One of the clear standouts at Luminato was the Mark Morris Dance Group. The Brooklyn-based company treated Toronto audiences to three very different but equally exciting shows.The hallmarks of Morris’s work? Musicality, inventiveness and playfulness, all of which were on display in the final program, Liebeslieder Waltzes (by Brahms) and Grand Duo, set to a piano and violin piece of the same title by contemporary composer Lou Harrison.
In his duets, trios and group work, Morris has the dancers constantly changing partners; there are as many same-sex combinations as opposite-sex pairings, and all ignite a vibrant, passionate energy.
More importantly, he invests every encounter, no matter how short, with an emotional and narrative element. It’s as if he told the dancers to play an unspoken subtext, one where we can’t hear the words but can sense the power of the connection between dancers.
Then there’s the technical virtuosity of the company, for Morris gives them really difficult steps – and often lots of them. In the final movement of Grand Duo, which had the look of a classical frieze combined with bits of The Rite Of Spring, the company danced as if their lives depended on the quick, fluid moves.Morris took a final bow with the troupe at the end of the final show, and the audience roared its approval not only of the company, but also of the man who literally put them through their paces.
Craig Ferguson brought one of the funniest shows of the year to a sold-out Massey Hall audience on Saturday night (June 14), but in some ways a more fascinating show was Jeff McEnery’s headlining set afterwards at Yuk Yuk’s Downtown.
Two years ago, McEnery won both the Tim Sims Encouragement Fund Award and the first Great Canadian Laugh-Off. He’s proven that those two wins weren’t flukes.
Sometimes the most revealing moments come when a comic’s caught off guard by a heckler. By the time McEnery hit the stage, after good host work by Chuck Byrn, a solid opening set by Jon Dore and let’s be generous and say a novel appearance by Alan Park, the crowd had become a bit restless, and possibly drunk – particularly a group of guys in the second or third row.
McEnery, working the skinny underdog persona he’s honed so well, succeeded in calming down the crowd’s alpha males with the following line: “Jocks, why don’t you pretend this is high school and don’t talk to me?”
It worked, and the audience cheered.
McEnery’s material is painfully honest but full of authentic details about growing up in the country. He has a way to go yet, but not since Richard Pryor have we seen someone able to transform the little tragedies of life into such original, and heartbreaking, laughs.