Saturday, February 24, 2018

Poised Between Dark and Light: Nova's Fresh Take on Classical Dance

Choreographer Nova Bhattacharya. (Photo: John Lauener)

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Nova Bhattacharya’s latest show, decoding bharatnatyam. Would it, as the title implied, unravel the millennia-old classical Indian dance style’s rhythmic and imagistic complexities to make them better understood by a general audience? Would it seek to solve a problem? Stem the narrative flow? Such an analytical approach threatened, in my mind, to suck the life out of a dance whose ancient mysteries, incubated in India’s holy temples, constitute its enduring charm. But, after savouring the delights embedded in this three-part program that opened on Valentine’s Day at the intimate Citadel + Compagnie performance space in Toronto’s Regent Park, it turns out I had worried for nothing.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Death By Franchise: The Cloverfield Paradox

Gugu Mbatha-Raw in The Cloverfield Paradox, currently streaming on Netflix.

Note: This review contains spoilers for The Cloverfield Paradox (as well as Bad Robot’s other Cloverfield films).

I’m very fond of Dan Trachtenberg’s 10 Cloverfield Lane, but as I mentioned when I wrote on that film in 2016, its connection to Bad Robot’s Cloverfield brand is not only unnecessary, it’s actively detrimental to the film’s overall quality. But, since it wouldn’t have been green-lit without this connection, I have to grin and bear it, because the taut little thriller living inside that brand-name wrapper is worth it. The Cloverfield Paradox, unfortunately the next in what has apparently become a series of spec scripts turned into franchise films by Bad Robot does not have the added benefit of being excellent on its own. It’s a scattered and inconsistent sci-fi thriller whose Cloverfield connections are even more painfully shoehorned in than its predecessor’s.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Breathe: Lifeline

Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy in Breathe, directed by Andy Serkis. (Photo: David Bloomer)

Early in Breathe, there’s a moment that recalls The Sea Inside, Alejandro Amenábar’s superb triumph-of-the-spirit movie about the efforts of Ramón Sampedro (played by Javier Bardem), paralyzed and confined to his bed for years, to get the government of Catholic Spain to grant him permission to kill himself. Like Ramón, Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) in Breathe – another real-life character stricken with paralysis, in his case from an attack of polio in the late 1950s – imagines himself getting up from his bed. But those mind escapes are a motif in The Sea Inside; in Breathe it happens just once, when Robin, in the depths of depression, has essentially retreated from life. Breathe is the anti-Sea Inside. It’s about how Robin’s wife Diana (Claire Foy), who refuses to allow him to give up on life, which would also mean giving up on her and their baby son Jonathan, engineers his liberation from the hospital where he’s being treated like a virtual corpse – and then, with Robin’s input and the aid of a delightfully imaginative and proactive group of friends, including the inventor Teddy Hall (Hugh Bonneville), devises a series of strategies to give Robin a mobile and fulfilling life. They progress from a ventilator set up in their bedroom in a wonderful old country house Diana buys on the cheap to a ventilator-fueled wheelchair to an automobile built to accommodate Andrew and his needs.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Luxury of Principle – The First Season of Star Trek: Discovery

Jason Isaacs and Sonequa Martin-Green in Star Trek: Discovery.

Note: This piece contains spoilers for the first season of Star Trek: Discovery. 

Admiral Cornwell: We do not have the luxury of principles.
Michael Burnham: That is all we have, Admiral. A year ago . . . I stood alone. I believed that our survival was more important than our principles. I was wrong.
– Season 1 finale, Star Trek: Discovery
Last Sunday, the explosive first season of Star Trek: Discovery came to an end. The series premiered on CBS All Access (and on CraveTV, in Canada) with a splash back in September. At the time, our own Justin Cummings wrote powerfully about the feature-length premiere episodes, which introduced us to this new Trek space, set a decade before the adventures of the Enterprise crew we know so well from the original Star Trek series. Other Star Trek series before it had war stories, some told over the course of multiple seasons, but Discovery showed up on a war footing right out of the gate. Those first two hours promised a darker, more morally ambiguous Trek story – Star Trek in extremis, so to speak. Now, 4.5 months and 15 episodes later, one thing is clear: it has been a heck of a journey, and Discovery has more than earned its place in the expansive Star Trek universe.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Podcast: Interview with Roch Carrier (1987)

Roch Carrier, in 2017. (Photo: Ryan Remiorz)

From 1981 to 1989, I was assistant producer and co-host of the radio show On the Arts, at CJRT-FM (today Jazz 91.1) in Toronto. With the late Tom Fulton, who was the show's prime host and producer, we did a half-hour interview program where we talked to writers and artists from all fields. In 1987, I sat down with celebrated Québécois novelist, playwright and children's author Roch Carrier.

In 1987, his novel Heartbreaks Along The Road (De l'amour dans la ferraille, 1984) had just appeared in English translation. Born in 1937, Carrier is most famous for his 1979 short story "The Hockey Sweater" and his landmark 1968 play La Guerre, Yes Sir! Recipient of the Order of Canada and winner of the Stephen Memorial Medal for Humour, Carrier remains one of Quebec and Canada's best-known and most beloved writers.

– Kevin Courrier.

Here is the full interview with Roch Carrier as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1987.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Hey, Look Me Over!: Also-Rans

Vanessa Williams and members of the ensemble in Hey, Look Me Over! at New York's City Center. (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Artistic director Jack Viertel’s concept for Hey, Look Me Over!, which opened the twenty-fifth anniversary season of Encores!, was to put together a revue of excerpts from shows that have never been revived in City Center’s beloved series. But to be honest, what you come away from the show with is a pretty good understanding of why you wouldn’t want to see a production of Wildcat (Cy Coleman & Carolyn Leigh, 1960) or Milk and Honey (Jerry Herman, 1961), Sail Away (Noël Coward, 1961) or, God help us, Greenwillow (Frank Loesser, 1960). I’d be more curious about checking out Jamaica (1957), which Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg wrote for Lena Horne, or All American (Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, 1962), which originally starred Ray Bolger, or Herman’s Mack and Mabel (1974), in which Robert Preston played silent-comedy king Mack Sennett and Bernadette Peters played his star and romantic partner Mabel Normand. I’d seen only one of the shows included in the compilation, George M! (1968), which the Goodspeed Opera House produced some years ago, a bio of George M. Cohan that isn’t remotely in the same class as the movie Yankee Doodle Dandy – though it must have been worth seeing on Broadway with Joel Grey. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Witness for the Affirmation: Ronald K. Brown in Toronto for Black History Month

Members of Ronald K. Brown's Evidence dance company performing Four Corners. (Photo: Saya Hishikawa)

Shoulders rippled like water, hips swayed like trees in a summer breeze, spines slithered like snakes and feet, bare yet sure, beat out intricate rhythms like maracas upon the stage floor. This was movement so luxuriantly tactile you wanted to wrap your own body in it. But there was no tearing it off the backs of the dancers in Evidence, the New York dance company led by acclaimed American choreographer Ronald K. Brown, who has also created works for Alvin Ailey American Dance Company and Philadanco, among other leading contemporary dance companies in the U.S. As seen recently at the Fleck Dance Theatre in Toronto, where they performed during the first weekend in February following a 12-year absence, the six-member ensemble embraced Brown’s fusion of traditional West African, Caribbean and modern western dance styles (including the black American vernacular dances from Soul Train) with an air of self-possession that made the movement theirs, and theirs alone. Tall, small, slim and curvy, they performed Brown’s exuberantly physical and intensely contemplative choreography with a commitment that felt fresh and alive. Their dancing rolled and sung. It radiated heart. The dancers looked regal without pretension, and beautiful without vanity. This was dance in which meaning and movement forged an intimate partnership, and a strong visceral connection, with the audience.