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critics’ picks

Canadian Stage is presenting the North American premiere of Desh by London-based Akram Khan.Richard Haughton


La Bohème

If you're into opera, you're supposed to sigh and shake your head at Puccini's La Bohème. A melodramatic tearjerker, a proven, cynical money-maker for cash-strapped opera companies, a hoary old chestnut? Sorry, not buying it. Here's at least one case where "50 million Puccini fans can't be wrong." Forget about your Rings and your Traviatas – this may be the most perfect opera composed. Just enjoy, with some interesting casting choices by Canadian Opera Company director Alexander Neef for your added enjoyment. Four Seasons Centre, Oct. 3, 6, 9, 12, 16, 18, 19, 22, 25, 27, 29, 30.

Peter Grimes

We waited 17 years to hear Ben Heppner on a COC stage before his triumphant Tristan of last season. This time, we've had to wait just nine months. Heppner is back, with another of his signature roles – the tortured, powerful Peter Grimes. Benjamin Britten wrote Peter Grimes, the story of a Suffolk fisherman suspected of murdering two apprentices, as a reaction, it is assumed, to his own complex homosexuality and his society's reaction to it. For Britten, it was something simpler – "a subject very close to my heart," he wrote, "the struggle of the individual against the masses. The more vicious the society, the more vicious the individual."Intensity and power on stage to help celebrate the Britten centenary. Four Seasons Centre, Oct. 5, 8, 11, 17, 20, 23, 26.

Abduction from the Seraglio

Fresh from its triumphs this summer in his hometown, Opera Atelier brings its pal Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio back to Toronto after a five-year hiatus. Set in a Turkish harem, the Abduction is an 18th-century trope on a 21st-century dilemma – the relationship between a fascinated, slightly uneasy Christian West and a mysterious, slightly frightening Muslim East. Elgin Theatre, Oct. 26, 27, 29, 30, Nov. 1, 2

Robert Harris


Baroque Austria

It's not so much the repertoire or the performers that make this a noteworthy concert (although both are interesting). But with this series of performances, Tafelmusik inaugurates its new/old concert space, officially entitled Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity St. Paul's Centre on Bloor Street in Toronto. Lamon's victory lap, her last season (of 33) as Tafelmusik's music director, is well-deserved. She leaves an organization at the peak of its playing prowess, that seems to be dealing with her departure with equanimity. The new performing space is the cherry on top of the sundae of her legacy. Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul's Centre, Toronto, Oct. 3-6, George Weston Recital Hall, Oct. 8.

James Ehnes

The last time James Ehnes performed in Toronto, for the remarkable Women's Musical Club of Toronto, he provided a soul-expanding version of Bach's solo Chaconne for Violin. This time, he's with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, in Peter Oundjian's 10th season, with the Benjamin Britten Violin Concerto. It's Britten's 100th anniversary this year, (and the classical world is sadly, anniversary-mad), so the TSO is playing a lot of his music, but this anguished post-Second World War piece may be the highlight. Roy Thomson Hall, Oct. 10, 12.

Rufus Wainright

Who can't love Rufus Wainright? The folk-singer turned chanteur, pop star, opera composer, Judy-Garland chaneller and who knows what else, is simply one of the world's most unique performers. He brings to the TSO a one-man show that he premiered in Madrid this summer, complete with material from Prima Donna, his opera, orchestral versions of some of his greatest songs, If I Loved You from Carousel (almost worth the price of admission), and, oh yes, selections from Les Nuits d'été by Hector Berlioz. Need more coaxing? I don't. Roy Thomson Hall, Oct. 11.

Yuja Wang

If anyone thinks the era of the great classical pianist ended with the passing of the Rubinsteins and Horowitzs or the aging of the Ashkenazys and Barenboims, forget it. New, young, fearless, technically jaw-dropping virtuosos are everywhere, proving once again that youth, a certain amount of sex appeal and musical intelligence are as marketable today as they were when Franz Liszt caused bloomers to drop 150 years ago. Enter Yuja Wang, last here to play (annihilate) Prokofiev with the TSO. Now she's appearing solo, with Prokofiev again on the program, along with Chopin and Nikolai Kapustin. Not to be missed. Koerner Hall, Royal Conservatory of Music, Oct. 27.

Eve Egoyan

It's sometimes too easy to forget that the classical hydrography of Toronto contains much more than the familiar institutions that make up its mainstream. New music is everywhere, challenging conventions, providing fresh musical experiences, moving the goalposts. One of the most courageous pioneers in this movement is – and has been – Eve Egoyan, Canadian pianist extraordinaire, who has touched repertoire from Erik Satie to Ann Southam to many points in between in her long and varied career. This concert features music by Linda C. Smith and Michael Finnissy, among others. Egoyan is intense and captivating. She rarely disappoints.


The Darcys

On Warring, the Toronto art-rock explorers' third album in a mercurial trilogy, the Darcys soar large and thrill majestically – a rush of blood to the head has never sounded so good. The band's curious decision on its previous record to rework Steely Dan's Aja is now a distant memory, though it does indicate an independent streak of imagination, a trait not abandoned on Warring. The album-launch concert is at a size of venue that soon will be outgrown; big things come natural to them. Adelaide Hall, Oct. 11.

Valerie June

"I'm singing a little blues, I'm singing a little folk, I'm singing a little country, I'm singing a little whatever comes out of me." On Pushin' Against a Stone, Valerie June's debut album on the Concord label, the Medusa-haired Tennessean does what she calls "organic moonshine roots music," with the help of blues-rock star Dan Auerbach and the great Booker T. Jones. A gig in the intimate Drake Hotel basement unveils a new voice in southern music. Drake Hotel, Oct. 18.


The latest release from unboxable brothers Ron and Russell Mael is the box set Sparks: New Music for Amnesiacs, the Ultimate Collection. Fans of the witty, morphing duo could describe them in many ways, forgettable not being one of them. For more than four decades, the art-pop adventurers have won with outlandish flair, flamboyance and falsetto, and the most recent shows – from the Two Hands, One Mouth tours – feature just the pair, with no band and no laptops involved. You've never heard Sparks music quite like this, and if you have, it's nothing a traumatic memory-wiping blow to the head could not solve. Lee's Palace, Toronto, Nov. 2.

Kanye West

Do not hand the immodest rapper your trumpet, as he prefers to blow his own. The audacious American recently claimed he was the "No. 1 rock star on the planet," which is a slight retreat from his previous boast of "nucleus of all society" status. Then again, Yeezus, his new and complicated hip-hop opus, is messianically titled. For two nights in Toronto, Taylor Swift's worst (beautiful, dark and twisted) nightmare will be the centre of attention. Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Nov. 12-13.

Tedeschi Trucks Band

That would be the honey-and-hailstorm singer Susan Tedeschi and the Gibson SG tamer Derek Trucks, the husband and wife core of a Dixie-funk rockestra that musically marries Sly Stone and Delaney and Bonnie with the family Allman. The stage-crowding group's second album is Made Up Mind, a joyous commotion that promises to shake up the stack of bricks at Shuter Street. Massey Hall, Nov. 17.


Farther West

First produced by Theatre Calgary in 1982 and not seen on a professional Toronto stage since 1986, John Murrell's powerful frontier tragedy is long overdue for rediscovery. Diana Leblanc (who was in that Tarragon production) directs Soulpepper Theatre's much-anticipated revival, which stars Tara Nicodemo as the fiercely independent prostitute May Buchanan – a role originated by Martha Henry. Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Oct. 11-Nov. 9.

The Double

Dostoyevsky and a double bass proved a winning combo last year in TheatreRUN's inspired adaptation of the Russian writer's classic doppelganger tale. Happily, the Tarragon Theatre has picked up the show, giving audiences another chance to taste this delicious stew of slapstick, music and Slavic intensity, created and performed by physical comedians Adam Paolozza and Viktor Lukawski, and bassist Arif Mirabdolbaghi. Tarragon Theatre, Toronto, Oct. 15-Nov. 24.

God of Carnage

Forget that awful Roman Polanski film version (retitled Carnage), this comedy of combative couples by Yasmina Reza (Art) is savagely funny theatre. And after its terrific production of the scrappy Clybourne Park, who better to stage it than Studio 180? Actors John Bourgeois, Linda Kash and the reliably fierce Tony Nappo and Sarah Orenstein will be slugging it out in Joel Greenberg's production, opening the second Off-Mirvish season. Panasonic Theatre, Toronto, Nov. 23-Dec. 15.

Once On This Island

The last time Acting Up Stage got cozy with Obsidian Theatre, the result was the acclaimed production of Caroline, or Change. The two companies are hoping sparks will strike again in this revival of the 1990 Caribbean musical by Ragtime team Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. It stars Dora Award winner Arlene Duncan and other Caroline cast members, under the direction of Nigel Shawn Williams. Daniels Spectrum, Toronto, Jan. 21-Feb. 9, 2014.


Fans of Franz Kafka, theatrical legerdemain and international co-pros shouldn't miss this much-praised touring show. Lyric Hammersmith of Britain joins forces with the Vesturport troupe of Iceland to interpret Kafka's nightmarish tale of a travelling salesman-turned-giant insect. Expect wall-crawling athletics, an M.C. Escher-like set and a musical score co-written by Nick Cave. Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto, Jan. 28-March 9, 2014.

Martin Morrow



Ballet Jörgen Canada is usually criss-crossing the country with its pocket versions of full-length classics. These mini-jewels of the standard repertoire have anchored the company's reputation from sea to sea to sea. Lesser known, BJC has always had a commitment toward creating new contemporary ballets (1987 to date) . To celebrate its 25th anniversary, the company is presenting a tour-de-force evening titled Formation, which features four short works. The very big deal is Bouffonia by Robert Desrosiers, who, at one time, was considered among Canada's most celebrated choreographers. No one was more whimsical, innovative or imaginative with his fusion of highly gymnastic dance coupled with eye-popping props and costumes. Bouffonia is Desrosiers' salute to old word clowns. New works are also coming from Malgorzata Nowacka and Allen Kaeja, two highly physical dancesmiths. The former is straight out of Queen Street West punk with attitude, while the latter combines intense emotion with high physical energy. Rounding out the program is Good Mourning by jazz dance master Derek Sangster, which depicts the healing powers of grief. Collectively, this quartet represents contemporary ballet at its cutting edge. Betty Oliphant Theatre, Toronto, Oct. 4-5


Since Matthew Jocelyn took over Canadian Stage, he has included at least two dance programs a season to augment his international lineup of playwrights. In presenting the North American premiere of Desh by London-based Akram Khan, Jocelyn is showcasing the munificent talent of an international media darling. Khan is lionized around the world as both an extraordinary dancer and choreographer. His 2011 solo show Desh was honoured with an Olivier Award, and rave reviews that included words like "mesmerizing" and "masterpiece." Khan's unique style is a cunning fusion of ancient kathak dance from North India and contemporary Western dance forms. He takes the title of the show from his Bangladeshi heritage. The word "desh" means "homeland" in Bengali and is Khan's most personal work to date. At the heart of the dance is one man's exploration of the fragility of life in an unstable world, with scenes shifting between Britain and Bangladesh. Khan always uses acclaimed collaborators, and one of the main members of his design team is Oscar-winning visual artist Tim Yip whose stunning art production helped to make the 2000 film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon such a huge hit. Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto, Oct. 31-Nov. 2

New Animal

DanceWorks is Toronto's largest independent dance presenter, and curator Mimi Beck's mandate is to showcase a mix of companies from Toronto and the rest of Canada. Vancouver is home to ballet and hip-hop fusion, and the 605 Collective is a quintessential example of this West Coast dance genre. The company is also starting to make a name for itself beyond the Rockies, so attention must be made. With the multimedia New Animal (2012), the collective worked with an outside choreographer of note. Fellow Vancouverite Dana Gingras rose to fame as a co-director/performer with the iconic Holy Body Tattoo. Her highly physical dance style is a perfect match with 605's explosive energy. Gingras' theme is that the performers must reclaim their animal bodies as a means of becoming fully human. She was inspired by a quote from American philosopher and cultural ecologist, David Abram: "This animal body, for all its susceptibility and vertigo, remains the primary instrument of all our knowing". Gingras and the collective have designed movement that is a push and pull between the group dynamic and independence. The choreography shifts between control and chaos in a work that is raw, intimate and playful. 605 Collective Enwave Theatre, Toronto, Nov. 15-16.

The Light Between

The great Margie Gillis is celebrating 40 years in dance with a cross-Canada tour. While the Montreal-based choreographer and dancer made her name as a solo artist, she has increasingly turned to group work in her later years. The genesis for The Light Between goes back 25 years, when Gillis met Winnipeg-born painter and sculptor Randal Newman. At the time they discussed how to combine choreography with visual elements to evoke the body of a dancer. It may have taken a quarter of a century, but their collaboration The Light Between received effusive reviews when it premiered last March. Working through Newman's modular set, the poignant piece explores the hope that is so much a part of human vulnerability, set to an original score by Montreal composer Larsen Lupin. Among the themes are travel, conscience, sensation, knowledge, change, joy and pain. This piece joins Gillis's illustrious body of work devoted to interpreting different facets of the human soul. Performing with Gillis are veteran dancers Holly Bright (Nanaimo), Paola Styron (New York) and Marc Daigle (Montreal). Whatever Gillis has created, expect extreme passion and intense emotion. She aims for the jugular. Fleck Dance Theatre, Toronto, Nov. 12-13.


The Innovation mixed program is Karen Kain's commitment to Canadian contemporary ballet. When a choreographer hits one out of the park like Crystal Pite's Emergence in 2009, the audience is right there in the presence of greatness. This year's Innovation choreographers are somewhat of a surprise. On one hand, there is the Big Kahuna, himself, Canada's most famous ballet choreographer, James Kudelka, a former National Ballet of Canada artistic director. This is his first original work for the company since leaving his post amid high drama. At the other end of the experience scale is newcomer Robert Binet, a recent graduate of Canada's National Ballet School, whose prodigious talent was first noted in his student years. He just spent time as a choreographic apprentice with London's Royal Ballet. In the middle, is Montreal's acclaimed Jose Navas, who runs his own Compagnie Flak. He just finished a three year stint as resident choreographer with Ballet British Columbia. The choice of music is eclectic. Kudelka is using Pergolesi's Stabat Mater , Navas is setting his piece to Benjamin Britten's Four Sea Interludes , while Binet is going with an original score by Young Turk Canadian composer Owen Pallett. Choreography by James Kudelka, José Navas and Robert Binet. National Ballet of Canada Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Nov. 22-28.

Paula Citron