Participants in one of Improv Everywhere’s previous MP3 Experiments take part in an all-out balloon war.
Luminato is about to embark on its fifth year, and like any respectable five-year-old’s birthday party, this year’s all-encompassing arts festival is chock full of magicians, good eats, and music. There’s even an afternoon concert with They Might Be Giants, whose catchy, kid-friendly, indie music surreptitiously makes you smarter, the same way your mom used to sneakily blend cauliflower into your mashed potatoes.
While various theatre, literature, music, and visual arts events will be spread out at venues across the city from June 10–19, this year’s festival hub for free concerts and celebrations will be the newly-christened David Pecaut Square (formerly Metro Square) at the corner of King and John streets, named after Luminato’s co-founder who died of cancer in December 2009. Shortly before his death, Pecaut, a passionate proponent of civic collaboration, wrote an open letter to the people of Toronto: “The potential of Toronto lies not so much within its architectural or economic or social possibilities as in what it could represent to the world as a place where amazing things get done.”
Luminato has already proven itself as an ambitious, eclectic mix of local and international events for every age, interest, and culture, and as one of the first major arts festivals of this finally-sunny season, we are eternally grateful it has arrived.
And here are some of Torontoist’s best bets for what to catch at Luminato 2011…
The ancient story of how the cunning tale-spinner stayed her nightly scheduled execution indefinitely has been newly translated by Lebanese author Hanan al-Shaykh, and adapted and directed by British company Dash Arts. (Luminato 2008 attendees may recall their overwhelmingly colourful and energetic staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.) Director Tim Supple has cast his net wide, using actors from many Arab nations. There are three languages spoken on stage (English, French, and Arabic), but you’ll still get the full impact of Shahrazad’s stories: there will be surtitles above the stage. Seeing all 1,001 will be a commitment, though; the show, performed several times daily starting June 7 (in previews), is split into two parts, and both performances combined run six hours.
The ubiquitous children’s story that has captured the imaginations of artists in every genre makes its way to the Four Seasons Centre for the North American premiere of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a co-production of the National Ballet of Canada and the U.K.’s Royal Ballet. This $2-million show (whose production studio we previewed back in April) features the work of award-winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and an original score by British composer Joby Talbot. You can expect flamingos, a tap-dancing Mad Hatter (who can only be an improvement on recent attempts at the character’s dance moves), and of course, a teenage Alice, older than the character’s original seven-year-old self so she could pursue the crush-worthy gardener’s boy, Jack. If your wallet can take the hit, this feast for the eyes and ears will certainly be a highlight of the festival.
Habit is an eight-hour performance repeated (almost) daily throughout the festival, blending live theatre with reality TV. Peek in through the window of a fully-functioning house set installed at OCADU as three actors cycle through a script written by American playwright Jason Grote, tweaking the words each time to suit their day-to-day needs. We can’t help but be curious about how this performance piece/art installation will mix the spontaneous with the mundane, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned from 12 seasons of TV’s Big Brother, it’s that voyeurism will never die. (Plus, parental discretion is advised, so you know it’s gonna be good.) Also, for a lunchtime conversation with director David Levine, make your way to the Chapters at John and Richmond on June 14 at noon.
Joel Plaskett (seen here sans Emergency) will perform as part of Luminato’s opening night festivities.
Many of the shows in Luminato’s programming use music supplementally, such as the
opera, dance, and theatre selections. But Luminato also features quite a few mainstream stars in their concert series, especially at their free concerts, moved this year to David Pecaut Square. There’ll be outdoor shows by Joel Plaskett (June 10), They Might Be Giants (June 11), the Kronos Quartet (June 12), and k.d. lang (June 18) over the course of the festival. Ron Sexsmith, who’s enjoying a long-overdue time in the spotlight due to his new album Long Player Late Bloomer (and the documentary Love Shines), is being feted in a Canadian Songbook tribute at Massey Hall (June 15) by members of Blue Rodeo, Broken Social Scene, and The Barenaked Ladies (Sexsmith will play as well).
And since the NXNE festival starts during Luminato’s second week, Luminato’s music programmers have wisely scheduled many shows outside the usual pop/rock spectrum. In addition to Broadway’s Night Out (June 13, more on that below), festival-goers can catch a cabaret series from Soulpepper (June 10–18) in conjunction with their ramped-up slate of shows during Luminato; the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is returning with another “Late Night” showcase (June 18), with Mahler as the subject; and there’s world music concerts from overseas sensations such as rubâb player Homayun Sakhi (June 12), bhangra artist Malkit Singh (June 16), and sha’abi star Hakim (June 18).
Call them illusionists, sleight-of-hand artists, or plain old magicians: any way you slice it, they have been brought to this earth to delight and mystify the young and old alike. Luckily, this year Luminato has not one but three separate magic acts on the bill, ranging from free to more than $50. On the free side, variety artist Eric Mead (who turned that famously lewd joke into a card trick in The Aristocrats) will bring his spectacle and comedy to an interactive show at David Pecaut Square. Next up there’s Natural Magick, where magician David Ben, in collaboration with Canadian broadcasting icon Patrick Watson, brings what they call “a new exploration of magic as a theatrical art” to the Tarragon Theatre. Need something a little more vaudevillian to liven up your Luminato experience? For two nights only, enjoy all the magic, comedy, mime, and illusion you can handle at the Winter Garden Theatre for the final (and priciest) act, appropriately named Vodavil.
Writer Joumana Haddad.
The Hay Festival, held annually in Wales, offers participants 10 days of literature and arts themed programming. This year they featured Arab writers: 39 of them under the age of 39, specifically. A selection of those writers will be in Toronto for a timely discussion of contemporary Arab literature, hosted by Jian Ghomeshi. For all the attention being paid to the Middle East right now, much of that has focused on the rapid political developments and social upheavals. With any luck, this panel will provide some much-needed cultural context for some of those changes.
This is in the tradition of the New Yorker Festival, that weekly brings some of its editors and contributors to Toronto to discuss an eclectic and compelling range of issues and themes in literature and beyond. Several of the panels tie into other Luminato events focusing on the Middle East; others allow prominent writers to tackle issues dear to their hearts. With a growing interest in these far-ranging events in Toronto (the Open House Festival is explicitly modelled on the New Yorker one), it’ll be great to see how the original stacks up against our Toronto-based counterparts.
The square will be alive with the sound of musicals when Toronto performers Shawn Hitchins and Sharron Matthews (named 2009’s “Best Cabaret Performer” by NOW Magazine) host Broadway’s Night Out. For one night only, they will be joined by the cast of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s Jesus Christ Superstar (Bruce Dow, Brent Carver, Josh Young, Chilina Kennedy, and Paul Nolan) and the Shaw Festival’s My Fair Lady, with an appearance by V.J. John Bantay, who runs the popular “Musical Mondays” at New York’s SBNY bar. Festival-goers can also catch acclaimed cabaret artist Meow Meow, whose act is described as a “unique brand of kamikaze cabaret and performance art exotica.” Participants at Broadway’s Night Out will also get the chance to be discovered, so bring your biggest voice and your bedazzliest costume to what could be the liveliest night of this year’s festival.
Theatre Smith-Gilmour first collaborated with the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre in 2007 on this physical theatre piece, based on five short stories by China’s Lu Xun; this will be its North American premiere. Lu Xun was similar to Anton Chekhov, who’s inspired much of Smith-Gilmour’s work to date, in many ways; both men were doctors by profession, but prolific writers by inclination. Lu Xun’s produced fiction, poetry, and a wide variety of essays, and is considered to be the father of modern Chinese literature.
Smith-Gilmour has always shown great artistry in telling compelling stories with a minimum of dialogue, and we have high expectations for the blending of their style with that of the Chinese-based performers who co-created the work.
The world premiere of Andromache is an exceedingly international affair, with Toronto’s Necessary Angel theatre company collaborating with Scottish director Graham McLaren on a new version of French playwright Jean Racine’s play, newly translated by Canadian novelist Evie Christie. Necessary Angel is also producing the English language premiere of Tout Comme Elle, created by Siminovitch Prize–winner Brigitte Haentjens. A meditation and exploration of the mother-daughter relationship, it boasts a huge cast of 50 Canadian actresses; chances are, if you’ve seen more than one or two plays in Toronto, you’ve seen at least a few of these women before.
One of the things Luminato touts as a hallmark of its programming are its “accidental encounters with art.” In 2009 it was the giant red ball popping up unexpectedly at various Toronto landmarks, and in 2010, it was the Ship O’ Fools, a 30-foot shipwreck stranded in the middle of Trinity Bellwoods Park. This year, we’d say the closest equivalent to that frivolous, spontaneous fun can be found at the MP3 Experiment, where crowds of festival-goers will meet at one of two locations (depending on their birthdays), simultaneously press play on a designated mp3 file, and blindly follow its instructions en masse. We haven’t listened to the MP3 file yet—hey, we want to be surprised too—but videos of previous experiments by New York City–based organizers Improv Everywhere suggest an amusing, uplifting balance of entertaining ourselves and confusing unsuspecting bystanders.
Introduction and compilation by Laura Godfrey. Images courtesy of Luminato.