Art, Dance, Music, Theatre: Luminato 2014 Has It All

Program details for the Toronto-based Luminato festival, now in its eighth year, were unveiled Tuesday morning in a packed room at the modern MaRS Discovery Centre.

Heralded by a Brazilian drum corps, Luminato's moustachioed Artistic Director Jorn Weisbrodt made his entrance, shyly smiling and shaking hands as he made his way up the aisle, before introducing a comprehensive look at this year's festival.

Along with the return of the popular Times Talks, the 2014 Luminato Festival will host an abundance of free artsy activities, including video artwork in TTC subway stations and a "Cardboard Beach" at David Pecaut Square. A free performance by the Toronto Symphony of Ravel's famous Bolero will take place at Air Canada Centre June 8th.

The festival is also presenting events that will delight theater fans. If I Loved You: Gentlemen Prefer Broadway sees Canadian singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright teaming up with the multi-award-winning music director Stephen Oremus to re-interpret some of the most beloved romantic pieces in the American songbook cycle, with man-to-man renditions replacing traditional hetero pairings. This event, happening June 14th, is an appetizer for World Pride happening in Toronto a week later. Composers will include some of Broadway's most beloved composers, including Cole Porter, Noel Coward, Lorenz Hart, and Jerry Herman, and performers at the event will include Boy George (whose birthday happens to fall the same day as the concert), David Byrne, Josh Groban, Glen Hansard, Ezra Koenig, and Steven Page.

Another music-related event to look out for ""Sleeping in the Devil's Bed," an all-star tribute to songwriter/producer Daniel Lanois on June 10th. Featuring Emmylou Harris, Bill Frisell, Kevin Drew and some as-of-yet unannounced guests, the evening, curated by the legendary Hal Willner, promises to be filled with the sort of sonic poetry that's characterized Lanois' creative output over the last five decades. Known for both his award-winning work as a producer for superstar acts (U2, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel) as well as his own moving solo (and band) work, Lanois' last notable appearance on the Toronto festival scene was a striking late-night appearance at Nuit Blanche in 2010. Willner, famous for producing, recording, films, TV and live events, is known for his uniquely programmed musical evenings; he has been responsible for events celebrating the work of artists Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Gavin Friday, and Nino Rota. Willner and Lanois is, quite simply, a match made in music heaven, and is one of the festival's hottest tickets.

Music aside, much of this year's Luminato programming is heavy on dance and visual arts. The work of German choreographer Pina Bausch will be celebrated with a staging of Kontakthof ("courtyard of contact"), a 1978 work that explores the battle of the sexes. Quebec's Louise Lecavalier (known for her work with La La La Human Steps, and its subsequent work with David Bowie) will perform her 2012 one-woman show So Blue at Harbourfront's Fleck Dance Theatre June 13th through 15th.

Samoan choreographer Lemi Ponifasio will bring his celebrated MAU dance troupe to the festival, staging Stones In Her Mouth at the MacMillan Theatre June 12th to 14th. The work features ten Maori women and utilizes elements of song, dance and oratory; its title is derived from a book of poetry from New Zealand playwright/performer/poet Roma Potiki, and examines what Luminato calls "female-written expressions of protest, prophecy, warning, and desire." At its staging in Los Angeles last September, the LA Times' Mark Swed noted that "Ponifasio uses these sophisticated Western theatrical and choreographic techniques to reveal an essence of femininity that we may not, on our shores understand and are not asked to understand, but rather to enter."

In the visual realm, American artist Matthew Barney will be bringing his six-hour film River of Fundament to Luminato June 6th through 8th. Done with composer Jonathan Bepler, the work is loosely based on Norman Mailer's 1983 Ancient Evenings, the action moves between New York, Detroit, and Los Angeles. At its Brooklyn Academy of Music screening in February, Hyperallergic's Jillian Steinhauer noted in her review that "Barney is apparently one of the few artists left who still believes in shock value." The screening coincides with Barney's "Drawing Restraint" series, on at the Art Gallery of Ontario May 31 to September 28, and the artist himself will be in conversation with Luminato Artistic Director Jorn Weisbrodt and AGO Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Kitty Scott on June 7th, at the gallery.

Less shocking but perhaps somewhat surprising is how committed Luminato seems this year to get out of Toronto's downtown core. will be getting out of the city with two fascinating events: a train trip and an art show. "The Lost Train" is a Kid Koala / Fred Morin venture; the DJ and Montreal restauranteur discovered their shared love of old-world transportation, and are creating what sounds like an extraordinary (if pricey, at $225 per person) experience combining food, music, art, and travel. This is the second appearance at the fest for Kid Koala (real name Eric Sang), after his successful multi-sensory experience last year with Space Cadet; this year he premieres the live adaptation of his first graphic novel Nufonia Must Fall, using multiple miniature stages and puppets, with the help of director K.K. Barrett and live, real-time scoring.

The McMichael Gallery north of Toronto will see two new works from Beijing-born, Canadian-raised artist Terence Koh. His work "tomorrow's snow" is described as " a brief, beautiful performative glimpse of a momentary image," and is inspired by a passage taken from Margaret Atwood's 1988 novel Cat's Eye. Considering the winter Torontonians have endured, having a creation of freshly-fallen snow may not be seem appealing, but the element of children making snow angels certainly inspires curiosity and a childlike wonder. Koh's other piece, "a way to the light," pays tribute to Canadian artist/writer Emily Carr, and will take place at the McMichael Artists' Cemetery, where six of the famous "Group of Seven" artists are buried. Koh's work was part of the 2004 Whitney Biennial as well as the Yokohama Triennial in 2008. Canadian Art's Leah Sandals notes how this show - Koh's first solo show since his student days - could "mark the beginning of a new phase of production, possibly one that is more innocent and stripped-down, but which continues to draw upon his interest in the colour white. (The artist wears only white, lives in an all white environment.)"

iI's this artsy, eccentric, worldly-yet-distinctly-Canadian identity Luminato celebrates and uses as a guide in much of its programming, making it a festival with a unique place in the Canadian cultural landscape. "What I want for you is passion, emotion, and trust," Weisbrodt said, as the presentation ended. June will see if his desire is bourne out through the experiences of Luminato fans and newbies alike.

Photo credits:
Jorn Weisbrodt by Racheal McCaig
Daniel Lanois by Adam CK Vollick
Louise Lecavalier by Andre Cornellier
Kid Koala by Corinne Merrell

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From This Author Catherine Kustanczy

Catherine an arts writer specializing in reviews and longform profile features. She has worked in Dublin, London, Toronto, and New York City, in a variety (read more...)