Coming up at Toronto’s Luminato Festival

A new city, a new set of festivals. The wandering nature/necessity of contract work brings me to Toronto for the summer, and into the midst of two of Canada’s premiere arts festivals. More on August’s Summerworks as it approaches – for the moment Luminato is upon us, launching this week.

Launched in 2007, Luminato claims to have become “one of the pre-eminent arts festivals in North America, having commissioned over 50 new works of art, and featured 6,500 artists from 35+ countries.” The festival’s mandate speaks grandly about new cultural infrastructures that engage the “many immigrant cultures converging in Toronto” in an event that reflects “the authentic richness of the arts in Toronto” and takes “its vitality from the diversity of the city’s cultural communities.” Luminato is now under the Artistic Direction of Jorn Weisbrodt, a Canadian (I think) with an impressive international resume.

Luminato began as a dream … A dream that we could create in Toronto a festival that would become renowned the world over for its excellence, its originality and its accessibility to all people regardless of background or experience…. Luminato embraces the very diversity that is the beating heart of Toronto and is living testimony that creativity is best nourished where cultures come together in a spirit of common humanity and citizenship.

From the program, there certainly is a wide array of events – though the headline performances all carry middling to high ticket costs (effectively making them inaccessible to a fair cross-section of Toronto’s cultural communities). I am impressed by the collection of events but not yet convinced that they reflect the diversity of the city. I am open to changing my mind in the next week, however, and will let you know.

I find that it is easy to lose a festival in a large city. It takes real dedication to commit to more than one event at any festival while there are so many other festivals competing with your attention. Though making it to the half a dozen events that I have tickets to already seems daunting, here are some of the programs that piqued my interest:

La Belle et la Bête. Photo: Yves Renauld

First up on my circuit will be be La Belle et la Bête. A recent work from Montreal-based Lemieux Pilon 4D Art, this will be the world-premiere of the English language version. Given the political climate in Canada at the moment, I am sorry that the production was not included in its original french version. The company is internationally recognized for their work interdisciplinary, immersive, and media rich productions.

Einstein on the Beach. Photo: Lucie Jansch

The much anticipated and discussed revival of Einstein on the Beach makes it’s first stop in Canada. I am excited and curious to see the Phillip Glass and

Robert Wilson and Philip Glass looking artsy. Photo: Lucie Jansch

Robert Wilson opera so studied in theatre history classes, even more so after reading the responses that have already appeared in Culturebot (here and here).

Anticipating the critical interest, and perhaps the inevitable audience questions, the festival has organized two supporting events for the opera. Contemporary Opera’s Big Bang will feature a round-table discussion with Robert Wilson, Philip Glass and Lucinda Childs. Then, in a post-performance discussion open to all Einstein on the Beach ticket holder (from any of the three performances), physicists from the Perimeter Institutewill examine the scientific themes of the opera. It is a credit to the festival that they followed a dramaturgical approach and are offering “illuminations” into their headlining acts. I am hoping that these discussions will dig beyond the obvious surface questions and offer insights into more complex issues surrounding contemporary performance.

Batsheva Dance Company. Photo: Gadi Dagon

The Batsheva Dance Company brings Sadeh21 to Toronto.  Batsheva’s international reputation only seems to be growing; they are presenting a work choreographed by Artistic Director Ohad Naharin.

New from Canada’s foremost hero of contemporary theatre, come Spades. Oft worshiped and occasionally derided, Robert Lepage makes big decisions in his work – decisions that, like the aforementioned Einstein on the Beach, are discussed in theatre history and directing classes across Canada (if not farther afield). Spades, the first of four parts named for the various suits, explores the theme of war and juxtaposes two desert cities Las Vegas and Baghdad, at the onset of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Often seen as stretching the boundaries, Lepage’s work also merits a discussion: Playing Cards with Robert Lepage.

In addition to four headlining acts, Luminato boasts an array of literary talks (including one from Nicole Krauss), free art events, several magic shows, and one act of musical endurance. I wasn’t planning to attend any of the music events but I must admit that I am intrigued by this: “Pianist Stewart Goodyear undertakes the Herculean challenge of playing all 32 Beethoven sonatas in a single day.” This durational performance raises some questions for me about intention and publicity that will be better answered later in the festival.

Some exciting stuff! I have to say that, despite my guarded hesitations about the festival’s mandate, I’m very much looking forward to these events. To be continued…

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