Luminato, the Toronto-based festival of the arts and creativity, has pulled off a coup for its seventh edition next June: Monday it announced that it's hosting the North American premiere of The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic, an "opera" based on the famous performance artist, conceived and staged by legendary director Robert Wilson.
Abramovic, at 66, is, of course, very much alive. Indeed, she will be appearing in all four presentations (June 14-17) of the Wilson work at Luminato – her first live performance in the Ontario capital in more than 30 years – with support from actor Willem Dafoe (The English Patient, Spider-Man) and Antony Hegarty (of Antony and the Johnsons) who's written original songs which he'll perform in the production. Long-time Wilson collaborator Jacques Reynaud has designed the costumes.
The Life and Death had its world premiere last year at the Manchester International Festival, then travelled for sold-out appearances in Madrid, Basel, Antwerp and Amsterdam. The production, which runs three hours, features scenes from Abramovic's life and career, from her birth in 1946 in the former Yugoslavia, her stormy childhood as the daughter of high-ranking communists to her pioneering work as a body-bruising, boundary-testing performance artist, including the acclaimed, much-covered 90-day appearance in 2010 at New York's Museum of Modern Art as part of a retrospective titled The Artist is Present.
The production marks Wilson's second bow at Luminato. Last year he remounted perhaps his most illustrious opera, 1976's Einstein on the Beach, with a score by Philip Glass and choreography by Lucinda Childs. As ever with Wilson, The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic will feature a slow-moving series of imagistically powerful tableaux, "held together," in the words of one British critic, "by the brilliant performance of Dafoe who recounts Abramovic's story like a crazed chorus." The production begins, for instance, with three dead Abramovices lying on biers on a stage littered with big red bones as live dogs prowl hungrily about (a reference to the award-winning performance Abramovic gave at the 1997 Venice Biennale during the Balkan wars in which she scrubbed 1,500 raw cow bones with a bucket and a brush for four consecutive days).
Abramovic plays herself, of course, as well as her fire-breathing mother, Danica, who supervised historic monuments and acquired art works for public buildings in Yugoslavia when it was governed by the Communists (1946-1992). Danica was famed for her spartan lifestyle, stoicism, fierce discipline – and a lack of demonstrable affection. As Abramovic told The New Yorker in 2010: "I learned my self-discipline from [my mother] and I was always afraid of her."
In a recent interview, Abramovic expressed the hope that The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic "could continue to tour after Toronto – and that there could be somebody else playing me because it is life and death and," she laughed, "it would be great to have someone else playing me while I'm still alive."
In a statement, Luminato artistic director Jorn Weisbrodt called the production "one of those unique, mercurial projects whose grandeur and power cannot be planned but we always hope for . . . [It's] four of the greatest artists of our time, artists who could not be more different, collaborating for the first time [to] create something that is greater than their sum."
Visa Infinite credit card-holders get an advance opportunity to purchase tickets Nov. 28 at noon (online at visainfinite.ca; phone: 416-368-4849) while "the official public sale" starts Nov. 30 at noon (at luminato.com; phone: 416-368-4849).