Saturday, February 13, 2010

Cheese: Toronto/Vancouver

Last night my sister-in-law, Arline, and I sat beside each other on her basement couch in Oshawa and offered a blow-by-blow critique of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Opening Ceremonies. Arline teaches high school drama, and so knows a thing or three about basic dramaturgy. Both of us agreed that the pacing was too slow, the human-to-effects scale and bodily massings totally out of whack (especially in the forest dancing sequences, when the members of the Alberta Ballet were simply too few and far between), and the overall national narrative simply riddled with kitschy cliches.

That's what you get, I guess, when you have an Australian running the show. Not only is Quebec more or less left out of the picture (earlier talks with Cirque de Soleil, Robert Lepage, and other Quebecois performing arts icons to participate in the events broke down, apparently, over creative differences), but BC and Vancouver have to cede their own wealth of local talent to national and international interlopers. Oh, right, but that's what we have the Cultural Olympiad for...

I wonder how much representatives of the Four Host First Nations were involved in the actually planning of the proceedings. The welcome was crucial, I understand, but whether in that particular iconographic/spectacularized way is open to debate: totems, giant spirit bears, and dancing in ceremonial regalia as the athletes march in more or less covers things, I guess. And getting that over and done with early allows us to get on with the real westward expansionist narrative. Clearly no one explained the concept of Indian time to Jacques Rogge and members of the dignitaries box, the seats reserved for the chiefs of the FHFN being noticeably unoccupied during the early going.

Granted, those killer whales were pretty cool. And slam poet Shane Koyczan got in some pretty good oral/aural riffs. And k.d. lang still has the smoothest alto in the music biz, doing for Leonard Cohen what she'd previously done for Roy Orbison (though ditch the white suit, sister--black is always more slimming). But what was with the mechanical failure with the torch tower at the end? And the motorcade of the Great One to the outdoor torch at Coal Harbour was pretty anticlimactic (were all five of the final torch bearers chosen on the basis of their aquiline noses?).

Likely the pelting rain on top of the protesters on top of the earlier news of the tragic death of the Georgian luger during a training run at Whistler earlier in the day was enough to make John Furlong want to reach for the nearest whiskey bottle. No excuse, however, for not, over the course of the past seven years, at least learning a few more sentences and phrases in decently accented French.

Watching the Opening Ceremonies from Toronto felt entirely appropriate, so disconnected am I from the events now that they have actually descended on the city, and so mediatized a spectacle are the Olympics in general. Much better to leave the live theatre-going to decent fare like the two plays I saw in Toronto on Wednesday: a matinee of Lynn Nottage's Intimate Apparel, in a CanStage/Obsidian Theatre co-production, and featuring a star-making performance by Raven Dauda as Esther; and an evening performance of Caryl Churchill's Cloud 9 at the Panasonic Theatre on Yonge Street, in a Mirvish Theatre production directed by Alisa Palmer (who had previously directed a much lauded remount of Top Girls in the city).

Hard to believe, in particular, that Churchill's play is more than 30 years old. Palmer played things a bit too much for belly laughs for my liking, but Churchill's gender politics are still as fresh as ever, and I was especially impressed by the performance of ex-Anne Shirley herself, Megan Follows. Indeed, after seeing this production I am more convinced than ever by the recent argument (published in the Guardian, was it?) that following Harold Pinter's death, the leading UK playwright is not David Hare or Tom Stoppard or Michael Frayn or Alan Bennett, but none other than Ms. Churchill herself. What would she make of London 2012, I wonder?


No comments: