All stories by Emily Landau

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See a play in an abandoned high school, bid farewell to Dame Edna and seven other things to do this week

(Images, clockwise from top left: "Squirrel, Oh Happy Day," by Marjorie Campbell, courtesy of Love Art Fair; Dame Edna Everage, courtesy of Mirvish Productions; Herbie Hancock, courtesy of Massey Hall; "Indian War Canoes," by Emily Carr, courtesy of the AGO)

(Images, clockwise from top left: “Squirrel, Oh Happy Day,” by Marjorie Campbell, courtesy of Love Art Fair; Dame Edna Everage, courtesy of Mirvish Productions; Herbie Hancock, courtesy of Massey Hall; “Indian War Canoes,” by Emily Carr, courtesy of the AGO)

See a play in an abandoned high school
One of the season’s most ambitious theatre creations is Sheridan College’s Brantwood 1920–2020, an imaginative lark that takes place in the abandoned Brantwood School in Oakville. The cast will play out scenes and songs from the school’s fictional history in different classrooms. Ticket-holders arrive at Sheridan College, where, appropriately, a school bus will transport them to the Brantwood campus. April 11 to May 3. $35. Sheridan College, 1430 Trafalgar Rd., Oakville, 905-815-4049, sheridancollege.ca.

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Attend a pancake party, see Kacey Musgraves and eight other things to do this week

(Image, clockwise from top left: a still from Safety Last!; Orpheus and Eurydice, by Bruce Zinger; Ubu and the Truth Commission, by Luke Younge; Twin Shadow, by Milan Zrnic)

(Images, clockwise from top left: a still from Safety Last!; Orpheus and Eurydice, by Bruce Zinger; Ubu and the Truth Commission, by Luke Younge; Twin Shadow, by Milan Zrnic)

Check out a South African puppet show for grown-ups
The latest feat from Canadian Stage is a three-week extravaganza of South African song, dance and drama. The absolute must-see is Jane Taylor’s Ubu and the Truth Commission. Set during the post-apartheid truth commission, the play follows a government death agent trying to scrub away his guilt. Like Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing, Ubu combines grave subject matter and fantastical execution: it’s a theatrical smoothie of animation, documentary footage and wooden marionettes from the Handspring Puppet Company, the troupe behind War Horse. April 8 to 25. $20–$99. Various locations, canadianstage.com.

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See a play in a pizza parlour’s basement, party with Belle and Sebastian and seven other things to do this week

(Images, clockwise from top left: sculpture by Hora Zardof, courtesy of the artist; Jessie Ware, by Tim Zaragoza; Belle and Sebastien, by Søren Solkær)

(Images, clockwise from top left: sculpture by Hoda Zarbaf, courtesy of the artist; Jessie Ware, by Tim Zaragoza; Belle and Sebastian, by Søren Solkær)

Check out the next big Britpop star
While you endure the interminable wait for Adele’s next album, check out Jessie Ware this week at the Danforth Music Hall. Last fall, the British singer-songwriter with the raspy alto released her sophomore album, Tough Love. It’s a collection of infectious soul songs tinged with gospel and R&B, all anchored by Ware’s rich vocals. April 4. $40.50–$50.75. Danforth Music Hall, 147 Danforth Ave., 416-778-8163, ticketmaster.com.

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See Shad before he becomes a CBC star, hang out with Laverne Cox and eight other things to do this week

(Image, clockwise from top left: Laverne Cox, by Luke Fontana; Disabled Theatre, by Michael Bause; Will Butler, self portrait; painting by Gertrude Kearns)

(Images, clockwise from top left: Laverne Cox, by Luke Fontana; Disabled Theatre, by Michael Bause; Will Butler, self portrait; painting by Gertrude Kearns)

Watch the new host of CBC’s Q in his natural element
Two weeks ago, Shad was selected as the new host of Q on CBC Radio. Before he takes over, he’s finishing a victory-lap concert tour for his 2013 album, Flying Colours, which earned a Juno nomination and a spot on the Polaris Prize short list. It’s a collection of freewheeling, retro rap tracks about the immigrant experience, race and colonialism under a cloak of fast rhymes and electro beats. March 27. $19. Massey Hall, 178 Victoria St., 416-872-4255, masseyhall.com.

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Play with cool toys at TIFF, geek out at Toronto Comicon and seven more things to do this week

(Images, clockwise from top left: The Daisy Theatre, by Alejandro Santiago; still from The Remains of the Day, courtesy of TIFF; Subway Stations of the Cross, by Alex Filipe; a Winter Stations installation, by Rémi Carreiro)

(Images, clockwise from top left: The Daisy Theatre, by Alejandro Santiago; still from The Remains of the Day, courtesy of TIFF; Subway Stations of the Cross, by Alex Filipe; a Winter Stations installation, by Rémi Carreiro)

1. Let the kids loose at the TIFF Bell Lightbox
Each March Break, the Lightbox hosts DigiPlaySpace, a wonderland of high-tech wizardry filled with dozens of immersive and interactive exhibits. The highlights this year include a mammoth interactive light installation made to resemble a forest; a 3-D virtual reality space-chase game called Headrush; a trippy (and vaguely creepy) animation activated by the viewer’s brainwaves; and a meet-and-greet with hitchBOT, the freeloading robot who just came back from a cross-country tour. To April 19. $10. TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King St. W., 416-599-8433, tiff.net.

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See the National Ballet’s biggest hit, catch Molly Parker onstage and eight more things to do this week

(Images, clockwise from top left: Matt Bahen's Once it’s Gone, You’ll Know You’ve Heard It All Your Life, courtesy of Le Gallery; Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Cylla von Tiedemann; Spoon River Anthology, by Cylla von Tiedemann; Junko Mizuno's Noodles, courtesy of Narwhal Contemporary)

(Images, clockwise from top left: Matt Bahen’s Once it’s Gone, You’ll Know You’ve Heard It All Your Life, courtesy of Le Gallery; Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Cylla von Tiedemann; Spoon River Anthology, by Cylla von Tiedemann; Junko Mizuno’s Noodles, courtesy of Narwhal Contemporary)

1. Revisit the National Ballet’s exhilarating Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Karen Kain’s supreme achievement in her tenure as the National Ballet’s artistic director was this extravagant full-length production from the superstar British choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, originally staged in 2011. The ballet is a jewel-toned Victorian fantasy that blends classical romantic steps with futuristic multimedia installations—it never gets old. March 14 to 29. From $26. Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St. W., 416-345-9595, national.ballet.ca.

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The naked ambition of National Ballet artistic director Karen Kain

Beneath her poised veneer is an exacting perfectionist, a tenacious fundraiser and a total control freak. Which explains how she turned the floundering National Ballet of Canada into one of the world’s premiere arts organizations

(Image: Photograph by Evaan Kheraj)

(Image: Evaan Kheraj)

The best seats at the Four Seasons Centre are on the right side of the grand ring, a few boxes back from the stage. From there, Karen Kain, the 63-year-old artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada, surveys her dancers, assessing every arabesque, wincing at every shaky landing.

On the slushy evening of December 13, Kain took her spot for the opening-night performance of The Nutcracker, the twinkling Christmas bauble whose annual three-week run pads the company’s pockets for the rest of the year. Kain is willowy and austere, favouring a gallery owner’s uniform of tailored leather pencil skirts and expensive slouchy knits. She resembles a lovely alien, her pale face framed with wide-set eyes and lofty cheekbones, her black pixie cut pointing into blades. Everything about her appearance seems manicured, a costume of controlled rigidity. As the curtain rose, she sat upright, tapping her chin to the beat of Tchaikovsky’s opening allegro.

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See a strange, secretive, practically silent opera

The Whisper Opera

(Image: Armen Elliot)

It doesn’t feel like an opera at all. Instead of a palatial hall, The Whisper Opera is performed in the Theatre Centre for an audience of 52 people. The stage juts out into the crowd, draped in boudoirish ­curtains. The musicians ply their instruments gingerly, making faint melodies that sound like they’re coming from another room: the percussionist, for example, rubs two cowbells together and hits a glockenspiel with his fingers, and the cellist plays with a toothed mute stilling the strings. The soprano Tony Arnold doesn’t sing her words so much as breathe them. If you’re sitting more than five feet from the stage, you might not hear anything.

The Pulitzer-winning ­American composer David Lang has made a career of minimalist mischief. He conceived The Whisper Opera as a kind of unrecordable, sacrosanct event—something that could only be experienced live, in a theatre, in person. For the libretto, he cobbled together Internet secrets, googling phrases like “When I’m alone, I…” and “I wish I wasn’t so….” There’s no plot, just an impressionistic collection of ghostly phrases too private to be spoken at full volume.

The effect is as much performance art as it is music: the performers sit cross-legged on the stage, so close you can touch their shoelaces; the hushed music requires active listening to pick up; the singer practically murmurs secrets in your ear. It’s gimmicky, but it works. The piece is strange, singular and jarringly intimate. That’s something you can’t get on YouTube.

Feb. 26 to Mar. 1. $67.50. The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. W., 416-534-9261, tickets.rcmusic.ca.

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A Winter Hater’s Guide to Loving Winter: how to survive the season in style

The Winter Hater's Guide To Loving Winter

This is the era of the polar vortex. Winters are colder, storms are icier and the frost sticks around till May. You could hibernate for six months. Or move. Or stop whining and fall in love with winter in the city. There are dozens of ways to outfox, and even take pleasure in, the cold. Like getting drunk in a yurt, for instance. That, and 14 other secrets to having a ­deliriously happy winter, in the pages that follow.

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Secrets to a Happy Toronto Winter: #5. Fur doesn’t have to make you feel bad

Secrets to a Happy Toronto Winter: #5. Fur doesn’t have to make you feel bad

(Image: Thomas van der Zaag)

After decades of guilt-induced abstinence, we’re reintroducing furs to our winter wardrobes, this time with an ethical pedigree. The plushest pelts come from Toronto designer Farley Chatto, who sources his furs from Origin Assured, an organization that guarantees its stock comes from a country where the trapping is regulated and the animals are treated humanely. Chatto’s fall 2014 runway show was a parade of luxurious furs that felt straight out of Doctor Zhivago: ­red fox coats, mink stoles and coyote hats. His designs, which run up to $200,000 for a Barguzin sable coat, have enticed celebs like Sarah ­Jessica Parker, Elton John, Richard Branson and Drake (who commissioned a silver fox and ­chinchilla coat trimmed with Russian broadtail for his 27th birthday). 331 Adelaide St. W., ­416-831-9941.

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Secrets to a Happy Toronto Winter: #10. Winter wear for dogs is undeniably cool

Secrets to a Happy Toronto Winter: #10. Winter wear for dogs is undeniably cool

Rover Boutique’s cotton twill pooch peacoat has a double-breasted lapel and a pleat in the back to accommodate the tail. $103. Theroverboutique.com.

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Secrets to a Happy Toronto Winter: #15. The best festivals happen in winter

Secrets to a Happy Toronto Winter: #15. The best festivals happen in winter

Long Winter. (Image: Daniel Neuhaus)

1 Long Winter
Once a month, the thrash-rock outfit Fucked Up throw the city’s hottest party at the Great Hall, featuring sets from bands like the Hidden Cameras and Bruce Peninsula, modern dance and performance art, and a live late-night talk show. Jan. 9, Feb. 13 and March 13. $11. The Great Hall.

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Heroine Chic: the problem with feminist fairy tales

The Heart of Robin Hood, a new feminist fairy tale from Mirvish, morphs Maid Marion from a prissy damsel into a spunky swashbuckler

Heroine Chic

(Photograph courtesy of Mirvish)

For little girls, the most indelible image of 2014 was that of Frozen’s Queen Elsa, shimmying and shimmering as she discarded the manacles of her regal existence. At that moment, Elsa became an avatar of tweenage girl power, trumpeting the virtues of self-expression, pragmatism and independence. Frozen, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, is the latest fairy tale to be ­reimagined as a badass feminist manifesto. We’ve also seen Snow White and the Huntsman, which recast the porcelain princess as a ­hard-core warrior played by Kristen Stewart; ­Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie as an evil fairy turned motherly martyr; and Wicked, which transformed Elphaba, The Wizard of Oz’s reptilian witch, into a sensitive victim of bullying. After centuries of docile damsels and nefarious crones, the new fairy-tale heroines have pluck. They fight battles, stand up for themselves and belt out the swelling go-girl anthems that inspire millions of ­YouTube covers. As female role models, they form an unimpeachable sorority.

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See a radiant retrospective of Art  Spiegelman’s comic (and not-so-comic) art

House of Maus: the irreverent cartoonist Art  Spiegelman gets a radiant retrospective

Art Spiegelman never wanted a retrospective. “It feels like walking around among a bunch of tombstones,” he recently pronounced. It’s no surprise the famously anti-establishment cartoonist would be ambivalent about hanging his work in museum halls: he’s a cultural heretic who got his start scribbling satirical cartoons in the early ’70s as part of an underground comics ring in San Francisco. In 1991, he completed his Pulitzer-winning Maus, a disturbing parable based on his father’s experience in the Holocaust, that reimagined the Jews as mice and the Nazis as cats.

Just as Spiegelman inadvertently elevated comic books into literature, he also transformed cartoons into high art. His new AGO show, which opens on Saturday, documents every stage of his creative ­trajectory: his earliest comic strips, the discarded drafts of his 1993 New Yorker cover depicting a Hasidic man kissing a black woman, and studies for a stained glass panel he designed for his alma mater, New York’s High School of Art and Design. Most affecting is the ­section dedicated to Maus, plastered with character studies and family artifacts, where a sound system plays recordings of ­Spiegelman interviewing his father. Click through the gallery for a look at some of his most iconic comics.

Dec. 20 to Mar 15. Included with general admission, $19.50. Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas, St. W., 416-979-6648, ago.net.

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Start a strange new Christmas tradition with Henri Fabergé’s holiday rock opera

(Image: Madi Chambers)

(Image: Madi Chambers)

The avant-garde enigma Henri Fabergé (real name: Henry Fletcher) has been hovering around the city’s art, music and theatre fringes for years: he’s best known for The Adorables, a secretive supergroup featuring members of The Bicycles and Born Ruffians, who play surreal live shows that feel like East Village ’80s performance art. His latest creation, Crisis on St. Creskins, is a site-specific holiday rock opera that transforms the great rooms and hallways of the Campbell House Museum into an Edwardian naval academy, where students are staging a Christmas pageant while stoking a long-held rivalry with a nearby arts college. The show is arch and absurdist, combining cabaret, improv and punk into an irreverent new holiday tradition.

Dec. 13 to 15. $20. Campbell House Museum, 160 Queen St. W., 416-597-0227, henri-faberge.com.