Thursday, July 3, 2014

Palattes of Africa

Every time a long weekend is upon us we are faced with a choice: should I stay or should I go? This particular Canada Day long weekend was due to be interrupted by a work day (for some) in the middle of the sweet long weekend goodness, so I decided to stay in the city. This turned out to be a great decision, for a variety of Toronto event-related reasons, chief among them: Palattes of Africa.

Palattes of Africa is part of the Supafrik pop-up shop and gallery series created by Chinedu Ukabam, the designer behind the African-inspired fashion label Chinedesign. This was the third instalment of Palattes of Africa (previous editions took place in Toronto in 2012 and Paris in 2013), and this time it was personal brunch. The five-course menu was inspired by the World Cup and created by chef Lohi Ogolo to celebrate the relationship and history between West African and Brazilian foods.


The venue for Palattes of Africa was inside the Edward Day Gallery, which is located beside the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA). After receiving an e-mail the morning of the event cautioning us not to be late, we arrived early and staked out a spot in the shade of the MOCCA courtyard. After a few minutes of waiting in the heat, we were excited (and relieved) to have our first taste of the menu brought out to us: a tamarind cocktail garnished with a generous slice of pear. Soon after finishing our sweet drinks, we were led inside to the gallery and took our seats at one of five communal tables. At our place settings we were greeted by a small card that was a detailed menu on one side and was a feedback card on the reverse, asking us to rate each dish on a scale of 1 to 10 and also to write down what each taste reminded us of. We were also each provided with a glossary of terms/ingredients that related to our menu, which was an incredibly helpful and considerate idea for those attending who were unfamiliar with West African and Brazilian cuisine.


Our first appetizer was an African salad, made of chopped kale, abacha (cassava strips), sweet peppers, garden egg (African eggplant) and a honey-citrus dressing. It was as light and tasty as it was colourful. Our second appetizer was akara (also known as koose), which is a deep-fried ball made from de-hulling water-soaked brown or black-eyed beans. Normally it is served as part of a breakfast meal with bread or porridge, but it was served to us with a tomato-based Nigerian stew topped with red onion slivers. This dish was an early highlight of the meal, absolutely delicious! While we waited for out next course to be served, we were introduced to the visual artist and poet Komi Olaf whose work decorated the gallery walls and provided some lovely and dramatic imagery while we dined. We also had opportunities to browse the Supafrik pop-up shop, which was set-up at the back of the dining area. Our ticket to the event nabbed each attendee a $10 off voucher to purchase whatever colourful garments and accessories their hearts desired. Good deal!


Next up, servers poured us each a dark red-purple drink made from hibiscus flowers, whose name changes depending on where you're drinking it. In Senegal you should order "Bissap", in Nigeria it's called "Zobo", in Ghana you would ask for "Sobolo" and in the Caribbean it's known as "Sorrel". Whatever you call it, it has a ginger-y, almost spicy taste and is very refreshing on hot days. We barely had time to sip our hibiscus drinks before our main courses began making their way to our tables. First up was acarajé (the Brazilian version of akara), shaped like a pancake and served with shrimps, peppers and caramelized onions. This was my favorite dish of the day. Its presentation was beautiful and it tasted unbelievable (it didn't hurt that the ingredients used in this dish are some of my favorites). We barely had time to recover from the acarajé before the next main dish appeared in front of us: stuffed plantains (tostones) with suya-seasoned chicken. Another colourfully-presented dish, which quickly challenged my decision to rank the previous dish the #1 dish of the day*. Delicious! *In retrospect, it's probably more accurate to say the two mains tied for the title of favorite dish.


There were a few unexpected treats in store for us that day, the most exciting for me was that we were going to be served some Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee, courtesy of Sense Appeal Coffee Roasters. Even better news was that it was served iced! Anyone who knows me knows I love my coffee as cold as a Canadian winter and as strong as a Canadian... winter? Suffice it to say, I was very happy with the coffee. It was exactly what I was craving after such a big and flavourful meal. And what is the perfect pairing for coffee? Dessert of course! Our dessert was a sweet tapioca pudding with fresh tropical fruits, topped with roasted peanuts (also known as "groundnuts"). It was a great finishing dish to a spectacular meal. But wait! There was more! Our last unexpected treat of the day was a lovely take-home tote bag, which contained a large container of organic chocolate-covered almonds from food sponsor Mike and Mike's and a Brazilian meat rub from Senses Appeal Coffee Roasters (perhaps a little odd until you check the ingredient list... coffee!). This last batch of treats especially made the $40 ticket price one of the best bargains around town.

So what's up next from the Palattes of Africa team? An organizer told me that an African dinner event and a regional cocktail and wine tasting are in the planning stages so sign up for e-mail alerts on their website, "like" them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter so you can grab tickets once they go on sale. I will see you there!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Luminato

I know I shouldn't complain about how much there is to do in Toronto during the summer but just this once, I want to take a second to whine about how this is the most difficult time of year to blog about all that I T.O. See & T.O. Do (see what I did there?) in a timely manner, which irks me to no end. That being said, if I'm not blogging about doing stuff then it's probably because I'm out doing stuff, which is awesome.

Okay. Now that THAT's out of the way, let's talk about something infinitely more interesting: Luminato!

The Luminato Festival is one of those Toronto events that, despite its publicity and popularity, is difficult to sum up in a single sentence whenever I'm asked "What's Luminato?" The short answer is that it's a festival that celebrates creativity. The long answer is that it's a festival that celebrates creativity in visual art, music, theatre, dance, food, spoken word, film and literature. Throughout Luminato, a host of established and renowned artists from around the world descend on Toronto to delight and captivate with some of the most original and innovative artistic works/performances that will grace the city that year. Luminato took place this year between June 6-15, and I was fortunate enough to attend many events/performances. In no particular order, here are my personal highlights of the festival:

1. Green Porno, Live on Stage - A perfect example of what I meant by "original and innovative", I'd wager that Green Porno is unlike anything you've ever seen performed on stage. The luminous Isabella Rossellini explores her recent academic pursuits in the field of biology by delivering a lecture concerning some of the more particular and bizarre mating habits within the animal kingdom. This lecture is enhanced by props, costumes and film clips from her Green Porno series of shorts (if you haven't had a chance to see any of these shorts, I suggest you get to YouTube'ing). Fair warning, you will never look at a duck's vagina the same way again.

Isabella Rossellini in 'Green Porno'
Photo Credit: Mario del Curto - Courtesy of Luminato (2014)

2. Cardboard Beach at the Festival Hub - During the press conference announcing this year's Luminato programming, I was very intrigued by the concept of the Cardboard Beach, a large-scale art installation by Los Carpinteros that would occupy a big chunk of the Festival Hub at David Pecaut Square. I feared it was a concept that would work better in theory than in practice (like so many ambitious Nuit Blanche projects) but I was delighted to discover that it was actually executed quite well. Cardboard umbrellas provided shade to the cardboard chaise lounges and allowed for festival attendees to sit back, recline, and take in a show on the Festival Hub's main stage (admittedly it was easier to hear than to see a performance from this angle). I visited the Cardboard Beach between shows so instead I helped myself to some delicious Hub grub, courtesy of Parts & Labour.

Cardboard Beach installation by Los Carpinteros
Photo Credit: David Leyes - Courtesy of Luminato (2014)

MMM... Hub grub!

3. Kid Koala's Nufonia Must Fall Live - I was so impressed with Nufonia Must Fall that it's hard to know where to begin. Let's begin with the concept: "a graphic novel animated in real time with a live soundtrack". (WHAT? HOW?) Taking place in a movie theatre at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, the stage was set with three smaller stages atop platforms. On these stages were the small puppets who would be manipulated from all angles by puppeteers, acting out the story of a robot in love. Cameras moved carefully around the action on stage, projecting everything in real time onto the screen. The "soundtrack" was in actuality a score to this (mostly) silent film and was performed live by DJ Kid Koala and the Afiara String Quartet. Nufonia Must Fall Live was directed by K.K. Barrett (famed Production designer for all of Spike Jonze's films, who has also worked with Sofia Coppola, Michel Gondry and David O. Russell), and it was beautifully executed with exactly the right amount of romance and whimsy. An absolute delight!

Image from Kid Koala's 'Nufonia Must Fall'
Photo Courtesy of Luminato (2014)

4. All the Sex I've Ever Had: The International Edition - If you're someone who is horrified by the idea of your parents, or more accurately, your grandparents having a sex life, sitting through All the Sex I've Ever Had might be a little torturous. However, if you acknowledge that we are all sexual beings for pretty much the entire time we're alive, then you would find this production very informative and quite interesting. A panel of elderly speakers from around the world take the mic one by one and chronologically (from birth) divulge very personal stories of their sexual experiences, exploits and follies. No topic was off-limits and proclivities that might normally be regarded as taboo were discussed without judgement in the safe space of the Isabel Bader Theatre (I would go into more detail here, but we were asked to take a vow of "no gossip"). Though the stories and anecdotes of the participants were quite enjoyable and compelling, certain aspects of the production felt a little laboured. Having the speakers dance to songs representing a particular decade as a linking device lost its quirky appeal very quickly as by the fourth or fifth song the participants seemed as tired of it as the audience.

Image from 'All The Sex I've Ever Had' (Prague Performance)
Photo Credit: Lucia Eggenhoffer - Courtesy of Luminato (2014)

5. If I Loved You: Gentlemen Prefer Broadway - An Evening of Love Duets - Another winning premise, which felt like it was tailor-made for me. If I Loved You was the first Luminato event I purchased tickets for this year, and if it was the only thing I ended up seeing, I knew I'd be satisfied. Singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright (and husband of Luminato's Artistic Director Jorn Weisbrodt) conceived this evening of Broadway love-song standards, performed by an entirely male cast. And what a cast! David Byrne, Boy George, Josh Groban, Brent Carver, Ezra Koenig, Steven Page, Brennan Hall and, of course, Rufus Wainwright himself all turned in wonderful performances. Admittedly, some were more wonderful than others. Brent Carver and Josh Groban inspired the most audience swooning with their impressive vocals, while David Byrne and Ezra Koenig (the rockers of the group) had a bit of a fish out of water feel among the rest of the cast (which I still found quite charming). In spite of a few missteps and fumbles throughout the night, I found it to be a lovely and heartfelt performance (I cried... more than once).

The lobby of the Sony Centre, pre-show.

'If I Loved You' Brochure Image
Photo Courtesy of Luminato (2014)

6. Toronto Symphony Orchestra: Salute to the Americas - Quickly becoming a Luminato tradition, I can't think of a better way to end the festival than with a free outdoor performance by the TSO. The 'Salute to the Americas' was a program inspired by Toronto's hosting of the PanAm Games in 2015 and included works by composers such as John Weinzwieg, fan(boy)-favorite John Williams, Ernesto Lecuona, Villa Lobos and Alberto Ginastera. This event always makes me wish that the TSO played more al fresco concerts. The combination of the open air and the majestic sounds is quite moving (YES I cried... more than once... I really shouldn't be allowed out in public). Congrats to Luminato on another great year!

TSO Performing at 2013 Luminato Festival
Photo Courtesy of Luminato (2014)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Contact Photography Festival

Once the dust from Hot Docs has settled, my May tends to revolve around the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival. Contact is an annual event which takes places throughout the month of May at various galleries and public spaces throughout the city. With over 1500 artists showing at 175 venues, it is the largest photography event in the world. One of (many) great things about Contact is that it has a tremendous reach throughout the GTA, so if you live and/or work in Toronto, odds are that you will have easy access to several exhibits. Another plus is that you will likely have many opportunities to take in some of these exhibits because the majority of what shows at Contact is on display for the entire month of May. AND it’s free. F-R-E-E! 

So how do you navigate such a large festival? The best thing to do to start would be to pick up a free Contact program or check out their website, which has a handy Festival Planner to help you keep track of what you want to see. The theme of this year’s festival showcases the relationship between identity and photography. Exhibits at Contact are classified as either “Primary Exhibitions” (major venues, often more established artists), “Public Installations” (shown in accessible public spaces), “Featured Exhibitions” (smaller established galleries, works selected through a call for submissions) and “Open Exhibitions” (works showcased within communities at alternative venues such as cafés, retail stores, restaurants, community centres, educational institutions, etc.). I would recommend trying to see exhibits from all four categories of the program for a representative sample of what Contact has to offer.

The next step is to get out there and see some photography! It’s as simple as making a note of a venue’s operating hours and showing up. No tickets, no reservations required. I tend to pick an exhibit I’m very excited about and then I check the Contact map to see what else is showing in that area, because spending a few hours wandering around the city looking at free photography is an absolutely lovely way to spend an afternoon! Since we are now deep into May, I have seen a nice little chunk of Contact exhibits already. It’s a bit too easy to say “everything is great, you should see it all!” so even though I am always reluctant to “review” art, I will make mention of some specific exhibits I’ve really enjoyed:
 
Backra Bluid - Stacey Tyrell
CREDIT: Stacey Tyrell - 'Letitia, from Backra Bluid series'
Artist Stacey Tyrell poses as subject of her exploration into the duality of identity. Calling upon her Caribbean and Scottish ancestry ("Backra" is a Caribbean slang term for "white person" and "Bluid" is the Scotch word for "blood"), Tyrell reimagines herself as various white women of privileged upbriging in this thought-provoking exhibit.
Featured Exhibition - General Hardware Contemporary, 1520 Queen Street West
 
Contacting Toronto - 2014: Drowning World - Gideon Mendel
CREDIT: Gideon Mendel - 'Sakorn Ponsiri, Chumchon Ruamjai Community, Bangkok'
TTC Riders take note, this (surprisingly large) exhibit can be found inside of Queen's Park subway station. Photographer Gideon Mendel captures images of people around the world whose lives have been devastated by flooding, in a quietly poweful statement on climate change.
Public Installation - Queen's Park Subway Station, College Street & University Avenue


KWE - Rebecca Belmore
CREDIT: Rebecca Belmore - 'Sister'
Artist Rebecca Belmore uses photography, video and sculpture to explore the relationship between her art and her Aboriginal identity ("Kwe" is the Anishinaabe word for "woman"). I was particularly impressed with this exhibit's curation/execution. Very effective for the viewer, if not slightly terrifying (no further explanations, go see for yourself).
Primary Exhibition - Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, 7 Hart House Circle

Material Self: Performing the Other Within - David Favrod, Charles Fréger, Hendrik Kerstens, Namsa Leuba, Meryl McMaster, Dominique Rey, Tomoko Sawada, Mary Sibande
CREDIT: Mary Sibande - 'I Have Not, I Have'
Collected works from 8 different artists which examine how clothing, costume, uniforms and props can be used to assist in communicating ideas of identity. Though they all related to a common theme, each artist represented a unique voice and lent a distinct perspective to the exhibit.
Primary Exhibition - Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA), 952 Queen Street West

Portaits - Gordon Perks
CREDIT: Gordon Perks - 'American Gothic, Washington, D.C.'
A collection of portraits focusing on traditionally marginalized subjects by acclaimed photographer Gordon Perks, spanning a 30-year period. All are quite compelling but Perks' photo of a thoughtful Duke Ellington, reflected in his piano while listening to a playback in the recording studio was so beautiful it moved me to tears (no shame).
Primary Exhibition - Black Artists' Networks in Dialogue (BAND), 1 Lansdowne Avenue, 2nd Floor

Through the Body: Lens-Based Works by Contemporary Chinese Women Artists - Lei Benben, Chun Hua Catherine Dong, Ye Funa, Jin Hua, Ladybird Theatre, Fang Lu, Ma Qiusha, Fan Xi, Li Xinmo, Chen Zhe
CREDIT: Chen Zhe - 'The Bearable: Birthday'
Works from multiple Chinese female artists, centred around the Chinese concept of "Ti Shi", which translates to learning through bodily experience. Very raw and visceral imagery. Beautiful and powerful. Not for the faint of heart.
Primary Exhibition - University of Toronto Art Centre (UTAC), 15 King's College Circle

The Unfinished Revolution - Samer Muscati
CREDIT: Samer Muscati - 'Female protesters'
Human Rights Watch researcher Samer Muscati documents some of the world's harshest conditions for women's rights in this photographic series. Displayed geographically, it was slightly jarring to discover Canada among those being profiled, but after having seen the exhibit it felt heartbreakingly appropriate. A must-see.
Featured Exhibition - OCADU Student Gallery, 52 McCaul Street

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Hot Docs

Those who know me well know that the most wonderful time of the year for me isn't Christmas, it's Hot Docs. Now in its 21st year, Hot Docs is North America's largest documentary film festival and this year it will screen 197 docs from 43 countries over 11 days. After a bit of mental math, I realized that this year will be my 10th year attending Hot Docs, going from seeing a single film in my first year to buying a Premium Pass annually. So why have I become such an avid Hot Doc'er?

Hot Docs is my favorite Toronto-based film festival for a number of reasons. The first is that I am a huge fan of documentary films. I love that even if you see a lousy doc, you're still guaranteed to come away from it having learned something. More often than not, however, lousy docs aren't something you need to worry about at Hot Docs. These docs are hand-picked by skilled programmers and represent the best in documentary filmmaking around the world. Many docs that screen at Hot Docs go on to receive Oscar nominations and, in some cases, Oscar wins.

I also have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for Hot Docs as a film festival. Unlike other high-profile Toronto film festivals (who shall remain nameless) Hot Docs attempts to be as accessible to the general public as possible. Ticket prices are affordable and daytime screenings are free for students and seniors. Also, if you're a little nutty about seeing as many docs as possible (like me!) Hot Docs has a limited number of all-access Premium Passes available for purchase, which entitles the bearer to see as many docs as they can physically stand to see. This pass allows for a level of flexibility and value that doesn't exist at other high-profile Toronto film festivals (you know who you are guys).

This year, I intend to see 38 docs. I know. I have a sickness. My personal record is 32 so we'll see how this goes. It's not easy to see so many films in a (relatively) short amount of time, but it is absolutely possible. Of course, this will become my full-time job beginning Friday evening. I am fortunate enough to have the ability to take the week off from work and just go balls out crazy. And what am I most excited about seeing? Well I just so happened to make a list!

TOP 10 HOT DOCS PICKS

Advanced Style
A look at New York's most fashionable ladies in the 60+ crowd.

Beyond Clueless
Exploring the teen movie genre from John Hughes* to "fetch".

Everything Will Be
Vancouver's Chinatown is changing rapidly, what effect will this have on its long-time merchants?

Harmontowm
Follow ex-(now current) Community showrunner Dan Harmon on his self-destructive comedy tour.

Hotline
A look behind who is on the other end of the phone at various hotlines across the world.

Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story
Filmmakers stop buying groceries for six months and live off of discarded food to highlight the issue of waste.

The Possibilities Are Endless
Scottish singer Edwyn Collins attempts to rebuild his life and career while recovering from a devastating stroke.

Songs For Alexis
Popular local musician and transgendered teen Ryan must deal with disapproval from his girlfriend Alexis' family.

Vessel
Activist group Women on Waves provides safe abortions to women while sailing international waters using maritime legal loopholes.

Watchers of the Sky
A history of the word "genocide" and the fight to have it globally recognized and condemned.

This could have just as easily been a list of 15, 20 or all 38 of my picks. It pains me to exclude titles because really I'm excited about seeing all of them. So, goodbye for now world. If you need me in the next 10 days I'll be sitting in a theatre, watching all the docs, learning many things and feeling all the feelings. It's going to be great!

*Correction: Beyond Clueless does not cover John Hughes movies as part of its look at the teen movie genre. It focuses on mid-90s films to present day. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Toronto Vintage Clothing Show

I'll admit it. As winter refuses to give up its grip on the city, it's become increasingly difficult to motivate myself to get out of the apartment. What better way to spend a cold Sunday than indoors cuddled up on my couch with Netflix? A quick glance at the calendar reminded me that this was no Sunday to stay indoors, winter or no winter. Today was the Toronto Vintage Clothing Show, so off I went!


The Toronto Vintage Clothing Show (TVCS), held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, was a personal shopping highlight last year so I was eager to return to see if lightning could indeed strike twice. TVCS brings independent vintage vendors from Ontario (including some of my local favs) and Québec together for a one-day one-stop sales event, running 10am to 5pm. Admission to the event is $10, but if you subscribe to the TVCS mailing list, they will e-mail you a $2 off admission coupon before the event.


If you're a fan of vintage items, you are no doubt well-aware that one of the challenges when shopping is that it's such a crapshoot. You never know what you're going to find so you often have to spend more time looking. The beauty of TVCS is that a large chunk of the hunt has been eliminated. These are quality vendors who are all showing the crème de la crème of their collections. Of course you still have to come prepared to spend some time riffling through piles of items in search of those spectacular finds, partly because there are so many vendors to choose from and partly because that's the kind of the point (and part of the fun!) of vintage shopping.


So what was on display at TVCS? The short answer is everything. The long answer is coats, shoes, bags, jewellery, hats, furs, dresses, tops, gloves, purses, scarves, etc. etc. etc. Most of the vendors in attendance were vintage retailers, but there were a few other exhibitors on hand. Representatives of the Costume Society of Ontario were among the best-dressed of the event (no small feat), sporting items from their collection and promoting their upcoming event 'Fascinating Fascinators'. Also in attendance (and impossibly well-coiffed) was the Toronto Vintage Society, who promote various vintage/retro events taking place in Toronto.


So where to begin your shopping? Admittedly, it can be a little overwhelming going in because there really is an amazing amount of product in the room. There appear to be two basic approaches to shopping at this kind of event. The first, hit everything and shop as you go. The second, hit everything and make mental (or literal) notes of what you saw and then go back for your favorites later. The first approach is probably the safest and the most dangerous approach. Safe because these are almost exclusively one of a kind items and if you turn your back on something and it gets snatched up, it's gone. Dangerous because if you spend as you go then you might not make it to the end before you empty your wallet!


I recommend trying as much as possible to plan ahead. Obviously you won't know what you're going to see once you arrive, but you can at least attempt to narrow your search to a particular item or items. For instance, this year I planned to focus my efforts into finding accessories. Limiting my search to just jewellery, bags and shoes made it much easier to walk past racks of clothing without feeling the urge to stop. I was on a mission. I also recommend setting a spending-cap before you arrive at the event. Most of the vendors are cash only (items range from $ to $$$$ depending on a variety of factors), which makes it easier* to stick to exactly what you brought in your wallet. If you do plan on shopping for clothing, be prepared for quick-changes in communal fitting rooms. *not a guarantee


And how did I do this year? QUITE nicely, if I say so myself. Once I got the photos I needed for this post, I went into full-on shopping mode and combed the aisles for unique finds to perk up my wardrobe. I came home with a lovely pile of vintage items, a little more than I had anticipated buying, but I was so pleased with my purchases that I forgave myself immediately for over-spending! Below is my haul of accessories. Highlights include a pair of tuxedo shoes (which make me laugh every time I put them on) from Hello! Good buys, handbags (La Marquise and Etienne Aigner) from My Stuff Inspired By You and a Ten Commandments charm bracelet (SERIOUSLY) from Vintage Soul Geek. Mission accomplished.