Mr. Shi and His Lover @NAC: Theatre Review – Exquisite Staging and Splendid Performances in improbable real-life Affair

An edited version of this post also appeared in APT613.

Provocative musical theatre opened  at the NAC as Mr. Shi and his Lover revisits the stranger-than-fiction story of the 20-year affair between French Embassy employee, Bertrand Boursicot’s (David Kwan), and Pekinese opera singer Shi Pei Pu (Jordan Cheng) who Boursicot believed was a woman posing as a man. The story made headline news in the ‘80’s when the men were on trial in France for espionage with the Chinese government. What captivated the news cycle was Boursicot’s adamant belief that Shi Pei Pu was a woman, the mother to his child, and how this pretense had endured decades.

3Jordan Cheng and Derek Kwan 03 -- photo by Erik Kuong_preview

Jordan Cheng and David Kwan – Photo @ Erik Kuong

In 1993 David Cronenberg’s M.Butterfly recounted the story from Boursicot’s point of view while here playwright Wong Teng Chi shifts the perspective to Shi with startling effect focusing on emotions over events. The shifting balance of desire, love, deception and performance all figure large as the narrative unfolds drawing skillfully on references from Chinese folklore to western pop.

The joint Macau/Toronto production is performed exclusively in Mandarin with sur-titles in English the 75-minute production is unexpectedly accessible and an absolute visual pleasure to behold. The sparse set with little more than a dressing table and chair is framed by the accompanists; Composer Njo Kong Kie on piano and Yukie Lai on an imposing wooden marimba with Chinese percussions. Skillful lighting casts shadows speaking to the subterfuge and deception within the text while the music and spotlights create a dreamlike thrall as the piece explores where deception ends and blissful ignorance led by a master performer begins.

Jordan Cheng

Jordan Cheng @Erik Kuong

Cheng and Kwan beneath the stark spot-light ignite the stage with enthralling performances, the elegance of their voices delivering grand drama against the handsomely minimalistic backdrop. Cheng’s narcissistic, conniving and distraught Shi works with unexpected asymmetrical synchronicity to Kwan’s solid, stuffy yet strangely potent bureaucrat Boursicot. The direction is sharp and stylized, like the set, leaving generous space for the acting skills of both actors as they delve in to the driving impulses of their characters.

Teng Chi’s rendition is divided in to seven chapters that examine how desire, deceit, politics, gender, sexuality and nationalism guided their lives. Delicately, yet effectively, tentative truths are revisited while Shi’s sheer drive to “perform” weighs equally in the balance. While one or two chapters are challenging the script flows well while the sheer presence and musical abilities of both actors seemingly effortlessly deliver a contemporary chamber opera that is wholly exhilarating. A production as thrilling and unique as an out-of-earshot whisper that leaves as many questions as it answers.

Mr. Shi and his Lover
January 3-13, 2018
At the National Arts Centre
A Macau Experimental Theatre/Music Picnic/Point View Art Association (Macau/Toronto) production




Pop-Up Art Shop Today At Happy Goat

Get in out of today’s VERY cold weather for a warming drink and a pop-up shop at Happy Goat Sandy Hill (317 Wilbrod) from 3 to 8PM.

Today, behind the artfully enhanced windows at the corner of Wilbrod and Friel St., Behaviour Collective & PACE magazine are hosting a one-evening only art sale! With both originals and prints from a wide variety of artists, this is an opportunity to purchase affordable art, have a warming coffee or cold craft brew and indulge in some made-on-site treats while mingling with neighbours and many of Ottawa’s emerging talents!

Pick up a gift or simply treat yourself  down at one of the hood’s top locals.thumb_IMG_6406_1024.jpg

Post-Media does its best to promote bloggers over papers

The latest from PostMedia spurs readership away from traditional papers to  excellent Local (Steps from the Canal), National (Canadaland) and International (The Intercept) blogs.

So if you are keeping track, much like the music-store industry chose to self-immolate rather than innovate when Napster came on board with online music services now too the newspaper industry is choosing to burn itself to the ground in the interest of one-quarter profits for shareholders and owners.

Alongside the demise of the free and wildly popular Metro the Ottawa area is losing a total of EIGHT community newspapers.

Ottawa is not the only community affected as the two news giants, PostMedia and TorStar, traded a total of 41 newspapers and then shutdown almost all of them.

This is disturbing not only as it mutes voices speaking out about concerns and events in local communities but moreover as it demonstrates just how precarious employment is across our nation. That so many have lost jobs and spending power in the blink of a hedge-fund manager’s eye should be of the greatest concern to all Canadians.

As for the voices of the local community. Well are only temporarily muted, not silenced.  If anything PostMedia’s move to keep their ship from sinking by cutting off readership will do nothing but generate short term profits for a few whilst sinking their ship to yet greater depths of irrelevance by – to point it out again – cutting off readership.

For those that have not moved away from traditional papers to sourcing their news via a combination of the many excellent local (Steps from the Canal), national (Canadaland) and International (The Intercept) blogs this latest PostMedia move should do nothing but spur you in this direction.

I’m absolutely gutted for those that have lost their jobs. The latest does nothing but demonstrate the growing irrelevance of this format and the tone-deaf giants that are steering these ships where short-term profit clearly outweighs newsworthy content.

Forget Goliath I’m betting on David.




A perfect landing by Cirque du Soleil as VOLTA enchants

thumb_IMG_4991_1024Cirque du Soleil’s latest show VOLTA continues their winning, if anticipated, format of narrative blended to dazzling physical performances. Cirque du Soleil’s 41st incarnation introduces Waz, portrayed by dancer Joey Arrigo, as a celebrated star of reality talent show Quid Pro Quo, draped in sparkling gold that disguises his latent individuality. Waz is disillusioned with manufactured corporate entertainment (cue unintentional irony) dished out to the “Greys” focused primarily on conformity and screens as he nostalgically harbors memories of a simpler time played out via video screen flashbacks. Unable to resist his “Volta” – dramatic shift in thought – Waz “outs” his eccentric blue-haired discarding fame to pursue individualism, connections and authenticity.

thumb_IMG_4949_1024The storyline, truly a narrative only a new-age aficionado could love, serves as the perfect springboard to the cornucopia of sights and sounds for which this Cirque is renown. Thrilling feats of sport and superhuman acrobatic exploits are bread and butter to this operation and they are magnificently and poignantly enhanced by the powerful soundtrack from French electronic music project M83 and the dramatically compelling vocal performances woven in to the on-stage action. As the show unfolds it shifts swiftly to a full-on sensory experience. Without pause, the gathered audience is soon enrapt by a spectacular series of dazzling performances, from trial bikes to ballet and gravity-defying prowess. A skipping competition takes double-dutch to new heights while amazing aerial displays and summersaulting BMX skate-park displays stun.

thumb_IMG_5019_1024Providing comic relief is Waz’s co-host Shood Kood Wood, the circus ringmaster and scene-stealing clown. He brings high-spirited skits that feature malfunctioning washing machines and hallucinogenic day-dreams transforming the short, stout performer in to a riotous crowd-pleasing pot-bellied demi-god.

The impressive circus highlights are many. Standouts include a beautiful, suspended lamp acrobatics routine by Waz’s younger self, portrayed by Pawel Walczewski, that marries impossible strength to effortless, elegance as he spins fluidly through a captivating aerial routine. Aptly, as Volta is also the term of a long ago Italian dance, the ballet-cum-contemporary dance performances are mesmerizing interludes to the vigorous Parkour, energetic shape-diving and rollerblading displays. Also, I’d never seen a hair hang suspended by nothing other than her top-knot, but Danila Bim levitated, twirled and gracefully twisted from the dizzying heights of the big top. The transformation of the circular rotating stage – used to great drama and effect – into a full-on BMX park was astounding, nothing beat the heart-stopping bungee and hoop-trapeze number that had us riveted to our seats in the pre-intermission performance.

thumb_IMG_4998_1024Cirque du Soleil takes nothing as a given: from musical and physical performances executed with exacting polish and infectious enthusiasm to sets that feature cutting-edge technology and exquisite post-modern stylings and costumes – apart from a featherless headdress that was a shade too close to an indigenous emblem – the exacting production standards of create an experience that is fully immersive and stirring. The adrenaline, execution, finesse and elegance will leave you breathless as Cirque du Soleil delivers a fast-paced evening under the big top that is nothing short of incredible.

You can watch Cirque du Soleil’s VOLTA from August 3-27 under the Big Top on the Zibi Site in Gatineau (at the end of the Portage Bridge, facing 9 rue Laurier). Tickets are available online.



Easter 2017: Get Hopping

Easter promises to be a cracking good time! Who doesn’t love a long weekend, chocolate eggs and bunny motifs? Easter comes early this year so who knows what the weather has in store but we ‘ve got you covered in creamy chocolate options. Here is a ‘basket’ loads of events to have you gorging on treats & ‘hunting out’ springtime fun.

Easter at the Farm

This is the time of year when barns come alive with brand new critters. The Canadian Easter lambsAgriculture and Food Museum in Ottawa are hosting their annual festivities including an Easter egg hunt, chocolate decorating and visits to the newborns: lambs, chick, bunnies and more.  Check back to their website for details still to come.

Easter in the Market

The Byward Market is open for business throughout the Easter weekend. Things are always popping the Market and the stalls should be busy with crafts and early flowers.  Alongside the restaurants and shops the BIA will be hosting hay rides, tastings and other activities.

Easter at the Diefenbunker

EasterDiefThe Easter Bunny is back for another Easter egg hunt at the Diefenbunker. Now in its sixth year the event in the 100,000 square foot facility gets rave reviews from all.  Interesting for the older kids and adults and huge chocolatey fun for the wee ones. This year’s hunt is April 15th from 11-4PM.

Easter at Billings Bridge Estate

The Billings Bridge National Historic Estate is hosting their annual Easter event on April 15th with crafts, indoor and outdoor Easter egg hunts and more.

Easter at the Mall

Malls around Ottawa are rolling out the eggs and getting in to the spirit of fun with face painting, Easter bunnies, crafts and more.  Those listing activities include the Billings Bridge, Hazeldean and Carlingwood malls.

Easter at the Sugarbush

An early Easter means a visit to the sugarbush is on the cards and many are listing Easter events this year including Fulton’s Pancake House and Sugar bush, Proulx Maple and Berry Farm who are hosting a pancake buffet and keep an eye on the Vanier MuseoParc who haven’t listed yet but as Ottawa’s only urban sugar shack they usually have a lovely event with only a small commute needed!

Finally, the Ottawa Info Guide has curated a great list as well so check their website regularly for any updates.

So get hopping and have a delicious Easter!

Juno Awards: All about the Eats

IMG_2929An edited version of this post also appeared in APT613. Music and food are universal unifiers. Whether or not individual palates synchronise we agree that both bring us together. So it is no surprise that the organizers of the JUNO Awards Gala dinner held this Saturday April 1st at the Shaw Centre in Ottawa pulled out all the stops to ensure the luminaries of Canada’s music scene have a memorable and pleasurable evening.

Shaw Centre’s Executive Sous-Chef Jennifer Sands and team bring all the flavourful IMG_2873goodness blending haute contemporary cuisine to an exquisitely comforting menu. Chef Sands, JUNO Awards CEO and President Allan Reid, and Sam Roberts did a fantastic and entertaining job showcasing the food, drink and the JUNO experience at last week’s media tasting.

IMG_2910Starting us off was a duck and chutney crostini; cured and smoked duck breast hugging a nest of caramelized Macintosh apples. The salty and sweet paired beautifully to the Steam Whistle Pilsner that cut through any potentially heavy duck aftertaste.

A lightly breaded goat cheese croquette – gluten free, as was the whole menu – served with a beet root and spinach salad on a savoury pumpkin seed pesto will delight diners with its fragrantly healthy and rich flavours. Jackson-Triggs complemented the salad winningly to a crisp and zingy Sauvignon-Blanc.

The piece de resistance is undoubtedly the 48 hour marinated low cooked Wellington IMG_2916County short rib beef nestled with a creamy polenta and butternut puree alongside only just-cooked heirloom carrots and beans. As Chef Sands aptly stated, “Slow and low makes the perfect decadence.” This meal is the foodie equivalent to a heartfelt cuddle. Del Rollo of Jackson-Triggs selected a fruity and warm Merlot 2015 that ignited the savoury depth of the entrée nicely.

IMG_2882It remains to be seen if following that feast JUNO guests will be able to tackle dessert. If they do however they are in for a creamy chocolaty treat as the final course of hot chocolate cheesecake with hidden chocolate ganache hits the table. Let me tell you it is worth it even if all you can manage is a bites of the richness with the beautifully light and refreshing raspberries sat on top. For those that can’t get enough of a good sweet Chef Sands has you covered tucking in a delicious marshmallow meringue shard.

A taste of the menu and a taste of the JUNO experience was beautifully served up by six times JUNO award winner and all around stand-up guy Sam Roberts who spoke to the camaraderie and quality of the evening where musicians come together for a rare evening amongst their own. APT613 was thrilled to get a taste of the menu and the JUNO experience.





Citizen: Centertown Restaurant Elevating “date” night

This article also appeared in Apt613.
New restaurant Citizen opened its doors around the corner from established big sister town. last month offering a respectable addition to Ottawa’s culinary centertown strip. Whether accompanied or not, I’ve penciled this joint in as a regular date night in my schedule.

Exterior ShotThe stylish pane glass store-front of wood and neon adds understated modern elegance to the oft overlooked side street off the pedestrian thoroughfare – a hopeful sign that the Elgin strip may expand to a boutique neighbourhood with off-Elgin options.

The façade opens on to long bar hugging the right-wall facing dark leather banquette seating that makes the most of a narrow but airy space while an adjoining “back-room” features an ingenious moveable wall allowing overflow dinners to be part of the bustling atmosphere on busy nights or provided private dining.

With a no reservations policy, we arrived at half-six to score a table for four on a busy Thursday evening.  Cocktails range around the 10$ mark and I’ve already been back for the Lato Nord that offers a warm twist of gin with Cynar while whisky buffs would do well to opt for the Horse with No Name.

The wines list also comes in at a healthy price point ranging from $7-12 a glass and a selection of bottles under 50$ to $100. The server was friendly, helpful and astute in guiding our selection.

Dates. Did I mention the dates? Okay, here is the thing; I could eat the dates and only theCitizen Interior dates with my Lato Nord and be fully sated.  The rich, gooey fruit wrapped in bacon drizzled in sauce and topped with crisp sliced almonds are luscious:  blending sweet to savoury, viscous to crisp to great effect.  It is a shame that there are only 3 per $9 serving and I hope the kitchen reconsiders a more respectable 4 or 5 which would only encourage me to order more to my table.

The menu features a dozen offerings that work well as shared dishes ranging from $8-16.  Among the most successful were the generous and well-seasoned steak tartar, the charred broccoli, the crisp potatoes, and the sweet, fruity melt in your mouth scallops crudo (ceviche). The star however was the yams and chorizo a creative selection proving the sum of combined ingredients – crunchy tortilla chips, cream and coriander – will always elevate.  Less successful though respectable were the falafel, lasagna and most unfortunately, the borscht and brisket where the absolutely beautiful meat was offset by a soup more bitter than sour.

Citizen delivers a casual, creative and quality dining experience. The staff on both visits enhanced the soirée with comfortable yet professional service.  See you again soon for date night!

207 Gilmour St.