Saturday, June 8, 2024

Olé! Don Quixote Sweeps Toronto Off Its Feet

Rex Harrington (centre) and Jason Ferro (left) withaArtists of the Ballet in Don Quixote. (Photo: Karolina Kuras)

The National Ballet of Canada's North American premiere of Carlos Acosta's vibrant production of Don Quixote is an unmitigated triumph – a distinctive reimagining that breathes new life into this classic work originating from Marius Petipa's 19th-century Russian choreography. Acosta cemented his reputation as one of the greatest male dancers of his generation through his performances as the dashing barber Basilio, a central role in Don Quixote. With this production, first premiered by the Royal Ballet in 2013 and later remounted for Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2022, Acosta puts his stamp on a work that showcased his talents throughout his illustrious career. The production opened at Toronto's Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on June 1, with performances running until June 9.

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Deep Listening: The Immersive Music of Rosanna Gunnarson and Karin Johansson

Cover: Dan Froberg

I Grunda Vikar Ar Bottnarna Mjuka, 2024
(Outerdisk Recordings, Gothenberg Sweden)


“When they trailed their spikes over the strings, the strings sounded again; but they played in a new way, for now they were tuned to another pitch.” – August Strindberg

“The rest is silence.” – Hamlet’s last words

I once knew an artist, Mario Reis, who told me in a sotto voce tone that he desperately wanted to capture what he called the slow accretion of time, in a painting that would contain the true sediment of time. Not a mere representation of that phenomenon, mind you, he emphasized, but the actual sediment itself, splayed out on the canvas for onlookers to behold in all its fleeting and melancholy essence. He then proceeded, over the course of several years, to immerse his large stretched canvases in rivers, lakes, bays and occasionally oceans, allowing the silt to autograph his paintings, using the riverbeds and rocks as living brushes to establish a base upon which he would subsequently improvise his own subtle stylistic markings. His pictures thus became snapshots of time itself, and also left a residue of flowing watery movements amounting to frozen music. They stunned me in their beauty as artifacts which skillfully narrated nature as a sequence of uncontrolled and uncontrollable moments.

Monday, June 3, 2024

London Tide: Dickens and Brecht

The cast of London Tide at the National Theatre, London. (Photo: Marc Brenner)

As I think is often the case with the iconic nineteenth-century realists, Charles Dickens’s style has never fitted snugly into the official definition of realism. It’s realism embellished, realism plus. In his characters, especially the most memorable ones, the qualities that delineate them, like Miss Havisham’s desire for vengeance against the male sex in Great Expectations and Mr. Micawber’s eternal optimism in David Copperfield, are so exaggerated that the characters become metaphors for those qualities. Dickens’s genius for inventing imaginative visual symbols that sit alongside the characters – for Miss Havisham, the stale, mice-ridden wedding cake and the clock stopped at the moment when her intended groom abandoned her at the altar – enhances the process, lending the stories the aura of enchantment, which goes along with the author’s predilection for moral fables. What situates him in the realm of realism is a combination of his abundant love of detail and his psychological insight, particularly in the passages that elaborate the experience of a feeling or the nature of a behavior. Those are the moments in his novels when the abstract is transformed into the specific, which is the way realism works. That transformation is the midpoint between abstraction and universality: if the writer has rendered the general as an image so precise and layered that we can recognize it from our own experience, then we can see straight through its replication of real life to a profound truth. If you try to boil down Dickens’s approach to simple caricature, you can make him sound like it’s linked to what Brecht did later in his plays, but it’s the opposite – he’s not using exaggeration to distance his readers but to draw us in.

This distinction occurred to me while I was watching Ian Rickson’s Brechtian production for the National Theatre of London Tide, which Ben Power has adapted from Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend. Our Mutual Friend is one of the writer’s more obscure works and one of the most fascinating. It showcases common vices that take up residence in our blood: greed, jealousy, ambition and pride. We struggle against them, unless we succumb to them and become their agents, as do a number of the novel’s characters. It’s also about the corrupt values of an entrenched class society that reinforces those vices. When it appears that John Harmon, the estranged only son of a London rubbish magnate, has been drowned in the Thames River, the fortune he would have inherited goes instead to the millionaire’s loyal servants, the Boffins. They are generous enough to invite the heir’s intended bride, Bella Wilfer, who comes from a poor family, to move in with them and share their wealth. She is happy to do so; she never met her fiancé – their marriage was arranged by the millionaire – but now she feels abruptly disenfranchised, and she loves the idea of being rich. The complication is that Harmon isn’t really dead; the corpse that has turned up in the tide is of another young man bearing Harmon’s identifying papers. Liberated from the manipulations of an unkind father, Harmon takes another name, John Rokesmith, then secures the post of secretary to the Boffins so he can observe Bella. And he falls in love with her. So he sets a test to see whether she can get past her attraction to money if she sees at first hand how damaging it can be.