In the CanAsian
Dancer/choreographer Keiko Ninomiya was born in Japan and now lives in Toronto, but only recently has she become fascinated by the Japanese dance form butoh.
"It wasn't popular when I was a kid," says the performer, who's debuting her duet You See The Tree, You Don't See The Forest with Tokyo-based artist Kinya "Zulu" Tsuruyama as part of this week's CanAsian International Dance Festival.
"I had no training or information. Now I'm trying to find out about my culture."
Ninomiya's background is pretty eclectic. She studied dance and musical theatre in England and graduated from the School of Toronto Dance Theatre. She's just finished up several seasons with the clown-based troupe CORPUS.
"All of that influence is in my dance," she says in her heavily accented English. "But I like the fact that 10 different people can see 10 different things in any dance work."
The pair's CanAsian fest piece, inspired by one of Zulu's poems, takes full advantage of their height difference.
"I'm just under 5 feet, and Zulu is a good head over me," she laughs. "We played with the idea of the sun and moon, yin and yang. In many ways, it's like he's speaking French to my English. Things are different, but similar. Complementary."
Funny that Ninomiya should mention the two solitudes. A few years ago, her duet with Louis Laberge-Côté, Futari En Trois Couleurs, contrasted French and Japanese cultures with profound and hilarious results.
"I'd love to remount that piece once I get funding and a venue," she says. "I'm enjoying this process of finding my own style through different cultures. I'm comfortable in Toronto because of the multiculturalism. In Europe I never felt at home."
See Dance Listings, page 66.
Director Kelly Thornton likes her Danish wry - at least in The Danish Play, Sonja Mills's impressive script about Agnete Ottosen, the second world war resistance fighter and poet who also happens to have been Mills's great-aunt.
Nightwood revives the play - one of the best of the 2002-2003 season - after tours across the country and to Denmark itself, where audiences understood its blend of biting wit and dark-hued biography.
"Agnete was damaged goods by the time she was released by the Nazis," offers Thornton. "But her ideals were intact. She was a hardcore feminist before the war, not content to do the subsidiary jobs offered to women. Those same ideals of freedom were what kept her going.
"It was a matter of principle for her not to name the man who fathered her child after the war, even when those around her saw her silence as an irrational act."
Though on the surface The Danish Play is a period piece, it has a striking resonance today. "When we first produced it in 2002, the Americans were on the brink of going to war," says Thornton.
"The script deals with the 40s war and filters that story through the Cold War of the 60s. In all three periods, a group of people has to deal with their uncertain future in the face of war. One of Sonja's themes is the cost of war, especially on an individual level."
Yet the director also notes the play's dry wit.
"The script is wonderfully woven around the lives of Agnete's friends, also resistance fighters, people who love and continue on, sharing a buoyant attitude even as they talk about losing her. They laugh, even during the Nazi period, as a form of resistance, to maintain their lives and humanity by enjoying humour in the face of despair."
See Opening, page 70.
Buddies in Bad Times goes in for small events these days, but they all take big risks. Next up in the Audience Relocation series is Turn Left Here, a four-day contemporary performance extravaganza whose centrepiece is the evening news (small craft warnings), a new work by emergency exit's Kevin Rees and Sean MacMahon. A performance installation focusing on the mass dissemination of information, the work has the audience listening to the performers via headphones. A blend of truth and fiction, it runs nightly beginning Wednesday (February 28).
Other works in the mini-fest rotate from day to day. Participants include Shannon Cochrane, Canadia dell'Arte, Erika Hennebury, Chandra Bulucon, Steve Marsh, Clinton Walker, Camellia Koo, Laura Nanni, Marc Tellez, Sherri Hay, Christine Brubaker, Jovanni Sy and Guillermo Verdecchia.
See Opening, page XX.
Rare Bard times two
Earlier this month George Brown Theatre and Ryerson Theatre Schools turned their attention to Shakespeare, presenting plays not frequently staged. What distinguished the two shows was the general clarity of the text work, a key point in bringing a contemporary audience into the Bard's world.
The George Brown show was a late romance, The Winter's Tale, directed by Joseph Ziegler with his usual attention to detail. A tale of anger, potential tragedy and ultimate reconciliation and redemption, the piece has some wonderful characters and a few scenes that are among Shakespeare's best.
After a leisurely opening, the production revved up when Rick Jongejan's King Leontes became mistakenly jealous of his wife, Hermione (Noa May Dorn). Jongejan started his ravings at too high a pitch and had little place to go, though he was more emotionally convincing later on. Dorn had a nice range of emotion, and Lise Maher brought a properly steely quality to Paulina, one of the play's most memorable characters.
Among the other strong performances were those of Roger Bainbridge as the charming rogue Autolycus, involving the audience in his tricks, Tim Walker as the simple and comic Clown. Craig Pike made the courtier Camillo more sympathetic than usual.
Wish the justly famous final scene had more magic to it; the surprise that should capture and charm both characters and audience was unveiled too soon.
In Ryerson's Measure For Measure, helmed by Michael Waller, the actors rushed through their lines in the first few scenes but then relaxed to tell the powerful story of Isabella, a young, innocent novitiate caught between giving in to the lecherous demands of a deputized ruler or allowing her brother to be executed.
Here the standout performers included James Wallis as the Duke, who leaves control of his realm in the hands of his deputy Angelo but watches and acts from the sidelines, Kevin Walker as the eccentric executioner Abhorson and Ari Millen as Angelo, precise in his language when in control but intentionally nervous when he's tripped up emotionally.
The heavily cut text lost most of the comic subplot, though maybe that was a good thing; what comic performances we got suggest that comedy isn't their strong suit.
But why split Isabella in each performance between two actors, Nola Martin and Shannon Taylor? Better to give them several shows each rather than have Martin play in the first act and Taylor in the second; neither gets to perform the character's full arc, which isn't satisfying for the audience or, presumably, the actor.