SummerWorks: Art, madness, longing & inspiration in the visceral, cerebral, deeply moving The Red Horse is Leaving

Moleman Productions presents a multimedia, multidisciplinary work in progress with its SummerWorks production of The Red Horse is Leaving; running for three performances in the Toronto Media Arts Centre Main Gallery. Written and co-directed by Erika Batdorf, with excerpts from artist Thaya Whitten’s journals and performance talks, and co-directed and choreographed by Kate Digby, the piece takes us on a thoughtful, moving journey into the playful, pensive and tormented mind of Batdorf’s performance artist/painter mother. I caught the closing performance, along with a sold out house, last night.

Part lecture, part performance art, part fly-on-the-wall experience, the audience is invited into Whitten’s (Erika Batdorf) studio as she faces off with a blank white sheet of Masonite; struggling to manifest her vision, her concept, in colours and brush strokes on a two-dimensional surface. All the while, a Gargoyle (Zoe Sweet) watches, climbing cat-like over tables and chairs—and even curling itself around Thaya—largely unseen but felt; its glowing, lit spine flashing and changing colour along with her breath and pulse.

Cerebral and visceral at the same time, The Red Horse is Leaving also addresses the issues of meaning, ethics, outreach and economics as they relate to art; and the changing landscape of art and artists, and how their work is perceived and received. Back in the 60s, performance art was the big new thing; controversial, revolutionary and exciting. Not so much anymore. Referencing “the red horse”—the subject of Thaya’s work in progress—we get the impression that it represents her muse, her inspiration, her passion. And it’s eluding her.

Beautiful performances from Sweet and Batdorf in this profoundly moving, thought-provoking two-hander. Batdorf’s Thaya is an artist with a curious, sharp and tormented mind; and a playful, tortured soul. Longing for inspiration and connection with her muse and her work, as well as her audience, Thaya struggles to reach out—to the white space before her and the world around her. Sweet is both menacing and adorable as the Gargoyle; moving with precision and grace under and over furniture, and coiling around the artist. Both bird-like and cat-like, it nudges and prods Thaya, offering brushes and even sharing a snack.

Inside Thaya’s secret heart, like her, we realize that longing can be a dangerous and unfulfilling thing—but it’s part of our human nature to strive and struggle to find meaning in our work, our world and ourselves.

With shouts to the design team for their work in bringing this multimedia vision to life: Mark-David Hosale (digital technology and sound, costumes), Sylvia Defend and Joyce Padua (costumes), J. Rigzin Tute (original music composition) and Alan Macy (biosensors).

This was the final SummerWorks performance of The Red Horse is Leaving; look out for the Toronto premier in the Rendezvous with Madness festival Oct 13 – 21.

Department of corrections: The original post had the cast credits reversed; this has been corrected.

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Heart vibrations as the dead weave tales reminding us to live in the inspirational, uplifting Spoon River

Spoon River ensemble—photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

 

Is your soul alive?

As we make our way into the theatre, we find ourselves entering the funeral of Bertie Hume; filing past old family portraits and rows of headstones as we make our way out of the funeral parlor and into the cemetery. We are greeted by funeral home attendants and, possibly, friends and family of the deceased.

This is our introduction to Soulpepper’s immersively staged Spoon River, based on Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology poetry collection, and adapted by Mike Ross and Albert Schultz for the stage, with music composed by Ross. A remount of this beloved, award-winning show is currently running in the Baillie Theatre at the Young Centre, located in Toronto’s Distillery District.

As Bertie Hume is left to her eternal rest, former citizens of the town—now “asleep” in the cemetery on the hill—emerge to share their stories with us, the passersby. Set in small-town America, the lives, loves, joys and pain of its people are revealed with memories, regrets, confession; at times harrowing (“Fire”), hilarious (“Couples” and “Drinking”) and heartbreaking (“Mothers and Sons”). The quirks, the humanity, the secrets and betrayals—all interwoven with poetry, spoken word, music and song, as we get snapshots of the people they once were.

The remarkable, multitalented ensemble plays and sings, with rousing, foot-stomping sounds and gorgeous, resonant harmonies in a collection of blue grass and gospel-inspired songs. Stand-out soloists include Alana Bridgewater, Hailey Gillis (as Bertie Hume), Miranda Mulholland, Jackie Richardson (“Widow McFarlane”) and Daniel Williston (“Fire”). Soulpepper veterans Oliver Dennis and Diego Matamoros bring stellar character work, as do Raquel Duffy, Stuart Hughes, John Jarvis and Michelle Monteith. Ultimately, Spoon River is a celebration of life (“Soul Alive”)—and a reminder that life, warts and all, is a cherished gift. I dare you to not stomp along.

With big shouts to the design team for their work on this magical, evocative production: Ken MacKenzie (set and lighting), Erika Connor (costumes) and Jason Browning (sound).

Heart vibrations as the dead weave tales reminding us to live in the inspirational, uplifting Spoon River.

Spoon River continues in the Baillie Theatre at the Young Centre until April 21; booking in advance is strongly recommended to avoid disappointment—the place was packed last night and this show is getting lots of standing ovations. Get your advance tix online or by calling the box office at 416-866-8666.

Up next: Soulpepper will be taking Spoon River to New York City’s 42nd Street in July as part of its first NYC season at The Pershing Square Signature Center.

The Spoon River soundtrack is available on CD in the lobby of the Young Centre; you can also find it on iTunes. In the meantime, check out the trailer:

 

 

Toronto Fringe NSTF: A joyful, entertaining dance party of rhythm & soul in Pulse

Pulse-by-Jamie-Johnston-250x250The Jasmyn Fyffe Dance company burst onto the stage to perform Pulse to a packed house at the Factory Theatre Mainspace for the Next Stage Theatre Festival last night.

With high-energy moves choreographed by company A.D. Jasmyn Fyffe, and grooving to the best of Motown, the company charmed and danced their way into our hearts in a series of highly engaging, sexy and emotionally moving pieces.

From the get-go, the audience was invited to sing and move along, and with “Cruisin’,” the company brought some folks into the aisles – and later up on stage – to join in into the fun. A solo turns into quartet in “Stand by Me.” Romance in “Bring It To Me” shifts from one couple to two; and the a cappella “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)” presents a break-up in a heartbreaking pas de deux. And a silent piece featuring the three men in the company is dynamic and playful to the point that you can feel the music. This is just a small sample of the brilliant artistry on display in Pulse.

With big shouts to the company: Jonna Abrams, Bretonie Burchell, Irvin Chow, Julia Cosentino, Jasmyn Fyffe, Roney Lewis, Alyssa Petrolo, Steven Smith and Jessica Tomasone, and sound designer Robert Kingsbury.

Pulse is a joyful, entertaining and moving dance party of rhythm and soul – and everyone’s invited.

Pulse continues till Sun, Jan 18 – advance tix here. Shake your booty and get on out there!

Everything Begins with Love @ Arlene Paculan CD launch

Singer/songwriter Arlene Paculan celebrated the launch of her first full-length CD Everything Begins with Love in a packed room at Gallery 345, Toronto last night.

Super-energized comic pop performer Kat Leonard kicked the evening off, opening with a set of fun, poignant originals and Kat-branded covers, starting with her Johnny Depp ode “Jockstrap” (from her one-woman show/CD A Depper Kind of Love). Mixing her own tunes up with “These Foolish Games” and “Born This Way” (very fitting as Pride Week starts in T.O.), and giving special attention to birthday boy singer/songwriter Matt Gerber, Leonard wrapped it up with her hilarious, self-deprecating tribute to personal foibles “Asshole” (first checking to see if any minors were present – there weren’t yet).

Before Leonard introduced Arlene Paculan and her band, the audience was treated to a screening of Paculan’s recently released video for “Right Behind You”:

Always vibrating with warmth and positive energy, Paculan performed songs from Everything Begins with Love, a follow-up to her I’m Worth It EP, along with some mash-up covers from the likes of Britney Spears and Our Lady Peace. The new CD is a collection of original, sexy – and sometimes edgy – love songs. “If I Only Knew Your Name” speaks to a missed opportunity in a brief, passing moment; “Just Another Guy” is an ode to Iron Man’s Tony Stark; “Nightmare” (which Leonard joined in on back-up vocals) is a warning of romantic revenge, delivered with an acid-dripping smirk; and “Right Behind You” has a subtle edge of desire and desperation behind the driving beat, a craving for reunion with a lost love. “Running” is one of my personal faves – a haunting, longing for love and hanging onto dreams, but needing to let go of fear and stand still to find it.

Paculan’s band included a line-up of excellent musicians: Peter Linseman (guitar, he was also the producer on this project), Sarah Giles (modern upright bass, who folks may recognize from Angela Saini’s band The Residence) and Miquelon “Mickey” Rodriguez (drums), with Paculan on a sweet baby grand. With her sultry, soulful vocals, moving lyrics and passionate, rhythmic arrangements (co-arranged by Linseman, Paculan and Rodriguez), Paculan is both polished and naturally at ease on stage. And she’s a pleasure to watch.

It was a fun and inspiring evening of music, friends, family and fans – complete with a post-concert buffet courtesy of Paculan’s mom – and Gallery 345 is a great venue. “Everything Begins with Love” could also be a fitting description for the vibe in the room last night.

If you missed the CD launch, you can catch Paculan next at Habits Gastropub on Friday June 28 at 8:30 p.m. in a line-up that includes Aynsley Saxe, Bryan Pickell and Roveena.

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Kat Leonard performs.
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Kat Leonard gives birthday boy Matt Gerber some attention. Happy birthday, Matt!
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The evening’s main attraction, Arlene Paculan.
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Arlene Paculan works a gorgeous dress and a sweet piano as she performs at her “Everything Begins with Love” CD launch.
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Sarah Giles, with Arlene Paculan in the background.
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Mickey Rodriguez
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Peter Linseman
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Arlene Paculan, moving us with sexy, soulful R&B.
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Kat Leonard joins Arlene Paculan on “Nightmare” – do not piss these ladies off.

Big love & a joyful noise @ Tania Joy “I’ll Be Around” CD launch

The Melody Bar at the Gladstone Hotel was packed last night, all in celebration of the release of Tania Joy’s EP I’ll Be Around. And what a celebration it was!

MC Shannon Paterson, a long-time friend of of Tania Joy’s – from their days as six-year-old figure skating pals to modern-day wing men in the dating scene – ushered the evening’s festivities, including opening acts Arlene Paculan and Candice Sand.

Arlene Paculan got things going with some R&B and pop goodness – a set of originals and covers, on keys with Mickey Rodriguez on drums.  From the slow groove of “My Plea” to her love song to Tony Stark and awesome Green Day mash-up to “Running” – a soulful ballad with a sometimes haunting piano arrangement (and a personal fave) – it’s always a pleasure to wrap my ears around Paculan’s sounds. Coming up for Paculan: the Beaches Jazz Festival, the release of her debut full-length CD Everything Begins with Love (June 21 @ Gallery 345, Toronto) and WonderFest West (August 14 @ Celebration Square, Mississauga). Drop by her website for details and keep an eye out for her upcoming gigs.

Candice Sand showed us she’s got this, bringing it with a bluesy acoustic set, with Neil Whitford backing her up on guitar. Shifting from cheeky fun on a cover of Ingrid Michaelson’s “The Way I Am,” then a couple of songs later into the slow, sexy “Maybe I’m Crazy” and the soulful, strong groovin’ yet vulnerable “I Got This” (her recent release) to audience participation like on her slow groove cover of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” it was a pleasure to see Sand perform live (I’d missed her set at a WonderFest event a while back). Definitely an artist to watch out for.

The main event, Tania Joy, took to the stage with a full band backing her: “The Groove Doctor” (Dave McMorrow) on keys, Rick Joudrey on bass, Jeff Haynes on guitar, Richard Greenspoon on drums (he also engineered the record), and the lovely and talented Arlene Paculan and Candice Sand on back-up vocals.

Opening with “I Push You Pull,” an R&B-infused ballad, with the organ/keys and back-up vocal arrangements bringing some gospel Tania Joy delivered a set of originals from her I’ll Be Around EP, peppered with some covers of songs by the likes of John Fogerty and The Allman Brothers. Singing of connections and relationship, with a mix of folk, blues and gospel on “Gypsy Heart (Back To Me)” and taking us to the church of the joyful noise on “Shine Your Light,” this is a deep, rich and resonant voice singing catchy and soulful lyrics. The moving R&B/gospel sound returned on “I’ll Be Around” and “I Won’t Quit,” the title track inspired by and dedicated to the memory of her cousin Dana Rene Gibson. Bee Gees cover “To Love Somebody” had folks singing along (I was one of them, on harmony) and the reggae rhythm of original “New Ending” got folks up dancing in front of the stage. And the whole room was feeling Tania Joy’s cover of “People Get Ready.”

Tania Joy’s warmth and enthusiasm is contagious – and was matched by that coming from the audience. Friends, family, fellow singers and musicians brought a whole lotta love and support – the room was vibrating with excitement and positive energy. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for this talented lady. In the meantime, drop on by Tania Joy’s Soundcloud and YouTube pages.

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Arlene Paculan, with Mickey Rodriguez on drums.
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Arlene Paculan opens for Tania Joy at the “I’ll Be Around” EP launch.
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Candice Sand, with Neil Whitford on guitar.
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Candice Sand at Tania Joy’s “I’ll Be Around” EP release.
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Tania Joy (right), with Candice Sand (left) and Arlene Paculan (centre) on back-up vocals.
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Tania Joy on guitar at her “I’ll Be Around” EP launch.
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Tania Joy brings it powerful and soulful at her EP launch.
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Tania Joy and event MC Shannon Paterson.
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The energized, enthusiastic crowd kept Tania Joy busy with autograph requests after the show.