In Tosca Cafe, having its Canadian premiere at Theatre Calgary this week, history sidles up to the bar. Based on The Tosca Project at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre (A.C.T.) and set in that city’s historic watering hole, the show takes the audience back in time from the end of the First World War to the computer age, with a score ranging from Puccini to Hendrix. Over the decades, the real-life Tosca Cafe has attracted many luminaries, political and cultural; among them, Rudolf Nureyev. The celebrated ballet star is just one of many characters Canadian dance star Rex Harrington takes on in this theatre/dance/musical hybrid. On a leave of absence from his role as artist-in-residence at the National Ballet of Canada, Harrington has been in rehearsals for weeks - in between guest judging So You Think You Can Dance Canada, which had its finale Sunday night.
We’re talking Friday. The SYTYCDC finale is Sunday. Our conversation is running on Monday. So we obviously can’t discuss the outcome, but any thoughts on the performers this season?
I especially am more fond of contemporary dancers because that’s what I’m closest to. And I find that a contemporary dancer usually has a bit of an advantage because we have that base you can work off and do all the other stuff. And this season, I just loved Melissa [Mitro] She’s still in there and I’m hoping that she’ll win. And Jordan [Clark]was beautiful. And I loved Joey [Arrigo] but he went home early. Sometimes the votes come in and you just don’t understand what Canada’s looking at.
I understand that Tosca Cafe has transformed somewhat from the San Francisco production.
It changes every day. What’s so interesting working with actors and a director is that as dancers, we learn the choreography and we just do it. We don’t really ask a lot of questions unless you form them yourself and you do what you need to do. But as actors, they challenge the director and there’s a discussion about why they come in the room or why they cross over. I think all dancers doing story ballet should work with actors. It’s a different process, but it’s much more based on reality and finding the moment [in which]note>that everything rings true.
Was Nureyev influential to you in your formative years?
When I was younger, when I first started dancing, I had a big thick book of his called The Nureyev Image and I would just pore over those pictures constantly and look at his lines and try to recreate the charisma that he had. He was such a beautiful man. He had such a power on stage. I was in the company when he was still dancing with us and guest starring. And I was in Paris just before he died. I saw him, he was very sick. It was very sad; he was very thin and frail. And I remember going to Hamilton Place, when he should have stopped dancing, and he was doing this tour Nureyev and Friends. And Karen Kain, Veronica Tennant, we all went and what do you say when you go backstage? I think he knew it was time to stop. It’s kind of sad to live on your name that long.
Do you dance disco as Nureyev in the show?
He’s there in the seventies era and the disco boys come in. And he starts cruising a bit. Then he gets left alone; he gets dissed. I was telling Kyle [Schaefer, fellow cast member] Don’t diss me too hard; you don’t want to think I’m that ugly. Nureyev was bisexual, but he was just a sexual being. mean men, women. He had such a charisma about him.
Well, you are Sexy Rexy.
Gotta live up to the name.
Tosca Cafe opens Sept. 16 at Theatre Calgary (previews begin Sept. 13) and runs Oct. 8 - 29 at the Vancouver Playhouse.
This interview has been condensed and edited.