Kaleidoscope: A New Way of Learning

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After 13 years of teaching opera courses for Kaleidoscope, Toronto’s esteemed and long-running adult learning program, I’m veering off in an entirely different direction. My new Kaleidoscope course is called Conversations with…and here’s the description.

This a chance to get up close and personal with some of Toronto’s (and Canada’s) leading cultural movers and shakers. Paula Citron has invited seven people of renown to join her in an intimate and candid conversation. The first part will be the Life and Times interview with Ms. Citron’s guest, followed by questions from the audience. It promises to be a lively and provocative two hours.

October 15 – Charles Pachter, visual artist and cultural gadfly

October 22 – Noel Edison, conductor, artistic director of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and the Elora Festival Singers, founder of the Elora Festival

October 29 –Matthew Jocelyn, theatre director, artistic and general director of Canadian Stage

November 5 – Marshall Pynkoski, theatre director, and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg, choreographer, co-artistic directors of Opera Atelier

November 12 – William Boyle, chief executive officer, Harbourfront Centre

November 19 – Veronica Tennant, producer, director, and filmmaker, former principal dancer of the National Ballet of Canada

Check out the Kaleidoscope website for details. It will be updated shortly. http://bit.ly/I9fXhF

Soulpepper – Ins Choi’s Kim’s Convenience

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Talk about inspired programming. Soulpepper artistic director Albert Schultz saw a hit show at the Toronto Fringe Festival and put it on his mainstage season along with Henrik Ibsen and Arthur Miller. The play is such a hit that it’s coming back for a repeat run, May 17 to Jun. 9.

Ins Choi’s Kim’s Convenience is set in a Korean-run corner store in the Regent Park neighbourhood. Mention must be made here of Ken MacKenzie’s astonishing set which is so true to life that I gasped when I came into the theatre. Not surprisingly, Kraft Canada Confectionary gets credit in the program.

The slight plot focuses on the owner’s interaction with his customers and family. The latter includes his wife, daughter and estranged son. Choi does try to walk the fine line between laugh out loud humour and sentimentality. He does write very funny dialogue, but there is treacle in the storyline, including the reconciliation with his son, and his daughter’s romance with a black policeman. Nonetheless, one can forgive the sticky sweetness because of the strongly drawn characters. Kudos to director Weyni Mengesha for deftly balancing the light with the heavy, and for putting real life on stage.

The surly, combative and opinionated Appa (father), played by Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, is one of those characters born to charm audiences. Like Archie Bunker, he’s politically incorrect, but also very funny. For example, his anti-Japanese sentiments are so virulent, that he calls 911 because a Japanese car is parked in a no parking zone outside his store. I personally found Lee’s accent to be a trifle heavy. I know that’s one of the delights of the character, but I wanted to savour every word. Choi has built in repeats, as when other people don’t understand Appa, but I still missed a lot of his words. At any rate, Lee does a wonderful job in the role. His Appa is absolutely believable.

Esther Jun’s Janet, Kim’s daughter, and Jean Yoon’s Umma (mother) exist to be foils for Appa. Janet is a 30-year-old photographer and a graduate of OCAD, old enough to be reminded by Appa that her biological clocking is ticking, and Jun certainly gives a spirited performance. Umma is a more placid character, but her scene with her son, where they meet in secret, is quite affecting. Choi himself plays the son Jung. It’s an interesting character because in a high-achieving culture, he considers himself a failure. He works for a car rental agency while his boyhood friends have gone on to professional careers. Choi, an actor as well as a playwright, gives Jung a suitably resigned and defeated air.

Clé Bennett has great fun performing the four black characters – two customers, a rich businessman, and the policeman. One of the single most funny moments in the show is the halting conversation between Bennett, with a heavy West Indian accent, and Appa, where communication is practically at a standstill.

You don’t have to be Korean to enjoy the show. Anyone who comes from an immigrant background can relate. The Kim family and its generational conflict could be Italian or Jewish. The strength of the play is its realistic recreation of a slice of Toronto life. This is a play about us.

Ins Choi’s Kim’s Convenience, starring Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Esther Jun, Jean Yoon, Clé Bennett and Ins Choi, directed by Weyni Mengesha, Young Centre, Jan. 12 to Feb. 10, 2012, returning May 17 to Jun. 9, 2012

Helix Dance Project – “Linda Garneau’s Unearth”

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Choreographer Linda Garneau has made it her life’s work to create full-length, jazz dance shows with serious themes.

Her new show Unearth is about the search for self-liberation. By digging deep inside our hearts and minds, we will find self-love which will, in turn, help us to unravel the tangled knots we carry inside us.

The piece is in three parts, Unearth, Unravel and Unveil. Garneau’s metaphor is pieces of cloth, both short and long of various colours, which stand for the tangled web of our psyches. The freeing of the knots at the end of the piece presents the dancers unencumbered.

As always, Garneau’s dance language is highly controlled, filled with off balances, high kicks, and lunges. But there is also fluidity as the dancers give themselves over to the emotions of the work.

The eight comely and talented young women of the company are a joy to watch.

Helix Dance Project’s Unearth continues at the Betty Oliphant Theatre until Jan. 8.

Choreography by Linda Garneau
Helix Dance Project
Betty Oliphant Theatre
Jan. 6 to 8, 2012

Dancap Productions – “Green Day’s American Idiot”

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Green Day is a California punk band. In 2004, the group released the concept album American Idiot, which was transformed into a Broadway musical that opened in 2010.

In a concept album, all the songs are linked to a theme or story. American Idiot tells about three disenfranchised friends who want to bolt from their small town to the big city. Johnny ends up in the drug culture, Will has a pregnant girlfriend which prevents his leaving, and Tunny joins the army.

There is very little dialogue, so the lyrics carry the story. Unfortunately, if you don’t know the songs, you are facing poor diction and lack of comprehension.

The show was nominated for a best musical Tony, and did win for set and lighting. The cast is certainly energetic and Steven Hoggett’s choreography is suitably muscular and athletic.

The show is basically a rock concert for Green Day fans.

American Idiot continues at the Toronto Centre for the Arts until Jan. 15.

American Idiot
Dancap Productions
Music by Green Day
Lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong
Book by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer
Directed by Michael Mayer
Performed by Van Hughes, Scott. J. Campbell, Jake Epstein, Joshua Kobak, Gabrielle McClinton, Nicci Claspell and Leslie McDonel
Toronto Centre for the Arts
Dec. 28, 2011 to Jan. 15, 2012

Roy Thomson Hall and Attila Glatz Concert Productions – “Bravissimo! Opera’s Greatest Hits”

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The opera gala Bravissimo! at Roy Thomson Hall is a great way to spend New Year’s Eve, particularly when the concert satisfies on every level.

The best sing was by Slovenian soprano Sabina Cvilak, a spectacular interpreter of the French repertoire with her crystalline sound and floating high notes. Italian soprano Chiara Taigi is an exciting spinto but a trifle over-indulgent. Canadian mezzo Wallis Giunta has a God-given talent but is a little too expressive for concert etiquette. Both Taigi and Giunta have to be careful of their vibrato tops.

Greek baritone Aris Argiris has it all – looks, voice and interpretation. Canadian tenor David Pomeroy nailed Nessun Dorma with a burnished sound that’s taking on punch.

Italian conductor Bruno Aprea does tend to drown out the singers on crescendi, but demonstrated a keen ear for drama and passion.

Mention should be made of just how glamorous the women singers were. All three had stunning lower registers as well.

In short, a marvellous concert.

Bravissimo! Opera’s Greatest Hits
Roy Thomson Hall and Attila Glatz Concert Productions Bruno Bruno Aprea, conductor
Featuring Sabina Cvilak, Chiara Taigi, Wallis Giunta. David Pomeroy and Aris Argiris (hosted by Rick Phillips)
Dec. 31, 2011