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robert lepage

Weekend Roundup: February 17 to 19

Friday: Only a few shows remain for Cruel and Tender (photo by Bruce Zinger)

Friday, February 17
Don’t miss one of your final opportunities to see Atom Egoyan’s return to his theatre roots as he directs his wife, Arsinee Khanjian, in Martin Crimp’s tour-de-force Cruel and Tender. This drama, which contrasts private battles and public wars, is on stage at the Bluma Appel Theatre until February 18.

Independent music showcase Wavelength celebrates its 12th anniversary with a four-night extravaganza of the newest and brightest in pop, rock and electronic music. Tonight’s lineup features Toronto’s own critically lauded hardcore band F*cked Up.

Virtuosic pianist Leon Fleisher commands the attention of the audience at Koerner Hall, as he and the Royal Conservatory Orchestra perform a bold selection of works by such masters as Ravel, Beethoven and Prokofiev.

Bonus Pick! Make your way to Indigo’s Manulife Centre location tonight to hear newly minted Giller Prize winner Esi Edugyan discuss her acclaimed novel, Half-Blood Blues, with the Globe and Mail‘s Sandra Martin. (more…)

Hot Date: The Blue Dragon’s Culture Clash

JANUARY 10 TO FEBRUARY 19 A Canadian expatriate living in modern-day China finds himself pulled between two women—one from his Eastern present and the other from his Western past. The intriguing story of The Blue Dragon is made even more compelling through graceful dance, powerful performances and stunning cinematic stagecraft, courtesy of Canadian theatre legend Robert Lepage. The Quebec-based artist co-wrote this story with Marie Michaud, as a follow-up to their collaborative work The Dragons’ Trilogy. The two also perform the lead roles alongside dancer Tai Wei Foo. Royal Alexandra Theatre, $25 to $99; call 416-872-1212 or click here for showtimes and tickets.

Life Under the Big Top with Cirque du Soleil

A hoops dancer enthralls in Cirque du Soleil's Totem (photo by Daniel Desmarias)

AUGUST 11 TO OCTOBER 9 Never known to shy away from a challenge, Cirque du Soleil makes magic out of a most ambitious subject, the evolution of life on earth, in its latest touring production. This month, Totem comes alive under the Grand Chapiteau with more than 50 cast members from around the world. Colourfully adorned hoop dancers, unicyclists, acrobats and more take the stage in this magically evocative display.

Unfolding like an epic creation myth, Totem begins with prehistory, envisioning the original amphibian state from which many animals grew, and progresses through a variety of acrobatic feats to ultimately reflect the evolution of human aspiration. Much of the action takes place on a stylized turtle shell representing Mother Earth, a common theme of many origin stories. Other memorable characters include a grey-haired clown reminiscent of Charles Darwin, as well as the Crystal Man—signifying the “life force”—who drops from the sky in a ball of energy, his costume glittering with tiny mirrors and crystals.

Totem is the second collaboration between Cirque du Soleil and master theatre director Robert Lepage. Its April 2010 world premiere thrilled audiences in Montreal, and since then it has played in Quebec City, Amsterdam and London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall. No doubt the production will have Toronto audiences clamouring for more—a desire that can be fulfilled when the troupe returns in October to present a show based on the music of Michael Jackson. The Grand Chapiteau at the Port Lands, Tuesday to Thursday 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday 4 and 8 p.m., Sunday 1 and 5 p.m., adults $73.50 to $248.50, children (aged 2 to 12) $54 to $208; call 1-800-450-1480 or visit here to purchase tickets.

Fly to The Nightingale

Olga Peretyatko as the Nightingale and Ilya Bannik as the Emperor in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of <em>The Nightingale and Other Short Fables</em> (photo by Michael Cooper).

Olga Peretyatko as the Nightingale and Ilya Bannik as the Emperor in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of The Nightingale and Other Short Fables (photo by Michael Cooper).

Since the opening of the Four Seasons Centre in 2006, Canadian Opera Company performances have consistently comprised one of Toronto’s hottest cultural tickets. Not yet one month into its 2009-2010 season, the company has already drawn raves for its near-classic remounting of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (on now to November 3), and now that the critics have had their say about the company’s latest production, opera is once again the talk of this town.

Based on a number of early works by Igor Stravinsky, The Nightingale and Other Short Fables is the brainchild of Quebec director Robert Lepage, a master of visual storytelling who employs diverse media to create immersive theatrical environments.

And if there’s one word that captures The Nightingale experience both literally and figuratively, “immersive” is it. A 45-minute musical drama comprising the second half of the program, it tells of a songbird who is courted by the emperor of China, only to be replaced by a mechanical doppelgänger. But this being a Lepage production, there’s much more to it than a simple story: the action takes place in the Four Seasons Centre’s orchestra pit, which has been filled with 67,000 litres of water as well as the opera’s primary cast—including a radiant Olga Peretyatko as the title character—who not only sing in the pool, but also articulate richly detailed Japanese- and Chinese-style puppets to, as the director notes, “pull the poetry out of the libretto and the poetic ideas out the music.”

While this multi-layered set-piece is undoubtedly the evening’s highlight, it is capably preceded by a selection of other brief Stravinsky works that are equally satisfying, both musically and as performance art. Notable among them are the jaunty Ragtime— a piece for small orchestra (conducted, in this case, with aplomb by the Vancouver Opera’s Jonathan Darlington) that offers jazz-like motifs with distinctly Eastern grace notes—and a trio of song-stories expertly brought to visual life by a troupe of shadow puppeteers. Stravinsky’s allegory The Fox also employs shadow performers to great effect.

Though only two performances into its run, The Nightingale and Other Fables has garnered such buzz that its remaining scheduled dates are now sold out. Fortunately an encore show has just been added for November 2, 7:30 p.m. Act quickly to purchase by visiting the Canadian Opera Company’s website or the Four Seasons Centre box office (145 Queen St. W.), or call 416-363-8231. Tickets range from $20 to $292.

Luminato Preview—Theatre, Dance, Music and Wonder

These highly anticipated events are to keep you entertained during Toronto’s illuminating festival arts festival.

The Children's Crusade finds hope in conflict (photo by Cylla von Tiedemann).

The Children's Crusade finds hope in conflict (photo by Cylla von Tiedemann).

JUNE 5 & 6, 8 TO 11 Over its previous two editions some of Luminato’s most ambitious and awe-inspiring performances have been those commissioned specifically for the festival. Among this year’s slate of world premieres is The Children’s Crusade, a highly anticipated new opera by Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer. Featuring more than 100 diverse performers and a battery of medieval instruments, the 90-minute work is based on the tragic story of a 13th-century expedition involving thousands of young people who set out for the Holy Land to spread hope in a time of conflict. Something of a hybrid piece, The Children’s Crusade also incorporates contemporary sonic and visual elements: notably, innovative director Tim Albery stages the opera in a strikingly derelict warehouse; the standing audience moves through the space, following the company on its inspiring, yet ultimately doomed campaign. 153 Dufferin St., 8 p.m., $40.