Previous Post
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Come Up to Breathe, Come Up to Breathe
by Mikel Rouse

Where to start here? It's Tuesday and we open The End Of Cinematics tonight at the Bluma Appel. We closed Dennis Cleveland on Sunday night with what may have been the best performance in the history of the piece. Everything worked together seamlessly: the New York and local cast, the TV taping and the sound design. Such a complex work that has to look like a spontaneous affair.

Even as we were completing this run, our crew was over at the Bluma setting up the steel and raising the two level structure that houses the six rear projected screens. Sort of like a small home. The performers perform this "live 3D film in a 12 foot area between the six rear projected screens and the front scrim that doubles as both a see through scrim and a movie screen. The live cameras capture the performers on video "sets" or backdrops that are taken from a film shot in Paris. Through CGI, we removed the people from the original film (which appears in the upper three rear projected screens) so that the performers have matching video backdrops that are photographed and then projected onto the front screen. Whew!

Our carpenter, Brad Hepburn, testing the robotic camera for The End Of Cinematics

Sound Designer Chris Ericson grabs a needed rest after loading in The End Of Cinematics

In addition to the three stationary cameras, we have a fly camera and a robotic camera that travels along a track in front of the performers (controlled by our director of photography Richard Connors) capturing moving shots of the performers. It's an amazing set up and by the end of the day yesterday, we had it all set up and running.

Projector tests for The End Of Cinematics:

And to make things even more interesting, I accepted the generous offer from Luminato to participate in the Canadian Songbook last night. I got the singers from Cinematics involved and we performed Neil Young's Harvest Moon and Broken Social Scene's Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl. What an honor to be included in such great company and to perform in the legendary Massey Hall. I can't say enough good things about the band and the music director Glenn Morley. I'm hoping to be able to work with these musicians again. They were all so kind and generous and the arrangements that they came up with for the two songs were remarkable. Just the right touch.

Now, it's off to our first and only run through before we open. The company is feeling good.

Mikel Rouse is a New York-based composer, director, performer and recording artist hailed as “a composer many believe to be the best of his generation.” (NY Times 2002) His works include 25 records, 7 films (including Funding and Music For Minorities), and a trilogy of media operas: Failing Kansas, Dennis Cleveland and The End Of Cinematics. More information is available at
posted by Luminato, Toronto Festival of Arts & Creativity @ 7:13 AM   42 comments
Monday, June 9, 2008
Life in these United States
by Mikel Rouse

We had our first dress rehearsal for Dennis Cleveland on Friday. What a sight. I'm so tempted to post photos of the cast, but I don't want to give up the ghost, so to speak. This was our last dress rehearsal and then we opened on Saturday. I'm still so pleased by the character of this Toronto cast and so grateful for how well everyone is getting along. We've had some minor bumps in the road (to be expected with a show with so many moving parts) that involved a lot of waiting around, not unlike a film shoot. Through it all, everyone has remained upbeat and positive.

Dennis Cleveland Highschool Class of 2008

There are so many factors to keep track of with Dennis Cleveland. Yes, it's a live show that's performed on stage. but it's also an optical and aural illusion. And we're upping the bombardment of TV by having multiple views on the television monitors so you have multiple perspectives of the show. The video crew and camera crew are constantly trying to capture shots of the performers and audience to create a visual field to accompany the music. There are so many factors that have to combine correctly for the entire effect to work. It looks like a free-for-all but it's anything but. It's a very structured work from beginning to end.

We got all the monitors in the air yesterday and I can't believe what a wonderful job James Cameron has done with this set. Very simple and elegant but so perfectly suited to the scale of the room. And Jason Boyd, our lighting designer, has managed to highlight the best elements of the design. When I saw the set lit for the first time I was blown away.

Sound Check for Dennis Cleveland

In a lot of ways, Chris Ericson, our sound designer, has the toughest job. I've been working with Chris since 2005 when we first build The End Of Cinematics together. He never fails to knock me out, and this show is no exception. But his job is made even more complex by the need to integrate the talk show hosts roaming mic with the other amplified elements of the show. We'll know we've got it down when he brings out his framed photo of Chuck Norris.

Mikel Rouse is a New York-based composer, director, performer and recording artist hailed as “a composer many believe to be the best of his generation.” (NY Times 2002) His works include 25 records, 7 films (including Funding and Music For Minorities), and a trilogy of media operas: Failing Kansas, Dennis Cleveland and The End Of Cinematics. More information is available at
posted by Luminato, Toronto Festival of Arts & Creativity @ 7:24 AM   0 comments
Thursday, June 5, 2008
If You Don't Love Me the Way I am Then You Can Go!
by Mikel Rouse

After over a year and a half of planning, we're finally all here in Toronto for the second Luminato festival. We're in the process of building the first of three shows in a trilogy of modern media operas that span over 15 years. We've been lucky to tour these pieces all over the world, but this is the highlight: the culmination of years of work; presenting the trilogy in repertory for the first time. Hats off to Luminato for that.

Building the Dennis Cleveland Studio

We're doing the second opera of the trilogy first. It's the talk show opera Dennis Cleveland and it requires considerable effort to build the studio and set. It's also the largest piece in terms of cast and crew. We've got about 25 singers, actors and soloists and a four person camera crew being guided by our video director Jeff Sugg and our director of photography, Richard Connors. We always cast half of the show locally, and the Toronto cast is truly the best ever. They're wonderful in their spirit and talent, and they're bringing a real sense of wonder to the process. Of course, they've been expertly guided by our assistant director Natasha Mytnowych, another face to watch on the Toronto scene.

Video crew for Dennis Cleveland

Rehearsals are going well. We started rehearsing the New York cast and the Toronto cast separately for three weeks and brought them all together for the first time this week. One of the most gratifying things about Dennis Cleveland is the good will and friendship that seems to result from the meeting of so many talented people. We actually had our closing party last night as this was the only night we would be able to have cast and crew all together. By the time we're doing the last show of Dennis Cleveland at the Toronto film School, we'll be loading in the third opera The End Of Cinematics at the Bluma Appel Theater. Then while we're performing The End Of Cinematics, we'll be loading in the first opera and final show of the trilogy, Failing Kansas, at the Factory Theater.

It's amazing to watch so many dedicated people pull together to make all this happen. In some ways it's a logistical nightmare, but this seems to be driving everyone even more. There's something thrilling (and a little scary) about the roller coaster we're on, but it's all coming together. More later, I hope.

Mikel Rouse is a New York-based composer, director, performer and recording artist hailed as “a composer many believe to be the best of his generation.” (NY Times 2002) His works include 25 records, 7 films (including Funding and Music For Minorities), and a trilogy of media operas: Failing Kansas, Dennis Cleveland and The End Of Cinematics. More information is available at
posted by Luminato, Toronto Festival of Arts & Creativity @ 11:07 AM   0 comments
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Now, New and Cool! by Graham Sheffield
Our daily lives become ever more driven and congested. We love new gadgets and new technology, but, seductive as they are, in many case they don’t make our lives any simpler. The 24 hour news agenda is a hungry beast: it consumes news, it demands news, even when there may be no news!

All of this has an impact on the culture in our lives: innovation and novelty become the driving forces. The qualities of tradition and experience and technical skill seem to have become secondary. Composers, for example, almost have to reinvent themselves for each composition, for fear of being accused of repeating themselves! No more the genius of Haydn, who wrote 104 symphonies in a broadly consistent style and language: he would probably be criticized today for not exploring a more diverse and exploratory style, even though each one of his mature symphonies display a striking originality within the conventional musical language of the day.

Artists today have a much harder task in being original –there is so much art out there. There are so many artists. The cultural languages of the world are available on your desktop. There is so much art of past generations. How can one possibly find anything new to say?

No wonder so many are turning towards technology in an attempt to create a new language or to find a new voice. It instantly empowers the aspiring artist in a way traditional artistic skills never could. It feels new and it’s easily communicable. But not many artists yet seem to me to be in control of the technology – rather the technology often obscures the artistic idea and covers for lack of original thought.

This year’s Luminato contains a number of artists using new techniques involving technology. We believe them to be the “genuine article”, each with something to say in an original way – Laurie Anderson, Marie Brassard, Mikel Rouse, David Michalek and others.

We’re sure that Toronto audiences will relish their work and stay with it: demands our attention in a way that the instant gratification of some new art does not. But let’s talk about it.

Graham Sheffield is the highly successful Artistic Director at London’s Barbican Centre. Since 1995, Sheffield has transformed the Centre’s program from a classical receiving house into one of the most innovative and diverse presenting and producing arts centres in the world with, encompassing programming across the entire spectrum: music, dance, theatre, film and visual arts.

posted by Luminato, Toronto Festival of Arts & Creativity @ 1:26 PM   0 comments
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Hear/See by Damiano Pietropaolo

Marie Brassard's GLASS EYE

I am just as deaf as I am blind. The problems of deafness are deeper and more complex, if not more important, than those of blindness. Deafness is a much worse misfortune. For it means the loss of the most vital stimulus – the sound of the voice that brings language, sets thoughts astir and keeps us in the intellectual company of men. (Helen Keller)

In my graduate seminar on the history of sound in the arts at the University of Toronto, I begin by asking a simple question: “if you were forced (God forbid!) to make a choice between being deaf or being blind, which would you chose?” It’s a disconcerting question to say the least; one that almost all of us, unlike Helen Keller, will never have ponder seriously. The answer is evenly split: half the class will choose the retina over the eardrum. We then go through a little exercise in which we close our eyes for a minute or so, and discover that while we can stop looking at the world, it’s not so easy to stop listening to it. We have no “earlids” to keep unwanted sounds from entering our sensory apparatus. Sounds invade our very being and attack us from every direction: we exist, almost literally, in a bubble of sounds. Yet the immense role that sound plays in the artistic organization of our experience has only recently become the subject of intense scrutiny among artists and philosophers intent on understanding the mystery of perception.

In the late seventies the French economist Jaques Attali, in a book called Noise: The Political Economy of Music, focussed the debate by categorically stating: for twenty-five centuries Western knowledge has tried to look upon the world. It has failed to understand that the world is not for the beholding. It is not legible but audible. Monsieur Attali was, of course, being provocative; but when you stop to think about it, up until about a hundred years ago, the alphabet and the paintbrush (literature and the visual arts) were the tools artists resorted to when they wanted to copy nature - they looked at the world and made representations of it on cave walls, on papyrus and on paper. The sound of the world remained at best an elusive memory until recording and broadcasting technologies came on the scene. The microphone, the camera, the gramophone and wireless broadcasting meant that we were no longer limited to the written word or the painted scene: we could actually capture the sound of the world, reproduce it and beam it into every household. The retina, which had dominated aesthetic discourse certainly since the invention of perspective in the Renaissance, began yielding some of its power to the eardrum. The impact of recording technologies on the making and appreciation of music, the marriage of image and sound on film, the interaction between artist and machine in performance art, ushered in a paradigm shift in the way we create and consume all forms of art. The Futurists (2008/2009 marks the 100th anniversary of the first Futurist Manifesto) and the Dadaists were quick to grasp the power that these new media were to have on the arts, and within a few years the noise of modernity was heard loud and clear, and not just in concert halls and art galleries, but over the air waves, in street nickelodeons, from loudspeakers in the piazza. The fourth wall in the temple of art so dear to theatre and concert patrons of late 19th century came crashing down, and all sorts of barriers disappeared in the dust that rose from its demolition: between genres, between audience and performers, between public and private spaces.

William Forsythe's CITY OF ABSTRACTS

Celebrated in Futurist serate in Milan, anarchist evenings in the Dadaist Café Voltaire in Zurich or revolutionary poetry readings in the Stray Dog Café in St. Petersburg, the noisy marriage of art and technology proved to be long lasting and very fruitful. Many of the artists participating in Luminato 2008 are but the grandchildren of this marriage: from the interaction of artist and technology in the work of Laurie Anderson, Marie Brassard and Mikel Rouse, to the street art of Sam Rausch, David Michalek or William Forsythe, not to mention the acrobatically interdisciplinary Midsummer Night’s Dream. Today’s technologies (digitazation, the internet) give the artist an almost divine power to make art through the infinite manipulation of visual and audio recordings and to make it instantly available to the global village – futurist’s dream come true! But while the technical sophistication of the digital age is a far cry from simplicity of Edison’s wax cylinder, the artistic spirit ushered in by such primitive devices will be very audible on the streets of Toronto this coming June. Jacques Attali would approve: we now must learn to judge a society more by its sounds, by its art, and by its festivals…by listening to noise we can better understand where the folly of men is leading us, and what hopes it is still possible to have.

photo credits:
Louis Negin in Glass Eye (J.Christian Gagnon)
City of Abstracts (Marion Rossi)

Damiano Pietropaolo

An award-winning radio producer and director, Damiano Pietropaolo is a writer and translator. A former Head of Arts & Entertainment for CBC Radio, he has served on many international juries for radio and sound art. He teaches in the Graduate Drama Centre at the University of Toronto and serves as Artistic Consultant to Luminato.

Click here for the official Luminato 2008 press release.

posted by Luminato, Toronto Festival of Arts & Creativity @ 12:08 PM   0 comments
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Art and Politics by Robyn Archer
BLACK WATCH and Laurie Anderson's HOMELAND

For some time now the heart of contemporary visual art seems to have been a socio-political one. Even when works are playful, they seem to take on the mantle of social engagement in the context of so much overt commentary on current issues such as race, power, gender, money, globalism, the environment etc. Documenta, (seen as one of the world‘s most important exhibitions of modern and contemporary art and takes place every five years in Kassel, Germany) for instance, is consistently packed with works that seek to jolt us into the real world and all its contraries, and I was fascinated at the Biennale in Venice two and a half years ago to see the Illy coffee stands specially equipped with a Magazine tailored for quasi- political chic.

Even the resistance over the last half of the twentieth century of visual art to be confined to any particular style has been characterized by guerilla manouevres around style, and the rise of non-art. And if we add film into the mix of visual art (though I’d claim film is much more than just visual), we find a genre that has long taken on politics with both flair and vengeance.

Can we say the same about theatre or dance or music? Certainly contemporary dance in the hands of some individual choreographers has taken that route. I think of Anne Therese de Keersmaker’s I Said I or her solo work Once , Lloyd Newson’s successive works for DV8, and Alain Plaitel’s deeply moving treatises on the disenfranchised urbanites of a new Europe for Les Ballets de c de la B, but theatre? Music? How about John Adams and Peter Sellars? Or indeed Laurie Anderson’s beautiful Homeland and National Theatre of Scotland’s splendid Black Watch, both of which will be seen at Luminato this June. And if we care to scan cultures beyond the ‘western’ canon and times beyond our own, we will find a staggering weight of political art: Eastern European writers in the seventies, South African actors during apartheid, and indigenous peoples everywhere today.

These works, which engage socio-political issues, are certainly there and these are just the more obvious examples: there are a myriad of examples of smaller companies, more alternative music and festivals all over the world which attune themselves to issues of the day.

I suppose the question becomes ‘how effective is it’? How big is the gap between the audience member experiencing overt politically driven art and their going away to act on it. Sometimes I fear, in the same way as I fear our reaction to the barrage of ‘news’ stories in media of every kind, that knowing about it is deemed enough: yes I heard about it, and I can talk about it, but my responsibility ends there. Clearly those artists who are driven by thoughts about the big issues and the injustices of the world simply feel those things strongly enough to allow them to surface or drive their own work. In some cases it is enough for them that their position is understood - that they care enough about certain issues to make work about them. For others, expression alone will never be enough – the call to action requires that those who hear, see and listen also take up the cause.

I am currently writing a play about the first woman to study architecture in Vienna. She was a contemporary of Hanns Eisler, also Viennese, the composer who worked with Bertolt Brecht, especially when they were in exile in Hollywood and then, kicked out by McCarthy, returned to postwar Berlin and the Reconstruction. I regularly sing Brecht and Eisler’s songs today, pertinent as they are some fifty to seventy years after they were written, but working on the new the play has allowed me to look again at the young man himself. Studying under Schoenberg in Vienna he was absorbed by his music, but his writings (collected in the book Hanns Eisler, a rebel in music) show a composer whose art grew to be in service of the revolutionary cause. Unlike many a celebrity today willing to devote a portion of their time and financial gain to good works in the public interest, Eisler cared passionately about revolutionizing social conditions as well as musical style and he worked tirelessly in factories and sites of heavy industry making music with and for workers, often using their own skills (such as the brass traditions in certain towns) as his inspiration. The cause came first, the music in its service. His early career meant little to him outside the framework of loyalty to the rise of the working classes throughout the world. His and Brecht’s kampflied (translating as fighting song) The Solidarity Song couldn’t be more explicit and the same can be said for their Song of the Moldau which I paired with Dylan’s The Times They are a Changin’ in my 2005 concert iprotest!

Yet one of the most fascinating things about Bob Dylan’s Chronicles is his own revelation about how little he wanted to be anyone’s political hero, and to what extent he cared about pure music and performance every bit as much as ,if not more than, ‘the message’. So, you never can be sure, even with the most fighting lyrical stance; and if those songs inspired the fighters in the front line at the time, does it matter that the artist may have been less committed? We should acknowledge that very often just the courage to be an artist , especially in the context of certain repressive regimes, can be a political act in itself. One thing is for sure, that there is no such thing as an ‘apolitical’ artist, just as there is no such thing as an apolitical person. If you don’t comment on current issues, if you don’t take action against injustice in your own community, or your own nation, then by default you are happy with the status quo. So it always confounds me that only those who do take up those issues carry the ‘political’ label. On the other hand ‘to thine own self be true’ still holds for all of us, artists or not, and forcing fake concern, or taking up political themes just because they are fashionable would be as treacherous as not speaking or singing up when you do feel something passionately enough to work in your own way for change.

photo credits:
Emun Elliott in Blackwatch 2007 (Manuel Harlan)
Homeland (Laurie Anderson)

Robyn Archer is a singer, writer and director who has performed throughout Australia and the world. She has served as Artistic Director for the Adelaide and Melbourne International Arts Festivals, and the National Festival of Australian Theatre. In January 2006, she received the International Citation of Merit from the International Society of Performing Arts.

Find out more about Robyn Archer at the depArcher lounge

posted by Luminato, Toronto Festival of Arts & Creativity @ 8:21 AM   0 comments
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Luminato Has Launched!
by Alison Broverman

CEO Janice Price announced the highly anticipated Luminato 2008 line up early this afternoon at the Jane Mallett Theatre to an eager crowd of Toronto media and culture types.

The 2008 line up has a great mix of local, national and international talent, and an impressive number of world premieres and Luminato co-commissions.

I'm a theatre nerd, so most of the shows making my mouth water are plays like the National Theatre of Scotland's Black Watch, and Toronto's own Roseneath Theatre's Rocket and the Queen of Dreams, and multimedia Quebec theatre artist Marie Brassard's The Glass Eye.

The line up feels a little heavy on the dance side this year, but that can be a good thing, especially since it includes nightly free public dance parties in Dundas Square every night, complete with dance lessons beforehand. Plus, there's not only live dance performances by the likes of the Mark Morris Dance Group (who will be participating in a week-long residency at the festival), but there will be multidisciplinary, interactive dance installations as well, like William Forsythe's City of Abstracts, which will project and distort the movements of passers-by onto a giant outdoor screen.

That kind of large scale public art is what made Luminato such a success last year, so I was a little disappointed to note that this year's festival doesn't seem to have any plans for any installations involving very large things hanging from ceilings (something that I personally believe to be one of the pinnacles of art, or at least of awesomeness). Last year's black balls in BCE Place (now called Brookfield Place, which will play host to Mille Femmes, a photography exhibition by French artist Pierre Maraval) were a delight every time I walked through there, as were the huge horses in Union Station. Whither the oversized suspended art?
posted by Luminato, Toronto Festival of Arts & Creativity @ 9:16 PM   0 comments