Against the Grain Theatre never presents an audience with the ordinary.
Whether it's setting Puccini's popular La Bohème in today's Toronto or giving extra eeriness to Benjamin Britten's The Turn Of The Screw, the company confounds expectations.
That's true of other vocal presentations, too, like last weekend's double bill of rarely performed 20th-century song cycles, György Kurtág's Kafka Fragments and Leos Janácek's The Diary Of One Who Disappeared. The performances and the soloists couldn't have been better.
Kurtág's cycle is a series of Kafka's seemingly unrelated musings about life and other people, some a lyrical or touching picture, others a single word or image. Under the guidance of inventive director Joel Ivany, soloist Jacqueline Woodley and violinist Kerry DuWors offered each segment as a mini-drama.
The music, constantly shifting moods, is challenging to sing and play, but Woodley and DuWors threw themselves into it with gusto. The soprano used the words, her wide vocal range, face and body to create a multitude of characters, some of them comical, while DuWors's playing conjured up marching figures, leaves blown by the wind, lightning, falling rain and other atmospheric elements.
Employing the mirrors in the yoga/dance studio venue to play off each other and the audience, the singer and musician performed beneath Michael Gianfrancesco's set-piece of suspended sheets of paper, resembling a manuscript thrown up and frozen in mid-air. The white pages above us were as striking as the music performed on the ground.
For the Janácek, again directed by Ivany, Gianfrancesco laid a sinuous line of black material on the ground, a path to a fairy-tale realm where love doesn't always end happily ever after. The central character of The Diary Of One Who Disappeared is a farm boy who falls for a Gypsy woman and is unable to free himself from her beguilement.
Tenor Colin Ainsworth was an expressive performer, his infatuated character alternately tempted, fooled, tender, distraught and passionate. The object of his affection, mezzo Lauren Segal, used her rich voice and seductive acting to ensnare him. Aided by a trio of black-garbed women (Lesley Bouza, Eugenia Dermentzis and Sarah Halmerson) who, in the hazy lighting, were suggestively vampiric, the Gypsy has little trouble tempting the man into a steamy encounter. Their love-making was musically torrid, too, with pianist Christopher Mokrzewski giving extra sizzle to the encounter.
If you haven't caught one of Against the Grain's productions, check out Figaro's Wedding, Ivany's English adaptation of Mozart's The Marriage Of Figaro. Can't wait to see the mayhem, comedy and tunefulness he'll conjure up for this May show at the Burroughes on Queen West.
Patrick Conner Award
The late Patrick Conner was a strong force both in the arts community, as actor and director, and as an advocate for the sustainable world of green living.
Those two sides of his life are combined in the annual Patrick Conner Award, which will honour two individuals, one from each sphere, with a cash prize of $2,500 each.
The award, administered by Theatre Rusticle, "seeks to carve a space for us to acknowledge the costs of integrity, honesty, generosity and belief."
Applications are encouraged from passionate individuals from the areas of the performing arts and/or sustainable/green living.
They must submit a one-page statement outlining why they deserve the award; a half-page outline about a community engagement project, art piece or community action that has inspired them; a memento or researched finding about Patrick that has inspired the application or call to action; a resumé or CV; and two letters of support.
Applications will be accepted by email only, sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't send more material than requested.
Deadline is May 15; the first award will be presented in the summer of 2013.
People are also encouraged to make a charitable tax donation to ensure the award's longevity. Donations can be made to Theatre Rusticle, 121½ Rusholme Road, Apartment 2, Toronto M6H 2Y6.
For more information about the award, write to the above email or go visit the website.
The Theatre Centre and Praxis Theatre collaborate on a unique series of public meetings, Civil Debates, powered by community input.
In their second year, the discussions explore a trio of topics, beginning March 15 with "Creative Cities: Be it resolved that the Creative Cities theories serve to reinforce dominant class structures."
The discussion will follow the Canadian parliamentary debate model, in which there are two speakers, a time limit for each speaker, moderated exchange and a yay/nay vote by those assembled.
There'll also be a live tweetcast via the hashtag#civildebates.
Speakers include Kevin Stolarick, research director at the Martin Prosperity Institute, and Mammalian Diving Reflex artistic and research director Darren O'Donnell.
The other two topics, chosen like the first from over 100 ideas suggested by those who participated at a live installation during last January's Next Stage festival, are arts boards ("be it resolved that boards of directors have the right and responsibility to overrule the artistic direction of a theatre company") on April 1 and Idle No More ("be it resolved that the issues that created the Idle No More movement require extreme methods to achieve change") on May 2.
Civil Debates will be held at the Theatre Centre Pop-Up (1095 Queen West). Doors 7 pm, debate 7:30 pm. Pwyc and a cash bar.