FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE
arts and culture
is the ability to approach culture
with the minimum amount of anxiety.
26 -- MOBY DICK directed by Dominic Champagne
is a story of dark obsession, vengeance and of youthful desire
for adventure. Herman Melville pits Man against Nature in this
classic cautionary tale which writers Dominic Champagne and
Bryan Perro strive to bring into a 21st century context in TNM’s
inaugural production for the 2015-2016 season.
Melville’s novel recounts the story of Ishmael (Steve Gagnon),
a youth in search of adventure who turns to the sea and the
world of commercial whaling. Impressionable and romantic, he
winds up on the Péquod, with its rough crew led by second mate
Stubb (Sylvain Marcel), sanctimonious first mate, Starbuck (David
Savard) and brooding captain, Ahab (Normand D’Amour). While
Starbuck steers the ship’s course towards commercial success,
Ahab’s motives are darker and more personal -- to find and kill
the elusive monster whale, Moby Dick, that had previously attacked
and disfigured him.
Moby Dick is not an easy text. Starbuck’s insistence
on industrial efficiency clashes against Ahab’s Old World romantic
mysticism of the sea. Superstition and religion also clash while
Melville throws in generous dollops of exotic culture in the
guise of Polynesian Queequeg (Jean-François Casabonne) who espouses
black magic and cannibalism, contrasting sharply with Starbuck’s
Puritan work ethic.
Indeed to bring all of these various themes into play Perro
and Champagne pack in as much dialogue as they can, resulting
in stilted pacing where long periods of verbal exposition are
pierced by instances of intense, violent, frenetic activity.
While the actors do an impressive job in attempting to balance
these opposing poles, the dramatic effect is somewhat stifled
under the weight of the information the play attempts to transmit.
To add to the mix, the off-stage live soundtrack is incessant
as are the whale vocals of Frédérike Bédard. No doubt, Bédard
has an impressive range. However, after several repetitions,
the vocals become a predictable trope that only contributes
to an already cluttered soundscape.
Moreover, all of that information goes to show how entrenched
the belief in the supremacy of man over Nature was in the 19th
century -- ideals further underscored by the ecstasy with which
the crew carry out the task of hunting the whales. All of this
may strike a modern spectator as rather pointless, not to mention
odious. More odious still is the seeming lack of imagination
with which 'exotic' characters like Queequeg are written. His
character reads and behaves like the stereotypical 'Injun' found
in 20th century media. That he is also written to provide comic
relief with his ubiquitous utterance of “OK” is altogether unfortunate.
Unquestionably, Moby Dick attempts to provide a popular
spectacle. In this the production is somewhat successful, with
Champagne's impressive mise-en-scène that uses all of the modern
tricks of the trade. The harpooning scenes are cleverly executed
and plenty of water is used, creating a very visceral representation
of the sea. However, the play undercuts itself by its own insistence
on detailing the numerous motives that animate its characters.
In the end the play merely presents the novel’s central themes
rather than engaging with them; despite all the heavy talk,
the play remains a grand adventure driven by youthful romanticism
and an old man’s vengeful folly. In this, the warning against
man’s rapacious appetite for natural resources not only becomes
a footnote but an anachronism given the amount of energy expended
to portray the ecstasy of the hunt. In refusing to address why
the whale -- Nature -- is written as 'monstrous' to begin with,
Moby Dick merely regurgitates a 19th century ethic,
without criticism and with too much noise. Moby Dick runs at
TNM until October 17, 2015. http://www.tnm.qc.ca
LES FRANCOFOLIES DE MONTREAL
17 -- ALACLAIR ENSEMBLE
year to year, one will find the usual suspects of sorts at Francofolies
and this year is no exception. A language-specific music festival
will indubitably strive to feature the best (and most commercially
successful) talent of Québec and other Francophone communities
in Canada, as well as the global francophonie. The real gems,
however, are often found away from paid venues and the main
outdoor stage which tends to feature more popular, universally
palatable acts. Last Wednesday’s late evening show on
the Scène Bell, directly behind the SPVM headquarters,
is a perfect example -- and what better stage than this one
for a hip-hop show.
group in question is Alaclair, a collective of rappers that
have, since 2010, created a unique, politically and socially
charged style of hip-hop that purports to mix Québec’s
oral tradition of rigodon and Detroit inspired hip-hop. Alaclair’s
so-called 'post-rigodon' blends the type of self-referential
myth making found in hip-hop collaborations like Deltron 3030
with irreverent jibes at the social and political structures
of Québec and Canada at large -- and, yes sometimes they
do break into spontaneous spells of rigodon.
core of this reformatting of identity lies in the redefinition
of the historical colonial entities of haut and bas
Canada. Haut Canada is associated with the current
wave of conservatism and Anglophile adherence to the British
monarchy, while Bas Canada is defined as the 'homeland'
of post-rigodon, and all the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual cultures
of Québec. Bas-canada, however, is actually
the ship of state on which Alaclair sails, and whose synthesized
identity is a mix of what the group believe to be real Québecois
values (diversity, independence, respect of individual rights
and a collective social vision), and a farcical fusion of various
regional differences and delineations as seen through the lens
of the group’s slang lexicon. Alaclair uses this identity
to simultaneously poke fun at our collective conceits, while
delivering some scathing criticism of what they feel is going
three full length albums out since 2010, Alaclair is not showing
signs of weakening. Their website is an introduction to their
world and includes a glossary of terms they developed and use
in their lyrics. Often hilarious, and bordering on the zany
-- especially in their loosely choreographed and hyper-energized
stage act -- the hyperbole of some of their material transcends
hip-hop to rest firmly in a Québec comic tradition that
touches circus and improv.
does all of this mean to a spectator, who happens upon Scène
Bell at 11pm on a Wednesday evening? The smell of marijuana
wafts through a crowd who enthusiastically recites the lyrics
to the ensemble’s well known tracks. The attitude on stage
and in the audience seems less confrontational and more conspiratorial,
as if everyone is in on the joke. The crowds are mixed, convening
from across generations and genres. The show is at once serious
and humorous with a lot of improvisation that touches the ridiculous.
all, the beats are tight as is the rap. The transitions and
breaks -- slightly ragged at times -- are for the most well
executed (props to the DJ). The guys on stage obviously know
each other well. There is a sense of collective effort without
much grandstanding and the stage act is organized, coherent
and visually entertaining. In short, a great show and a pleasant
discovery of this hip-hop vision, universal in its scope and
inspiration and specific to the issues and politics of les
babouines et babouins -- meaning all of us who happen to
live, play, work and pay taxes here in Bas canada and
who are hip to Alaclair’s jive.
17 -- THE TASHME PROJECT: THE LIVING ARCHIVES, Julie Tamiko
Manning, Matt Miwa
at MAI (Montréal, arts interculturels) until May 17th,
is a two-person show about the internment of Japanese-Canadians
during the Second World War. This deeply personal project was
created by Julie Tamiko Manning and Matt Miwa, both descendants
of Japanese-Canadian parents and grandparents who lived first-hand
this period of upheaval and destruction of Japanese communities.
dozens of interviews over the course of several years, both
creators trace their families’ interment to a Vancouver
Island camp called Tashme. During the play, they act out these
interviews, taking turns to embody their subjects and tell their
personifications move beyond documentary theatre to become auto-ethnographies.
Manning and Miwa assemble their own family histories through
the archive they’ve collected as well as the anecdotes
they perform on stage, simultaneously giving voices to their
community’s suppressed history. In so doing, performance
of The Tashme Project embodies the archive it constructs,
evoking, variously, the emotional contexts and personal subtexts
of lived experience.
play makes clear that government policy at the time had been
designed to create a cultural genocide. Internment was a first
step that sought the physical destruction of communities through
disenfranchisement. In the post-war period, the policy of dispersal
-- programmed isolation -- and repatriation, fully severed cultural,
familial and community bonds. Finally, the unchecked racism
and prejudice against people of Japanese descent after the war,
consequently motivated inter-marriage as Japanese-Canadians
sought to blend into the communities in which they found themselves.
play is well directed by Edmonton-based Mieko Okuchi and enriched
by great lighting and stage design. The recurring figure of
the origami crane is a strong cultural identifier as well as
a poignant symbol of Miwa and Manning’s efforts to give
voice to the suffering of their ancestors and to honour their
wounded community. Touching, informative and fascinating in
its approach, The Tashme Project: The Living Archive
is a very worthwhile and humbling experience. For more information,
MAY 10 -- AN ADVENTURE ON STAGE: TOUR DU MONDE EN 80
JOURS, Hugo Bélanger, Théâtre Tout à
Trac, Théâtre du nouveau monde
Bélanger’s company, Théâtre Tout à
Trac has cemented a reputation for tackling projects that are
difficult to stage. From Alice in Wonderland to Baron von Munchhausen,
it can be said that the company specializes in material heavily
dependent on imagination and fantasy. Jules Verne’s classic
Tour du monde en jours (Around the World in 80
Days) therefore seems like a perfect challenge for Bélanger
and his team.
author Verne’s popularity is universal. He is the second
most translated author in the world after Agatha Christie and
regarded generally as one of the progenitors of modern speculative
fiction. Verne’s stories challenged his contemporaries’
imaginations by expanding upon then modern technology and looking
beyond into a future that pushes these technologies even further.
Verne looks ahead at the potential problematics of the industrial
revolutions’s philosophy of control by consistently challenging
his characters with the unknown and exploding their certainty
and arrogance. While Around the World in 80 Days is
most certainly a 19th century French poke at English stuffiness,
it is also an acknowledgment of Victorian England’s preeminent
place as the superpower of the time.
Philéas Fogg (Benoît Gouin), a supremely wealthy
member of an exclusive London club -- The Reform Club -- who
bets three influential members (also representing the business
élite of England) half of his fortune that he is able
to circumnavigate the world in 80 days. Fogg’s confidence
is total as is his belief in his ability to control every factor
of his voyage down to the last second. He engages the wandering
jack of all trades Jean Passepartout (Stéphane Breton)
-- whom he finds looking for work at the club -- to accompany
him and sets off in a flurry of timetables and precise calculations.
story takes Fogg and his manservant from London, to Suez, Bombay,
Calcutta, Hong Kong, Yokohama, San Francisco and New York before
crossing the Atlantic to complete the voyage. Bélanger
and company’s stage design and mise-en-scène replicates
this journey through representations of various theatrical traditions
from around the world in order to situate the audience without
overly complicated sets and props. In fact, the stage design
and mise-en-scène are as wondrous as Verne’s novels
must have been. In each of the dozens of tableaux, items transform
from crates to office desks; trunks transform into armchairs;
instruments into beer barrels and elephants’ trunks. The
constantly shifting, minimalist sets create a fast paced dynamic
that creates a real sense of movement and travel.
through this, a cast of four people -- apart from the four main
characters -- become dozens, and form the cultural backdrops
through which Fogg marches with Passepartout in tow. Using puppets,
shadow theatre, and adaptations of folk dances and various cultural
traditions, each stop on the leg of the journey becomes a window
into a culture, eventually coming to resonate in Fogg’s
mind. The physical voyage transforms into a voyage of self-discovery
-- discovery of a global complexity that Victorian arrogance
and chauvinism works to replace with a hyper-rationalist, technocratic
catalyst of this growth is Verne’s indispensable Princess
Aouda (Tania Kontoyanni) -- an Indian princess and wife of a
recently deceased maharaja, who is destined to a ceremonial
death in order to follow her husband into the afterlife. Cultures
clash here and Fogg’s European rationalism steamrolls
over this tradition, deciding to ‘rescue’ her. By
doing so, he inadvertently uproots Aouda from her native culture,
forcing her to take to the road along with Fogg and his manservant.
To further complicate things, Fogg and his crew are continually
accosted by an Inspector Fix (Carl Béchard), a London
super-sleuth who is convinced that Fogg is the culprit behind
a recent robbery of forty thousand pounds from the Bank of England.
spectacle is truly fun to behold and the costume changes and
transitions are nearly seamless. The mise-en-scène is
at times quite abstract, which seems to further reinforce Bélanger
and company’s interest in the imaginary, challenging the
audience to fill in the blanks. The mechanical precision that
animates Fogg’s Being is cleverly mirrored on stage in
the precision of the constantly transforming stage.
are, of course, several problems with the material and these
lie mainly in the various cultural representations. While Bélanger
has stated his disinterest in cultural precision -- preferring
a broad brush with which to paint his strokes -- a 21st century
audience may nevertheless cringe at representations of native
cultures that conflate Sioux-Lakota language with Kwakiutl ceremonial
dances. Equally uncomfortable is the humorous non verbal communication
of the ‘natives’ in India and the Middle East. It
seems fair to expect that a production taking the pains to translate
text into Sioux-Lakota and Mandarin could have perhaps accorded
the same respect to the rest of the world. That a foreign language
can sound incomprehensible is nothing strange in itself; yet,
it becomes decidedly more objectionable when it is used as the
locus of comedy that in turn creates a caricature of a culture
and a people.
audience reaction to these various devices point to fairly serious
ambiguities in the script and stage direction, begging the question
whether these representations were conscious or accidental.
It is therefore difficult to remain ambivalent to the power
politics of the play. While the source text could perhaps be
excused for various Euro-centric and perhaps racist representations,
a modern production that sought to re-work the original ought
have shown a little more cultural sensitivity.
performances err on the side of bawdy humour, caricature and
even burlesque, making this a play, which, despite some profound
considerations, rests very much near the surface. Ethno-cultural
issues -- which will surely elicit quiet groans from among the
more culturally sensitive -- aside, Tour du monde en 80
jours remains a superb show with spectacular stage design
and innovative mise-en-scène that truly captures the
sense of movement and travel. The play, presented at Théâtre
du noveau monde, runs through May 23rd, 2015. Please visit www.tnm.qc.ca
for ticket and show times.
MAR. 24 -- THÉÂTRE DU NOVEAU MONDE'S BRILLIANT
RICHARD III, Brigitte Haentjens, director
production of Shakespeare’s Richard III is a
master class on staging a classic play with a modern mise-en-scène.
From set design and stage direction, to costume, music, lighting
and choreography, director Brigitte Haentjens’ version
of this most famous of Shakespeare’s historical plays
is a great example of how minimalist staging and simple design
elements combine to draw an audience into a play’s world
and focus its attention on the action.
complex character of Richard, Duke of Gloucester -- who usurps
the English crown becoming Richard III -- poses particular challenges.
Though superficially a murderous psychopath, who will let nothing
stand in his path to the crown, Shakespeare’s Gloucester
is also a deeply scarred human being who is stigmatized by his
disability and ostracized for his recalcitrant character. It
is thus difficult to judge how this monster came to exist, but,
in 15th century terms, Richard was a freak of nature whose deformity
was seen as a curse from God. Thus, rather like Beowulf’s
Grendel, Richard can be understood as a monster who takes up
the mantle of his own perceived monstrosity.
Richard is similarly nuanced. While noting that she initially
understood him to be an undeniable psychopath, subsequent readings
unveiled a “richer and more paradoxical” character
for which the pursuit is itself the goal -- and one that loses
all luster once achieved. There is an undercurrent, in Haentjens’
Richard, of vindictive rage, petulance and resentment that subverts
his cool, scheming surface to betray a more complex, and ultimately
more human character. Though not overtly tragic in the tradition
of a Lear or Macbeth, Richard’s tragedy
lies in his conscious choice to descend into his rage and become
the monster he is assumed to be.
of this dark vastness is brought to stage by Sebastien Ricard’s
phenomenal performance, whose powerfully physical interpretation
sees Richard contorted, limping, weak and unsteady on his feet.
In monologues, we meet the Machiavellian schemer -- clearly
far more intelligent than his kin -- who makes light of the
ease of orchestrating murder and forcing others to submit to
his will. In other scenes, however, we see the deep resentment,
hurt and anger caused by years of abandonment. We are led to
believe that this is a game for him, yet, we understand that
the game is deeply personal.
several important scenes, Haentjens steps out of her comfort
zone to deliver incredibly physical and visceral performances,
some of which are quite disturbing. One great example is Richard’s
seduction of Lady Anne, played wonderfully by Sophie Desmarais,
who proves equal to Ricard in her physicality. The scene successfully
negotiates a chief obstacle in Richard III -- Anne’s totally
unbelievable conversion from vengeful widow to submissive object
-- by focusing on the physical struggle between her and Richard.
Desmarais and Ricard masterfully bring out the physical and
internal struggles of the two characters, though it is by no
means easy to watch someone being stripped of her agency and
autonomy. Equally troubling is the violent confrontation between
Richard and Queen Elizabeth (Sylvie Drapeau) when he unveils
his plan to legitimize his royal line. These two scenes give
the most terrifying glimpse into the depth of Richard’s
monstrosity, one that grows exponentially when he finally finds
himself, alone, paranoid and dissatisfied, on the throne.
Despite the aforementioned exceptions, the staging remains generally
static, with Haentjens seeming to prefer her actors arranged
as if in a tableau. While this arrangement does work to cast
a virtual spotlight on Richard, it nevertheless relegates others
to rather statuesque roles. Since Ricard’s energy and
presence is so consuming, one hopes that other actors gain confidence
during the production’s run to display their talents more
clearly and confront Ricard’s energy more directly.
these rather small details, Richard III is nevertheless brilliantly
produced and directed. The minimalist stage is contoured to
maximize the fluidity of scene changes and provides a marvelous
surface on which action can develop. Haentjens exploits elevation
in many scenes with multiple characters and gives a physical
dimension to Richard’s manipulations as he often skulks
in the background only to enter the action from odd angles.
As if in conscious contrast to the mostly static dialogue scenes,
Haentjens delivers highly dynamic battle scenes that must be
experienced. The staging also highlights the magnificent costumes
by Yso. Thoroughly modern in cut and form, they nevertheless
reference Elizabethan fashions, and their brocaded patterns
transform in hue and sheen in different lighting against the
with nearly any production of Richard III, Haentjens’
version makes very particular editing choices. While most productions
cut the role of Queen Marguerite -- Henry VI’s widow --
Jean Marc Dalpé’s excellent translation retains
this most important role that informs a great deal of the subtext
of the current plot. Marguerite’s contempt for her family
extends beyond Richard, to show a continuum of intrigue, manipulation
and familial violence that has left her a widow with murdered
children, and ungrateful heirs who all have blood on their hands.
In this context, Richard’s conquest of the crown seems
but a continuation of the bloody conflicts recently past. Richard
III is an important play and should be seen. It runs through
April 4th 2015 at TNM before going on tour to the National Arts
Center in Ottawa.
MAR. 19 -- LANG LANG SOLO 2015
Italian Concerto, BWV 971
Tchaikovsky: Les Saisons, Op. 37bis
Chopin: Four Scherzos
his visit to Montreal, Lang Lang has once again demonstrated
a giant talent, immense love and deep respect for the music
he performs. We can tell ourselves many stories about propriety,
however, when witnessing fabulously talented people perform
-- be it in feats of amazing sportsmanship or artistic performance
-- it often does not look pretty. It is just that.
Friday’s solo recital, Lang Lang returned to revisit three
loves: his perennial favourites, Bach and Chopin, and the OSM’s
incredible Steinway Concert grand. In 2012, audiences were treated
to Bach’s Partita 1 and Op. 25 of Chopin’s
Études, several of which like No. 11 redefined
understanding. This year, he returned with Bach’s Italian
Concerto, and Chopin’s all four Scherzi, all of which
he gave a unique, often bombastic treatment.
surely not alone, Lang Lang is nevertheless singular in his
approach to the works he chooses, demonstrating a deep understanding
of the history of music, allowing him to penetrate to more fundamental
levels of each text. What seems at first strange -- as in the
nearly unreal tempo of Op. 25 No.11 -- announces a paradigm
shift that unlocks an as yet unheard subtlety. It is generally
accepted that literary texts may hold more than what their authors
intended. Similarly, dynamics, conventions and temporal indications
may have been a composer’s intentions; however, by subverting
these mostly inherited conventions, the works may, today, fulfill
an undreamed of and, as yet unrealized, possibility. This is
Lang Lang’s vision and he is convincing most of the time.
stunning contrast between Bach and Chopin -- separated by a
gulf of more than a century -- made the recital fascinating
as it applied this subversive tendency to starkly different
eras with uncanny success. In Bach’s Italian Concerto,
the strongly accented left hand along with carefully chosen
temporal alterations -- especially in the external movements
-- brought out an unexpected exuberance. Lang Lang pulled his
punches in the Bach, shortening notes to near staccato with
added force that paid direct homage to the work’s original
conception for a 2-manual harpsichord set to different registers.
Bach’s idea for the concerto as an orchestra compressed
into one instrument, thereby became more clearly articulated
and incredibly exciting.
forceful as Lang Lang can be, his playing does not feel obstinate;
he does not attempt to break the text to his will. Through his
clarity of expression and incredible dynamic control, his arguments
for interpretation are transmitted with the absolute sincerity
of discovery as if saying, "See, here, what I found? Please
let me show you!”
Lang Lang discovered in the four Scherzi is a vast store of
energy -- a frenzied, consuming, nearly untamable darkness that
can overwhelm, if not tempered by a forced tranquility. The
Italians developed the scherzo -- meaning 'joke' -- as a fast,
lighthearted form that was to transmit humour. Whatever humour
there is in Chopin’s scherzi delivers a forceful punchline
and perhaps sees only one person laughing. In this context Scherzo
No. 2’s opening, for example, becomes a mysterious hide
and seek game that turns rather terrifying. The blistering pace
of the main theme’s exposition, which when played slower
is almost dancelike, becomes a mocking deconstruction of dance.
in these huge contrasts, Lang Lang nevertheless evolved each
Scherzo’s trademark theme with aching care. Presenting
each passage in a slightly more disjointed manner, with more
violent dynamic changes, the pianist exposed more directly the
underlying violence and tension underpinning the whole of each
Scherzo. He thus argues that Chopin’s Scherzi ought to
be taken at their original meaning, but, that one must be willing
to accept that the jokes come from a deeply unsettling place
of darkness and emotional excess expressed through self-deprecating
humour, biting irony and bitter sarcasm. In short: a truly disturbing
and utterly unforgettable experience.
these poles of incredible performance, it is difficult to integrate
Tchaikovsky’s monstrous Les Saisons. Not to suggest
that the suite of vignettes evoking themes from each calendar
month (the original was called Mesici, meaning 'months') is
less worthy material; rather, that the sprawling 40-minute run
time may have been a little too much for an already challenging
programme. Replete with beautiful themes intertwined with grandly
expressive technical passages, Les Saisons is a dense work that
requires a great deal of attention. Unfortunately, after an
emotionally exhausting Bach, many in the audience were perhaps
wishing for snow sometime around midsummer.
Tchaikovsky, Lang Lang came full circle and out of left field
-- as he did with the Schubert during his last visit -- to make
a giant statement in front of a crowd that leapt to its feet
in raucous applause and would not sit down until appeased with
two encores. The second encore, Für Elise, beautifully
dovetailed into the overall theme of subversion by jeering wildly
at its often clichéd presentation. The incredibly emotional
applause that followed, permeated by whistles and cheers, signaled
loudly that Montreal’s audience more than understood Lang
Lang’s propos. Hopefully the young pianist will miss the
Steinway enough to soon return.
MAR. 17 -- LANG LANG IN THE HOUSE!, Kent Nagano, the
OSM and Lang Lang, piano
many problems plague our planet, we are very fortunate to live
in an era in which professionalism, technical excellence, and
mastery of a vast repertoire is expected of modern orchestras.
Given the large body of scholarship that continues to inform
interpretation, we no longer exist in a time where a single,
“correct” interpretation of a piece of music can
be demanded, imposed, or expected of an ensemble or soloist.
One should therefore not be surprised by interpretations that
may thwart convention.
Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor is only one of two
piano concertos the composer wrote in a minor key. It is also
considered to be among his best works. Many have put great emphasis
on its dark, tempestuous aspects, which tend to define accepted
interpretations. With its various unusual structural innovations,
No. 24 challenged more than a few conventions of its day, and
it is comforting to witness contemporary musicians such as Lang
Lang take a different stance and offer fresh possibilities in
the interpretation of Western music’s masterworks.
performance was ethereal not only because of Lang Lang’s
complete presence in the music, but also because Maestro Nagano
and the OSM were equally attuned to the soloist, thus bringing
No. 24 to new heights accord between piano and ensemble. This
was especially apparent in Lang Lang’s conversation with
the winds, whose solos he matched with incredible anticipation
Lang confounded the long standing view that No. 24
is inherently a sombre, brooding text. The mixture of lighthearted
treatment punctuated by a boisterous, accented left hand created
more contrasted dynamics and a less polished texture. These
elements created a starkly different reading, one that does
not assume a constant undercurrent of darkness. Instead, Lang
Lang and the OSM presented a more emotional, explosive Mozart
who oscillated between frenzied highs, deeper, violent lows,
and possessed by fragile moments of intense yearning. This exceptional
interpretation of No. 24 should not be mistaken for
youthful folly; rather, Lang Lang seems to have made specific
choices that more closely connect with a historical Mozart whose
anxiety and darkness often seems to have been subverted by extravagant
exuberance and derisive, base humour.
was phenomenal energy in La Maison symphonique -- one that must
surely have had an effect on the symbiosis on stage. Beginning
with a fluid, delicately accented, Haydn Symphony No.30
in C major, the orchestra then added 23 members, arranged
on a single level stage, for Edgar Varèse’s iconic
Amériques. Last performed in Montreal in the 80s under
the baton of Charles Dutoit, Nagano did well to prepare the
audience for Varèse as few people were ready for the
massive onslaught of sound, exotic percussion, sirens, straining
strings and huge dynamics. The piece is a seminal work by the
modern French composer, who was so affected by the urban cacophony
of New York that he sought to develop an instrumentation adequately
evocative of the 'urban nature' he experienced and for which
the Romantic musical notions of Nature had no answer. The OSM
and Maestro Nagano did great justice to a composer whose work
is today regarded as a major influence on modern orchestral
to more classical themes, the orchestra tackled Prokofiev’s
delightful 'Classic' Symphony No.1 in D major, which
seeks to expand on Classical structures with a modern harmony
and instrumentation. It is both homage and satire, continuously
challenging the classical ear with hints of discord, chromatic
anomaly and jabs at classical cliché -- the last of which
is particularly evident in the Larghetto. The orchestra obviously
had a great deal of fun with Prokofiev -- as did their conductor
who, unusually, pranced upon the dais in moments of particular
is quite evident that Lang Lang enjoys performing in Montréal.
Equally evident is Maestro Nagano’s warm relationship
with the pianist as well as the orchestra’s respect for
him. In all, the fit could hardly have been better and the audience
was treated very memorable performance. Not to be missed: Espace
musique 100.7FM will re-broadcast the concert on April 13, 2015
on its Soirées classiques program.
MAR. 14 -- IN DEFENCE OF EXPRESSION AND "SOUL,"
Lang Lang and Body Language
grand week for classical and orchestral music has concluded
with three concerts given by Chinese piano superstar Lang Lang.
Grace of the incredible generosity of the Larry and Cookie Family
Foundation who sponsor the young pianist as the foundation’s
artist in residence, La Maison Symphonique staged two concerts
with orchestra and piano Wednesday and Thursday, followed by
a Lang Lang solo recital last night. Upon reading some curious
objections to Lang Lang’s body language and performance
style in some major Montréal dailies -- and subsequently
overhearing these same criticisms repeated among concertgoers
-- this present article takes pause to offer a different perspective.
Lang occupies a curious place in the world of classical music.
Though undisputed genius and brilliant interpreter, he nevertheless
continues to be called out for being a showman -- a “rock
star” -- whose stage presence detracts from his virtuosity.
It seems that his mannerisms, gestures and demeanour on stage
-- a vivacity that has endeared him to audiences worldwide --
continues to disturb certain critics who find it self-indulgent,
irreverent and even distracting.
Lang is young and dynamic. He does not hide his enthusiasm;
rather, he uses it to inspire audiences -- especially young
audiences -- to enter into their own communion with music. In
China he has sparked a revolution in classical music teaching
with hundreds of thousands of kids taking up his chosen instrument.
He -- like Montréal’s own superstar, Yannick Nézet-Séguin
-- donates his time to work with young performers and ensembles
because he wants to share his passion.
the debate about propriety in what is surely considered by many
outsiders as a stodgy, conservative world, rings somewhat false.
Worse, there may even be a double standard that many insiders
are loath to admit, leaving room for some established critics
to persist in framing Lang Lang’s performance as narcissistic
-- that of one who likes the sound of his own playing. Curiously,
no one has levelled the same accusation at Nézet-Séguin
though the conductor’s exuberance, irreverence and unbridled
passion resemble Lang Lang’s in many respects.
performance, in any musical genre, is often the domain of genius.
Hypersensitive, expressive people, who interpret gigantic works
of music, all have their idiosyncrasies -- one only needs to
listen to a recording of Glenn Gould to confirm this. A few
weeks ago, Montréal’s audiences were treated to
a great performance by the ageing -- animated, smiling and humming
-- Emmanuel Ax. Nothing, however, was made in the press of Ax’s
performing style, even though his rather obvious vociferations
should have prompted similar grumbles for -- if we are to use
the same yardstick -- obviously the man enjoyed hearing himself
does the classical music world appear to have a selective problem
with the physical expression of music? Why is it that some are
scrutinized more than others? Is it because they do not conform
to the establishment’s view of how an artist should comport
him or herself? Are there other factors at play?
are generally accepting of physical expressions of music though
only in certain genres. We do not begrudge jazz musicians or
blues artists their body language; no one has ever accused Ray
Charles of “swaying funny and smiling” while doing
what he does, never mind the world of electronic or rock music.
Thus far, eccentricities in classical performance have been
variously explained away or wilfully ignored until, it seems,
a young Chinese man took the classical music world by the horns
and made it his very own.
music -- perhaps any music -- is subject to interpretation and
re-interpretation and given that styles, attitudes and tastes
change, one cannot fault Lang Lang for his artistry: one can
merely disagree. Still some continue to feel entitled to subject
the other, integral, aspect of his artistry to undue (and, it
must here be stated, unfair) scrutiny. How can one celebrate
an artist’s virtuosity and criticise him for an extension
of that virtuosity? Is it because, although classical music
purportedly deals with the highest forms of human emotional
expression, it is loth to admit that space exists for “soul”?
debate about the propriety and sincerity of Lang Lang’s
performance style should, itself, be deemed inappropriate; instead
his body language should be considered – as such it truly
is -- an extension of his emotional expression and connection
with the music, the orchestra and the audience. And in this,
he is flawless.
FEB. 27 -- OLDER, Yael Naim
the course of their collaboration, French-Israeli singer-songwriter
Yael Naim, and long-time writing partner David Donatien have
developed a particularly appealing style of impish vocal melodies
set to catchy instrumental arrangements. It is perhaps because
of this combination that Apple chose “New Soul,”
from the 2007 album Yael Naim et David Donatien, as
the theme song for their launch of Macbook Air in 2008. Far
from being one-hit wonders though, they continue to craft and
evolve this sound to this day.
Soul” exemplifies a core vocal and instrumental trend
in Naim and Donatien’s music, although it is only one
dimension of their versatile song writing. The two find inspiration
in gospel, jazz, folk and blues alike. Venturing into more traditional
structures, Naim confidently draws on her classical training
to create elaborate vocal and instrumental arrangements.
Naim’s fourth studio album, Older, -- and the
third co-produced and co-written with Donatien -- follows 2010’s
critically acclaimed She Was a Boy, which won her best female
vocalist award at the 2011 Globes de Cristal (France’s
Grammys). Though the affirmative innocence of Naim’s vocals
and her trademark, playful and upbeat, melodies continue to
anchor the musical narrative, these elements are heavily tempered
by more sombre themes and further experiments with orchestration
and musical genres.
Naim thus shifts gears in Older, turning out more self-reflexive,
less idealistic material. Songs that may seem light-hearted
are, in fact, underscored by a deeper resolve that reveals greater
confidence and maturity. Tracks like, “I Walk Until”
and “Dream in My Head,” speak to life lessons learned
the hard way, giving a sense, in lines such as, ‘now I
might lose myself/but no longer need to hide,’ that one
is listening to a diary set to music.
cuts loose, showing her range and versatility in the brilliant
“Trapped” whose themes and music are reminiscent
of the raw frankness of Winehouse and the soulful power of Adele.
“Coward” is a force of musical complexity and intricate
vocal harmonies, showing Naim’s talent and familiarity
with classical music. This song, above any other, exemplifies
the confidence that lies at the core of the album as a whole.
Ending on a deeply personal note, the title track “Older”
and “Meme Iren Song,” deal with ageing and loss.
Naim too is older and these themes show the shift in values
and priorities that signal a new maturity. The power of the
album lies precisely in this contrast between deceivingly simple,
beautifully orchestrated, melodies and airy vocals whose unpretentious
lyrical sincerity resonates in often personal, and painful subject
matter. “She Said”’s tuba bass line, contrasted
with Naim’s soft vocals and the 3some Sisters’ precise
harmonies, makes lines like, "It’s what you find,
when you’re low/that makes you grow," all the more
poignant. The double entendre is found throughout the album,
making for a deeply moving experience that keeps evolving with
is a very soft-spoken statement, which can be missed without
close listening, for the overly easy-going and uncomplicated
surface of Naim and Donatien’s rich soundscape can deceive
the listener into dismissing the broader, deeper and altogether
profound substance found in every track. Older is available
on March 17th, 2015.
Feb. 25 -- MOLIÈRE RELOADED: THÉÂTRE
DU RIDEAU VERT’S THE MISANTHROPE, Michel Monty
like Shakespeare, is perfectly suited to reinterpretation. Though
systems change along with ideologies, human nature remains,
often working to confound and explode our more 'refined' pretensions.
And so Molière, like the Bard, mercilessly satirizes
our essential humanity, drawing out the eternal paradoxes that
resonate across the ages, whether at a royal court, a parliament
house or a dinner party at the in-laws’.
one of Molière’s great anti-heroes: Alceste (François
Papineau). Sickened by the moral failings of the French aristocracy,
he lashes out against politesse, insisting on utter frankness
as a salve for the hypocrisy of others. He longs for a nobler
world where truth, genuine affection and honesty reign. In short,
he drives himself to distraction by the faults of others without
necessarily examining his own too closely.
core of Molière’s comedy lies in the complex courtship
of Célimène (Bénédicte Décary)
who is the object of Alceste’s affection. Though he worships
and adores her, Célimène’s tacit acceptance
of, and participation in, élite Parisian society is as
distasteful to him as is the presence of his rivals, Oronte
(Stéphane Jacques), Acaste (Luc Bourgeois) and Clitandre
(Frédéric Pierre). While he demonizes them for
their vacuous hypocrisy and ulterior motives, his own are not
so pure; he means to get rid of them out of jealousy and possessiveness.
Hypocrisy becomes the white elephant in the room, which everyone
but Alceste seems to accept.
cast is very good indeed, with frequent flashes of brilliance.
Nuanced delivery beautifully animates Molière’s
verse and succeeds in imbuing the poetry with a conversational
quality that is a joy to experience. Papineau and Décary
are great in their lovers’ duels, with Décary often
coming out on top with her range of expression. Regrettably,
Papineau’s over-focus on Alceste’s anger tends to
flatten his character in contrast with other cast members, who
better evoke the more sinister dimensions of their characters.
Stéphane Jacques’ Oronte shows glimmers of menacing
malevolence that are a pleasure to behold. Likewise,
Isabelle Vincent is very good as self-righteous Arsinoé
and even better when she bears her fangs of envy and ill will.
Luc Bourgeois plays the marquis Acaste with a deliciously self-assured
petulance. It is understandable then, that David Savard’s
overly subdued Philinte, and Frédéric Pierre’s
all-too-phlegmatic Clitandre appear somewhat flat alongside
Parisian salon is transposed to a luxurious loft in Montréal’s
Old Port, whose inspired interior beautifully mixes styles to
reference Louis XIV opulence within a sleek modernity. Consequently,
set design and costumes make hilariously ironic statements that
otherwise would have been lost in a period production. Finally,
while pushing the comic aspects of Molière’s characters
to the forefront, director Michel Monty never allows the comedy
to devolve into farce thus creating razor-sharp satire that
is ever so poignant. Together, Théatre du Rideau Vert
and Michel Monty do Molière great justice. Do not miss
Le Misanthrope, which finishes its run on February
28th, 2015. http://www.rideauvert.qc.ca
JAN. 18 - LE JOURNAL D'ANNE FRANK directed by Lorraine
story of Anne Frank occupies a special place in the Canadian
context. This country’s connection to the Dutch struggle
against the Nazis and its granting of asylum to the Dutch Royal
family have forged a deep bond. Though not among his renowned
works, French author and playwright Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s
Le Journal d’Anne Frank is not only an homage
to young Anne’s hopeful vision for the world, it is also
a meditation on loss, memory and paternal love. It is therefore
all too fitting that Schmitt’s play see its North American
here at Montréal Théatre du Nouveau Monde (TNM)
in the year that will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the
end of the conflict that saw millions of lives extinguished.
play opens on a frantic Otto Frank (Paul Doucet) waiting at
the station amidst the flux of displaced people flowing back
into the Dutch capital. Survivor of the camps, he makes a daily
pilgrimage to the station in desperate hope to reunite with
his daughters Anne (Mylène St-Sauveur) and Margot (Kaisa
Malinowska). Each day he returns dispirited to his company office
where his longtime assistant, Miep Gies (Sophie Prégent),
attempts to keep hope alive. It is not long before we learn
of Anne and Margot’s deaths. This sends him into dark
grief. Trying to console him, Miep gives Otto Anne’s diary,
one she had locked in a drawer following the family’s
Thus begins the main propos of Schmitt’s play. Otto struggles
to reconcile with his loss through peaks into Anne’s diary.
Each part he reads stirs vivid memories of the family’s
exile in the ‘Secret Annexe.' However, he discovers much
more: a daughter’s love for her father, her thoughts,
dreams impressions, desires -- an overwhelmingly personal and
honest account of her experiences. Not only is Otto forced to
accept his youngest child’s death, he must also confront
and accept her Self, her womanhood, her unique vision of the
world that clashes completely with his loss, rage and grief.
Lorraine Pintal bravely tackles this tension and dichotomy at
the heart of Schmitt’s work, perhaps best exemplified
by the play’s excellent stage design, which delineates
space on two levels, the company office in the foreground, and
the Secret Annexe on a platform above and behind it. These two
spaces animate the two worlds of past and present, memory and
reality, allowing them to exist simultaneously on stage and
flow into each other to haunting effect. The
focus of the play is Otto’s rediscovery of Anne through
her diary. His readings in the diary trigger memories that appear
on stage as visions. This is especially poignant in scenes where
Anne takes up Otto’s reading, leaving him frozen on stage
gazing up as his memory materializes above. Pintal’s team
succeeds spectacularly in conjuring up these space-time shifts
through sharp, carefully-timed direction, use of multi-media
and a powerful score composed by Québec artist, Jorane.
St-Sauveur delivers a convincing adolescent Anne whose strong
personality and girlish frivolity often clash with those around
her. Particularly touching are scenes in which Doucet’s
‘Otto’ realizes that his little girl has a private
life of desire well beyond her father’s control. Though
Doucet shines in these moments of being whisked away to another
time and place, his portrayal of Otto in the Annexe is somewhat
blander. While Schmitt’s play provides plenty of avenues
for comic relief, Pintal mostly uses the figure of Augusta Van
Pels (Marie-Hélène Thibault) whose fussy, slightly
hysterical character creates a locus for inter-personal conflict.
Thibault’s somewhat over-the-top delivery is thankfully
tempered by Jacques Girard’s laconic Hermann Van Pels
who nicely fills out the bickering married-couple trope.
performances live up to the quality of the production and it
is perhaps due to opening night jitters that lines don’t
flow as smoothly as they could, with some small lapses in timing
disrupting the effect of shifting time and space so evocatively
created by the mise-en-scène. With a long run at TNM
followed by an extended tour throughout the province, there
is little doubt that these small details will be fully worked
Journal d’Anne Frank is perhaps not for everyone.
The ever-present undercurrent of the Shoah -- a painful subject
at any time -- is especially pertinent in this milestone year
of sombre commemoration. It is therefore not in the spirit of
mourning that the play should be seen but, rather, as a counterpoint
to it -- a moment to ponder the fundamentally hopeful legacy
of Anne Frank and her unshakable belief in inherent human goodness
that would prevail over atrocity and war’s madness.
For further information about events connected with the
please visit http://www.spectramusique.com/artistes/nouvelle.aspx?idN=158&idA=82
JAN. 18 - JORANE: LE JOURNAL D'ANNE FRANK (the music)
challenge of a soundtrack, it seems, is twofold. It must adequately
evoke the visual and narrative elements of the work to which
it is tied and it should also operate as an independent, cohesive
work in absence of the visual dimension in which it serves multiple
functions. Jorane’s unlikely second album of 2014 was
never intended to tackle the second challenge. It was originally
conceived as part of
the TNM production of Éric Emmanuel Schmitt’s 2012
play. Nevertheless, the album’s creation is intimately
connected with the conception of the play -- so much so that
each work of art indelibly inspires the other.
has previously worked with Le Journal d’Anne Frank
director Lorraine Pintal on the production of Albertine en cinq
temps, in which the music played a minor role. After Pintal
approached her about Le Journal, Jorane read the play several
times. Profoundly inspired by the tragic figure of Anne Frank,
she was immediately drawn to the project. From the outset, she
was invited to participate in the readings and worked closely
with the production design crew to integrate music more deeply
into the narrative. Pintal’s vision, seemingly always
open to collaboration, ultimately allowed music to shape the
space of the play and vice versa.
The album Le Journal d’Anne Frank owes its very
existence to Lorraine Pintal’s unequivocal embrace of
Jorane’s music. It was after all Pintal who contacted
label Spectra and pitched the album idea.
an interwoven conception therefore begs the question whether
the album can exist as a cohesive work apart from the theatrical
ground, which nurtured and shaped it. Jorane’s response
is an unequivocal ‘yes’ in that the album project
provided the space needed to follow and develop various ideas
more fully than would have been possible otherwise. Using the
themes present in the play as points of departure, Jorane creates
thematic layers that repeat and evolve throughout the album.
ultimately creates a unique narrative logic allowing the listener
to interact with the music whether or not she has seen the play.
Jorane’s work on Louis Cyr: L’homme le plus
fort du monde (Daniel Roby, 2013) is a milestone experience
for the artist, one she sees as key in enabling her to develop
the orchestrations for Le Journal d’Anne Frank. Work on
the film also allowed her to use tools she would not normally
use in her solo work. The result is an excellent orchestration
that harnesses Jorane’s trademark minimalism; the soundscapes
are often wistful, contemplative and at times playful. Though
there are clearly dark undertones given the nature of the story,
the music never plunges into despair, focusing rather on themes
of memory and love of life. Le Journal d’Anne Frank
features Jorane on cello and voice, and Vanessa Marcoux, on
solo violin, accompanied by the accomplished strings of the
Quatuor Orphée. Colin Gagné’s sound design
for the play is woven into the soundtrack and adds not only
greater depth and texture, but also provides (rather ironically)
a supplementary narrative context allowing the music to soar
far beyond the stage. The result is a moving, haunting, beautifully
orchestrated and played homage to a figure that lies at the
very heart of Jorane’s inspiration. Currently available
online and at the Théatre du nouveau monde until February
7th, 2015. http://www.tnm.qc.ca/piece/journal-danne-frank
13 - JOHNNY LEGDICK: A ROCK OPERA, Jimmy Karamanis, Jonah
Carson, Elijah Fisch, Macleod Truesdale, Tyler Miller
seen at the 2014 Montreal Fringe Festival, Johnny Legdick:
A Rock Opera brings together the collaborative talents
of independent theatre company, Playwright Hero, and Montreal
acoustic rock trio The JEM.
dramatic devices animate the plot of this musical play whose
strength lies predominantly in well directed and cleverly written
numbers. We follow the struggle of a group of freaks in a circus
run by the tyrannical Suckadacocka Lickadagravy (Tadzeo Horner-Chbib).
The arrival into the fold of Johnny Legdick (Colin Macdonald)
-- cursed with a third leg in place of his penis -- revives
an ancient prophecy that casts Johnny as a Moses figure destined
to lead the freaks out from bondage. First though, he must realize
his true love of Hannah Handvag (Arielle Palik), who, you guessed
it, has a hand in place of a vagina!
fun at the core of this spectacle lies in the diffuse talents
of the cast and crew. JEM member and co-writer Jonah Carson
appears as ‘Triclops Boy’ in the Chorus of freaks.
Co-writer Jimmy Karamanis directs the production and plays in
the Johnny Legdick band along with fellow co-writers, Tyler
Miller, [Musical Director] Macleod Truesdale and [JEM member]
Elijah Fisch. Regrettably, Johnny Legdick’s heavy musical
focus also undermines its dramatic and narrative integrity.
While the Chorus seems well directed (and often riotously funny),
other players seem to have been left to their own devices, with
much of the action and dialogue appearing improvised. Although
Arielle Palik’s rich vocal depth and physical talent are
undeniable, her ‘Hannah’ is a mite frenetic, with
nervousness to her body language that could use more focused
expression. Similarly, Tadzeo Horner-Chbib may have missed his
opportunity to fully flesh out the complexity of ‘Suckadacocka,’
whose diabolism is a little too shrill to be either funny or
unnerving. Travis Martin as ‘Steve the Steed’ triumphs
as the equine foil to Colin Macdonald’s reluctant hero
‘Johnny,’ and both actors’ presence and talents
bring the play much-needed dramatic heft. Criticism notwithstanding,
given that this production has its roots in fringe, it is nevertheless
a mighty effort by a group of talented musicians and actors
and one that is ultimately entertaining to behold.
Johnny Legdick: A Rock Opera at Centaur Theatre’s
18th Annual Wildside Theatre Festival, January 7th to 17th,
WINTER SLEEP, Nuri Bilge Ceylan
review] Winner of the Palme d’Or at the
2014 Cannes Film Festival, Winter Sleep is Nuri Bilge
Ceylan’s latest film set in the windswept ‘steppes’
and sandstone formations of Cappadocia in central Anatolia,
where inhabitants had carved out entire cities in in rock.
actor Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) is proprietor of a picturesque,
somewhat isolated, hotel carved into a hillside. Though one
of the local elite, and owner of various properties, he prefers
to leave business matters to his hotel manager, Hidayet (Aybert
Pekcan), and occupy himself with more intellectual matters such
as writing weekly columns in the local paper. His only other
companions during the slow winter months are a few hardy tourists,
his recently divorced sister Necla (Demet Akbag) and young wife
Nihal (Melisa Sözen). A confrontation he witnesses between
a tenant and Hidayet leaves him grasping for his moral compass
and retreating to the sanctum of his study to write an article
about the necessity for propriety, cleanliness and conscience.
wealthy patriarch, Aydin is seemingly respected while also nearly
absent in the community. He styles himself as beacon of morality
and conscience and yet shows disdain for, and disgust with,
humanity. Wealth has granted him the freedom to escape into
his own system of banal morality, which he uses to judge others.
This same privilege allows his immediate family to create their
illusions and, in turn, judge him.
Sleep is masterful but difficult; it lumbers -- perhaps
matching well the pace of its main protagonist who shuffles
about with a false sense of purpose -- and often stalls in scenes
of tense discussion, dripping with resentment and deliciously
cloaked in ulterior motive. Long shots and a static camera reveal
an extraordinarily detailed mise-en-scène that is a joy
to experience and fully justifies the film’s pacing. Exterior
scenes of the region’s beautiful vastness hauntingly mirror
the bleakness that we glimpse within.
forewarned that Winter Sleep is a heavily psychological
film, whose central characters, albeit brilliantly portrayed,
may not be very likeable. Ceylan is, however, non-judgmental
in his treatment, allowing the audience to fully engage with
the film on a fundamental level, which makes for an extremely
touching, completely relatable experience despite the gulf of
culture, time and space.