Winter has been rich for readers and arts lovers. Lots to love, and some? Not so much.
Kudos: to Karen Kain, Artistic Director of the National Ballet of Canada. That she continues to reach out globally to choreographers for bold and exciting works earns my respect and guarantees my attendance…and others, including those who don’t look like me. Frequently, the ballet is the only place in the traditional arts to find audience diversity.
Date night is hot here. Looking at gorgeous bodies on stage is good for… romance.
What couples look like have broadened as much as the material on stage, producing beautiful pairings of all ages. Youth have often been a fixture, but no longer are they all little girls in tutus judging by the dads and sons dotting the crowds for the company’s recent production of Pinocchio. Kain and her peeps could teach other arts organizations a thing or two about making everyone welcome. There is absolutely nothing snooty about going to the ballet in 2017. Taking risks on stage ensures attention.
But not always success.
Curses to British choreographer Will Tuckett for thinking adding spoken text to Pinocchio was anything but folly. Giving the company’s elite rank of dancers words to speak neither enhanced the characters’ movements, nor amplified the narrative in any fashion. Instead it merely telegraphed what could, and should have been done with mime. Principal character artist Jonathan Renna was more than capable of demonstrating anguish as Gepppeto calling out in the woods for his lost son, using only balletic gestures. Asking performers who communicate with their bodies to deliver dialogue convincingly was cringeworthy.Which isn’t to say they aren’t capable. It just didn’t work here for me, nor my twenty-two year old, squirming in her seat, and she’s been going to the ballet (and dancing) since she was three. Nor were the tropes presented as Canadian kitsch anything but clutter. Watching Pinocchio dance suspended in mid-air was breathtaking, but it was one of few scenes I didn’t find overcrowded with design.
Kudos to writer Moira Walley-Beckett and producer Miranda de Pencier for bringing a documentary sheen of realism in their new CBC/Netflix collaboration of Anne of Green Gables. Fluffing history worked for Julian Fellowes and his stellar Downton Abbey cast. Didn’t we all swoon? But in this year of #Canada150, we can afford to poke deeper as this show does. Indicate life in 1890s in PEI had real hardship. Walley-Beckett’s vision underscores the natural world as a character, rather than backdrop, with striking results. The show began two weeks ago, airing on CBC Sunday nights. If you missed it, the first two episodes will air again this Sunday beginning at 5pm. It begins streaming on Netflix on May 12th.
Curses Generally, call me a nervous Nelly when it comes to adaptations of beloved literary sources even as I understand that is the essence of art. Let Mounties crash my door and cuff me, how dare you diss Anne? but diss I will. Episode 2 lost me. Adapt as you will, go off book all you want, but please: don’t mess the central story. Show us background, show us grit—that life in an orphanage was hell is a good thing to flesh out—but do we need extraneous narrative threads? Do we need to lend Anne contemporary agency? Realism is welcome. Over-contemporizing is not, unless you’re going all the way. See Rent (La Boheme). See Clueless (Emma).
There are lots of people smiling though. Campbell Webster, the producer of the musical Anne and Gilbert announced this week a one-month extension to the season for the musical, after witnessing his website traffic double overnight.
Onto some brilliant adaptations….
Kudos to the Books on Film programme team at TIFF for bringing back that treasure Eleanor Wachtel to once again helm a series, now in the seventh year, that keeps getting better and better. I was there for novelist Zadie Smith, talking about her attachment to A Room with a View, and this week, again to hear that rare brillant bird Sarah Polley discuss her celebrated film, Away from Her, adapted from Alice Munro’s fantastic short story A Bear Came Over the Mountain.
Highly literate, open, truly engaging—Polley is the kind of artist these evenings are made for, why I come.
Curses: At the Q& A following the Polley/ Wachtel dialogue, someone (a man, of course) asked Ms. Polley why her social activism has, thus far, not shown up in her films. Would she consider doing a documentary beyond the personal project she did with the critically acclaimed, Stories We Tell.
Implied: what are you doing mucking around in this stuff for? When is the Important Work coming?
Cue the eyeball roll.
Surely Polley is engaging in enough politics just by her very existence as a self-determined female writer/director? Her breadth of work for such a young talent is stunning. I vote we all leave her to her magic, just as a helpful second grade teacher did once, as Polley told the Lightbox crow Monday night. A child who wanted to write stories all day should be allowed to do just that, reasoned her teacher who recognized a spark and let her be. Like her film, Away From Her, (as rich an experience to watch now as it was in 2006 when it was nominated at the Oscars), Polley is a wonder.
Coming soon is her six-part miniseries, Alias Grace, adapted from Margaret Atwood’s 1996 novel, to be aired on CBC in Canada, and stream globally on Netflix.
Kudos to Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée for elevating his HBO series, Big Little Lies, with one of the better soundtracks yet on the small screen. The opening credits alone are among my favourite.
HBO announced this week that a soundtrack for the hit miniseries (worth watching for Nicole Kidman’s performance alone) will be released tomorrow. Music supervisor Susan Jacobs tipped her hat to Valleé’s ear:
Jean-Marc uses music like Jackson Pollock used paint. There is a lot of truth in the music of Big Little Lies.
Curses to the Big Little Lies location scouts who found stunning vistas for me to drool over weekly. Thanks for contributing to my winter blues, staring out my window on dog turd central over Canadian gray mush. Can you blame this writer for playing hooky and doing the colour hunt?
My next trip has to be to Monterey.
Who’s with me?
Four years ago, my review of Polley’s, Stories We Tell.