Luminato always gets a lot of attention. The gargantuan arts festival stands out for scoring superstars like Robert Wilson, Pina Bausch and Matthew Barney — something outgoing artistic director Jörn Weisbrodt (aka Rufus Wainwright’s other half) prioritized over his five-year tenure.
This year, with newly-minted AD Josephine Ridge at the helm, there is a clear shift in focus. International celebrity talent is less of a priority. Instead Canadians, and in particular indigenous artists, make up a substantial part of the program. Xtra has perused the catalogue to find you this year’s stand-out events.
Mainstream society has only just begun the conversation around Canada’s history of residential schools. But when it comes to facilitating the discussion about this shameful part of our past, theatre artists such as Corey Payette’s musical Children of God and Tara Beagan and Andy Moro’s play Reckoning are leading the way. This edition of Luminato brings us Bearing; a dance-opera tackling the subject. It’s co-created by director Yvette Nolan, choreographer Michael Greyeyes and librettist Spy Dénommé-Welch. As Canadians begin to unpack these histories, their lasting impacts are slowly revealed to us. These events may have happened decades ago. But their profound impacts are still very much alive today.
Erin Markey’s performance style has all the makings of cabaret: singing, chatting with the audience and even the occasional hint of dance. But the Brooklyn performance sensation usually eschews the C-word, calling her work “intimate musical conversation” instead. And maybe that makes sense. While conventional cabaret aims to transport you away from the world’s problems, Markey invites us to do precisely the opposite — sit in the muck and contemplate it all. Blending Whitney Houston’s lesbian mythologies, parts of Pretty Woman and (of course) some of her own life, Boner Killer will definitely make you laugh at the same time it leaves you a little uneasy. And if you manage to get an erection, good for you.
Belgian director/choreographer Alain Platel often works with communities who don’t get much representation in mainstream theatre. Badke (2016) saw him collaborate with Palestine performers working with traditional folk dance . In Gardenia (2011) (later adapted into the film Until the Last Curtain Falls) he brought together seven septuagenarian drag queens for one final performance. En avant, marche! marks his collaboration with a marching band. The dance-theatre hybrid tells the loose story of an aging trombone player who’s been reassigned to the percussion section after throat cancer takes his ability to play. Anchored by strong performances and Platel’s keen eye, the show offers a moving meditation on mortality that will have near-universal appeal.
When Tina Satter and her sister were kids, they had a band. They didn’t have real instruments and they didn’t write many songs, but they imagined themselves jamming together for the rest of their lives. Now that they’re grown up, they don’t even speak. Ghost Rings melds this story from Satter’s own life with a tale of two women in a tempestuous relationship who are hoping to have a baby. A hybrid rock-concert-experimental-theatre piece, the show will leave you puzzled if you go in searching for a clear narrative. But if you sit back and let the piece wash over you, you can expect a moving examination of what love and commitment truly mean.
James Baldwin’s queerness was inseparable from his work. The American author and social critic addressed homosexuality in his writing long before it was acceptable to do so, including 1956’s Giovanni’s Room and 1968’s Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone. While his identity was no secret during his life, discussions since his death in 1987 have often glossed over his sexuality or outright ignored it. On that level, Notes of a Native Song may be a little disappointing for queer audiences since this critical aspect of Baldwin’s life is barely mentioned. But to be fair, Stew and the Negro Problem’s show isn’t supposed to be a biography. Instead, it serves as a celebratory riff on Baldwin’s legacy that aims to inspire people to create art defying genre and expectation. And what could be queerer than that?
Fans of Veda Hille were pretty bummed when it was announced that the multitalented Vancouver musician had cancelled her Luminato gig. But the upside to Hille’s absence is that it made space for the Queer Songbook Orchestra to perform. Founded in 2014, the ever-fluctuating ensemble (current membership sits at 10) digs through the canon of pop for known works by musicians whose queerness has been obscured as well as works by straight artists that have a particular resonance when viewed through a queer lens. You can expect new spins on The Mamas & The Papas, Nina Simone and Tori Amos, as well as more obviously queer names like Ani DiFranco and kd lang. It’s a moving and unexpectedly empowering romp through queer history. And if the mood strikes, you can also sing along.