A South Korean jazzer, a Bosnian rock wunderkind and a festival of female-empowering hip hop are just a taste of the eclectic schedule that makes up the inaugural season of Civic Theatres Toronto (CTT). Throw in an Israeli company who will dance a production called Venezuela and add a show of solo choreography from a Montreal-based British Columbian of Cree, Métis and Dutch heritage, and the slate would seem to satisfy the CTT’s stated desire to reflect Toronto’s various communities with its 2018-19 programming, announced Wednesday.
The multi-arts Civic Theatres Toronto came into being in 2015, when it was decided that the three city-owned performing-arts venues (Sony Centre, St. Lawrence Centre and the Toronto Centre for the Arts) would stand a better chance of flourishing if they were run by one charitable non-profit organization. In January, 2017, former Luminato festival executive producer Clyde Wagner began his new job as CTT’s president and chief executive.
“I took the job because I see nothing but great potential,” Wagner told The Globe and Mail, upon his appointment. “We can create something really exciting combining these three theatres into one organization.”
The Sony Centre (formerly the O’Keefe Centre) is one of the country’s largest theatres, at nearly 3,200 seats. The St. Lawrence Centre houses two auditoriums: the 876-seat Bluma Appel Theatre and the 497-seat Jane Mallett Theatre. The Toronto Centre for the Arts, located in North York, spreads its 2,000 or so seats across four spaces.
The city subsidized the three buildings in 2017 to the tune of $5.8-million. (The budgeted subsidy for 2018 is $5.3-million). The hope is that the merger of the three facilities will improve the bottom line.
Ultimately, audience numbers and ticket sales will show how excited the public is about the CTT’s first postmerger season, which is a balance of productions and artists familiar to Toronto audiences and other acts more exotic.
Splitting the difference is someone like Goran Bregović, a rock star in the former Yugoslavia who presented his brassy Balkan music at Toronto’s Massey Hall in 2017 and who will be back again this year, this time with a new album (Three Letters from Sarajevo), at Sony Centre on Oct. 26.
Jazz singer Holly Cole, on the other hand, is a more familiar draw. For CTT, the Juno winner will perform at George Weston Recital Hall at the Toronto Centre for the Arts on March 3, 2019. Cole seems to play somewhere in town every year, varying her venues as she goes: Massey Hall in 2016, Koerner Hall in 2017 and, this summer, at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre for the TD Toronto Jazz Festival.
Sticking with jazz, Toronto audiences are likely less familiar with the South Korean chanteuse Youn Sun Nah, who makes her Toronto debut at the George Weston early in 2019.
The CTT dance card is full with the acclaimed Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Tel Aviv-based Batsheva Dance Company’s production of Ohad Naharin’s Venezuela, both at Sony Centre. With Native Earth Performing Arts, CTT will co-present Pour by the innovative Canadian choreographer Daina Ashbee at an off-site venue, the Theatre Centre, Feb. 21 to 24, 2019. And Ballet BC makes its return to the city after nearly a decade away with a mixed program at Bluma Appel that features Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo and Petite Cérémonie by Medhi Walerski.
Other highlights include salt (a one-hander that retraces the transatlantic slave route), written and performed by Leeds-based Selina Thompson. Sigma, a mix of juggling and classical Indian dance, is a creation of the London contemporary circus troupe Gandini Juggling. Hot Brown Honey is the descriptive name of an Australian burlesque group, while Ladies of Hip-Hop Festival comes as advertised as well.