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national ballet of canada

Encore! Encore! Theatre, Opera, Ballet and Music Abound in Toronto

CANADA’S COMMERCIAL CAPITAL IS ALSO A CULTURAL ONE. THIS FALL BRINGS AN ABUNDANCE OF OFFERINGS—FROM BROADWAY MUSICALS AND TONY-WINNING DRAMAS TO MELODIOUS SYMPHONIES, OPERATIC ARIAS AND CLASSICAL DANCE. BY LINDA LUONG

The Book of Mormon. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The Book of Mormon. Photo by Joan Marcus.

IN THE HOOD

The Entertainment District, home to five major performing arts venues, is where much of the singing, dancing and music-making takes place. The area’s two pillar theatres, the Royal Alexandra (260 King St. W.) and Princess of Wales (300 King St. W.), are owned by Mirvish Productions, which regularly stages audience-friendly shows. The grandiose, beaux-arts-style Royal Alex boasts an autumn playbill that includes historical drama Our Country’s Good (continuing to October 26), about the penal colony originally established in Australia, as well as Tom Stoppard’s witty Arcadia (November 4 to December 14) and The Heart of Robin Hood (December 22 to March 1). By contrast, the 2,000-seat Princess of Wales was built in the early 1990s to host mega-musical Miss Saigon. Since then it’s been home to extravaganzas like The Lion King and The Phantom of the Opera. The religious satire The Book of Mormon (continuing to November 2) returns after its sold-out 2013 run.

A block east lies Roy Thomson Hall (60 Simcoe St.), home of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and host to Toronto International Film Festival galas. One of the city’s most distinctive landmarks, the concert hall is easily recognized by its curvilinear glass exterior. Within, its primary tenant—under the guidance of music director Peter Oundjian—presents innovative programming such as the contemporary-classical New Creations Festival and an annual celebration of Mozart, and has accompanied such guests as Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman. This month sees David Zinman conduct Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 (October 2 and 4) and Prokofiev’s ballet score for Shakepeare’s Romeo & Juliet (October 22 and 23)—a powerful work. Later in the year, the harmonious efforts of the TSO and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir in a rendition of Handel’s Messiah (December 16 to 21) is a holiday tradition not to be missed, and in 2015 Chinese piano prodigy Lang Lang celebrates Chinese New Year (February 21).

Not so far away is the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen St. W.). The country’s first purpose-built opera house opened in 2006 and is home to both the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada. Inspired by traditional European theatres, the five-tiered horseshoe-shaped auditorium boasts impeccable sight lines, an expansive orchestra pit plus an impressive lobby—featuring a “floating” glass staircase—that adds considerable glamour to the streetscape. Themes of love and romance dominate the COC’s 2014-15 season: Verdi’s comic Falstaff (October 3 to November 1) kicks things off, while Don Giovanni (January 24 to February 21) seduces patrons in the new year. When opera’s not on stage, dance takes the spotlight. Helmed by former prima ballerina Karen Kain, the National Ballet of Canada boasts a dynamic repertoire by 20th- and 21st-century masters ranging from Balanchine to Nureyev. James Kudelka’s rendition of family favourite The Nutcracker (December 13 to January 3)—complete with stunning sets and costumes—is a holiday classic; the whimsical Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (March 14 to 29) is a bold new work; and beloved classic The Sleeping Beauty (June 10 to 20) caps off the season.

For a night of laughs, improv comedy reigns at The Second City, which counts the likes of Gilda Radner, John Candy, Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara amongst its Toronto alumni. Performed in a cabaret-style theatre, the company’s Fall Mainstage Revue has audiences laughing with its sketches, humourous songs and zany cast.

Soulpepper Theatre Company's production of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

Soulpepper Theatre Company’s production of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

DISTINCTIVELY CANADIAN

A hub for homegrown talent, Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St.) was conceived in 1970 to reflect Canadian experiences, and continues to dedicate itself to producing works by this country’s playwrights. This fall, the curtains rise on The Art of Building a Bunker (October 16 to November 2; page 28), a satire about workplace sensitivity training written by Adam Lazarus and Guillermo Verdecchia. Later, Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman and Joseph Jomo Pierre’s Twisted (February 5 to 22) updates Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, and Ronnie Burkett and his 40 eclectic marionettes return with The Daisy Theatre (March 18 to April 5).

The Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Ln.) anchors one end of the sprawling Distillery District. Primarily home to the artist-founded Soulpepper Theatre Company, the former industrial building features four stages as well as studio spaces. Each season, Soulpepper fulfills its mandate to present classical works within the context of our national culture, as exemplified by Spoon River (October 29 to November 15; page 29), a musical in which members of a rural town recount their lives through their own epitaphs. The following month sees the triumphant return of Kim’s Convenience (November 27 to December 28), Ins Choi’s debut play about Korean immigrants and their Canadian-born children in Toronto’s Regent Park, which just wrapped up a national tour. Simultaneously, Dickens’ quintessential holiday tale, A Christmas Carol (November 27 to December 27) is mounted.

True to its name, Canadian Stage presents modern works—sometimes written by Canucks and often national or Toronto premieres—at both the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley St.) and Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front St. E.). Helen Lawrence (October 12 to November 1), fuses computer-generated simulation, live action film and visual art in a post‑World War II drama set in Vancouver. After a successful run last season, the sexually charged Venus in Fur (December 18 to 28) is back by popular demand, while beloved Quebec theatre artist—and CanStage fave—Robert Lepage returns with his heart-wrenching Needles and Opium (May 1 to 10).

Another local incubator, the playwright-in-residence program at Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman Ave.) has produced works by the likes of Morris Panych, Daniel MacIvor, Judith Thompson and Hannah Moscovitch. This season’s lineup includes The Bakelite Masterpiece (October 21 to November 30), in which an art forger is forced to recreate a painting by Dutch master Vermeer, as well as Panych’s Sextet (November 5 to December 14), which delves into secrets and desires of six stranded musicians. The new year brings both hope and fear for the hospital-bound characters of Waiting Room (January 6 to February 15).

Koerner Hall auditorium at The Royal Conservatory. Photo by Tom Arban.

Koerner Hall auditorium at The Royal Conservatory. Photo by Tom Arban.

TUNEFUL SPACES

Toronto’s top concert halls juxtapose old and new. Since breaking ground in 1893, the venerable Massey Hall (178 Victoria St.) has hosted performers spanning generations and genres: George Gershwin, Maria Callas, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Ronnie Hawkins, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Justin Bieber. This month sees contemporary artists grab the mic, including David Gray (October 7), Jason Mraz (October 8 and 9) and Chrissie Hynde (October 30). Then Gordon Lightfoot enjoys a four-night residency (November 26 to 29) before seasonal staples like Sing-Along Messiah (December 21) and New Year’s Eve Comedy Extravaganza (December 31) fill the room.

Koerner Hall (273 Bloor St. W.) is a much more recent vintage. Completed in 2009, the musical jewel of The Royal Conservatory is a visual and sonic stunner: a ribbon of curved oak beams creates the illusion of a canopied ceiling while helping to enhance the venue’s superb acoustics. The 1,135-seat auditorium hosts an array of jazz, pop and world musicians including Rafal Blechacz (October 19), Sir James Galway and Lady Jeanne Galway (October 25), Ana Moura (November 5), Idan Raichel and Vieux Farka Touré (November 21), Handel’s Messiah performed by the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Choir (December 17 to 20), and Anne Sofie von Otter and Angela Hewitt (January 9).

MORE TO SEE THIS FALL

Cirque du Soleil's Kurios--Cabinet of Curiosities. Photo by Martin Girard.

Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios—Cabinet of Curiosities. Photo by Martin Girard.

Big Top Spectacle The circus is in town! Montreal’s famed Cirque du Soleil has once again pitched its signature blue and yellow tents down at the Port Lands (51 Commissioner St.). In Kurios—Cabinet of Curiosities (continuing to October 26), a kaleidoscope of characters—and the talented acrobats, jugglers, cyclists, cortortionists and other artists who portray them—transport audiences to the 19th century to meet an inventor who’s able to defy time, space and gravity. (One spectacular scene occurs at an upside down dinner party, while another features an invisible circus.) With imaginative costumes by Phillippe Guillotel and detailed sets and props by Stéphane Roy, Kurios is one of the company’s most imaginative and visually striking shows.

Jersey Boys. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Jersey Boys. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

More Blockbusters Also part of the Mirvish empire is the Ed Mirvish Theatre (244 Victoria St.), a former vaudeville and motion picture house across from the Toronto Eaton Centre. Carefully restored to reflect its Roaring ’20s origins, the venue’s grand staircase and ornate vaulted ceilings set a resplendent scene as patrons arrive for stagings of Wicked (continues to November 2), Jersey Boys (December 17 to January 4) and the endearing musical Once (February 10 to April 12).

Medieval Times, Toronto

Medieval Times

Loyal Subjects For dinner and a show, the live spectacle that is Medieval Times can’t be missed. Join King Don Carlos’s court and watch as knights battle to win the hand of his daughter, Princess Catalina—all while partaking in a four-course (and utensil-free) feast.

The National Ballet’s Carmen Turns Up the Heat

The National Ballet of Canada's Carmen is a sultry offering for summer (photo: Sian Richards)

The National Ballet of Canada’s Carmen is a sultry offering for summer (photo: Sian Richards)

JUNE 5 TO 16  The summer heat is nothing in comparison to the erotic intensity of Carmen. This month, the National Ballet of Canada brings back to the stage the tale of a strong-willed, independent woman and the man who is both drawn to and terrified by her sexuality. Incorporating the timeless music of Rodion Shchedrin and Georges Bizet, this modern production by choreographer Davide Bombana is a full-length version of his original one-act ballet—first seen in Toronto in 2009—expanding on its unflinching carnality and heartrending tragedy. Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, $25 to $180; call 416-345-9595 or click here for showtimes and to buy.  —Marina Smart

The National Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet Adds Romance to Your March Break

National Ballet of Canada's Romeo and Juliet

The National Ballet of Canada’s Romeo and Juliet (photo: Bruce Zinger)

MARCH 12 TO 17  Literature’s most famous tale of star-crossed lovers is beautifully—and tragically—interpreted through music and movement as the National Ballet of Canada presents Romeo and Juliet. The company’s production premiered in 2011 to great acclaim; it’s back by popular demand, giving longtime patrons and newcomers alike another chance to see Russian choreographer Alexei Ratmansky’s blend of classical and contemporary steps, set to Prokofiev’s vivid and timeless score. Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, $25 to $239; call 416-345-9595 or visit the National Ballet’s website for showtimes and tickets.  —Anna Marszalek

Weekend Roundup: November 9 to 11

The Little Years offers period drama at Tarragon Theatre

Friday, November 9
Starting this weekend, audiences can hearken back to The Little Years courtesy of Tarragon Theatre and award-winning Toronto-based playwright John Mighton. The critically acclaimed drama story follows a young woman in the 1950s as she struggles with the transition from life as a precocious teen to the harsher reality of adulthood.

Celebrating the art of voice and story, the Festival of Oral Literatures showcases a wide variety of talented poets, theatre artists, storytellers, spoken-word artists and even beatbox performers this weekend at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Tonight, the pay-what-you-can “House Made of Stories” program features Jan Blake, Susan Coyne, Ron Evans and more.

Check out all the hilarity as the Just For Laughs Comedy Tour comes chuckling into Toronto to tackle the theme of relationships—everything from marriage to dating to family, plus all the humorous complications in between. An all-star cast of comics includes Debra DiGiovanni,Saturday Night Live alum Jim Breuer, host John Heffron and more. Don’t miss all the hysterical insights tonight at Massey Hall.

Alice dances down the rabbit hole again (photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)

Saturday, November 10
Tumble down the rabbit hole once again as the National Ballet of Canada brings its hugely successful Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland back to the Four Seasons Centre. Opening tonight, the production combines classical dance with imaginative design to transport the entire family to a magical new world.

The Toronto Raptors one-win and four-loss record to start the current NBA season belies the team’s promise. Will point guard Kyle Lowry be back in the lineup after suffering an ankle sprain earlier in the week? Can Andrea Bargnani rediscover his shooting stroke? Can the team put together four full quarters of effort and pull off its second victory? Find out tonight as the dinos take on the Philadelphia 76ers at the Air Canada Centre.

Often compared to other Canadian greats like Ron Sexsmith and Rufus Wainwright, Toronto-based singer-songwriter, arranger and producer Royal Wood tonight swings by the historic Winter Garden Theatre. A soulful crooner known for heart-wrenching ballads, Wood changes his tune slightly on his new album, which offers more up-tempo tunes.

Mats Sundin takes part in the Hockey Hall of Fame’s induction weekend festivities

Sunday, November 11
The NHL season may be on hold, but there’s no reason you can’t get your fix. This weekend, the Hockey Hall of Fame gets set to welcome Pavel Bure, Adam Oates, Joe Sakic and Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin as its newest members. Today’s Induction Weekend celebrations include a Q&A session with the honourees, followed by the Legends Classic game, featuring top players from years gone by.

With over 75 speakers and 200 exhibitors, the Whole Life Expo is the largest event of its kind in Canada. Shop for the latest in health and beauty products, explore alternative and natural approaches to medicine and care, and get great advice on living an eco-friendly life!

Today marks your final opportunity to check out the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. Fun for the whole family, the 90th annual event combines a farm and livestock show with an equestrian competition, plus delicious food, giant vegetable displays, dog shows and more.

 

 

Hot Date: The National Ballet’s Very Important Date

(photo: Bruce Zinger)

NOVEMBER 10 T0 25  Back by popular demand, the National Ballet of Canada combines classical dance and sheer imagination in its production of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which first wowed Toronto audiences in 2011. Created by British choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, this adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s tale also features innovative set design and costumes that bring the beloved characters to life. Don’t be afraid to tumble down the rabbit hole—this performance transports the entire family to a magical new world. Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, $25 to $239; call 416-345-9595 or visit here for showtimes and to purchase tickets.  —Ana Taveira

Hot Art: Designing the National Ballet

The Sugar Plum Fairy's costume from The Nutcracker (photo by Setareh Sarmadi)

JULY 11 TO SEPTEMBER 2 Go behind the scenes of one of the country’s foremost performing arts groups as the Design Exchange presents its timely exhibition, 60 Years of Designing the Ballet. In celebration of the National Ballet of Canada’s diamond anniversary, this engaging retrospective illuminates the numerous, sometimes underrated elements—building sets, fashioning costumes, painting backdrops and more—that go into staging the company’s classical and contemporary dance productions, using archival materials and insightful commentary from the creators themselves. Supporting this primary show is the Tutu Project, which presents the ballet’s iconic symbol through historic pieces as well as
original designs.

Weekend Roundup: June 15 to 17

Friday: See the National Ballet's Chroma and more (photo by Cylla von Tiedemann)

Friday, June 15
Audiences and critics have been raving about the National Ballet of Canada‘s triple bill of Chroma, Song of a Wayfarer, and Elite Syncopations. Make sure you get to this evening’s performance—the works offer a dynamic exploration of the kinesthetics of the human body.

Rain or shine (and really, it looks as though the weather will be wonderful), the Toronto Wine & Spirit Festival enlivens Sugar Beach tonight and all day Saturday. Sample hundreds of international beverages, taste dishes by local chefs, attend fun and informative seminars and enjoy an evening full of entertainment on one of Toronto’s chic urban oases.

The NXNE festival has riffing away all week long; this weekend’s free outdoor concerts at Yonge-Dundas Square offer an excellent wrap-up to the party. This evening, veteran music icon Matthew Good takes the stage, while psychedelic rock band The Flaming Lips enchant the crowd on Saturday night. The festival comes to a close on Sunday with hip-hop pioneers Raekwon and Ghosface Killah of Wu Tang Clan. (more…)

Weekend Roundup: June 8 to 10

Friday: Witness Hamlet's balletic vengeance (photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic)

Friday, June 8
The National Ballet of Canada has drawn crowds for its adaption of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy, Hamlet. Don’t miss your opportunity to see this moving yet visceral performance—it’s on stage at the Four Seasons Centre until Sunday only.

The annual Luminato festival of creativity opens tonight and hits high gear through the weekend with a number of events: watch as the rules of conventional opera are broken and gloriously remade in Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach; or enjoy a contemporary retelling of the classic fairy tale La Belle et la Bête, with actors interacting with projected images in a virtual reality setting.

If you’re looking for a place to test out handcrafted cocktails then The Drinks Show is for you. The interactive cocktail event showcases Toronto’s hottest  emerging and established bartenders mixing some of their favourite drinks in a chic Liberty Village venue. (more…)

Hot Date: The National Ballet of Canada Serves Up Royal Vengeance

photo courtesy of the Stuttgart Ballet

JUNE 1 TO 10 The elegance of dance is contrasted with a story of bitter angst and revenge in the North American premiere of Hamlet by the National Ballet of Canada. Choreographer Kevin O’Day adapted Shakespeare’s tour-de-force about a Danish prince’s bloody plan to reclaim his murdered father’s throne, presenting it with stunning set pieces and a rousing score by John King. Be sure to arrive early to the performance—guests can attend a pre-show talk to gain further insight into the story and the production itself. Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, $25 to $234; call 416-355-9595 or click here for showtimes and tickets.

Weekend Roundup: March 23 to 25

Friday: Tracy Morgan brings the funny

Friday, March 23
For one night only (tonight, obviously), Tracy Morgan brings his slightly off-base brand of comedy to the Sony Centre. Edgy laughs come fast and furious as the 30 Rock and former Saturday Night Live cast member presents his stand-up act as part of the Canadian International Comedy Festival.

Contemporary art gallery The Power Plant kicks off its 25th-anniversary celebrations tonight with the opening of two exhibitions, Kerry Tribe’s Speak, Memory, and Dissenting Histories: 25 Years of The Power Plant, the latter of which offers a retrospective of the gallery’s past quarter-century.

Legendary axeman John Hammond sings (and plays) the blues this evening in Toronto. After five decades on the road—he’s performed with everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Eric Clapton—and more than 30 albums under his belt, Hammond settles in at Hugh’s Room to play selections from his latest release, Rough and Tough. (more…)

Weekend Roundup: March 9 to 11

Friday: The piano at Hugh's Room is sure to get a workout

Friday, March 9
Be at Hugh’s Room when an all-star cast of musicians perform the work of songwriting great Randy Newman. The wit and lyrical brilliance that infused songs by Etta James, Tom Jones and Joe Cocker will be in full force at this tribute.

It’s bound to be an evening chocful of blonde hair and pink accessories at the Lower Ossington Theatre when Legally Blonde: The Musical struts onstage. You’ll cheer as Elle Woods, sorority-girl extraordinaire, enrolls in law school and silences naysayers.

Ballet Jorgen unites the lyricism and innovation of ballet throughout the ages in this weekend’s production of classical and contemporary ballet. This two-show run by one of Canada’s leading modern dance companies is sure to inspire and delight as it glides across the Betty Oliphant Theatre stage. (more…)

Weekend Roundup: March 2 to 4

Friday: Entity offers provocative dance (photo by Ravi Deepres)

Friday, March 2
A stunning yet spare staging of contemporary dance awaits Harbourfront Centre audiences, as England’s Random Dance Company and acclaimed choreographer Wayne McGregor perform Entity, featuring music by the likes of Coldplay, Massive Attack and Jon Hopkins.

The National Ballet of Canada’s winter season opened this week with the lighthearted, romantic and slightly comical La Fille mal gardee. This classic pastoral ballet tells the story of Lise, who wishes to marry a young farmer. Her mother, however, has other plans, and promises Lise to a wealthy but buffoonish landowner.

The Artist Project Toronto entices creators, collectors and enthusiasts to Exhibition Place’s Queen Elizabeth Building this weekend. Admire contemporary works of photography, painting, textile art, digital media and more by independent artists Canada and around the world. While there, take a trip down Installation Alley to view large-scale sculptures and conceptual art projects, too. (more…)