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Top 9 of '09: Best Festival shows, Part 1: Summerworks

January 18th, 2010 Steve No comments

The second post of my Best 9 of ‘09 series was supposed to be theatre in general; however, when I realized that 4 of my preliminary picks were Summerworks shows, I realized that Fringe and Summerworks deserved their own lists entirely. So there’ll be a Best of Theatre ‘09 list down the pipeline, but first – a post each, celebrating Toronto’s new work festivals. The Next Stage Theatre Festival is running to the end of this weekend at the Factory Theatre, featuring many of the actors and companies singled out for praise in these lists; I’ll mention their current offerings where applicable, as well as shows outside of Next Stage.

Naive little me thought I’d manage a post a day (hah!) when I started these retrospective posts, but they’re working out to 5 or more days apiece, so it’s entirely possible I won’t finish until the end of January! But for those curious, next up will be the Fringe Festival, then the Best Comedy Shows of 2009, then a Best Singles of 2009 post (plus an update by next Friday).

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Best Summerworks Moments of 2009

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One of the remarkable things about how the Summerworks Festival has evolved under Artistic Director Michael Rubenfeld is how it’s grown to include performance events that aren’t strictly stage plays; for this past year’s festival, I saw 27 plays, 18 bands, 9 Performance Gallery pieces, and 3 Summerwalks tours. So I’ve tried to pull from all those experiences in listing my top Summerworks picks, by citing particular events and moments that stood out and crystallized why that show was worthy of mention.

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#9: Maev Beaty’s painter seduces Erin Shields’s shopgirl in “Montparnasse

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Erin Shields and Maev Beaty played with audiences' conceptions of the nude model as their characters gradually succumbed to greed, lust, and jealousy in the riveting "Montparnasse". Photo by Amanda Lynne Ballard.

When both of the writer/performers of this fascinating look at nude models in 1920’s Paris first shed their clothes on stage, they did so in a way that lulled the audience into accepting the nudity as natural and non-sexual, and therefore non-threatening. The posing and attitudes all suggested that the character’s disrobing was being done for art and beauty’s sake, and that anyone sexualizing it (or thinking of it as shameful) would be ruining the compact by subverting something liberating and beautiful.

But midway through the play, Beaty’s lesbian painter Amelia seduced Shields (playing a secondary character, an assistant who can help further Amelia’s career), succumbing to both her own lust, and the desire to insinuate herself into the inner circles of Paris’ cultural elite. All of a sudden, all bets were off. As Amelia slowly stripped clothes off the tough-talking shopgirl, her brusque demeanour dissolved, and was replaced with a vulnerability hitherto unseen when skin was exposed; a vulnerability that was taken advantage of. The apple had been tasted of, and for the rest of the play, the nudity was no longer quite so innocent.

Many critics marveled at the bravery of Shields and Beaty for spending so much time nude in “Montparnasse“, but it was this re-contextualizing of that nudity that was the audacious choice in their show.

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#8: Oh No Forest Fires‘ cover of “Footloose

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There were all sorts of incredible performances over the course of the Summerworks Music Series. Two of the bands on my Best Albums of 2009 list, Think About Life (#1) and Great Bloomers (#10) were among the bands who played extraordinary sets (and since they’ve already been mentioned, were “disqualified” from this list), and nearly every night, as least one of the bands got people up and dancing.

Among the best to do so, however, were ONFF and their set ending cover of Kenny Loggin’s classic “Footloose“. Faced with a smaller mid-week crowd than most of the festival’s nights, ONFF gradually got the crowd warmed up and dancing, and when they busted out “Footloose“, there wasn’t a still foot in the house.

Sadly, ONFF recently announced their last show on Jan. 23rd (which you should definitely consider attending); in the meantime, while there is a video of ONFF performing “Footloose, the sound quality is pretty terrible, so here’s a clip of them performing their own song, “It’s Not Fun and Games Unless Someone Loses an Eye“.

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(The rest of the Summerworks list, including some choice videos, follows below.)

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Categories: Comedy, Dance, Improv, Music, Theatre Tags:

Top 9 of ‘09: Best Albums

January 4th, 2010 Steve No comments

It’s twenty-ten! Last year, my own resolutions revolved mostly around getting this website off the ground and running. This year, given my lack of posts in November and December (a hiatus for a few weeks became habit-forming), I’m resolving to more consistently post the weekly update, and try and institute some subtle changes to the site, among them an integrated GTS Twitter account, a sidebar tweak (some third party ads should crop up, but I promise they won’t be intrusive), a monthly music playlist, and an easier interface for posted MP3s.

Before we get to new business, however, I have a series of end of year recap posts planned for music, theatre, and comedy. As befitting the year that just ended, they’re kept to 9 (though some, like this post, will also have the same number of “honourable mentions”). First up on deck:

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Best Albums (LPs) of 2009

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#9. Josh Reichmann Oracle BandCrazy Power

Josh Reichmann Oracle Band - Crazy Power

Best track: “Fractal Web

If Toronto had an equivalent to NYC’s The Strokes in the 2000s, both in sound and local buzz, it was Tangiers; the rock and post-punk band garnered considerable local acclaim for their 3 strong albums and energetic live shows from 2002-2005. When Tangiers dissolved in 2006, lead singer Reichmann experimented with a few different projects and sounds, releasing a debut solo album in ‘07 under the moniker Jewish Legend. The album showed a lot of promise, though it was a little too out there and dark to appeal to a wide segment of T.O.’s music fans. Crazy Power, however, while still venturing into all sorts of odd musical genres, is poppy and upbeat where previous effort Telepathy Now! was obtuse and challenging (continuing the Strokes comparison, their lead singer Julian Casablancas almost made this list for his own solo album this year, but we’re getting off topic). Anyway, Reichmann seems to have really hit his stride, and the album evokes all sorts of soul and funk comparisons, most notably to Prince. Songs like “Shivering Black” and “Sea at Night” are full of falsetto flourishes, calypso beats, and all manner of interesting instrumentation. Live, the Oracle Band is still a bit chaotic, but that’s A-OK by me – my favourite album of last year, Miracle Fortress’s Five Roses, took a while to bring to life on stage, too.

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#8. Dan ManganNice, Nice, Very Nice

Dan Mangan - Nice, Nice, Very Nice

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Best Track: “Robots

Mangan’s already received a lot of praise for his finely crafted debut album this year, including being awarded the XM Verge Award for Artist of the Year (an award that came as a shock to many who expected the award would go to a harder edged rock band), and Two CBC Radio 3 Bucky Awards, for Best Vocals and Best Song of the year. He ended the year on a high note, too, being named Best New Artist of the Year by iTunes Canada. Word spread quickly amongst the tight knit Canadian blogosphere and music community in 2009 about his exceptional stage craft skills and approachable persona; I’ve been at several live shows and in-stores, and Mangan always puts an effort in to turn new fans into friends after his set is over. While “N, N, VN” isn’t a re-invention of the wheel, it’s a album of exceptionally pleasant and straight-forward singer-songwriter tunes, and Mangan displays wit and charm throughout, including having had a hand in producing the terrific 80’s gang fight homage video for lead single “Robots”.

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For the rest of the list, including a cornucopia of videos and MP3s, click “more”…

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Categories: Music Tags: