York arts talent illuminates Luminato Festival

Now in its fourth year, Luminato is fast becoming a highlight of Canada’s cultural calendar: an annual 10-day celebration that lights up Toronto’s stages, galleries and public spaces with arts and creativity showcasing local, national and international talent.

York artists, producers and administrators play an important role in the programming and realization of this multidisciplinary festival of theatre, dance, classical and contemporary music, film, literature, visual arts, design and more.

Theatre Professor Erika Batdorf was commissioned to direct a new work for the festival titled One Pure Longing: Táhirih’s Search. Inspired by the 19th-century Iranian poet, theologian and teacher Táhirih, who was executed for her religious and political beliefs, this world premiere explores faith, freedom of expression and women’s rights. The show encompasses song, poetry recitation and movement to express the courage needed to speak out against oppressive forces.

Right: Erika Batdorf

A member of the Baha’i faith, Batdorf first learned about Táhirih in her youth due to the poet’s stature as one of the greatest martyrs of the religion. Batdorf performed a solo referencing Táhirih at the seventh annual International Women Playwrights’ Conference in Indonesia in 2006 and was moved by the overwhelming audience response to explore the idea further.

Batdorf describes her contemporary, multidisciplinary and multicultural collective creation (which was rehearsed at York) as “très Canadian”. She selected a number of Táhirih’s poems, which will be sung in the original Persian, and collaborated with Toronto-based dubpoet ahdri zhina mandiela and the play’s dramaturge Iris Turcotte to write English responses. Batdorf also felt that, in the context of exploring oppression and freedom in Canada, it was very important to include a First Nations performer, and invited a rising young talent, York theatre alumnus, singer, dancer and actor Meegwun Fairbrother (BFA Spec. Hons. ’09), to join the production. Other York theatre alumni in the cast include Akosua Amo-Adem (BFA Spec. Hons. ’09), who won NOW magazine’s best emerging artist award at last year’s Toronto SummerWorks Theatre Festival, and Matthew Romantini (BFA Spec. Hons. ’05), seen earlier this season in the Thistle Project production of Peer Gynt (see YFileFeb. 17).  

Left: A scene from One Pure Longing featuring Canadian actress Kate Digby. Photography by Bretta Gerecke. Image courtesy of Luminato.

One Pure Longing: Táhirih’s Search runs June 11 to 14 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. On the final day Batdorf will engage in a public talk with the show’s producer Paul Shaw and designer Bretta Gerecke as part of Luminato’s lunchtime conversations series, taking place daily at 12:30pm throughout the festival at the Roots flagship store at 100 Bloor St. W. They will discuss the "three-dimensional poetry" they are creating on the stage to tell the story of the Persian poet and her relationship to the women’s rights movement.

On June 16, Batdorf returns to the lunchtime conversation stage with a pair of other artists to discuss the festival’s themes of artists’ rights and intellectual property.

Theatre Professor Teresa Przybylski is the set designer for Volcano Theatre’s The Africa Trilogy, an ambitious project comprising a three-part suite of world premieres commissioned by Luminato. Bringing together three playwrights and three directors from six countries on three continents, and 11 performers and a production team from around the world, the show offers an unprecedented theatrical take on the meeting of East and West, from three very different points of view.

Left: Teresa Przybylski

Harrowing and outrageously funny, Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God, by Germany’s Roland Schimmelpfennig, probes western liberal guilt and its intersection with a massive pandemic as two couples pick apart the mistakes of their pasts. The emotional and intellectual connections of present-day globalization are the focus of American playwright Christina Anderson’s swirling and magnetic GLO, while Kenya’s Binyavanga Wainaina provokes and delights with Shine Your Eye, an exploration of the notion of territory in the Internet age and a high-tech look at the generation now shaping Africa’s future.

Africa Trilogy runs June 10 to 20 at Harbourfront Centre’s Fleck Theatre, with all three plays running back-to-back for a marathon three-and-a-half-hour show. It shows nightly at 7pm with 1pm matinees June 13, 19 and 20.

While Toronto flips through the extensive catalogue of Luminato events, there is a small group of people who are both ensuring that everything goes according to plan and already considering what could be in store for 2011.

The Luminato team includes three associate producers – all graduates of York’s Faculty of Fine Arts – charged with securing the festival’s world-class talent and handling all the logistics of presenting their work for Toronto audiences.

Fine arts cultural studies grad Mitchell Marcus (BA Hons. ’04) coordinates all ticketed theatre, dance, film and music events. Marcus studied arts administration and interdisciplinary arts as part of his degree, which he sees as an ideal preparation for his role at the festival.

Live outdoor events – including many concerts as well as the public celebrations – are the domain of theatre grad Scott McVittie (BFA Spec. Hons. ’01). He feels his studies in theatre at York fostered both his creative drive and the project management skills essential for his work with Luminato.

Robert VanderBerg (MA ’07), a 2007 graduate of the Graduate Program in Art History and the Diploma in Curatorial Studies in Visual Culture, organizes the visual arts and public installations for Luminato. He landed the position after he coordinated some Luminato activity at the Art Gallery of Ontario during an internship there that was a part of his degree. 

The trio offers 2010 festival-goers the following recommendations from among the shows they are producing:

The Africa Trilogy is a truly international project that gives unique and interesting perspectives on the relationship between Africa and the rest of the world,” Marcus said. “Musically, I’m also quite excited for Dark Star Requiem, a thrilling new score with evocative poetry exploring the history of AIDS.”

“I’d recommend people check out Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s Ship O’ Fools,” said VanderBerg. “Janet and George are two of Canada’s pre-eminent artists and are recognized internationally. They’re installing a 30-foot boat in Trinity Bellwoods Park.”

“The six free nightly concerts in Yonge-Dundas Square celebrating the ‘diva’ will be a must-see," said McVittie. “It’s high-calibre world talent including India, ‘la princesa de salsa’ on our Latin Divas night and Lea DeLaria and Carole Pope on our Queer Divas night. I’m also excited to see Bela Fleck play alongside Bassekou Kouyate as part of the An African Prom event. Tony Allen, who has never played in Toronto before and is one of Africa’s most celebrated musicians, hits the stage immediately before. It will be spectacular.”

For full details on Luminato programs, schedule and box office information, visit the Luminato Web site.