Month: March 2010 Page 2 of 3

Who’s That Girl?

Behold, a very young Lady Gaga pounding out her life’s passion in New York City back in January 2006. I love this video. It shows Ms. Germanotta’s incredible musicianship, strong vocals, and most of all, her absolute dedication to her craft. She’s clearly enjoying the relationships she shares with her bandmates, instrument, and audience. She might seem to be an entirely different beast now, with choreographed dance numbers, flaming bras, big wigs and crazily inspired outfits, but I’d like to believe a true artist’s heart still beats within her Armani-clad chest.

Also: this is one damn catchy tune.

“Look at me now, dahlings!”

A Dublin Tale

There are many memories around St. Patrick’s Day for me.

I recall parties thrown by Irish friends, where the adults drank whiskey and us kids got milk with mint syrup. I remember more debauched celebrations in university that involved continual tar-and-malt-coloured libations through the day (and into night). In 2003, I met my mother at an Irish pub. She made the black remark that, “we’d better get good and drunk; there’s going to be a pile of dead people tomorrow.” The second Iraq war was on the cusp of starting; that sore festering pimple left the pallor of St. Pat’s particularly scarred, especially since pub patrons were taking sips between quick, nervous glances at the telly, as if CNN was the band-aid one could put on the bruised complexion of the world. Of course, my mother was right: three days later, we awakened to news of bombs, rockets, blood and screaming. And plenty of speeches and chest-thumping. Drinking didn’t make it that much better but the communal experience of being in a pub helped immeasurably.

St. Pat’s also has a personal dimension for me: today marks the day that, in 2007, I moved from a bittersweet, happy/sad life in Stratford, Ontario. I toasted my new circumstances that night, with dirty hands and sore arms, in a newly-painted room with a gleaming hardwood floor. The future was a huge question mark yawning forth with fangs and tongue flicking. Everything was new and old at the same time. “Woe to me,” I thought between bouts of self-pity, “if I wound up nothing but the undigested afterthought of a Beelzebub offering sin and redemption one foul swoop.” I still can’t figure out if I’m cud or steak, but one thing’s clear: that painful St. Pat’s made me stronger.

Before the fortifying challenges of adulthood however, I remember another St. Patrick’s Day. I was living in Dublin (yes, Ireland). I was in my early twenties, and my definitions of love, worth, security, friendship, play -hell, even art -had been turned upside down in the six months I’d been there. After weeks of gloom and wet, the dampness so keen it stained the walls of our ancient flat and made wearing three layers de rigeur, St. Pat’s was bright, sunny, and mild. Joyful crowds lined O’Connell Street: apple-cheeked grannies, sozzled students, North African immigrants, people from the numerous outlying suburbs, all enjoying a day off. Everyone was smiling, even the Gardai, in their uniforms, with buttons eye-searingly shiny casting rings of light along the cracked cement.

I’d stood on the thick concrete rail of the O’Connell Street Bridge weeks before, a friend holding a leg each, imploring me to “hurry up!” as I happily, manically snapped pictures of the buildings and houses cupping the Liffey like a cooing grey dove. Cold winds had whipped me to and fro, as hands gripped my ankles, then pant legs, and then the inevitable comment of “you’re insaaane!” floated through the rain-soaked air, chiming in harmony with the metallic ca-chunks of the camera lens. I’d gone to Dublin because, as a first-time move-out, I thought it would be easier to negotiate than the busy, buzzy shock of Gotham-like London; I was also in love with words, and had been intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually sustained by the likes of Yeats, Heaney, Joyce, Beckett, Behan and O’Casey for years. It’s no accident I wound up living mere blocks from the Dublin Writers Museum, the Gate Theatre -and the GPO.

As I stood that day in Dublin slowly inhaling the joy, the sunshine, and riotous celebration, there flashed a pang of sadness in my chest -that familiar, oh-so-Irish sense of doom, drama, and joy, melded together. I was already making plans to move to London. I didn’t know what the future held. I wasn’t even sure why I was leaving. And then I saw it: a float, featuring players from the popular television series Father Ted. I’d come to adore the show before I’d moved, thanks to PBS airings, and living in Dublin cemented my adoration. It was a ringing success in Ireland for simple reasons: the gentle mocking of the Church, the ironic winks to tradition, the celebration of community and friendship. Pauline McLynn, who played Mrs. Doyle, and Ardal O’Hanlon, who played Father Dougal, were on the float, and were greeted with manic waves and cheers. But their appearance was tinged with sadness: their co-star Dermot Morgan (who played the title role) had died very suddenly the previous year.

I came out of a darkened pub to blinding sunshine later that day, feeling overwhelmingly sad yet happily content, all at once.

“Moving?!” an Irish co-worker and friend had exclaimed, “you’re moving? Why??”

Bittersweet. Good and bad. Yin and yang. Stout and whiskey. That’s Ireland. That was my life there. And Dublin gave me the greatest St. Patrick’s day ever.


Father Ted – Lingerie

Boldly Going…

The Canadian Stage Company announced its 2010-2011 season this morning. Its Artistic and General Director, Matthew Jocelyn, is embracing a new approach for the company, one he hopes will help to re-define the company and its mandate over the 21t century; one might even suppose Jocelyn, Canadian-born but mainly French-employed, is trying to re-define the Canadian theatrical landscape with his bold, unique choices. In looking over the release , there’s something undeniably refreshing about this kind of vision: worldly, unapologetic, broad and arty. It remains to be seen whether Toronto audiences will embrace this vision, but it’s nonetheless heartening to see this kind of chutzpah within the cliquey world of Toronto theatre.

Jocelyn aims to “redefine Canadian Stage as a home not only for great Canadian and international plays, but also for trans-disciplinary theatre that pushes the boundaries of convention and reflects a resolutely 21st century aesthetic.” That aesthetic includes featuring the work of Quebec native -and theatre visionary – Robert LePage in the 2010-2011 season. LePage’s The Andersen Project will be making its Toronto debut in October; according to the release, it’s “a modern-day multimedia fairytale” that is based on the work of Hans Christian Andersen. LePage? Andersen? Sounds like all kinds of mad, manic magic. I was bowled over by the artistry LePage brought to The Nightingale at the Canadian Opera Company last October, and though The Andersen Project isn’t new (it was commissioned by Denmark in 2005 to mark the 200th anniversary of the famous writer’s birth), there’s always something so inspiring and fresh about seeing LePage’s work in Toronto. It feels as if he’s bringing a European sensibility that Toronto, for all its talk of being a “world-class city”, is still deathly afraid of truly embracing.

Come November is the multimedia production Studies in Motion: The Hauntings of Eadweard Muybridge by the Electric Company Theatre, featuring the poetic choreography of accomplished Canadian dancer Crystal Pite. Quebecois dancer Edouard Locke will also be part of the Canadian Stage season with his grond-breaking La La La Human Steps company in as-yet-untitled work set to premiere in May 2011. (You might recall La La La worked with David Bowie in the 1980s.) I love the fearless combination of dance and drama here; again, it’s a European approach to theatre (and its integration of other artforms) that is indicative of the kind of worldly thinking Jocelyn’s experience (mainly with Atelier du Rhin) entails.

That experience also lends itself to reaching out to Canada’s national arts organization. Thus, the National Arts Centre‘s English Theatre head honcho Peter Hinton arrives in 2011 to direct Saint Carmen of the Main by Michel Tremblay; the work is a co-production with the NAC and runs February 7th to March 5th. Canadian dynamo Jennifer Tarver will also be directing for Canadian Stage. She might be best-known outside of Canadian theatre circles for her celebrated production of Beckett’s craggily moving work Krapp’s Last Tape featuring Brian Dennehy that ran in Stratford and then Chicago. Come April 2011, she’ll be helming the Canadian premiere of The cosmonaut’s last message to the woman he once loved in the former Soviet Union, by David Greig. The work was first produced at the Edinburgh Festival in 1999 and went on to run at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego and the Donmar Warehouse in London. Now there’s a play with passport cred to burn.

Along with smaller productions at the Berkeley Street Theatre (the smaller stage used by the Canadian Stage Company) involving local companies like Nightwood and Studio 180, the Berkeley will also host a Spotlight On Italy series March 15th through 26th, 2011. Programming is totally intriguing, and includes many works that won’t be familiar to Canadian theatre audiences. Nunzio and La Festa, two award-winning plays from Sicily’s Compagnia Scimone Sframeli will see productions, along with the dance theatre of la natura delle cose by Florence’s Compagnia Virgilio Sieni, whose Artistic Director, Virgilio Sieni, has twice received the UBU prize, Italy’s top theatre award.

“The Spotlight Festival,” notes Jocelyn, “demonstrates (the Canadian Stage Company’s) commitment to showcasing some of the most extraordinary international companies that challenge the classical notions of theatre.” I can hear some Canadian arts types moaning that we already have companies that do that -but how much more can they -and we -learn by including the works of others within our own diaspora? Culturally, they inform our “Canadian-ness” every bit as much as works by Michel Tremblay, David French, Judith Thompson, Florence Gibson, George F. Walker, and the myriad of other playwrights who are studied and produced across this country. If the 1960s and 70s were all about establishing a distinctly Canadian voice, the 21st century is about seeing how much that voice can sing with other voices -in harmony, or not. Will audiences go for it? That remains to be seen. But it’s surely good to see Jocelyn’s vision of the Canadian Stage Company going above and beyond the predictable, the safe, and the well-worn. It’s time for something new. Welcome to the world, Toronto. I think you’re going to like it.

Photo credits, from top to bottom: The Andersen Project starring Yves Jacques, photo by Emmanuel Valette; La La La Human Steps dancers, photo by La La La Human Steps; La natura delle cose, choreography by Virgilio Sieni, photo by Compagnia Virgilio Siena; Matthew Jocelyn photograph by George Pimental.

Damn Good Dinner

Few things inspire me like a person new to the culinary world; it implies both a healthy curiosity and a concern for healthy eating. Anything homemade is always going to beat microwaved Frankenfood. So a recent note from a fellow Twitterati/ journalist felt like a call to inspiration, the way I painter is drawn to canvas or a musician to their instrument. Sharing food ideas and any help is my passion, because I love to cook.

I sent this fellow journalist a response, included a link to my last recipe posted (a hit with busy moms), as well as helpful book suggestions (listed below). I also promised myself I would starting posting recipes more often.

As it happens, I had a very hectic day: two blog posts, several phone calls, emails, a doctor’s appointment, and some running around. I wanted something fairly easy and effort-free, if also homey, flavoursome, and healthy. Ergo, meet my Oven-Roasted Herb-Garlic Chicken Breasts.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 30-40 minutes

You will need:

4 chicken breasts, skin and bone on
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves
1 sprig rosemary
1-2 tsps dried oregano
1/2 lemon
1 tsp sea salt

Pre-heat oven to 425F (use the convection setting if you have it, otherwise set at 450F).

Pour 1 tbsp of the olive oil into a large broad oven dish; you can use a large glass one or a nice square roaster, but keep it shallow, and make sure the breasts fit snugly together.

With clean hands, anoint the fresh chicken breasts with the butter; Nigella Lawson has a wonderful expression (from her basic roast chicken recipe) of spreading the butter around “like a very expensive handcream” -which is apt. Make sure every little bit of the chicken breasts are lubricated. Place in the oven dish, making sure pieces are snug but not busting.

Wash and dry your hands, and then carefully pick the needles from the rosemary sprig. Discard the stalk. Using a very sharp knife, finely chop the needles, and sprinkle them evenly on the tops of the breasts.

Follow this with the oregano (again, use your fingers to sprinkle -much nicer distribution that way). Pour the other tbsp (or so) of olive oil on top.

Take your garlic cloves and peel, then half them. Place the flat part of your knife on top of them, and give a few good pounds, so you’re crushing the cut cloves (you may need to do this in stages, doing a few garlic pieces at a time -which is perfectly fine). You’ll find nice flat pieces of fragrant crushed garlic to scatter on top of the chicken breasts.

Take the half a lemon, cut it again in half, and slice into very thin pieces; scatter on top of the breasts. Sprinkle the sea salt on top (again, use your fingers) and drape a piece of tin foil on top, then pop the dish into your hot oven.

(You can use this time to throw a salad together, if you wish; a basic cucumber/tomato/mixed greens is good with a light dressing. I also happened to have some roasted potatoes already made, so I popped those into an earthenware dish, gave a glug of oil, a grind of pepper, and threw into the same oven for the chicken’s last 10 minutes.)

After 15 minutes, remove the chicken, and take off the foil. Things will be sizzling and fizzling, so mind you don’t stand too close or poke your nose in to inhale the fragrant, herb-garlic aroma.

Using a baster or a spoon, spread all those lovely chickeny/buttery/olive oily juices over the breasts a few times, then whack back in the oven for another 10 minutes or so with the foil off.

Poke a breast (pun unintentional) with a sharp knife after the ten minutes is up; the meat should feel solid, and the juices run clear. Take the chicken out (again, mind the sizzle), baste one more time, and whack back in for 5 to 7 minutes.

For a nice burnished top, turn the broiler on medium-high heat and leave the chicken breasts in (without moving the oven rack) for about 3 or 4 minutes after this (keep watch). The lemon slices and crushed garlic might be singed and blackened at their edges; this is perfectly fine.

Remove and… voila. Enjoy. Serve with salad and, if you like, starch of your choice.

Oh, and those book suggestions: I recommend these for both newcomers and seasoned home cooks, for the breadth of their ideas, accomplishment of their respective authors, and overall ease. They are:

To this I would only add one other book: How To Eat, (Random House, 1998) by Nigella Lawson, which provided inspiration for this recipe in the first place.

All of these titles are perffect for the cook who’s harried, hurried, and not entirely familiar with the culinary arts. Bon appetit!

Eternal Factory

Toronto’s Factory Theatre announced their 41st season today, with works by puppeteer Ronnie Burkett, playwrights Anusree Roy and Adam Pettle, and the Factory’s Ken Gass featured as part of the program.


Also included is the incredible Eternal Hydra by Anton Piatigorsky. I loved this Crow’s Theatre piece when it premiered in Toronto last spring. As the video piece I hosted and co-produced (for Lucid Media) demonstrates, Piatigorsky’s play is challenging, but it doesn’t abandon emotional interaction entirely, either. Rather, it nicely balances the head and the heart within a fascinating, Borges-esque piece of existential drama that touches on questions of creativity, authenticity, and identity. Eternal Hydra won a bevy of Dora Awards (Toronto’s equivalent to the Tonys) back in June, and for those who didn’t get the chance to see it at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre last year… well, get thee to Factory. It’s going to be a great season.

Linkalicious

A list of links to inspire:

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Eno Kisses The Future: Producer/musician/all-around genius Brian Eno is the Guest Artistic Director of the 2010 Brighton Festival, running May 1st through 23rd. Discussing the vital role of art in shaping future events, he says “it’s very easy to be pessimistic about the future” but adds that “artists offer new kinds of worlds” from which imagination can rise to offer new, creative solutions to problems like climate change and poverty. The fest will include Eno’s 77 Million Paintings and a sound installation set up throughout the city.

Austen Bites: What do you get when you mix Jane Austen, Lord Byron, and vampires? A whole lot of sales, it seems. Author/teacher Amy Leal takes apart the literary mash-up trend, drawing some hilarious (and valid) lines between the two writing giants, their respective works, and their modern-day neck-chomping counterparts.

King Bites Too: Horror writer Stephen King is releasing a comic book (courtesy of DC Comics) tomorrow. Called American Vampire, it’s about “a Wild West outlaw who’s a sociopath even before he gets vamped.” While the project has echoes of his Dark Tower/Gunslinger series, this is the first time the multi-mondo-selling author has done a comic book formally. Sounds killer.

Legacy is greater than currency“: Best-selling author and wine guy Gary Vaynerchuk gave this talk at the Web 2.0 Expo in 2008. He talks about “hustling” and the benefits of pursuing what you love, rather than being stuck in a job you hate. I’m still not sure how it relates to the world of journalism, but there’s something heartening about his energy and enthusiasm, and I like his idea of establishing “brand equity in yourself.”

Women Who Go Beyond: This collection of photos is a nice complement to this past weekend’s Women In The World conference. Based on The One Campaign‘s recent trips through Ghana and Sierra Leone, the photos are both beautiful works of art an incredible documents of people making a difference. The stories accompanying them are equally fascinating and inspiring.

Rockin’ Runaways: According to this report, director Floria Sigismondi got the grit just right for her new film, The Runaways, detailing the rise of the late 70s band that featured Cherie Currie and Joan Jett. I was never a huge fan of the band, but I love Sigismondi’s rich visual sense and intuitive feel for atmosphere (look at her video work for Sigur Ros, David Bowie, and The White Stripes, for example). Combining her operatic style with rock and roll seems molto bellissimo.

Chit-Chat

The new Lady Gaga video is out. One word: wow.

As with many of her other videos, Gaga is pushing buttons here: ones relating to homosexuality, murder, and even rumors of her own androgyny. Directed and co-written by the award-winning Jonas Akerlund, the video -more of a mini-film -makes clear cultural references across the worlds of film, music, art, and dance. I caught nods to Thelma and Louise, Pulp Fiction, the work of Russ Meyer, Madonna (particularly during her Sex phase), Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Keith Haring (with the bright, cartoon-like coloring and innate sense of playfulness), – even the choreography of Twyla Tharp (with the sharp jerky movements and upper body swings), to say nothing of the influence Akerlund’s past work has on the vid. How many “mainstream” pop artists inject so much thought -and creative approach -into their work? And how many (successfuly) incorporate Beyonce into the mix?

Kudos, Gaga. Keep pushing those buttons. The world -especially the pop world -needs it more than ever.

Sex On A Plate

Jennifer Iannolo really loves food.

The Culinary Media Network‘s co-founder isn’t just a lady who enjoys a good glass of wine and a steak; she’s also an informed, thoughtful food activist who clearly sees the cultural relationships that exist between food and life, or more specifically, food and sex. The New York-based Iannolo, an author, broadcaster, consultant and fiercely ambitious entrepreneur, is about to launch Sex On A Plate, an event that will leave attendees drooling in body and soul. What began as a simple observation on food turned into a bigger passion that many relate to. I mean really, food? sex? What’s not to like?

More than just a suggestive moniker, Iannolo connects various sensual experiences -sights, sounds, smells, touches, textures, tastes -with wider ideas around what good food is, and how its preparation, sharing, and enjoyment is a powerful agent for change, both inside and out.

What I love so much about this fierce, fabulous foodie is that she can so clearly understand, appreciate, and promote the sensual aspects of good food and its enjoyment, along with its connection to wider culture and women’s body images. Sex, like fat, is mainly in the brain, and it’s only through the senses that we come to truly embrace ourselves and our relationship with food with unbridled joy. Iannolo chanels that joy, and serves it up -luscious, succulent, sexy.

Where did the idea for “sex on a plate” come from?

I’ve been fortunate to spend much of my career working with the culinary greats, including chefs like Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Guy Savoy and Eric Ripert. The more time I spent observing them, getting past the “who” to find the “what,” the more I began to see that a sensual quality permeated their food. Each of them had his own unique philosophy, but the root of it was far deeper than merely feeding people -it was about making love to their senses. When eating their dishes, I began to have those food moments that would take me to another place, with nuances of flavor and texture I didn’t realize were possible.

After experiencing food in that way, I wondered where to go from there. What do you do with yourself after Alain Ducasse has prepared a special meal for you at the chef’s table? Rather than head in the hopeless direction of the food snob, I decided to go back to the roots — to the ingredients themselves: the perfect fig, the ultimate tomato. It became a quest for my senses.

As I was mulling over such things (in early 2004), I took a recreational cooking class to determine whether I wanted to cook, write or both. We were making roasted strawberries with zabaglione one night, and as I watched the custard being poured over the strawberries, I was somewhat overcome by the sight, and blurted out: “That, right there, is sex on a plate.” It set the tone for my manifesto On Food And Sensuality several weeks later, and the rest has unfolded from there.

How do you think the ideas behind Sex on a Plate fits with the foodie scene, especially online?

I’m still finding that out. I’ve got an amazing team of people working with me to plan Sex on a Plate as a series of events around the country, and we are deep in planning for Napa at the moment. There are about seven cities that have approached us to do the event, so we will take it where the food lovers will welcome it. We had planned a launch here in NYC for Valentine’s Day, but there was so much else competing for dollars and attention on that day, we decided it was best to postpone that for a quieter time, if there is such a thing in NYC.

Online, the concept seems to swing a number of ways (pardon the pun). It straddles a number of topics (I’m killing myself here), from sex to sensual indulgence to food. It started one day when I threw a #sexonaplate hash tag in a Twitter update, and it’s become a fun meme, with people posting Twitpics of fabulous desserts, perfect grilled cheese sandwiches, or whatever it is that turns their senses on. It’s one of the things I love about the idea: each of us experiences “sex on a plate” differently, so I get a kick out of seeing what it means to people.

In terms of blogging, I’ve started doing guests posts and content sharing with a couple of sex blogs, and have really ramped up my discussions on sensuality on my own blog as it relates to everything we eat, and the way in which we approach food. I love that people are engaging and talking about this, because I find that food lovers really get it, and those just discovering food want to. This makes my soul happy.

For the events themselves, how will you go about planning the menus?

This is where the events get most interesting, because in each city, I’m leaving that piece up to the chefs. I want to know what excites their senses, and I’m challenging them to wow us with those dishes and flavor combinations they might not get to put on the regular menu. They tend to get excited like kids at Christmas when I say that.

Who are the events for?

The events are for anyone who wants to have an indulgent, sensual food experience. I mean that not in the sense of overly heavy foods, but a food experience that focuses on how each taste indulges the senses through flavor, color, texture and smell. Even touch.

More importantly, I’ve decided that in each city where we do an event, a portion of the proceeds will go to the local food bank. It seems fair to balance the scales that while we’re indulging ourselves on the finest of food, that people struggling for basic survival are also taken care of. This makes my soul even happier.

How much of a subtext is there of women accepting our bodies? This feels like a theme in your “food philosophy”-ism.

Can I get a “Hell, yes?” The first line of my manifesto, On Food And Sensuality, is from Federico Fellini: “Never trust a woman who doesn’t like to eat. She’s probably lousy in bed.” Sensual appreciation extends to everything, from head to toe, inside and out, from farm to plate.

I do believe we should take good care of ourselves, and eat foods that are good for us; but in my mind, this means less about broccoli vs chocolate than it does chemicals vs no chemicals. We need to eat a little bit of everything to be satisfied as humans — we were built with the capability to enjoy pleasure, so why on earth should we deny ourselves? And I’m sorry to break it to the ladies, but Fellini’s right. I’m carrying a little extra padding, and I have yet to experience that as a hindrance for either attraction or action.

The wonderful thing about human beings is that they self-select. Be who you are, and those who like you will find you, whether it’s for friendship or romance. If you have a big butt, the men who like that will find you. Trust me. And this delights me on all fronts, because I don’t want to dine with men or women who live on lettuce and tofu. No fun.

What’s the ultimate “sex on a plate” dish for you?

Macaroni and cheese made with fusilli, mascarpone cheese, duck confit, foie gras mousse and truffle shavings. Oh my, yes.

All photography by Kelly Cline, except for head shot of Jennifer Iannolo, by Renata DeAngelis.

Luminato Lights Up


Luminato has announced its music line-up, and wow, what a gaggle of goodies to behold.

For those of you wondering what the heck Luminato is, voila: it’s a ten-day, kick-ass culture fest that’s happened in Toronto every June since 2007. When it began, some people sniped that the money being poured into it would be better invested with various Toronto-based arts companies, but frankly, David Pecaut & Co. had something far more larger -and more worldly -than the local yokels envisioned. Partnering with cosmetics giant L’Oreal, the arts leader helped to bring a myriad of accessible, fun, internationally-minded cultural happenings and figures to the city. For ten days every June, Torontonians of all stripes get excited about all things artistic -which is quite a feat, considering how hockey-obsessed a town this usually is.

Past years have featured some truly beautiful programming, including a sexy, gorgeous, East Asian version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Tim Supple and the award-winning Black Watch by the National Theatre of Scotland. Last year’s music events included a tremendous Neil Young tribute (featuring Sarah Slean and Steven Page, among many others) and two concerts (one free) by Balkan superstar Goran Bregovic, whom I interviewed. As Luminato CEO Janice Price reminded the assembled guests this morning, 80% of Luminato events are free; to me, this means they want the biggest number of eyeballs gawking at their stuff -or, to put it another way, the greatest numbers of bodies dancing, laughing, and enjoying the being-togetherness of arts events as possible. I’ve seen some combination of all of those at various Luminato events through the years. English, French, Sanskrit, Serbian -language melts away in those moments when you’re sharing a cultural event with a crowd. I suspect it’s that kind of wordless joy Luminato’s aiming at.

This year’s music selections are proof positive of the fest’s approachability and range. Rufus Wainwright‘s opera Prima Donna is making its North American premiere (I listed it as one of the things I most want to see in 2010), and he’ll also be doing a solo concert based on his recent record release, All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu (Universal Music). There’s something so unapologetically European about Wainwright; despite his Canadian musical pedigree, I’ve always found him to have a style, sound, and sensibility far more suited to ‘the continent‘. His participation in last fall’s tribute to Irish artist Gavin Friday (at Carnegie Hall; produced by Hal Willner) only cemented his worldly, exploratory approach to artistry. I can hardly wait to see him.

Luminato 2010 will also feature an outdoor concert called Rock the Casbah, to feature the terrific, lively French/North African band Lo’Jo, as well as the punk-meets-Arab sounds of Rachid Taha, whose 2008 Toronto concert was one of the best live shows I’ve ever attended. Taha and his band are infectiously good; like Brega, they don’t sing in English, but it hardly matters. When you’re dancing, you don’t really notice, though you might recognize Taha’s cover of The Clash classic song the event is named after. Both his and Lo’Jo’s inclusion in Luminato is a testament to the festival’s breadth of vision and its open embrace of wider cultural patterns. So too is Malian master Salif Keita, who will be taking part in Global Blues along with Cuban band Mezcla, a danceable jazz-blues fusion group led by Pablo Menendez. There’s also John Malkovich -not sure if he’s singing, but playing a murderer, with music provided by the Vienna Academy Orchestra, has to be pregnant with all kinds of operatic-like drama. Called The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer, the work is based on the true story of celebrated Austrian author and notorious murderer Jack Unterweger. Talk about a worldly vision.

That doesn’t mean Luminato forgets about their home and native land, however. The Canadian Songbook has been a staple of the fest, and this year will feature a tribute to the work of Bruce Cockburn. He’ll be sharing the stage with friends and musicians, including fellow Canucks Hawksley Workman, Margo Timmins (of the Cowboy Junkies) and Michael Occhipinti, with more to come. At today’s announcement, Cockburn called his inclusion in the festival a testament to his “longevity, persistence, and refusal to disappear” and added, smiling, that he’s “looking forward to the peculiar things they’re gonna do with my stuff.” He seemed genuinely chuffed at the tribute, observing that his usual creative method in the past would be to “record the songs, forget about them, and make room in my head for new ones.”

Cockburn’s inclusion is interesting in light of his previous anti-corporate past; Luminato has always been upfront about its close partnership with L’Oreal. The cosmetic giant’s Canadian section President and CEO, Javier San Juan, noted in his opening remarks that there had been, at the beginning of the fest, concerns in the combination between arts and business. San Juan emphasized the equal partnerships that exist between all facets of Luminato; concepts of working together closely and demonstrating a larger vision of the arts and its relationship to everyday life, were always priorities, and in case you have doubts, look at the programming. Even Cockburn, with his anti-logging, pro-environment, fantasy-rocket-launcher tunes, is getting on the train for the sake of his art. It’s just one event I’m deeply looking forward to. June is going to be full of celebration.

Think, Do, Talk


So many things can drive friends apart: time, maturity, distance. Sometimes people grow apart gradually; other times, they are driven apart, taking refuge in their respective intransigent poles. Either way, it’s always sad. Canadian playwright Michael Nathanson has dramatized this split with his 2007 play, Talk, currently running in Toronto at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. The production is a thoughtful, insightful piece of theatre that is deceptive for its naturalistic style and chatty structure. Produced by the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company, the work is both confrontational (in that you’ll be forced to re-examine your own beliefs) and inspirational (in so far as you may want to call up long-lost friends). In Nathanson’s work, it’s not so much circumstance but politics that drives a wedge between two men who’ve been friends for 18 years. A simple -or not-so-simple, depending on your viewpoint –word used by Gordon’s new girlfriend causes a rift that leads to a wide, seemingly insurmountable chasm. The varying reactions of the pair to the word’s use proves to be the unraveling of the friendship. Was it inevitable? Was the political situation of the Middle East the sleeping leviathan lying between the pair, awaiting its summons in the form of a (never-seen) woman?

Nathanson doesn’t answer these questions, but he does give us clues. Talk, for all its talking, is not merely a tough examination of Mid-East politics; it’s a close exploration of the ebbs and tides of the relationship between two men, of ways hidden currents move and shift through time and experience. The playwright muses on what might’ve occurred had Josh, the Jewish character, chosen not to express his concerns when he was able to, at the pair’s initial reuniting following Gordon introducing his lady love. As we see in small, simple gestures, even if Josh had decided to hold his tongue, the friendship would still come apart, albeit in a more pernicious, painfully slow way.

Director Ted Dykstra inherently understands the heart that beats behind the angry, passionate political arguments; it’s a heart that the two men share, but which is destined to crack in two. With carefully considered blocking, a simple, elegant design and dramatic, clear lighting (both by Steve Lucas), the characters’ various feelings and reactions (expressed both inwardly and outwardly) are expressed as the two try to hammer out common ground while, on some level, knowingly smashing the continental coastlines of difference. Performers Kevin Bundy (as Gordon) and Michael Rubenfeld (as Josh) give genuinely passionate, moving performances as the two longtime buddies whose conflicts are both personal and political in nature.

Nathanson, who is also a producer with the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre Company, spoke about the writing of the play in the post-performance discussion I attended, and while he shied away from admitting the play is based on actual experience, he did say its events were inspired by the fall-out he and a friend had over an email that he’d been sent after 9/11. The incident forced him to consider what comes to be a major thematic motif of the play: “At what point, as a Jew, do I say, ‘You can’t do this’?” The choice that faces Josh -to speak or not to speak -is one that haunts the entire work, and it gives Talk a certain bittersweet flavor that’s similarly reflected in the choice to leave Gordon’s new girlfriend unseen. This technique renders the character (and her perceived influence over Gordon) all the more powerful, if equally mysterious; how much is Josh’s outrage political, and how much is pure jealousy? As Nathanson reminded us in the discussion, director Dykstra approached the work as a love story, which it unquestionably is: the deep vein of friendship that binds, however, also divides. It’s a line neither man seems willing to step across by the work’s end. You’ll leave thinking not only about the world politics that can -and do -divide people, but about personal politics that leave terrible scars.

Talk runs at the Jane Mallett Theatre / St. Lawrence Centre in Toronto through March 20th.

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