Art of Time’s “Shakespeare:If Music Be…” reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

March 28, Enwave Theatre, Toronto

Art of Time’s evening inspired by Shakespeare ended with Ophelia: the windmills of her mind rolling unconfined in Peggy Baker’s limbs across the darkened heath of stage amid flashes of light and rhythmic thunder of John Cage’s “Ophelia for Solo Piano” played by AoT’s artistic director Andrew Burashko.

Shakespeare’s words have inspired a lot of music and dance. There are at least 16 operatic versions of Hamlet, including one recently performed in Paris by the Peking Opera. First among the many composers to ‘operate’ Shakespeare was Hector Berlioz. Burashko acknowledges Berlioz by placing dramatic scenes between Beatrice and Benedict of the bard’s “Much Ado About Nothing” in the middle of his programme, interspaced with music from Eric Korngold’s “Suite to Much Ado…”(1920). Of the 24 “Romeo and Juliet” operatic versions, Burashko chose Prokofiev’s as the centre of the opening sequence of the evening, because of it’s youthful, brash, lyrical energy.

What I found most interesting about this kind of carefully structured crossover program is how it leaves the mind free to move out of focus. For instance, during Monica Whicher’s beautiful recital of “Songs from Shakespeare” composed by Eric Korngold, my mind fortuitously chose to perch on the musical line of the piano accompaniment. During the scene of Romeo and Juliet before parting, enacted by Marc Bendavid and Cara Ricketts, the energy of their passionate young bodies told me more of the story than did their recitation of Shakespeare’s words.

Tom McCamus read a text by Jorge Luis Borges that amused the mind with the idea that because Shakespeare was ‘nobody’, his protean imagination was propelled through a controlled delirium of character changes. But the verbal play of Borges, and the music of Prokofiev, were for me mere background to the sequence of protean changes choreographed by James Kudelka and rolled out in a Pas de deux by dancers Piotr Stanczyk and Rebekah Rimsay.

Actions may sometimes speak louder than words. But how is it that the word ‘Canada’ can move an audience to laughter? as it did last night when Tom McCamus read this opinion by Voltaire: “Shakespeare is a drunken savage with some imagination whose plays please only in London and Canada.”

It is true that in Canada we like Shakespeare. No less a maven than Mavor Moore has said that Shakespeare is “the most important playwright in Canada.” But there is no shame in that since Shakespeare appears to have colonized most of the world, even Russia, where he is the most produced playwright, ahead of Chekhov and Pushkin.

With this production of “Shakespeare: If Music Be”, Andrew Burashko and the Art of Time Ensemble continue their pathfinding tradition of making art without borders, art that globalizes the mind, is tasteful and rich for the senses, and that nourishes to the spirit.

Comments are closed.