Monday, 14 November 2011

More Please: Mysteries of Lisbon (Nov. 14-17@TIFF Bell Lightbox)

Master director, Raul Ruiz must have been well-pleased that his last work, Mysteries of Lisbon, is such an inviting and engaging piece of cinema. Ruiz died this summer, but this 4 hour melodrama, along with his long list of film credits will endure. Ruiz is never in a hurry to tell this story (based on the novel by Camilo Castelo Branco) of a boy searching for his roots. Why is he called simply João, with no last name? Who are his parents? Are they alive? How did he end up in a convent school? We, the audience, wonder about these questions too as we are introduced to João, played by João Arrais, whose solemn brown eyes echo the void in his character's life. This young actor is an equal match to the actor, Adriano Luz, who plays the sympathetic Pardre Dinis, the keeper of many secrets. Also noteworthy is the performance of Ricardo Pereira who style is reminiscent of Errol Flynn, but with Pereira's own brand of unbridled sexuality.

More than a costume froth, Mysteries of Lisbon, is an intricately layered puzzle piece of a melodrama; just when you think you've begun to understand a central character, aspects of their nature and glimpses of their personal histories are revealed. With the legato pacing style, the smooth transition from one mystery to another, and actors that fit the period scenes this journey that takes us from Portugal, to Spain, France and Italy, seems much shorter than its actual running time of 274 minutes.

If I have one criticism, it is that I would have liked to have seen the entire 6-hour version that Ruiz completed, and which ran on Portuguese television. As good a job as is done condensing the film into a 4-hour version, you do get the feeling that there are stories that remain untold. So, like João this version leaves us with a bit of mystery. I'm not sure if a longer film version is available, but this 4-hour version is the one that played to positive crowds at TIFF 2010, and which the Lightbox is screening until November 17th. Yes, this version is worth seeing on a larger screen, I just wish that I could have viewed the remaining hours on a large screen as well.

TIFF Bell Lightbox
350 King West (corner of King and John streets)
Monday, Nov. 14, 6:15pm
Tuesday, Nov. 15, 12:00 noon, 6:15pm
Wednesday, Nov. 16, 12:00 noon, 6:15pm
Thursday, Nov. 17, 12:00 noon, 6:15pm

Get Tickets:
416.599.TIFF 1.888.599.8433

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Lily Eng, Woman Warrior at Reel Asian Film Festival on Nov. 10th


donna g: Performance art is something that is often baffling to the public. How would you describe what you do to those who don’t have your artistic background and training?

Lily Eng: I am an experimental choreographer who uses the dynamics of martial arts to articulate movement in unique, emotive, and personal ways. At the core of my movement scope of practice is the desire to take my internal landscape and extract it externally.

donna g: You have training in more traditional dance forms such as classical and modern ballet. What drew you to this more experimental style of artistic expression? Did you have to “unlearn” traditional dance techniques? How the body moves in classical ballet is different from how it moves in modern ballet, let alone experimental dance, so how did you adapt to the new methods of movement?

Lily Eng: The common denominator that runs through my disciplined art/body-oriented forms is a strong disciplined foundation. I take everything (martial arts, modern dance, ballet …) I have learnt as my resource library of movement knowledge.

I have more upper body strength than say a ballet dancer because of my extensive kung fu training. The way I articulate my body in performance is very evident of how my muscles have developed to handle specific tasks of loading, and what it can and cannot handle.

For me, it was not a matter of unlearning dance techniques, but rather of encompassing and incorporating additional artistic and movement styles that presented themselves. My experimentation has allowed for advancement of a particular dance/movement personal style that is still highly relevant to me.

donna g: Growing up in Blind River, Ontario, did you ever dream that you would one day perform in such places as Sweden, Scotland, England and Italy? Or did that dream take form when you moved to Toronto at age 10?

Lily Eng: No, I didn’t know I would travel to such places when I was young, but I did know by 6-years of age, that I wanted to be a dancer. This was quite interesting because my small town and the surrounding areas did not even have a dance school. The travelling came about when I started dancing.

donna g: How supportive was your family/friends in regards to your career choice?

Lily Eng: I think they were rather surprised, as no one in our family came from a dance background or had dance training. However, my mother loved Chinese opera, so she had a very strong artistic slant. I got my love of the arts from her.

donna g: You formed Missing Associates with Peter Dudar in 1972. Where did the name come from and how was it different from other groups of that generation?

Lily Eng: Missing Associates is a tongue-in-cheek name and is a pun on my name. Peter Dudar and I are the constants of Missing Associates. Everyone else is missing until we ask him or her for his or her input.

Peter and I were able to explore creativity and the arts in ways that were quite innovative, and yet relevant to us. We were very multi-disciplinary in our approach and were rigorous in “pushing our own envelopes.”

There was a time when we used people who had no formal training to work with us so as to get to their “real and true” performance essence, albeit with their hesitant awkwardness, while being put on the spot in these speaking pieces that were unrehearsed and off-the-cuff conversations that enlightening and sometimes quite humorous.

A lot of my earlier works are endurance pieces. The audience can see me sweating, hear my laboured breathing; they can see I am getting tired. This runs contrary to what you would expect about “performance.” You are not supposed to see a sweaty brow because it is all effortless.

donna g: How was it, transitioning to solo performances?

Lily Eng: It wasn’t hard because I have always been very comfortable as a solo performer, and solo work has been my forte. However, this may change.

donna g: What inspired you to develop the piece, “But Women Did Come: 150 Years of Chinese Women to North America”? Was it a commissioned piece or something stemming from a more personal urge?

Lily Eng: "But Women Did Come: 150 Years of Chinese Women to North America" was a travelling pictorial show that ran concurrent with the American sister show, to promote the contribution of Chinese women in Canada. I was the opening performer for the show when it first came Toronto. My picture was included along with the other Chinese women in the show.

donna g: Congratulations on your work being highlighted in the festival’s “Lily Eng: Reel Asian Canadian Woman Warrior”. The dance/art world certainly knows your name, but how do you think your Kung Fu students will react to seeing your various performances on screen?

Lily Eng: They will love it and laugh when they see me sparring and kicking ass in several of the films.

Nov. 8 - 13 Toronto; Nov. 18-19 Richmond Hill
T: (416) 703 - 9333
E: W:

Wednesday, 2 November 2011


Do yourself a favour and get your ticket to FELA! Whether you line up 2 hours prior to showtime and get Rush tickets or whether you buy regular tickets, you will want to be in the house when Tony Award nominee, Sahr Ngaujah breaks it down as Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. With the Canon Theatre stage transformed into The Shrine (one of Fela’s clubs), leave your “shy” at home, in your car, on the TTC, and most definitely at the door, because you are going to more than just a play, you are going to a Fela-bration! Don’t worry that you haven’t had time to Google who Fela is or what Afrobeat is. Music will great you as you take your seat, and dancing women, with a talent for muscle isolation and sonic sexiness will demand your attention and make you forget the 416, 905, 519 and get into the 419, a gyrating audience participation dance where your hips are a clock and you set the movement. The 419 is also a reference to the Nigerian penal code for fraud, so while FELA! entertains, it’s also includes the political and social struggles that Fela Kuti experienced in Nigeria.

Directed and choreographed by the legendary Bill T. Jones, who conceived the idea with Jim Lewis (book, additional lyrics) and Stephen Hendel (also a producer), FELA! is a mesmerizing, production full of movement, magic and, of course, music. Anyone attempting to even perform in the style of Fela Kuti has to be multi-talented, and triple threat (actor, dancer, singer), Sahr Ngaujah effortlessly embodies Fela’s charismatic and explosive spirit. Ngaujah knows when to swagger with music star sex appeal, when to transition to charming repartee with the audience, and when to command attention as a leader and political activist.

Melanie Marshall (Fumilayo Kuti) tears the roof off with her warm, rounded soprano in Trouble Sleep and Rain, while actress/singer, Paulette Ivory (Fela’s U.S.-born second wife, Sandra) fills the Canon Theatre with her rich tones of molasses and smoke in such songs as Upside Down and Water Get No Enemy.

Lending credibility to the Fela stage are a core of female dancers that flit around Ngaujah; sometimes as the dancers/singers that were an essential part of Fela’s concerts; sometimes as club clients; and sometimes as members of Fela’s compound, Kalakuta. It is a quite a feat that Ngaujah is able to hold our attention amidst these lissome, athletic women. To call them sexy would not even begin to do justice to what these talented performers are able to accomplish on stage. Live dynamite is the best description I can think of for what they do. As for the male dancers, their leaps, taps, and swirls demonstrate a prowess that demands both talent and stamina. Rounding out the stellar excellence that is FELA! are the musicians that bring the Fela Kuti endorphin-raising beats to life.

Like many attempts to depict the life of someone who is larger than life, the script for FELA! emphasizes some aspects of Fela Kuti’s like while omitting of downplaying others. The play takes us through Fela’s journeys to England and the United States, his attempts at political life, his brushes with the law, the forming of his compound and the development of his musical ability, which touched the lives of so many in his Nigerian homeland and abroad; however, it is not a complete biography, nor should it be. At 2 hours and 45 minutes, you get your money’s worth from FELA!, as well as an introduction or re-introduction to Fela’s music (which dominates the play) and life.

Thank you to Mirvish for bringing this Broadway and West End production to Toronto. Yeh, yeh!

FELA! runs until Nov. 6

1.         Photo courtesy of A BUMP ALONG THE WAY (DISCOVERY) Synopsi s: With her charismatic smile and formida...