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SummerWorks 2016 part one: Tomorrow's Child, NO FUN and a wish list


by Drew Rowsome

 

SummerWorks runs until Sun, August 14 at venues across the city. summerworks.ca

In the heat of this overheated summer, there is great joy to be found in sitting in a dark theatre to explore new worlds or to be entertained. SummerWorks 2016 has more theatrical, dance, music and performance experiences than can possibly be devoured, but it is impossible not to try.

Tomorrow's Child takes the concept of sitting alone in the dark in a theatre beyond the logical extreme. The audience is blindfolded and then lead into the theatre space to perch on obscenely comfortable swivel chairs while the audio swirls around. Tomorrow's Child is an audio re-telling of a Ray Bradbury short story, and as such it lends itself well to this exploration of what imagery the mind fabricates. The minimal description and maximal sound effects coax one's fevered brain to fill in the blank imagery with intense specifics that are deeply personal and far beyond anything a special effect could create.

It works wonderfully, if a little heavy on the squiggly synthesizer sounds, until the final reveal when we are forced to return to reality, to a vision that is anti-climactic simply because our imaginations have been given such an workout. But until then I was totally absorbed in the sonics and the drama of the dilemma and story. It is nervewracking at first - I have only been totally in the dark in situations where I was about to be terrified (The Bone HouseScreemers or in the merciless clutches of Canada's Wonderland's Danusia Rogacki) and it didn't help when the introduction to the experience was given by white-coated scientists who, in every Disney/Universal ride ever created, is a sure fire sign that something "is going to go wrong."

Fortunately (unfortunately for fear fanatics) the adrenaline and isolation is used to push the imagination, the thought process into empathy. The pain of the characters, despite a sci-fi premise, becomes achingly real and emotionally devastating. Ghost River Theatre has embarked on a series of sensory-deprivation explorations, the Six Senses Series, of which Tomorrow's Child relates to hearing. I am hoping for a revival of Taste which they describe as "the first ever multi-sensory Scotch Tasting." If it has half the bravado of Tomorrow's Child while being fuelled by liquor . . .

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by Drew Rowsome

Unfortunately the second show of the evening, NO FUN, takes its title as a mandate. How can a dance/performance piece, with ear-splitting music (do accept the earplugs when they are offered on the way in), "based on the music and movement of American punk icon Iggy Pop" be so listless? There are spurts of energetic choreography and when the band locks in there is an irresistible momentum but also long arid stretches of self-indulgence. The finale builds, via wacky props and a costume change, to a confrontational anti-climax of a "fuck you" that is a good metaphor but lousy theatre.

Would even Baryshnikov have the nerve to attempt Pop's antics in the context of "an interdisciplinary dance performance?" Justin Gionet, who has the literal incarnation of Pop segments, has sexy swagger and isn't afraid to show skin, but all the dancers spend too much time presenting props - kitchen appliances, a disco ball, fur stoles - as metaphors than they do dancing or performing. NO FUN is a great idea limply executed and only partially conceived.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I am only going to be able to see one more SummerWorks production (Njo Kong Kie's Chinese language opera based on the scandal when a diplomat falls for a cross-dressing opera singing spy). However there are many that make me salivate:

The always provocative and fiercely intelligent Brad Fraser directs Osia with dramaturged by the brilliant Djanet Sears. Paul Bellini provides an enticing preview at MyGayToronto.com.

Adam Lazarus who applied his gifts to The Art of Building a BunkerBrotherhood: The Hip Hopera and Phil Luzi's Bleed, presents a solo show Daughter that "explores the beauty and horror of men" and "twists the knife in our dirty little secrets." Lazarus is a gifted clown with a nasty streak and lots of theatrical style so Daughter is a must-see.

GHOSTS promises a "journey from the erotic to the pornographic and back again to friendship" in the context of queer love, and Queer Slow Dance with Radical Thought : the (Ir)Reverence Edition is, like the title, enigmatic but deals with radical queer thinkers and intimate encounters. Plucked intrigues just for the photo, but comedy, bluegrass music and "a world where fear turns women into chickens, eggs are currency, and vaginas are dangerous" is a great blurb.

On the musical side Glitter Jesus claims to be a "fuzz-filled sermon that will retore your faith in sex, drugs, and rock and roll" as a glam prophet struggles to survive in a "post a-rock-alyptic world." Fame Prayer/EATING aims to create "a queer space of worship" while critiquing modern spirituality and consumer consumption. Inside is a series of eight site-specific one-on-one encounters that take place in a house that is a secret location. It is impossible not to be curious what collaborators/performers Tabby Johnson, Nadeem Phillip, Adrian Rebucas and the rest of the cast get up to when they're "alone, at home." 

That is just scratching the surface of SummerWorks. Browsing through the catalogue, other titles jump out - SExTBleeders and Don't Talk to Me Like I'm Your Wife - but the atmosphere of the festival is also conducive to word-of-mouth and there will be surprise successes that you may not have considered. And this overheated summer just got a few degrees hotter.

SummerWorks runs until Sun, August 14 at venues across the city. summerworks.ca


5

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