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Right from its launch in 2007, Luminato has had identity issues. Toronto’s major international arts festival may have given its audiences some indelible experiences over the years – the Philip Glass-Robert Wilson masterpiece Einstein on the Beach and the National Theatre of Scotland’s James Plays are just two favourites that spring to mind – but it still struggles to define itself among the city’s other artistic offerings.
Hence the decision to start calling itself Luminato Festival Toronto.
Adding “Toronto” to its name signals the festival’s commitment both to showcasing local artists and to serving the wider community, Luminato chief executive officer Anthony Sargent explains. “It’s about making explicit our relationship with the city, which has become more and more important in recent years,” he says.
The name change comes with a sneak peek at Luminato’s 2020 programming – the announcement of two international shows that will be part of the 40-plus events at this year’s festival, which runs from June 11 to 28.
The shows are Requiem pour L., a radical remix of Mozart’s Requiem from Belgium’s les ballets C de la B, and Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard in a celebrated production by Moscow Pushkin Drama Theatre that will be making its Canadian premiere.
Les ballets C de la B is no stranger to Luminato, having made a splash at the 2017 festival with its tragicomic ode to marching bands, En avant, marche! The Cherry Orchard, meanwhile, marks another of the festival’s collaborations with local Russian-language presenters Show One.
Both shows, while welcome, are no clear indication of what Luminato’s new artistic director, Naomi Campbell, is planning for the festival – the first one she has programmed in its entirety. (Although she took the reins last year, departing artistic director Josephine Ridge had largely put the 2019 festival in place.) The rest of the lineup won’t be revealed until April.
“There’s an emphasis on local work as well as international work,” Campbell says, including events that speak directly to the Toronto community. “There will also be a lot of free programming – and different free programming from what you’d expect,” she adds. All very mysterious. We do know, however, that Campbell’s long history in Canadian indie theatre – before becoming a producer at the festival in 2013 – has already made itself felt. Luminato has forged a relationship with Toronto’s Theatre Centre, and the past two festivals included the premieres of new works by local playwrights Susanna Fournier (Four Sisters) and Yolanda Bonnell (Bug – recently remounted at Theatre Passe Muraille).
Having a Canadian direct the festival – Ridge came from Australia and her predecessor, Jörn Weisbrodt, from Germany – has made a significant difference, Sargent says. “Naomi knows the Canadian arts scene with a profound depth,” he says. “It’s absolutely helped define the direction in which we’re heading for future years.”
Not that there wasn’t a Canadian component to Luminato when it began, but it was often overshadowed by big-ticket items from the world stage. Founded by Tony Gagliano and the late David Pecaut, the festival started out with a sizable budget, including $15-million from the province and a substantial corporate sponsorship from L’Oreal. That allowed it to bring in some spectacular, attention-grabbing shows, but less money was devoted to other programming.
Today, the festival’s budget is smaller – a little more than $6-million annually – but Sargent says the spending is more evenly spread among international, national and emerging local artists. “We’ve found a really good balance where all those things are important and we don’t do any of them at the expense of any of the others,” he says.
And ironically, founding board members and donors have told him the festival has finally become what they imagined it to be. Better late than never.