A warrior’s heroic journey in the wondrous, enchanting, multidisciplinary The Monkey Queen

Diana Tso and Nicholas Eddie. Scenic design by William Yong. Costume design by Robin Fisher. Lighting design by Rebecca Picherack. Projection design by Elysha Poirier. Photo by David Hou.

 

The Theatre Centre presents the world premiere of Red Snow Collective’s wondrous, enchanting, multidisciplinary The Monkey Queen, by Diana Tso, directed and choreographed by William Yong. A feminist re-imagining and counterpart to the well-known, beloved traditional Chinese story The Monkey King, from Wu Cheng’En’s 16th century epic Journey to the West, The Monkey Queen is mytho-biographic—part autobiography, part mythology. Part one of a trilogy, the journey takes the artist east, in search of her spiritual and ancestral roots; running parallel to the warrior’s search for enlightenment in a series of challenges and quests.

A multidisciplinary, multimedia piece of storytelling, The Monkey Queen weaves personal anecdotes from Tso’s life into the Monkey Queen’s heroic quest as artist and warrior travel their respective paths towards enlightenment and meaning. From the moment you set foot in the Incubator space, you feel transported to a place outside of time and space. The haunting, otherworldly music (composers Nick Storring and Brandon Valdivia) echoes like the sound of the spheres—soothing, hypnotic and mysterious—as the snow white set reflects the blue light (lighting design by Rebecca Picherack) from five branchless tree-like structures (emerging from the ground or descending from the sky?) that will change colour throughout. As the lights come up, you can see tufts of fluffy white snow along the ground, and waves of white origami flowers that seem to float along the upstage wall (scenic design by Yong). At times, images related to the action are projected (projection design by Elysha Poirier) on the upstage wall; conjuring up skeletal dragons, vast mountain ranges and a vast star-filled night sky.

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Diana Tso and Nicholas Eddie. Scenic design by William Yong. Costume design by Robin Fisher. Lighting design by Rebecca Picherack. Projection design by Elysha Poirier. Photo by David Hou.

Performers Tso, who plays herself and the Monkey Queen, and Nicholas Eddie, playing her friend and a multitude of other characters—male, female, old, young, demon, god—tell the tale with movement, music and text; using their voices, posture and motion to sharply define and shift between characters. As the Monkey Queen, Tso is proud, fearless and determined as the female warrior bounds across the stars, shape shifting in the blink of an eye; and pragmatic as she comes to terms with mistakes in judgement stemming from her power and emotions. Eddie transforms from the mysterious old shaman, mentor to the Monkey Queen, to fearsome demons and dragons, to a charming, handsome prince. The performances are playful and brave, with a mischievous edge; sculpted with supple, powerful and expressive movement—all tempered with a sense of gravitas in the face of insight, enlightenment and penance.

The effect is magical; and as the tale unfolds, you may find yourself feeling like a child at story time. And despite the multimedia tech, most of the work is done by the performers—this is storytelling at its fantastic, imaginative best. And while this is a tale for children of all ages, girls will be especially gratified to see that they can be heroes too; particularly when they learn that Tso’s inspiration for writing the piece was so she could play a hero who was originally written and cast as a man.

The Monkey Queen continues at the Theatre Centre until December 2; please note the 7:30 pm curtain time. Running time 65 minutes, followed by a 15-minute Q&A with the artists. Tickets available by calling The Theatre Centre’s Box Office at 416-538-0988 or online.

In the meantime, check out the What’s On TOnight? Take Five interview with Diana Tso.

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SummerWorks: Installation & audience contribution leading up to performance of To Live in the Age of Melting: The Idea of North 2.0

evalyn-620x500It was a chillier than usual August night in Toronto last night – and I found myself purchasing hot chocolate and wishing I’d brought a jacket, which felt odd – but it was what it was. To be honest, I’ve really been enjoying this cooler summer. I had some time before my next show, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to stop by Studio C of the Pia Bouman School for Creative Movement to check out Evalyn Parry’s work in progress – with fellow creators/performers Elysha Poirier and Laakkaluk Bathory Williams – for OutSpoke Productions’ To Live in the Age of Melting: The Idea of North 2.0, part of this year’s SummerWorks Live Art Series.

The first phase of To Live in the Age of Melting is part installation, part viewer participation, as Parry collects objects and images from patrons of their experiences of the North, and asks people if they’d like to be interviewed about their thoughts and perceptions of the North.

Featured prominently when you first enter the space is a giant map of Canada. Visitors are invited to share how far north they’ve been – and Parry’s assistants (in my case last night, SummerWorks volunteer Pauline and Aidan) will plot your destination on the map, from start to finish, using pins and colour-coded string/thread. In my case, it’s the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA), Ontario to North Bay, Ontario; my thread is black, as I took the trip by car (with my family when I was around 10-12 years old, when my mother’s sister and her family lived in Callendar, ON).

I also took the opportunity to be interviewed. Since I’m not down with spoilers, I won’t mention the specific questions Parry asked me, but I will say they were extremely thought-provoking and interesting. A reminder of relative perspective – when I think of “North,” in terms of perceived geography, I think of it as starting around North Bay – but that’s the farthest I’ve been, so that will be different for someone who’s been to NWT, Yukon, Nunavut or Iqaluit. It was a pleasure chatting with Parry, and I look forward to seeing the work come together in the performance this weekend.

The assembled personal artifacts and interviews will contribute to the final performance piece, which will also be a work in progress (as the installation and viewer contributions continue daily from 5:00 – 8:00 p.m.) – with performances running Aug 15-17 at 9 p.m.

Here are some snaps I took of this work in progress last night:

 

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In the meantime, check out NOW Magazine’s piece by Glenn Sumi, where he speaks with Parry about, among other things, her two SummerWorks projects: directing Shaista Latif’s Graceful Rebellions and the genesis of her work on To Live in the Age of Melting.