Janis Kelly as Régine Saint Laurent, the mysterious soprano of Prima Donna. Photo by Antony Crook.
We know what you’re thinking—June is so gloomy! No birds are chirping, the patios are bare, and streets are devoid of rollerbladers and bikes soaking in the summer sun. If only there were some way we could let more light into the city during this desolate, dour excuse for a month.
Okay, maybe the complete opposite is true. But Toronto is, in fact, going to get a whole lot more luminous when the Luminato Festival of Arts and Creativity “brings Toronto’s light to the world and the world’s light to Toronto” through ten days of theatre, dance, literature, visual art, and film, starting this Friday. After only four years of existence, Luminato is attracting some the of the world’s biggest and brightest artists to our fair city. But, working closely with Toronto’s own landmark artistic institutions such as the National Ballet of Canada, the TSO, the AGO, and the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, local talent and international acts equally share centre stage.
And while Luminatics may have to pay up to see the biggest names, the best thing about Luminato is that, unlike that other event that’s supposed to put Toronto on the world’s map, about four-fifths of the events are totally free. And they won’t shut down half the city either.
In fact, Toronto will be hopping from June 11–20, as over 150 artistic installations, concerts, shows, and events will take place across about forty different venues. The weighty issues associated with this year’s theme of East-Meets-West as well as the December passing of Luminato co-founder David Pecaut give some of the acts a more sombre tone, while others are incredibly celebratory and innovative to keep spirits high.
If you can’t hit all the acts this year, we understand (but try harder next time). In the meantime, here are some of Torontoist’s must-see picks:
Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller aboard the Ship O’ Fools.
From June 11 to 28 (the installation has already been extended past Luminato), a ship will be wrecked amidst the trees and footpaths of Trinity Bellwoods Park. Ship O’ Fools is what we we think of when we think of Luminato: a large intervention in a public space, an unexpected injection of art into the fabric of the city. The rescued thirty-foot Chinese junk is brought to us by artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller (who will also host a free discussion on June 13), and is meant to evoke “the image of the ship of fools, an uncaptained vessel full of aimless passengers absorbed in vanity and frivolity.” Our frivolous selves are excited.
Anchoring this year’s theme of East-Meets-West is the premiere of an unprecedented collaboration of playwrights, directors, designers, and performers from around the world. Co-commissioned by Luminato and The Stratford Shakespeare Festival, The Africa Trilogy brings together three one-act plays that seek to contradict the over-simplified relationship between Africa and the West, and expose three very different perspectives about the past, present, and future of Africa. Spearheaded by the artistic director of Toronto’s lauded Volcano Theatre, Ross Manson, it is the company’s most ambitious project yet as it attempts to look past the clichés of African safaris, war, and poverty, and asks “What is really going on?” Since most of us aren’t able to see it first hand, The Africa Trilogy may be the closest answer we can get. Also, hear one of the playwrights, Binyavanga Wainaina, speak about artistic response to African issues at a free discussion held June 13.
Bernarda Bobro and John Malkovich let it all out in The Infernal Comedy. Photo by Nathalie Bauer.
Maybe you’ve heard of Jack Unterweger, the famous Austrian serial killer. But probably you’ve heard of John Malkovich, the Academy Award–nominated actor and Charlie Kaufman muse who stars in Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer.
Seeing the iconic actor live on stage is definitely the big draw of this show, but it sounds pretty fascinating nonetheless. Malkovich is joined on stage by two opera sopranos who sing famous arias and stand in for the women in Unterweger’s life. A compelling man in his own right, Unterweger was imprisoned for murdering prostitutes, but later released after penning a critically acclaimed autobiography that inspired artists and intellectuals to rally around his cause. He became a journalist and celebrity, and even toured America to write about crime and prostitution…where he immediately started killing sex workers again. So, whether you’re a fan of Dangerous Liaisons (or this music video), or interested in the parallels people are bound to find between Unterweger’s case and Roman Polanski’s, Internal Comedy is probably a good bet for an interesting evening.
The production of Rufus Wainwright‘s first opera has been a melodrama worthy of, well, an opera. Opening aria: the promising partnership between Wainwright and New York’s Metropolitan Opera to produce the show. The climax: the crumble of said partnership when Wainwright insisted on writing it in French. Enter the Manchester International Festival, which saved the day by premiering Prima Donna last July, and now Luminato will host its North American premiere. Set in 1970s Paris, the opera tells the story of a past-her-prime soprano who is convinced to return to the stage by her young reporter lover. With a creative team including the son of the Wainwright music dynasty and director Tim Albery (of last year’s acclaimed The Children’s Crusade), Prima Donna is a must-see not only for the opera obsessed. Luminato will also hold a free screening of a documentary about the show on June 13.
The often overlooked art of translation is brought to centre stage with the Blue Metropolis Translation Slam, an interactive examination of translation and translator. The host, Radio Canada journalist Yan Liang, will lead the slam and subsequent discussion, as 2009’s Griffin Poetry Prize winner, poet A. F. Moritz, and Mandarin translators Ma Ainong and Lien Chao let loose and read their versions of Moritz’s original poem. The slam-style structure of this event will bring the translation process to life and get the audience involved in what will be the only literary event at the Canadian Pavilion for Shanghai’s 2010 Expo, and what looks to be Luminato’s most unique literary event.
Chunky Move’s Brian Lipson is one Two Faced Bastard. Photo by Chris Budgeon.
Chunky Move is a Melbourne-based contemporary dance company known for its innovation and use of multimedia in its productions. The company makes its Toronto debut with Two Faced Bastard, a study of duality and duplicity—the stage is divided such that each half of the audience can only see small snippets of the performance on the other side. Bringing innovative foreign dance troupes to Toronto is one of Luminato’s great strengths (last year’s brilliant mixed program by the Nederlands Dans Theater still haunts us), and we can’t wait to see if Chunky Move lives up to its not-inconsiderable hype.
Azar Nafisi is an internationally celebrated scholar, currently the director of the SAIS Dialogue Project at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington D.C. Yet Nafisi is probably best known for her 2003 bestselling memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran, which detailed her experience leading a group of female students through illicit study of prohibited literary classics such as Madame Bovary, The Great Gatsby, and, of course, Lolita in her native Iran. One year after the beginning of Iran’s “green revolution,” Nafisi comes to Luminato to share her insights on the current state of affairs in her homeland.
Dark Star Requiem, the world premiere operatic collaboration between Luminato and Tapestry New Opera Works, traces the twenty-five-year history of HIV-AIDS in North America and Africa through poetry by Jill Battson and music by composer Andrew Staniland. This dramatic oratorio stars soprano Neema Bickerseth, mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó, baritone Peter McGillivray, and bass-baritone Marcus Nance, and also features contributions from two of Canada’s most highly regarded musical ensembles, The Elmer Iseler Singers and The Gryphon Trio. While the formidable reputation of Dark Star Requiem‘s various contributors certainly isn’t hurting the production’s rapidly building buzz, its innovative fusion of traditional and experimental forms is likely what’s making this one of the most hotly anticipated events of this year’s festival.
Every year, Luminato opens the Canadian Songbook and chooses one iconic musician to honour in a tribute concert performed by some of the country’s oldest names and emerging favourites. Last year, artists like Sarah Slean, Jason Collett, Harry Manx, and Carole Pope paid homage to the songs of Neil Young. For this year’s fest, CBC Radio’s Jian Ghomeshi will host a one-night-only retrospective of the music and activism of Bruce Cockburn, featuring guests like The Barenaked Ladies, Hawksley Workman, Buck 65, The Wailin’ Jennys, and jazz guitarist Michael Occhipinti. It’s hard to imagine cramming any more CanCon onto Massey’s stage, but this year Cockburn himself will be joining in on the jams, making it the first time in the Canadian Songbook series that the guest of honour will partake in the concert. And with forty years and twenty-nine albums of material to cover in two and a half hours, it is definitely not a dangerous time for lovers (of Canadian music) and this will certainly be one of the festival’s highlights.
Feeding the masses at last year’s 1000 Tastes of Toronto.
Two weeks of non-stop artistic stimulation can build quite the appetite. Luckily, famished Luminatics can refuel in style at Queen’s Park North during the festival’s closing weekend. At President’s Choice® 1000 Tastes of Toronto™, some of the city’s top restos serve up their signature dishes street-style for five bucks a pop.
Last year’s hit plates from Susur Lee’s Lee and Madeleine’s restaurants return, along with Loïc Gourmet, Rodney’s Oyster House, Jamie Kennedy Kitchens, Buca, Dufflet Pastries, and many more to include Toronto’s foodies in the Luminato love. And why not mix the chef’s juices with your own creative juices at 1000 Plates, 1000 Tastes, an interactive art installation that collects Torontonians’ fondest food memories in a plate mosaic to match the city’s cultural counterpart we’re so proud of.
Luminato downsizes its East/West theme to a national level by putting a cross-section of Canadian writers on stage and asking them to talk about what Canadian literature can really mean in a land so large. Noah Richler hosts poet Lorna Crozier, playwright Anosh Irani, and novelists Lynn Coady and Michael Winter in what promises to be a lively conversation about the whens, wheres, whys, and hows of geographical, personal, and political place in their work. These issues crop up in the Canadian literary landscape all the time, and watching these talented writers break them down should be thought provoking and entertaining.
Introductory blurb by Carly Maga. Images courtesy of Luminato.