetize.” 

In the current production of Theatre Gargantua’s Reflector the notion of “time's relentless melt” that Susan Sontag spoke of in her controversial text On Photography (1973) appears as a series of overwhelming screens that continuously present some of the most distressing and iconic photos in contemporary history. They are not easy photos to view, and the many assertions throughout the script regarding how these photographs affect history and consciousness, and our ability to resist and work against the violence of war, mass migration born of political conflict, and all of the ensuing issues, create an engaging and arresting eighty minutes of complex, socially conscious theatre.
Gargantua’s signature physicality, integrating elaborate choreography into the action, varies the program with intense moments that respond to the violence of the background image, and yet the integration, unlike other Gargantua productions, does not meld into the action and the text as seamlessly as it might have. There are notable exceptions when intricate hand and body movements take photographs being represented on a series of illuminated hand held devices and turn them into a somewhat harrowing, relentless, and very effective representation of the use of the image as it inundates the senses and ultimately cannot be avoided - or fully comprehended - by the human eye.

The four character ensemble takes on the physical and vocal challenges with great skill with a standout performance by Michelle Polak as a woman tackling her exceptional yet frequently problematic ability to remember absolutely everything she experiences. She becomes a distressing yet engaging counterpart to the camera itself as her persona becomes entrapped within a reservoir of even the smallest, relatively insignificant details of her daily life.
Michael Spence as the photographer suffering from his exposure to his own photograph of a war-torn street, and a lone inhabitant, delivers a profoundly moving monologue that dissipates a little through a cliched ending, yet brings the overall piece to a sobering conclusion. There is no resolution, there are only photographs, and memories, and neither has the capacity to tell the full story.
Louisa Zhu brings a fine intriguing & interrogating light to the photographers gaze as she presents a character in search of the man who created the image, while Abraham Asto gives a very effective and finely measured performance as a therapist in search of a way of aiding the beleaguered individuals who have found memory and  images from the near and distant past to be complicated, problematic human phenomena to be tackled and resolved on a daily basis.

Gargantua’s 25th anniversary production was inspired by the global response to the photograph of the drowned Syrian child whose image had a profound impact upon the plight of war and the people most tragically affected by it - 

“Although we had initially been prepared to embark on a completely different project, this remarkable incident two years ago inspired us to change our course and instead explore the extraordinary power of images and how and why they can affect us in the profound way that they do.”
Jacquie P.A. Thomas & Michael Spence
Thomas’s direction and Spence’s script work together well as artists instinctively aware of how to create text, image, sound (Thomas Ryder Payne) and lighting (Laird MacDonald) that seamlessly address complex social, political, and aesthetic issues that create a kind of history based physical theatre - always engaging and always thought-provoking.

Although there are times when the opacity and inconclusive nature of the script may appear to be a flaw in this production, one may choose to see the ultimate product as a reflection of the very opacity and inconclusiveness of a photograph - as it may attempt to reveal everything and yet, in the end, say very little about what we are able to do - in the face of human conflict - in order to stop the atrocities that some photographs record.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Men's Circle


                                        photos by Olya Glotka

Given the somewhat comical and awkward beginnings of Men’s Circle, as the character of a folky, guitar welding therapist tries to explain in song what is about to take place, nothing can prepare the viewer for the gradual elegance and intense poignancy that evolves over the course of this unique ninety minute arrangement of dance, theatre, and music. And yet the awkwardness one may initially acknowledge could be considered part and parcel of the very narrative premise that brought this piece into existence. Being a man, in a men’s group therapy session, in the midst of strangers, all tangled up within their complex notions of masculinity, or lack thereof, can be a very daunting, awkward encounter - frequently silent and withdrawn, frequently volatile and threatening. 

Kathleen Rea’s remarkable career as a dancer, choreographer and psychotherapist has given her the ability to bring many disciplines together and meld them into a seamless act of physical and emotional courage on her part and the part of the dancers involved in this particular piece. The vulnerability we are often taught to erase in men is fully realized throughout the piece in a variety of gorgeous choreographed modes. Written by Rea and dramaturged by Tristan Whiston, the script is an at times subtle and explosively 'out there' melange of effective textual accompaniment, nuanced with that delicate mixture of the frequently comic and tragic expressions of emotional turbulence and distress.

All of the participants have a distinct contribution to make, and they do it onstage as actors, musicians, and dancing subjects who are, at times, unable to express verbally what they are going through mentally and physically. When they are at a loss for words - words that frequently take on a kind of rhythmic Chorus Line monologic effect - then they show it in diverse dance modes that vary from the buoyantly meditative movement of a silent, overseeing angel (Bill Coleman) to the basketball, rap, jazz inspired athleticism of Rudi Natterer’s streetwise character. 

When Natterer collaborates on piano with Kousha Nakhaei on violin, framed by their equally impressive dance abilities, the multi-disciplinary aspect of this joyous at times tear jerking spectacle takes one by surprise and moves the program into a layered and thoroughly engaging experience. 

Mateo Galindo Torres brings a lithe, powerful presence to the character of a man suffering from poorly managed meds, and his skill at both acting and expressing physically this manic experience, becomes a beautiful and distressing expression of mental health struggles. The layered muscularity of Allen Kaeja’s strip club 'escape'-narrative is a fascinating physical and verbal contrast to the integrated dance/theatre theme, while Kousha Nakhaei’s character effectively displays the effect of a somewhat obsessive personality in the face of tentative first dates leading to lovely neophyte  romantic encounters. Deltin Sejour’s graceful and powerful way of inhabiting the character of Hercules lends a balletic athleticism to several strong sequences throughout.

A beautifully staged highlight occurs when a naked character is supported and surrounded by the ensemble - through the use of a billowing parachute-like prop that stands in for the scene of sexual experience, and frees all of the men as they take part in a simultaneously group-supportive gesture, as well as allowing for the privacy of individual experience. And this is precisely what a good men’s circle can achieve - both singularity and collaborative support - and precisely what Kathleen Rea at the helm, and her collaborators, in full control of their own respective mentalities and abilities, do achieve in this painful, joyful, moving, and unique form of dance theatre as both therapeutic and cathartic.

And the silent angel who dwells beneath all of the onstage action is a diverse and gestural joy to watch as the freedom and elegance of his dance narrative threads seamlessly throughout - all the time representing the saddest and the happiest movements in a dominant, overseeing, and endlessly supporting role.


Friday, November 3, 2017

ProArteDanza - NextSteps

ProArteDanza - NextSteps
all photos by Aleksandar Antonijevic

Future Perfect Continuous

“The future is scary to me in a way it never used to be.”
Matjash Mrozewski

The clarity of movement, as several dancers take the stage, that permeates Matjash Mrozewsk'si (with the ensemble) Future Perfect Continuous (text by Anna Chatterton), combined with a great talent for creating a layered and balanced stage picture, reveals the artists well-crafed dual role as stage director and choreographer. Mrozewski's work with dancers shows a fine distribution of theatricality and clear elegance that can find playful and powerful ways of raising very distressing issues. Anna Chatterton's text, created for Morzewski's initial concept regarding climate change, is at times whimsical and at times hopelessly hopeful. A yellow balloon accents this paradoxical sense of overcoming our planets greatest challenge and grudgingly giving into it with the clearsighted fancy of a brightly coloured package filled with nothing but air - about to burst. As air, water, and ensuing weather put us all to the test this piece becomes a lovely, disturbing, and puzzlingly hopeful testament to a younger generation's need to address what may very well become the biggest hardship of their old age. 

Although performed beautifully as the dancers take on spoken acting roles with an impressive ease, there is an uneasy, somewhat unfulfilled tension between the precise movement attracting the eye through the director/choreographers talent for finely composed human landscapes, and the writers fragmented line by line distribution of dialogue that at times expresses the wasteful culture we have created and just how little we may be prepared to do. 

Lightly sardonic comical moments occur with the mention of air conditioning and other material needs that contribute to planetary climate mayhem. But there is no clear denouement, no narrative that may have joined the choreography in a final, if not solution, then at the very least some way of leaving the theatre with something to hold on to. And yet perhaps that is precisely the point of Anna Chatterton's deliberate one liner'ish script that moves toward a final monologue that may have been better placed among the dancers as it becomes difficult to focus on both. And the words make the difficulty more intense as the beautifully performed speech, like the yellow balloon, seems to be a hollow symbol of loveliness - about to burst. 

In the program note Mrozewski speaks of increasing fear and our "collective inability to to rise to the challenges we face in terms of climate catastrophe." The choreography and direction is very clear on this issue - keep moving in gracefully bold supportive groups as you find your way through chaos. The text is not so clear as it delves into a series of quips and connective/collective conversation that may very well be all that is left to consider. But they do not provide for a very strong ending for a piece that wants to soar but only flies in the face of what might be done in order to make real change. Lovely, at times thrilling to watch, and yet lacking somewhat as the finale never quite takes flight.

adjusted surrender & Op Sha!

The second half of the evening contrasts the spare, light tones of the first half with lush darkness and costumes that take on perhaps too much character, thereby detracting at times yet always engaging and filled with buoyant energy. 

adjusted surrender opens the second program with a gorgeous layered gown that two dancers come to terms with as they both adjust and surrender themselves out of and back into the confines of the symbolic frock. Kevin O'Day's choreography is starkly gestural and filled with precision giving the overall piece a powerful rhythm around and within the opening costume piece - allowing the choreographer to lead his artists through a maze of intense movement and physically endowed emotion.

The final offering, Op Sha!, bears an endless and evocative citational nature, enhanced by music with so many beautiful and bountiful influences that the stage becomes a playing field of raucous, at times battle-like energy. Costumes bearing somewhat inexplicable pieces flung from the backsides of a pair of tightly packed trousers, although skilfully designed and handled well by the dancers, takes away from O'Days brilliant way of stopping a dancer in mid gesture and allowing them to elegantly glide away from the style they have just so powerfully inhabited. The simultaneous delight and risk of evoking River Dance and other popular crowd pleasers is apparent when the costumes fill the stage with too much unspecified meaning. The piece could have had as much - if not more - power, with simple monotone costumes that defined bodies rather than - perhaps unintentionally - narrating gorgeous movement that simply needs no storied clothing. O'Days knack for rollicking, at times lyrical, and finely measured physicality, interrupted by framed, gesturally contrasting endings made Op Sha! a delight for the eye - and yet a little burdened by effective but inessential fabric. 

proartedanza's 2017 season opening programs continues at the Fleck Dance Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, until November 4th - 8PM