In review: Toronto Masque Theatre's Les Indes Mécaniques

In review: Toronto Masque Theatre's Les Indes Mécaniques

Jenna Simeonov

I braved the land of construction last night, heading to the Fleck Dance Theatre at Harbourfront Centre to catch the final instalment of Toronto Masque Theatre’s 201415 season. TMT presents Rameau’s Les Indes Mécaniques (ou Les Automates de Topkapi), a delightfully bizarre opera about girls and boys, and how they end up with each other.

I didn’t know the piece at all, so I had no expectations; my curiosity was piqued right away. Dorothéa Ventura, the sole singer in Rameau’s opera, pulls two white sheets to uncover a frozen Baroque scene. Two harpsichordists, Loris Barrucand and Clément Geoffroy, sit at two harpsichords, with three curiously dressed dancers, Bruno Benne, Mickaël Bouffard, and Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière. The latter two, I noticed, had also directed and choreographed the piece.

After Ventura winds them up with a noisemaker-crank, the frozen figures come to life; they’re robots first, dancing with that rigid bounce and glitch-like wrist flicks, then as real people as their masks are removed. Ventura had only four arias to sing, but she kept busy as a dancer, making up a quartet with her three automates. Les Indes is a piece that reminded me just how versatile the artists in early opera really were, rivalling the triple-threat of today’s music theatre singers. Ventura sang, danced, and played harpsichord throughout the show, and Lacoursière broke out the recorder between dances.

I was thoroughly impressed by the Barrucand and Geoffroy on harpsichord; they played as an expert duo, pulling out so many colours from their instruments that they had an orchestra feel. I loved that they became part of the action, even leaving their harpsichords to the ladies as they tried on their dancing shoes.

Les Indes was a hit for me. I loved the concept of unveiling a magical world, getting to know its magical people, and then closing the book when the clock strikes midnight. Ventura moved, sang, and played with ease, and she was constantly “in character.” Bravi, team.

The second half of Toronto Masque’s show was The Anahtar Project, a concert of traditional Turkish music led by cellist and composer Andrew Downing. If this sounds like a non-sequitur, it’s not; there were nods to the Turks (and the East in general) in the Rameau, and let’s not forget that time in the 18th-century where it wasn’t cool if it wasn’t Turkish.

For a set of Turkish folk songs and some of his own compositions, Downing was joined by singer Brenna MacCrimmon, clarinetist Peter Lutek, percussionist Ben Grossman, and Demetrios Petsalakis on oud (Turkish lute). Anahtar couldn’t have been more different, aurally or visually, from the Rameau. I couldn’t help but sense that this concert was in the wrong setting for this kind of music; the improvisatory feel of the group, handing solos back and forth and meeting at musical checkpoints, the players seemed casual about their performance. So, it felt odd to be seeing this kind of dynamic in a quiet, dark theatre.

I have to hand it to Artistic Director Larry Beckwith, for combining an unlikely pair of performances, at the beautiful Harbourfront Centre. He certainly brought in experts for both Les Indes and Anahtar, and I am encouraged by companies like Toronto Masque Theatre, who put the art first.

You can catch their final performance tonight at 8pm at the Fleck Dance Theatre, Harbourfront Centre. For details and tickets, follow the links below.

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