A Week of Art

Spent last week seeing a ton of things, spent this week recovering. I've seen Benevolence and Living Tall at Tarragon; April 14,1912 at the Studio Theatre at Harbourfront; a bunch of things at Nuit Blanche; and attended Word on the Street.

Benevolence had a weird ending that I didn't quite get, but being a Morris Panych play that's not a surprise. I enjoyed the roller-coaster ride. It was great to see Tom Rooney on a stage again and he was just as wonderful as he was in Oxford. It was great seeing Stephen Ouimette getting to play a shady character on stage again, as I've gotten tired of seeing him always play foppish roles and missed seeing the edge he had when I first fell in love with his work. The two of them together had a nice byplay. I also loved seeing Gina Wilkinson in her brief role onstage and it was nice to catch up with her and Tom afterward. The play is definitely worth seeing.

Living Tall started out with a great premise that I adored - the motivational speaker with his own system. Ker Wells does a fabulous job fleshing this guy out and it felt so true yet funny at the same time. The show runs into trouble when it starts to get serious, showing our host as losing it. I wasn't impressed with where the story went. So I ended up disappointed by it.

Which wasn't the case with April 14, 1912. I heard amazing things about the show and it lived up to all of them. I've always been fascinated with the wreck of the Titanic, and seeing this show prompted me back to internet research. (Conclusion? Since it's always been the photos of the ship on the ocean floor that appealed to me, I'm thinking it has something to do with revealing the hidden.) Glenn Sumi at Now sums up most of my thoughts in his review. But I will add that it was great to see Patrick Conner on stage again - I think he's really fantastic.

With Nuit Blanche, a lot of it was disappointing. Others have said the same thing. But there were a few standouts.

The best was Bird's Eye View, which took place at the Casa Loma stables. 6 solo dancers, one in each of the stalls, performed every half-hour for about 5 minutes (the dancers rotated over a 2-hour period) their interpretation of being caged. Some took on animal forms, others as prisoners. It was fascinating. As you left the room, you walked through a dry-ice waterfall on which was projected an image of two girls in white gowns, leaving you with the feeling of being watched by ghosts. You were then directed into the carriage room, where 6 dancers in white were moving in synchronistic motion, the movement being improvised and changing depending on how the group moved. You were invited to participate and it was a lot harder than it looked - and I'm pretty good at picking up choreography. As we left, we could see video images being projected on the upper windows, looking like dancers preparing to perform. Just a fantastic, whole experience. Sadly, it was the first thing I saw so it was all downhill from there.

The other stuff I really loved were all at U of T. Hart House was turned into Nightschool, the highlight being Slow Dances with Teachers, by Darren O'Donnell (who I've mentioned before), which was a wonderfully whacked idea of getting teachers to dance with anyone who they wanted to in the Great Hall, a chance to "do what you dreamed about". Other people were slow dancing too, and it was just really cool. It was surreal for me, considering I rehearsed A Man for All Seasons in the same space.

In Event Horizon, an area of King's College Circle was blocked off with big searchlights and flashing lights. As you got closer, you see it's the site of a disaster, with an area being blocked off and people in radiation suits scanning a wreckage of an unusual ship, which had smoke pouring out of it. Off to the side, a projection screen ran images from Cosmos while eerie sounds filled the night. And in a tent, you can see what was described as "miraculous". My companion for the evening found it disturbing, I found it hilarious. Against a circular backdrop of symbols from all the major religions, ET was sitting in the famous "pieta" pose, with Yoda draped across his lap. ET's glowing finger moved to touch Yoda's forehead. And yes, there were menorahs on either side of him, as well as a white pillar candle. I thought the whole mix of realism and absurdity brilliant.

For a little bit of simple magic, that would have been A String of Diamonds. LED Christmas lights on a wire, held aloft by balloons, or strung like an archway. In the darkness, they were just beautiful.

There were other interesting things. Seeing kids in a strip joint, sitting in loser's row, watching a guy do a balloon act may have been the most surreal thing of the night. Or was it people pressing in for a piece of a chocolate stag? Saw some interesting fashion designs. And the Florescent Dome was another simple yet beautiful idea.

Actually, I applaud the Bloor Nightlife project because I found out from a friend it was all about reclaiming the neighbourhood. When we were there we saw a lot of families doing discovery, which was cool to see. You could tell the experience was new to them. Unfortunately, I was told it was a ghost town by 10pm, which is sad.

And I happened to have brought my signed baseball and ended up contributing a photo of it and its story to the Public Trust project at the reference library. (Hopefully it will be posted soon.)

Big lesson learned - go see the off-the-beaten-path stuff early and hit the high-traffic areas in the wee hours of the morning. A lot of the remoter projects were shut down by 2 or 3 but it was lot easier to get around the core at 5 am.

As for Word on the Street, I was excited to see my friend Jessica Westhead launch her first novel, Pulpy and Midge. The absolutely brilliant thing she did was have a slide-show-like presentation after her reading, summarizing some of the action in a hilarious way. Since the book's main action takes place in an office, it fit wonderfully well. I also got to see some of Tapestry's Opera Briefs. Attendance appeared to be down - I think Nuit Blanche hurt it. It would be better if they were on separate weekends. Couldn't Nuit Blanche bump up a week?