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New World Stage Festival

The New World International Stage Festival began last night with its production of Mabou Mines DollHouse, a bizarre and thrilling take on Henrik Ibsen's classic A Doll's House.

The Harbourfront Centre recently announced its line up for this year's shows, and began the festivities with its first of nearly 20 productions from around the world, running over the next 6 months.

At last night's opening party, Artistic Director Tina Rasmussen introduced the festival from high above the newly christened Enwave Theatre, sitting in a chair saying, "I wanted to create a call to action... sitting in a seat is a metaphor for being in spaces... spaces all over the world where we are entertained... I want to fall in love with actors, dancers, words, concepts... to recognize I have witnessed something live... and thus I am alive. A call for active engagement to the stage... to fill all those seats."

Her sentiments were received with an uproar of applause and bubbles (handed out at the door with some bubbly).

The festival brings theatre together from all over the world. Julia Foster, one of the board members and main contributors of the event called the night "exciting and wonderful". Her direct involvement will bring legendary director Peter Brook to Toronto with his adaptation of the South African classic by famed playwright Athol Fugard, Sizwe Banzi is Dead in April.

The U.S, The U.K, Norway, Belgium France, Brazil, Poland, Australia, and China, are all represented in the festival. Canada has productions from Vancouver, Halifax and Toronto. The festival is an essential one as it creates the dialogue between theatre communities around the world and helps to promote each other's cultures and learn from one another.

"The series offers a culturally curious public performances running over a six-month period rather than in a festival model to encourage a commitment to multiple works over a manageable period of time. Offering audiences diverse works of scale, culturally relevant, significant, unique, innovative and imaginative, have been the underlying principles in programming this now annual series"

The opening night festivities continued with the opening of Doll House. Mabou Mines, a multiple award winning company from the United States, created an electric and eclectic production that pushed the boundaries of the classic piece in directions the playwright himself would never have thought of.

One of the great ironies of the production was that as Doll's House has been historically credited with introducing realism into mainstream theatre audiences of the 19th century, this production turns it on its head by playing the melodrama to the extreme.

The set was literally a Doll House, with small furniture that came in little crates and resembled the pieces collected for the little homes with which children play.

The cast, little men and large women, was used to emphasize the story's main through-line of the absurdity and insanity of male dominance and female subservience.

With huge costumes, puppets, dance numbers and a rising operetta to close out the show, with mile high red velvet box seats and puppets waving their arms, a small sword-bearing child on a rocking horse, the literally stripped down Nora sang her final exit (which at the time of the original play's incarnation was considered to be the "door slam heard around the world"), the play came to an end and everyone filed out bewildered and intrigued. This was truly what theatre at its very best and with a great deal of funding can be.

This visually stunning piece evoked the same intensity and anxiety that the original must have when it was first produced more than 125 years ago.

Director Lee Breuer describes the piece and his concept as:

"... a politics of scale. Nora comes home with a Christmas present. It is a Doll House so large the children can play inside it. All the period furniture... are the right size for the children... Enter the men. We find them the same size as the children... Is this Dollhouse the world of patriarchy; the world in which a woman never fits? Here Ibsen's feminism is metaphorically rendered as a parable of scale... Nothing here is real but the pain."

If this production is any indication to how this season's festival is going to go, we as audience members are in store for quite a treat. It's the perfect mix of entertainment and engagement. A feast for the eyes and the soul and one that I expect will help to infuse theatrical culture all over the world. Of greatest note, it is happening here in Toronto. This in not to be missed.

Doll house runs until Feb 4 at the Premiere Dance Theatre. The New World Stage Festival runs until mid June.


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