I don’t miss playing the piano. But I miss having a piano.
Tag: Ted Dykstra
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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)?
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?
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.
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.
Poor Sandra Bullock. Poor Kate Winslet. Famous, adored, lauded, beautiful. Divorcing. Lord only knows what the machinations are within any relationship to make it go kaput, but among the many assumptions being made, I think the only one worth betting on is the tough road both the respective parties have traveled. Bullock canceled an appearance in London out of “unforeseen personal circumstances” –which to me, means, ‘I don’t want to see anyone right now.” Fair enough.
But what happens when love gone wrong goes public? Celebrated Russian writer Leo Tolstoy imagined such an ugly scenario when he sat down to write The Kreutzer Sonata, based on Beethoven’s fiery music. The story revolves around a man sharing his tale of love, jealousy, suspected infidelity, and finally murder. Upon its publication in 1889 it was perceived as perverted, disgusting and scandalous; authorities promptly banned it. A year later, Tolstoy wrote a kind of apology for it, though it did nothing to dim the bright salacious bulb of the original, its glaring light shining capturing the money-spot of sexy pain and orgasmic violence.
Toronto’s Art of Time Ensemble decided to stage Tolstoy’s work, adding, as befits their collectively experimental soul, elements of dance, theatre, and of course, music to the works. The Kreutzer Sonata was performed last year in Toronto to great acclaim, and is currently receiving a revivial, on now through March 21st (Sunday) at the Enwave Theatre at Harbourfront Centre. I had the chance to chat with one of its performers, actor/director Ted Dykstra, who had so impressed (and scared) me doing a brilliant rendition of Allan Ginsberg’s Howl at a previous Art of Time Ensemble event. Dykstra, ever the insinghtful artist, had some fascinating things to say about Tolstoy, marital jealousy, and the idea of a “world-class” city.
What’s different about this year’s performance?
Last year I read my own adaptation, but this year I’m stupid enough to try to do it without reading it.
Why memorize it?
You can’t do it complete justice just reading it –you have to live it. In order to live it, you have to memorize it. I memorized the whole thing –well, I adapted the novella and memorized the adaptation –so it’s about fifteen minutes long. I think (Tolstoy)’s crazy (laughs)… in a genius way! Geniuses are allowed to be crazy! It’s very dark humour.
How much humour comes through?
It comes the day I’m doing it –and it can go a lot of different ways. I like to let it do me rather than me do it. What’s great is that, first of all, live music. Andrew (Burashko, AOT’s Artistic Director) is actually playing, underscoring bit of narration. I have the advantage of these live people underscoring (what I’m doing). In the second half of it, the same music is used to celebrate nothing but beauty. It’s a celebratory thing about love.
How timeless/timely is The Kreutzer Sonata?
Anyone who’s ever experienced marital breakup or jealousy in any form will see themselves in it, either as the aggressor or the victim, and that’s a pretty large section of the human population. Also, we really think so little of what’s behind a crime, and this lets you into the mind of a person so you can understand his madness. I have to be sympathetic to the character I’m playing; this is a guy who murdered his wife, and that’s an interesting thing to watch. As far as timely goes, it’s not anymore or any less timely, it’s just universal.
Talk about the synergy between disciplines in the Art of Time: music, theatre, dance.
It’s there between Andrew and I for sure. Neither of us is content to just be one thing. We both like to cross boundaries and disciplines. I’d like to do it even more and so would he. I think the city is starting to be ready for it. I do get frustrated with Toronto sometimes. The very fact one has to say “world-class” is embarrassing! Nobody in any great city, ever, has to say they are “world-class” –and that’s what makes it world-class. Andrew would be a celebrity in Manhattan. He’d be at BAM, doing the cool stuff. He’d be sold out, sought after, written about. He’s one of those artists. Here, except for a small group of our population, he’s literally unknown. I’m tired of telling my friends in theatre who he is –I mean, I’m happy to do it really, but it is frustrating to have such great work going on so below the radar. There is a slow sea change, though, so it’s exciting.
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.
I only knew Billy Bishop‘s name -the fact he was a World War One ace flying pilot, the fact was Canadian. I didn’t know anything else. Lessons learned in grade nine history have long since faded and all that’s left are the names, really. If you put a photo of Bishop in front of me, I probably wouldn’t recognize him.
Eric Peterson and John Gray take this into account. Their 1978 theatrical work, Billy Bishop Goes To War, has something for both the history buffs and the ignoramuses -it’s educational and simultaneously entertaining, engrossing, and deeply moving. Peterson, best-known among a generation of Canadians for his television work (on shows like Street Legal, and more recently, Corner Gas), has always done theatre, as he told me recently. Toronto’s Soulpepper has snagged him, fortunately, to be in a number of their show this season -including a devastating turn as the super-desperate Shelley Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross this past winter, and a befuddled, mourning uncle in Of the Fields Lately. Last year he was the menacing, coolly cruel patriarch in The Company Theatre‘s production of Festen.
So Peterson isn’t just the cutesy-grumpy guy you might know from television -the guy has range. He is also a wonderfully engrossing performer. For the length of Billy Bishop’s running time (over two hours, with one intermission), he, along with just the accompaniment and occasional narration of co-creator John Gray, weaves a compelling, fascinating portrait of a multi-layered man nearly forgotten in the sands of time.
Billy Bishop (for those of you who’ve forgotten your history lesson) was one of the most decorated Canadian soldiers of the First World War. A classic screw-up at home (in school and in life), Bishop was shipped overseas when he was conscripted. He started out in the cavalry, and eventually soared -literally and figuratively -as a member of the Royal Air Force, and is credited with an astounding 72 in-air victories. The piece aptly expresses Bishop’s doubts -in himself, his mission, his superiors -and Peterson is effective in conveying the nervous energy of a man at odds with himself and his times. He also neatly portrays the growing contradictions within Bishop’s personality: the bloodthirsty hero of the sky, versus the awkward, goofy Canuck kid.
My seatmate, who is in the army reserves, was in awe at the combined efforts of Gray and Peterson to weave a compelling, moving story out of such simple elements, as was I; with just a few trunks (marked from the locales the show’s played in), as well as toy planes, an armchair, some old photos, an army uniform and a piano, the pair magically transport the audience to the interior of a man at odds with himself and his place in history. Gray provides some nice low-tech sound effects -heavily breathing into his mic at points, pounding out morose-sounding chords at others -while Peterson demonstrates Bishop’s incredible airborne feats through sheer physicality, standing on the arms of his easy chair, arms aloft. What makes the piece particularly interesting is the fact it skips between time periods, allowing for an elastic understanding of history and our place in it. When the show first starts, Peterson and Gray come out, ostensibly as themselves, taking bows, but with the former dressed in pajamas and slippers, it’s as if Peterson is aware he’s playing Bishop reflecting back on his life -and on a younger self (actor and serviceman) most of us can relate to -medals or not.
Billy Bishop Goes To War is more than a simple history lesson; it’s a meditation on the nature of conflict, within and without, on the idea of freedom, intimate and epic, on the terrain of country, physical and emotional. Together with director Ted Dykstra, Eric Peterson and John Gray have crafted a moving, memorable piece of theatre that moves far beyond names, and yet, I came away with a whole new appreciation of Billy Bishop, and indeed, of Canadian history. Bravo.