Regarding Rob Ford

First let me point out that the death of a relatively young man with a young family is a very sad story indeed. Rob Ford was only 46, after all. Nonetheless, within the adage of you don’t say anything bad about dead people, i’ve been very amused how Canada’s politicians have struggled to find the positives to say about the late Mr. Ford. My favourite is, “He was very dedicated to the city”. I wonder who thought up that bit of vagueness.

The truth of the matter is, Ford had to be stripped of his powers when the whole crack/cocaine scandal broke, which makes it incomprehensible to me that he is getting what amounts to a state funeral, the first in Toronto history for a former mayor, as I understand it. He might have been very dedicated to the city, but during his four years in office, not once did Ford ever attend the annual conference of big city mayors. Imagine the largest city in the country not being represented. I personally will never forgive him for trying to bring Conservative politics into municipal governance and playing cosy with the gone and unlamented Stephen Harper, the Calgary Dough Boy. As to not marching in the Pride parade, Ford was clearly a bigot.

How embarrassing was Rob Ford as my city’s mayor? Very, and here’s my proof. I was waiting for the trolley car in Aruba. With me at the stop was a lovely Argentinian family that spanned three generations. (Northerners are in Aruba escaping the winter, while South Americans are there escaping their summers.) They spoke practically no English, but with my deplorable Spanish, I was able to glean that the family lived in a town that was two hours flying time from Buenos Aires – in other words, completely out of the loop. When I told them I was from Canada, and when they then asked what city and I said Torornto, the six family members chorused in unison, “Rob Ford, Rob Ford!”. When Argentinians in the outback know about Toronto’s mayor and his scandals, that’s a huge problem. As for the very dangerous Doug Ford, Rob’s enabler, don’t get me started…

The Ford Nation people who are mourning the late mayor’s loss, and lining up to sign the sympathy book, I see as akin to our nieghbours to the south who are flocking to Donald Trump. You can clearly fool some of the people, some of the time.

Theatre/Circus Review – Cavalia Odysseo

Everyone remembers the sponsorship scandal as rife with greed and fraud, but in some cases, funding actually got into the right hands. Ten years ago, Normand Latourelle, late of Cirque du Soleil, had an idea for a horse spectacular, and it was a sponsorship grant that gave him the money to develop a show about horses and their very special relationship with humankind.

After a test run in Quebec, Cavalia made its first foray into Toronto, and it was Toronto that made the show. The success here ensured success everywhere, and that first production, simply titled Cavalia, is still touring the world. Latourelle has now brought his second production to Toronto. Called Cavalia Odysseo, this new show bears the innovative theatricality that makes the Cavalia brand synonymous with spectacle. Latourelle and his horses take us on a glorious journey.

The first Cavalia was one of the most beautiful productions I had ever seen. There were moving scenes with the horse whisperer, who seemed to be able to make horses do anything he wanted with just simple hand commands. There were also two sisters who performed stunning mirror image dressage. It stays in my mind as a more dreamy, reflective show, with stunning visuals.

Under British director Wayne Fowkes, Odysseo is more exciting and more lavish. There is a small scene with the horse whisperer (Benjamin Aillaud) and one horse, but the bulk of the acts are on a grand scale. Like the first Cavalia, human acrobatic and aerial skills play an important part, even more so in Odysseo where they are more fully integrated with the horses. There are 10 gymnasts from the African country of Guinea, who all seem to be related in some way, and who perform fantastic feats, such as unbelievable rapid body flips in any direction. The aerialists are all attractive and skilled. One should also mention the fabulous jazz-influenced music score by Michel Cusson that is performed live. The haunting vocals by Italian singer Claudia Paganelli are absolutely stunning. Needless to say, the tribal-evoking costumes, which speak of the myriad colours of the earth, are outstandingly beautiful and in the best of taste.

Both Cavalia shows set their horses against scenes of nature. There are a whole raft of visual designers mentioned in the program but the Big Kahuna set designer is Guillaume Lord, and kudos to him and his team for one of the most magnificent coup de theatres ever witnessed. For the first part of the show, the acts are performed in a large ring area backed by beautiful pictures of natural settings. And then the miracle occurs. The back wall separates and slowly, as the two sections move apart, a huge green hill is revealed. You could actually hear the gasps from the audience. That the tent could contain this enormous a set is astonishing.

As for the acts themselves, the fun trick riding is always showy, but there is also a lovely scene of the women riders in their long dresses standing on the backs of the horses and putting them through various patterns. Horse jumping is accompanied by humans on bungee sticks. The horses sweeping over the hill is gorgeous. There is actually a large carousel that is lowered on the stage, and above the beautifully carved wooden horses, acrobats perform feats on the poles. And then there is my favourite. As four horses circle below, four women on silks perform above, but it is how the horsemen hold the silks that create the patterns in the air between horses, humans and material. And you can’t have a horse show, it seems, without waterfalls and rain. A super treat at the end is the chance to visit the stables, where each stall has the name of the horse and its breed.

Latourelle’s idea is a marvel – just another brilliant idea coming out of Quebec. No one will leave the big top disappointed, particularly since there are no poles impeding sightlines in this state-of-the-art chapiteau. The run has currently been extended to June 10, but it can’t stay in town forever, so grab granny and the kids, and see a true spectacle that is a feast for the eyes and a balm for the soul.

Cavalia Odysseo, conceived by artistic director Normand Latourelle, with director/choreographer Wayne Fowkes, equestrian director/choreographer Benjamin Aillaud and composer Michel Cusson, The Portlands, May 15 to Jun. 10, 2012.



Soulpepper – Ins Choi’s Kim’s Convenience

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