The power of love, music & colour in the visually rich, magical, ground-breaking The Black Drum

Corinna Den Dekker, Dawn Jani Birley, Yan Liu & Daniel Durant. Set & props design by Ken Mackenzie. Costume design by Ruth Albertyn. Makeup by Angela McQueen. Video & projection design by Laura Warren. Lighting design by Chris Malkowski. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

 

Commissioned and produced by the Canadian Cultural Society of the Deaf, the Deaf Culture Centre presents the world premiere of Adam Pottle’s Deaf musical The Black Drum,* in partnership with Soulpepper at the Young Centre. Directed by Mira Zuckermann, assisted by Jack Volpe, with movement and choreography by Patricia Allison, The Black Drum combines signed music, dance, movement and projected imagery to tell the story of a woman’s journey through loss and grief to find the power of her inner music, as her tattoos come to life and launch her into a strange, dark world dominated by a sinister force. The result is a visually rich, magical and ground-breaking piece of storytelling.

As the story begins, we are introduced to the Minister (Bob Hiltermann), a sinister and controlling presence who dominates a world devoid of music, laughter, love and freedom. Meanwhile, performing artist Joan (Dawn Jani Birley) is reeling from the loss of her beloved wife Karen (Agata Wisny), inconsolable as her roommates Bree (Yan Liu) and Oscar (Daniel Durant) try to reach through her grief. Propelled into the world of the Minister, Joan’s tattoos Butterfly (Liu) and Bulldog (Durant)—beauty and strength—come to life.

In this dark, grim and desolate place, Joan encounters the Minister’s reluctant lieutenant Squib (Natasha C. Bacchus) and Ava (Corinna Den Dekker), who dances with a group of children (Jaelyn Russell-Lillie, Sita Weereatne and Abbey Jackson-Bell). Ava tells Joan that the Minister controls this world, a place between life and death, with magic—his black drum (drum accompaniment by Dimitri Kanaris), the embodiment of his empty black heart. And Joan also learns that Karen is the Minister’s prisoner. Charged with using her colour and music, Joan sets out with her friends to defeat the Minister and free her beloved from his clutches.

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Agata Wisny & Bob Hiltermann. Set & props design by Ken Mackenzie. Costume design by Ruth Albertyn. Makeup by Angela McQueen. Video & projection design by Laura Warren. Lighting design by Chris Malkowski. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Hiltermann brings a nightmarish, supernatural edge to the menacing, arrogant Minister; his sharp-featured white face mirrored by the spooky talking head projections that flank the stage—occasionally speaking they guide us through the story (voice acting by Raquel Duffy and Diego Matamoros). Birley’s performance as Joan beautifully weaves the devastation of grief with the perseverance of resistance as Joan strives to free Karen, despite the fact that she’ll never be able to get her back.

Lovely work from a supporting cast that hails from all over the globe; Liu’s Butterfly is both balletic and delicate, with a feisty will that doesn’t back down from a fight; and Durant brings comic relief as the tough, yet sweet and big-hearted, Bulldog. Den Dekker’s meek and timid Ava reveals inner strength as her longing for freedom for herself and her dancing children turns into action; and Bacchus’s Squib may be a hard-ass soldier serving the Minister, but is as much under his control as the others, and would choose otherwise.

Visually stunning, magical and moving, this Deaf-led, ground-breaking piece of storytelling resonates; both allowing Deaf audience to experience their culture on stage, and giving hearing audience a new perspective on how a story can be presented and communicated. Hearing audiences are used to using their ears to hear the music and dialogue; here, we see and feel the music, the vibrations physically resonating through our bodies and the rhythms dancing across our minds—all aimed at our hearts. And it’s a compelling reminder, for all of us, that love, colour and music are powerful weapons against the dark forces that haunt our everyday lives.

The Black Drum continues at the Young Centre until June 29; advance tickets available online or by calling the box office at 416-866-8666 or 1-888-898-1188.

*Note: This production is presented with Written and Voice Synopsis & Audio Assist Devices and is accessible to non-ASL audiences.

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Toronto Fringe: Xenophobia gone viral in a brutal worldwide dystopia in the beautifully choreographed, evocative Far Away

michela michael

PreShow Playlist is running a remarkable production of Caryl Churchill’s Far Away during Toronto Fringe, directed by Megan Watson and choreographed by Patricia Allison – and running in the Theatre Passe Muraille (TPM) Mainspace.

Xenophobia is a widespread, global disease and has become the default response in this dystopic world, where humans, animals – and even the elements – have perceived alliances and enemies. Joan (Michela Cannon) comes to live with her aunt Harper (Alix Sideris) and uncle, and sees things happening outside in the night that she doesn’t understand. Later, we see Joan working in a factory, where she becomes friends, then lovers, with Todd (Michael Ayres); and where their artistic gifts are put to a deadly purpose. When they arrive at Harper’s house as a couple, Harper questions Todd’s allegiance and the pair’s intentions. The tension is high and the paranoia excruciating, with enemies and traitors expected around every corner, the killing of any man, woman, child or animal is justified – even the river itself is regarded as suspicious.

In this beautifully crafted physical theatre production, movement conveys emotion, memory, activities and secrets, and carries equal weight to the dialogue; complementing and enhancing the spoken component of the script. The cast does excellent work here, combining words and movement as the characters balance on a razor’s edge. Sideris is both chilling and nurturing as Harper; with a grim sense of resolve, her dark commitment to the cause of her side is contrasted by the positive, rationalized spin she puts on her position. As Joan, Cannon is a bright innocent with a positive edge; the energy of her youthful questioning and wariness turns to lethal productivity and an eye towards a future with Michael. Ayres gives Michael a lovely sense of playfulness and curiosity; he seems to be the most open to reaching out for connection and questioning the truths held by those around him.

With shouts to the design team: Sorcha Gibson (set and costumes) for the eerie clothesline-like rows of white masks, hanging like the faces of the dead across the stage; Kathy Anderson (sound) for the haunting music and atmospheric sounds of this world; and Chris Malkowski (lighting) for the dramatic highlights throughout.

Xenophobia gone viral in a brutal worldwide dystopia in the beautifully choreographed, evocative Far Away.

Far Away continues at the TPM Mainspace until July 9. For ticket info and advance tickets/passes, check out the Fringe website.

Toronto Fringe: Complex dynamic of love, hate, friendship, art & success in Pool (No Water)

pool_no_water_-web-250x250Cue 6 Productions has been getting some well-deserved buzz for its Toronto Fringe production of Mark Ravenhill’s Pool (No Water), directed by Jill Harper – running at the Tarragon Theatre mainspace.

A group of young bohemian artists is torn apart by illness and distance – physical and emotional – and previously unspoken, private feelings of envy, rage and betrayal come to the forefront in the words and actions of the group. Sarah has made it big on the west coast and reconnects with the group for the funeral of one of their fallen comrades. She offers an invitation to fly out for a visit and to lounge around her pool, which the gang accepts. A freak accident during their visit sets off a chain of events that challenges their concept of art and morality – with life-changing consequences for all.

An excellent ensemble in this intense and darkly funny tale of art, friendship and success. Each cast member adds a specific flavour to this group of artist friends: Chy Ryan Spain is splash and energy, with claws; Sarah Illitovitch-Goldman is cerebral, dark and sardonic; Daniel Roberts is an anxious and uncertain, but gleeful participant; and Allison Price (also featured in People Suck) brings edgy comedy and comic rage. And the fifth unseen character Sarah, who we only really know through second-hand accounts from the group, is entitled, successful and selectively generous. The group vacillates between love and hate for her – a hive mind thinking and acting as one, so much so that each can’t tell who was the instigator.

Featuring some beautiful, emotive and ethereal group movement choreography by Patricia Allison.

It’s a complex dynamic of love, hate, friendship, and art and success in Cue 6 Productions’ remarkable Pool (No Water).

Pool (No Water) continues at the Tarragon mainspace until July 11; you have a few more chances to catch it – see the full schedule here. Book ahead for this one or take your chances on a sold out house.

Otherworldly, eerily beautiful & intensely visceral – Shotgun Juliet’s Stealth

StealthCourtyard3You enter the space via the alley off of Sullivan. Dark. Quiet. No signage. And enter through a worn wooden gate into the backyard of 8-11 Gallery. A spooky young woman sitting on a cut bit of tree trunk beckons you to her – she is the gatekeeper hostess and box office, her dead-pan voice offering cryptic responses to queries about the show. She is, however, forthcoming about the location of the bar and washroom indoors: through the back door and up the short flight of stairs to the right. We may sit anywhere we like in the yard, but must not go downstairs.

Sitting on one of the slightly damp wooden slat benches in the early evening darkness, you notice the smell of wet bark, leaves, soil. The overcast sky, visible beyond the nearly bare branches, reveals one bright star – a planet, perhaps. You’re glad it’s not raining now and especially grateful for the unseasonably mild late October night. The backyard fills with others. And soon it begins.

Our hostess alerts us that they’re coming. We can hear them before we see them. Four women dressed in black enter the yard through the gate, moving in music-less – but not soundless – rhythmic time. A ritual. A dance. A communion of community. As they exit into the gallery and down the stairs, suddenly, all is not well with one of the women. Our hostess beckons us to follow her downstairs, where we witness the rest of the action wordlessly play out, the smell of damp woods outdoors exchanged for the smell of damp stone indoors.

This is Shotgun Juliet’s production of Stealth, a physical theatre/dance piece directed/conceived by Matthew Eger; and choreographed/performed by Patricia Allison, Miranda Forbes, Darwin Lyon and Amanda Pye. The production company aptly describes the piece as “four women who have vowed to be silent and hidden together – until one decides she wants out,” framing the story in such a way that piques interest without giving too much away. Much like our mysterious hostess. Out of respect for the production and future audiences, I will also not divulge much here.

I can tell you that these women are closely bound together – physically and emotionally – and the reaction when one of the women leaves is immediate and powerful. The use of light, dark and shadow is extremely effective, as is the haunting soundtrack that plays indoors, industrial music infused with the faint static sounds of radio communication – a white noise of sorts, but also strikingly alien in tone. This production is big on atmosphere: mystery, anticipation, and the experience of heightened senses and imagination.

I can also tell you that the cast does a marvelous job of using their bodies, gestures and expressions to tell this story. Specific relationships are highlighted and challenged, and loyalties are questioned. Vocalizations are all the more intense as they erupt from a largely silent scenario and used sparingly.

And, then, it’s over. As you exit back along the alley – back to the real world – the wet crunch of the pavement beneath your feet seems more distinct.

Stealth is an otherworldly, eerily beautiful and intensely visceral physical theatre/dance hybrid.

Stealth continues its run at 8-11 Gallery (233 Spadina Ave., a bit north of Queen/Spadina – enter through the alley off of Sullivan) until November 1. Dress warmly. Don’t be afraid of the dark. The box office mistress will keep you safe.