Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sunday Read: First-Person - Joel Ivany on The 7 Deadly Sins

Holier Than Thou
Going beyond Weill
by Joel Ivany, Artistic Director and Founder - Against the Grain Theatre

On Friday March 16 and Saturday March 17, Against the Grain Theatre will be presenting a concert entitled The Seven Deadly Sins (And Holier Fare). As the title suggests, the program features Kurt Weill’s ballet chanté Die Sieben Todsünden (The Seven Deadly Sins), but it also includes Benjamin Britten’s Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac and two contemporary two-piano pieces. 
To give you a taste of what we’ve been delving into to prepare for this production, allow me to introduce you to “the sins,” AtG style:
We’ll rest when we’re dead. This is our second season at Against the Grain Theatre and since the beginning our small team has been fighting an uphill battle (albeit a fun one). As a small theatre company, we want things. We want more money, we want more staff, we want more time. Unfortunately we must do without. What we’ve learned is that each show produces a demand for more. There’s no room for sloth at AtG, and there’s no moss growing on our rolling stone!
We at AtG take pride in our accomplishments. For this production, we’re proud to be presenting our first international artist. Chicago pianist Daniel Pesca is a contemporary music specialist, who will be joining AtG music director Christopher Mokrzewski to play Steve Reich’s Piano Phase and John Adams’ Hallelujah Junction, and these pieces are strictly virtuoso territory. However, our pride is limited to the cool things we achieve; it does not go so far as to limit our possibilities. Are we too proud to wear jeans and drink beer in our high calibre performances, to offer audiences a unique experience? Hell no. Are we too proud to give young artists a chance? No way.
Britten’s Abraham and Isaac, which will be sung by tenor Chris Mayell and mezzo-soprano Erin Lawson, conjures the biblical tale of a man instructed by God to prove his loyalty by sacrificing his son. Abraham is angry with his God for commanding such an unthinkable deed, but he leads Isaac up Mount Moriah and places him on the altar. As the knife is held above his son’s head, the voice of God calls the whole thing off, acknowledging Abraham’s faithfulness. Personally, we think we’d be pretty peeved. The duality and contrast of sinfulness and holiness, love and anger, have inspired our artistic team to explore the many shades of grey in the subject matter of this program.
As young artists and professionals, we don’t often have the means to be literal gluttons in any sense of the word. But we do, unabashedly and unashamedly stuff ourselves with art. Music, visual art, dance, poetry…what decadence! We invite our audience to feast on the sensual delights of this show, which takes place in one of the most popular new venues on the Toronto music scene. Gallery 345, in Toronto’s west end, offers an opportunity to gorge on the artwork that adorns its walls while revelling in the sound from the two resident grand pianos.
To be crass, there’s no one more fitting to play the role of Anna I in The Seven Deadly Sins than the sexy star of our hit La Bohème, Lindsay Sutherland Boal. Lindsay stole the show every night as Musetta and certainly gained a few, ahem, admirers along the way. Cough. In all seriousness, Lindsay is the very definition of an Against the Grain artist. She’s willing to leave her comfort zone and go to some dark places for the sake of understanding Anna I’s plight. With dancer Tina Fushell as Anna II, the cautionary tale of our protagonist’s sinful trip across the U.S. will both incite a certain lust and warn against its dangers!
AtG craves many things, but we do not covet. Why? Because not having what larger performing arts organizations have is what makes us unique. The things we crave force us to strive. Try this on for size: this is our first production that features young professional dancers. Matjash Mrozewski and Kate Franklin are choreographing and performing an original piece to Steve Reich’s mesmerizing Piano Phase. As well, Matjash is choreographing The Seven Deadly Sins for Tina Fushell to dance the role of Anna II. 
Adding dance elements into our Against the Grain mix is revelatory, and THAT’S what we crave. Let the others covet it.
It’s no secret that as artists, it’s difficult to do what we love. The unfortunate reality of arts funding in this city and country is that we are not a priority. One may assume that we are envious of those with an easier ride, but my friends, we are not. Our audiences are young and supportive. We create art with our friends. We are authentic, and we are following our dreams. And we also drink a lot of beer. A lot of it. (Did I just say we weren’t gluttons? I take it back.) We wouldn’t trade this for the world. 

This is the journey we’ve been on for the past few months, and I invite you to join us and take it all in. Challenge yourself to plumb the depths of The Seven Deadly Sins (and Holier Fare) and I promise that you will leave in a different state than the one in which you arrived.  See y’all there.

Gallery 345
345 Sorauren Ave, TO 
March 16 & 17 (2 shows only) @ 8PM. 
Tickets available online or at the door. 

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