Tag Archives: National Arts Centre

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





Cantares at the NAC: A Latin Jazz Journey with Claudia Salguero

An edited version of this review was published by Apt613.ca

Our Apartment 613 contributor caught up with musician and visual artist Claudia Salguero in the run up to Cantares, her 6th annual Latin Jazz concert at the National Arts Centre.

A collaborative multi-cultural effort, Salguero will present a range of hand-picked Latin Jazz songs and be joined on stage by 10 musicians from nine different countries including: Peru, Colombia, Canada, Mexico, Chili, Brazil, Great Britain, Togo and the US.


Salguero and musicians in concert

A traveller herself, Salguero hails from Columbia making Ottawa her home since 2001 while “never forgetting her roots.” Speaking of Bogota, Salguero shared “We grew up dancing and listening to music. We have it in our blood” and it is this gift, her love of Latin Jazz, that will be showcased at her concert.

Her expansive artistic scope and embrace of cultural diversity has guided Salguero’s curation of the program. Audiences can expect music beyond the familiar salsa and merengue strains and look forward to romantically emotive boleros, explore the African and Spanish roots of Latin Jazz and take in Latin-styled interpretations of North American jazz classics.  “It is not all Latin American music. I love old jazz and you will hear universally familiar classics interpreted in a Latin America style. “

“I sing songs that have meaning to me and that transport me.” Salguero has hand-picked compositions that deeply moved her, that are rich in emotions and that steeped in cultural history.

And it isn’t simply the music that elevates this performance but the dialogue that Salguero brings as she expounds on the compositions; their origin, the instruments on stage and her personal interpretations of the songs. “Though I sing mostly in Spanish I explain every song, what is happening in the narrative and why it touches me.” As the instruments change with the songs it provides a further opportunity to engage the accompanying musicians in the dialogue and deepen the experience for audiences as countries of origin and meanings are explored.

“Every song is different from the last. People like that and the interaction and conversations with the musicians on stage.” said Salguero, “Many people share that they come to the concert with an expectation of Latin American music and leave with a new and fuller understanding of the music, the countries, the instruments and the stories.”

Salguero is flattered by the interest and attendance at her concerts which are frequently sold-out and the opportunity it provides for her and the other musicians.  As such, a portion the proceeds are donated to further the advancement of artistic talents back in Bogota.  Salguero has always selected a foundation to donate to and for a 2nd year the proceeds will go to Casa Taller Las Moyas, a charity in the impoverished Barrio San Luis that promotes and teaches music, art, cooking and other skills to underprivileged children.

“We chose this charity as it mirrors my outreach as an artist here in Ottawa. I work in different communities to bring the artistic experience to low income children and neighbourhoods.  My projects are often about creating art objects, be it a mural or piece of visual art, with the idea that “art creates a better society.” Participants learn about equipment, techniques and produce a tangible work that is a lasting part of their community. This outreach is about empowerment and belonging while learning a skill that hopefully leads to further work.  When I visited Casa Taller Las Moyas, saw their work and the impact they were having on these children the fit was obvious.

Cantares” Salguero summarises, “is a professional, polished and elegant night of Latin Jazz” with the added bonus of a musical and educational resonance that crosses borders.

Claudia Salguero – CANTARES
May 28, 2016
NAC – Studio

Kim’s Convenience: Pitch Perfect Performances at the NAC

My only regret about seeing Kim’s Convenience at the NAC last night was that I didn’t go earlier in the run and have greater opportunity to plug this SoulPepper Theatre production by Ins Choi.

Soulpepper's Kim's ConvenienceInitially a vignette Choi was encouraged to grow Kim’s Convenience to a full length play which went on to win the Fringe Festival New Play 2011 and is now on a National tour. Set in a Toronto convenience store the story of what will become of the family business as Mr Kim (the remarkable Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) nears retirement goes deeper exploring generational and personal expectations and the power of acceptance. Kim, his wife (Jean Yoon) and daughter Janet (Grace-Lynn Kung) reveal distinctly personal desires despite living in the close confines above the small shop creating resonant characters that ground the production from the outset.

The writing and directing are crisp transitioning the audience smoothly from Kim’s banter with Janet, his hilarious lessons in shop management and customer interactions to a breathtakingly tender moment when prodigal son Jung (Choi) joins his mother “Umma” (Yoon) in song. While several plot developments unfold at unrealistic speed the overall needs of the straight-forward narrative make this an acceptable weakness.

The ensemble cast including the outstanding Lee (Best Actor in a Play 2012 – Toronto Theatre Critics Award) maintain a rhythmic balance between drama and comedy that captures the audience and brings a polished delivery to the simple production.  Lee and Hung are wonderfully cast as father-daughter and their delivery is a complex dance of love and conflict.  Andre Sills takes on multiple characters convincingly while Yoon is memorable in her small yet poignantly touching role. Together the cast shine in a simple yet universal play on difficult family dynamics, love, sacrifice and a transforming urban landscape.

This production is a captivating example of the power and accessibility of live theatre when well timed comedic writing is encompassed within compelling story-telling & supported by pitch perfect performances.

There are 3 performances left. Don’t miss this one. “Ok see you.”

Kim’s Convenience @ NAC until Feb 8th

Weekend Round-Up: Downtown Chills & Winterlude Skills

No shortage of options this weekend folks – so ready, set, go LOCAL!

subway stations of the crossWhile Ins Choi’s Kim’s Convenience garners rave reviews at the NAC Sandy Hill gets the opportunity Sunday night to further explores Choi’s repertoire as he brings his one-off performance “Subway Stations of the Cross” to St Alban’s church. It promises a powerful spoken word piece with songs inspired by an encounter between Choi and a homeless man. 8PM 20$

On Thursday University of Ottawa Bike Coop (200 Lees Ave, Room A105) is holding a workshop on basic bike maintenance – tires and tubes. Get ready to fix your summer bike or learn how to maintain a year-rounder.  Bike Co-op membership is open to all.

There are still tickets available for Thursday night’s extra-date with Leif Vollebekk, performing at St Alban’s Church (454 King Edward Ave.) – through Ticketweb or at Vertigo Records and Compact Music – 8PM ADV 10$Leif Vollbekk

Lunenburg Pub has local theatre troupe 9th Hour and their production of Grain of Salt on Thursday and Friday evening. Little theatre and a little tipple. 7:30PM 20$ Door

Friday evening head to the Ottawa Art Gallery for the vernissage of Degel (Thaw) new works from Visual Arts artist Manon Labrosse. Arts Court, 2 Daly Ave, 5-8PM

winterlude-logoFriday night Winterlude kicks off in Confederation Square from 7pm with the “Great Winter Ball” that includes opening ceremonies, ice carvings, djs and fireworks. 7PM

Ice Carving events continue throughout the weekend with competitors from around the world taking part. Check out their mad Winterlude skills throughout the weekend at Confederation Park. FREE

Saturday evening is the closing night of Neil Simon’s Rumours at the  Ottawa Little Theatre, 400 King Edward Ave, 2PM, 12-25$

Saturday also sees Freeze Frame whereby 10 independent film makers were challenged to create within a 24hour deadline a Super 8mm short film using the Freeze Frame theme Saw Gallery(67 Nicholas St) 7:30PM FREE.

pop-fiction2-658x360Looking for some French Theatre? Come to Arts Court where until Sunday Feb 2nd you can take in Pop Fiction. A mixture of Science-Fiction and Reality this play brings the audience in to the action as it explores the strengths and failings of communications yesterday, today and tomorrow. 15-20$

Sunday Night it is our pick of the week Ins Choi’s Subway Stations of the Cross. One night only at St Alban’s Church 8PM.

Finally there is some kind of sporting event also on Sunday that some may want to take in apparently…. Happy Weekending!

Eye Spy: Hamlet’s Sandy Hill Connection

Photo Credit: Andrew Kenneth Martin

Photo Credit: Andrew Kenneth Martin

Sandy Hill is at the NAC! Or at least one of our denizens, award winning actor Raoul Bhaneja, is treading the boards in the acclaimed “Hamlet (Solo)“.  Sharon O’Sullivan tells us, “You haven’t seen Hamlet until you’ve seen it performed by a Sandy Hill actor”.

Raoul Bhaneja who grew up on Wilbrod St, and many may know as a founding member of “A Company of Fools” as well as for his extensive theatre, TV and Movie credentials, has transformed Shakespeare’s play creating a one-man tour de force in which he takes on all 17 roles. A success in New York and the UK “Hamlet (solo)” also won Montreal’s English Critic’s Circle Award for the Best Visiting Production.

Until 23 Nov, 8pm
National Arts Centre (NAC)
Hamlet (Solo) at the NAC