VARIETE by Mauricio Kagel (BMH Shift/Volcano/Art of Time). See Theatre Openings. Rating: NNNNN
Director Ross Manson admits that his work for Variété involves more driving and sending e-mails than working in a rehearsal hall. That's because composer Mauricio Kagel, who wrote the piece, gave its individual performers a theatrical blank cheque, telling them to fill its 11 musical movements with a vaudeville-style show.
"There are over 50 people working on it, each responding to their segment of the music," notes Manson while handing over a CD with segment four's music to a group of aerialists. Composer Kagel, one of the fathers of modern music theatre, was born in Argentina and now lives in Germany.
Variété should be a striking North American premiere. It integrates a tango by National Ballet alum Roberto Campanella for himself and Kate Alton; contortionist Jinny Jacinto; clown work by Peter Chin and Rebecca Hope Terry; and a burlesque number by Julia Sasso. Also, Nexus percussionist Robin Engelman conducts six live musicians.
"As the director, I'm spending my time planning transitions between movements," adds Manson, artistic director of Volcano, who's working with Andrew Burashko, head of musical troupe Art of Time Ensemble.
"I'm interested in how an aspect of music can have more than a single quality - how something can be both folk and classical music, ugly and beautiful, erotic and creepy."
Manson's also adding an MC to Variété, speaking text written by poet Heather McHugh. Nigel Shawn Williams plays this part, described by the director as "the bastard of Tom Waits, Hunter S. Thompson and James Earl Jones, with a little of opera diva Jessye Norman."
And where do you stage something this bizarre? Burashko and Manson have chosen the Gladstone Hotel.
"I love the new room," enthuses the director, "and the Gladstone is perfect for our show because it's more than one thing - tawdry and magnificent. It stands in the midst of ongoing renovations, part Parkdale and, in this room, part of the new cool strip."