Tag: Rufus Wainwright

Raising The Bard


Toronto’s amazing, inspiring Art Of Time Ensemble has been presenting its unique vision of music, dance, theatre, and literature now for twelve years. They’ve featured the works of Schumann, Beethoven, Prokofiev, Gavin Bryars, Erich Korngold, and many, many others in concerts that combine music, art, theatre, and dance, to create a hybrid form unto itself. What’s more, the Ensemble has involved some of Canada’s biggest names from the arts world to accomplish their task of shedding light on old and new masters alike.

Their incredible rendering of Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata (which I wrote about back in March) was so popular, it was presented as part of this year’s Summerworks Theatre Festival, and is on track to be part of Soulpepper Theatre Company’s season in 2011. The Art Of Time toured with former Barenaked Ladies frontman Steven Page plus songstress Sarah Slean; award-winning author Michael Ondaatje is among their most devoted followers and has, on occasion, participated in concerts doing readings. He says of them:

Art of Time leaps over the usual barriers of culture. So Schumann and Tolstoy can rub shoulders with Ginsberg and our best contemporary musicians. The result is entertainment that is often thrilling, often full of insights—as in the old values of art that delight and instruct.

I’ve spent many happy evenings at their shows, scratching head, cradling heart, listening; the phrase “human being” never seemed more real and alive than at an Art Of Time show.

Their next work, coming up this week, is called If Music Be… -a tribute of sorts to William Shakespeare, featuring, among many others, the poetic footwork of Peggy Baker and the acting talents of Stratford Festival veteran Lucy Peacock, plus, as ever, the expert musical accompaniment of the Ensemble themselves. The last If Music Be… was presented in Toronto in March 2008.

I had the opportunity to exchange ideas around Shakespeare and the blend of Bard and Ensemble with two key figures for the evening: Andrew Burashko, who is the group’s Artistic Director, and actor/director/dramaturge David Ferry, who directs If Music Be…, which runs at Toronto’s Enwave Theatre December 9th through 11th.

Why Shakespeare?

Andrew:

I’ve always been in awe of Shakespeare’s limitless play and poetry. To me he represents the most dazzling example of virtuosity. Also, he has influenced so many artists and inspired so much diverse art – high and low – music, theater, literature, dance. In that sense, he is the perfect subject for Art of Time – a subject that connects so many of the artistic disciplines.

David:

Well as many of the authors quoted in this piece say, (Shakespeare) invented us in so many ways; he created arguably our sense of the human being.

How difficult was the process of choosing accompanying music?

Andrew:

It was actually the reverse: I began with the music and dance inspired by Shakespeare, and then selected the sources that inspired the music and dance. To over-simplify, I thought it might be fascinating to see/hear this amazing stuff together with the source material. In other words, to show this music and dance on the heels of the actual scenes that inspired them – to see the Shakespeare as he wrote it, followed by interpretations of the same material in the forms of music and dance.

How would you describe the connection between Shakespeare and music?

Andrew:

I guess the most obvious would be the music and richness in his language, but even more than that, his ability to express the ineffable – to tug at the heart strings by transcending the limitations of words.

You have an eclectic mix of artists taking part; how much did their talents shape the program?

Andrew:

Everything begins and ends with the content – the material. I chose the artists I thought could best deliver the material. I thought of Peggy (Baker)’s piece before I thought of Peggy. In fact, I was surprised that she wanted to dance it herself. She’s been slowing down – cutting the more physically demanding pieces from her repertoire as a dancer. I wasn’t expecting her to be up for it.

David:

Peggy is a long-time collaborator with Andrew, as is James Kudelka. My suggestions were (actors) Tim (Campbell), Marc (Bendavid), Cara (Ricketts). Ted (Dykstra) and Lucy (Peacock) have done the material before.

How does this version of If Music Be… differ from the one you directed a few years ago?

David:

The core material is the same, with some modifications and the structuring of the material. Also, this time actors will not read but have material memorized, (which allows for) different staging. (There are) some music changes as well, (like the) addition of the Wainright pieces and Dykstra song. The relationships with the actors are deeper, as relationships are wont to grow with time.

Andrew, you come from a very music-centric background, David comes from a very theatre-centric background. Do you meet in the middle (or not)?

Andrew:

David is someone I like and respect. Also, he really gets what Art of Time is about. I compiled all the material and asked him to come in and put everything together in terms of staging and flow. He’s not messing with the content at all, and I’m staying out of his way in determining the show’s overall look and feel. I would love for all these disparate elements to come together to form a whole – that’s his job.

For people more familiar with Shakepeare done at places like the Stratford Festival, what does If Music Be… offer?

Andrew:

This show is just as much about the work Shakespeare inspired as it is about his own work. In that sense, the audience will exposed to a lot more than Shakespeare. It’s a look at his work and what it led to down the years.

David:

I like to think of the evening as high-class Ed Sullivan: a great variety of fine artists that make for a stimulating, thought-provoking, accessible and entertaining night at the theatre.

Prima Rufus


The only things that seem to be suitable to listen to after seeing Rufus Wainwright live are classical music and Queen, which is exactly what I did driving home from his concert last week. Wainwright, the son of Canadian music royalty (his father is Loudan Wainwright III, his mother was Kate McGarrigle, who passed away in January), hit Toronto last week as part of the 2010 Luminato Festival of Arts and Culture. Along with premiering his opera, Prima Donna, during the artsy fest, the beautiful, deeply mercurial Wainwright launched the tour for his latest album, All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu.

Last week’s show at the grand, gilded-lined Elgin Theatre was equal parts drama, camp, comedy, and bitchy commentary; infusing the entire evening was Wainwright’s intense sense of musicality and flair for drama. The first half of the concert was strange, surreal, and not a little operatic. Before his appearance, the audience was duly informed that we were to hold our applause until the very end of the set, when Rufus had exited the stage. The lights dimmed and in he came, moving lowly and deliberately, his thin frame beddecked in feathers, eyeliner, and a very long black coat-dress. The look was very Mad-Max-meets-Monteverdi -not necessarily a bad thing if you’re aiming for drama. Playing songs mainly from the new album, the effect was equal parts impressive and infuriating: Why isn’t he looking at us? Why doesn’t he want applause? What’s with those giant blinky eyes? And that damn crazy outfit? Who does he think he is? DIVA! But maybe that was the point.

Turns out Rufus took inspiration from both silent and romance-horror films, as well as -surprise -opera. But for all the grand poetic majesty, it was obvious (sometimes painfully) that Rufus, with pale skin and fair locks, is a resolutely unapologetic, wildly insecure artist with a grand sense of talent and a keen awareness of its fragility. While he plumbs the depths of his own sonic genius, he isn’t afraid to look back to the masters, either. Traces of Glass, Gerhswin, Liszt, Elton John and Jeff Buckley ran through each chord like gold threads through grey rocks. It was as musically magical as it was theatrically maddening to sit through at points. I wanted to run as much as I wanted to stay to see what he’d do next.

Entering in a floral-print suit for the show’s second half (when we were -hurrah! -allowed to applaud), Rufus’s warm smile banished any fears of poe-faced serious artiste attitude. With songs like “Matinee Idol” and “Moulin Rouge” played to marvelous, if marvelously playful effect, he threw in a slew of bitchy asides, including one directed at a recent review of his opera that likened the work to a Loblaws shopping bag. “That just proves you’re label queens,” he sniped, to cackling applause.

And as if to underline the importance of his connection with his fans, he made the point of recognizing the dedicated bunch who follow him around. “They’re obviously very rich,” he quiped, before adding, “Actually, they’re probably not… but they’re good at looking like they are.”

Beat.

“Just like me!”

This refreshing lack of pretension, tinged with outlines of insecurity, sensitivity and deep feeling, made for an eminently watchable, involving performance. Again and again, we were reminded of just how damn great a musician Rufus really is. His performance of the controversial 2007 song “Going To A Town” was biting, angry, and bitter, and showed, to beautiful effect, his gorgeous, sonorous voice ringing through the deepe cavernous space of the Elgin. A showman, an artist, a diva, a child. And, in the end, a son. The concert ended with him playing “Walking Song”, one of his mother’s tunes about the happy times with family.

I left feeling confused, overwhelmed, and more than a little impressed. Between the strains of Ludwig van and the tender-loud yowls of Freddie Mercury driving home, I found a spot where drama, sound, and persona came together like so many crushing chords. Music doesn’t always exist to coddle, entertain, amuse or remove; sometimes it’s a complicated combination of notes, colors, feelings and memories, housed within palaces, hovels, and caves. We don’t know the spot but we trudge ahead anyway, thanks to a trusty guide with a beautiful voice. Rufus as Pied Piper? Maybe. But if I wind up over a cliff, I’ll hang onto that damn long coat for dear life. I want another tune, after all.

5 for ’10

A new year always implies a fresh start. Those starts are always available to us whenever we so choose, but there’s something so fortifying about coinciding our personal beginnings with chronological ones, as if once a year, people (or those following the Julian calendar anyway) decide, en masse, that they can influence the course of their lives through resolution, faith, commitment, and an embrace of potential. Would that this attitude could last to Easter, when the real promise of renewal has never been made so plain for Western society.

In any case, people seem to love lists -to debate, to ponder, to look back and to measure one’s thoughts and accomplishments against. Should that movie be there? Why wasn’t that album included? What happened to that book? We measure our lives, our personal triumphs and tragedies, which seem to be both timeless and weighted to a specific moment, against such lists. I was equally heartened and amused to see possibilities for potential laid out in one particular list; some of the items are foolhardy, some are curious, some are inspired -but the spirit behind them all is, I think, genuine, and the spark of springy hopefulness is encouraging in these dour midwinter days.

So, as before, here is a list -a personal one -of things I am looking forward to in 2010:

More Live Music
While I am not a particularly big fan of club gigs (I never really was -comes with being raised in opera houses, I suppose) there are a few acts I’m hoping to see (and blog about) this year, including The Big Pink and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. I was introduced to the former by a fellow twitterati with exquisite music taste who saw them in an early-winter gig here in Toronto and was suitably impressed; having heard The Big Pink’s stuff on the radio both prior and following that concert, I’ve become entranced by their marriage of old and new sounds. This is rock and roll you can dance to. I like that. And… BRMC? Dirty, good, loud. I’ll take it.

Pop Life
Happening at the National Gallery of Canada in June, this exhibit is featuring works of my very-favourites, including Tracey Emin, Takashi Murakami, Damien Hirst, Andy Warhol, and (sigh!) Keith Haring. It’s only January but I’m already excited. I can think of no other group of artists who have so changed the modern cultural landscape -and in so doing, altered the way we experience culture and its relationship to the everyday mundane reality of daily life. Thank you, National Gallery!

MOMAhhh
Still in the art vein, the venerable New York City art museum is hosting an exhibit of the works of Henri Cartier-Bresson, the first in the US in three decades. Exploring the entirety of the master photographer’s career, Cartier-Bresson was, and remains, one of my all-time favourites. I recall studying his works in film school many moons ago, and being drawn in by the inherent drama within his photographs. Suitably, MOMA’s website calls him “the keenest observer of the global theater of human affairs”. Yes, his work is indeed theatrical, but it’s also fleshily, gorgeously human and sensuously alive. If this doesn’t push me on to visit France at last, I don’t know what will.

Prima Donna
Presented as part of the 2010 Luminato Festival, “Prima Donna” will receive its North American premiere this June. Awesome Canadian singer/songwriter/all-around music god Rufus Wainwright channels his own inner diva and his passion for the operatic form in creating a work about the fictional faded opera star Regine and the re-examination of her life choices. When it debuted in Manchester last July, the New York Times called the music “impressionistic yet neo-medieval, tinged with modal harmonies”. Hopefully I’ll be interviewing the heavenly-voiced Mr. Wainwright about it closer to the opening. Stay tuned.

Toot Toot
I feel like there’s a big piece of me I’ve been hiding away that should probably come out. In that vein, I’m going to be posting my artwork, photography, and video interviews more often. This video is a favourite from last year. It’s about the award-winning production of “Eternal Hydra” by Crow’s Theatre:

So here’s to embracing… everything… which is everything, after all. I think Lauryn Hill expresses it best:

after winter / must come spring / change it comes / eventually

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