3 years ago

Volume 25 Issue 5 - February 2020

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  • February
Visions of 2020! Sampling from back to front for a change: in Rearview Mirror, Robert Harris on the Beethoven he loves (and loves to hate!); Errol Gay, a most musical life remembered; Luna Pearl Woolf in focus in recordings editor David Olds' "Editor's Corner" and in Jenny Parr's preview of "Jacqueline"; Speranza Scappucci explains how not to reinvent Rossini; The Indigo Project, where "each piece of cloth tells a story"; and, leading it all off, Jully Black makes a giant leap in "Caroline, or Change." And as always, much more. Now online in flip-through format here and on stands starting Thurs Jan 30.


CONVERSATIONS Alison Mackay and Suba Sankaran ON THE EARLY TRAIL OF INDIGO DAHLIA KATZ Caroline or Change, at the Winter Garden Theatre, Toronto DAVID PERLMAN intense training in order to “get to know the blank canvas of Jullyann Inderia Gordon, again.” The regime she described to me was intense: physical training building up to running 10K while singing or talking to fans online in order to build her stamina and vocal power; working with a vocal coach for the first time in her life (the famed Elaine Overholt) to increase her range from her natural alto to soprano; and working weekly with music director Jacobs to learn the score. She is revelling in the rehearsal process which she describes as being like part of a relay team with exceptional teammates, and is working personally every minute to be “very present, to really stand in every word I am singing.” Two days before we spoke she had had a breakthrough while singing Lot’s Wife that had everyone in the room in tears. This is Caroline’s tour de force solo, described by Jacobs as “a song that has in it all the heartbreak of frustrated dreams butting up against selfimposed limitations and limitations from the world; seeing a blossoming future in your daughter; wanting to move forward but also afraid to; wanting to dissolve and die, but also needing to continue and live.” Immersing herself in this song in rehearsal, Black suddenly realized that Caroline was her mother’s best friend, her “Aunt Jenny” when she was growing up, a woman who, like Caroline, was caught unable to change in spite of the world changing around her. So much of this story is about ordinary people facing extraordinary change, and all the members of the company I have spoken with talk about how this drew them to the show and how they expect audience members will find it as relatable and cathartic as they do. Caroline in the musical is not able to “change her mind and change her world” but her daughter Emmie, is. Her solo ends the show with hope and with the words, “Change come fast, and change come slow, but everything changes, and you got to go.” Caroline or Change plays at the Winter Garden Theatre January 30 to February 15, coinciding with Black History Month. Jennifer Parr is a Toronto-based director, dramaturge, fight director, and acting coach, brought up from a young age on a rich mix of musicals, Shakespeare and new Canadian plays. did you two first start talking about this project?” I ask my guests. “When It’s January 14, 2020 and The Indigo Project, the latest in a long series of thematically based multimedia projects from the fertile curatorial mind of Tafelmusik’s Alison Mackay, will open on February 27. We sit surrounded by samples of indigodyed fabric, some old, some new, some borrowed – all very definitely blue. A fat binder of images from which Raha Javanfar is designing the projections for the show, sits on the table; over the course of the next 45 minutes, Mackay dips into it from time to time. “Around a year ago …?” Mackay says, looking inquiringly across at Suba Sankaran, her prime collaborator on this project. “These things always take about two years to incubate...maybe a bit before that…I would have to go look at email. I began to think about this as a topic when I was working on Safe Haven. I have always been very inspired by the work of Natalie Zemon Davis – she wrote the first Return of Martin Guerre and she’s in her 90s now – she’s Aaron Davis’ mother, if you know him – and she’s just won, a couple of years ago, this enormous international history prize because she’s one of these cutting- edge people, examining court documents and things like that for written records that give glimpses into the lives of people who, perhaps as the less powerful, fall through the cracks of history. And she has done a lot of work on Sephardic Jewish refugees who went to Surinam and then in turn became plantation owners, and there was one family that were indigo growers there. I asked her to read the Safe Haven script for me, and she had some suggestions; but she also gave me some material about indigo at that time and it made me think, oh this would be a compelling topic! …” 10 | February 2020

Alison Mackay and Suba Sankaran “Compelled” is exactly the right word to describe the effect germinal ideas like these have on Mackay. A voracious reader and indefatigable hunter-gatherer; the fruits of her inquiries spill out in conversation in a stream of “so’s” and “ands” and “buts,” as she weaves, like the shuttle of a loom, the stories of all the trails she followed while the project was coming together. “And what was the thing that most grabbed you when Alison invited you to collaborate?” I ask Suba Sankaran. “The whole challenge and specificity of bringing the thing to life,” she replies. “The idea of marrying the story of how indigo travelled, not just geographically and historically, but musically as well. Also the fact of its roots not just being in India, but specifically in South India, is where one of my specialties comes in. And then Alison said ‘I’m thinking about you and one other person to work along with you,’ and I immediately thought of my father, Trichy, as the perfect candidate for that. He was born just outside of Thiruchirapalli in Tamil Nadu, which was the heartland for the cultivation of indigofera tinctoria, and also the seat of the musical activity we would need to explore here.” “It’s been wonderful!” Mackay chimes in. “Often with projects like these, I am out of my own depth musically – relying on the work of to be working musically with collaborators you always hope for someone who’s not only a dynamite performer but also has some scholarly knowledge of the repertoire as it might have been in the 17th and 18th centuries, and so you can only imagine how thrilled I was to have Suba and her father [Trichy Sankaran is a Carnatic master percussionist, composer, scholar and educator], who have so much knowledge and very, very deep historical roots to share.” “For your father, was the fact that this is all so specific to his own birthplace and musical tradition a strong incentive to get involved?” I ask Suba Sankaran. “Absolutely!” she replies, “and on various levels. He and I have a very special connection, especially when we are on stage together. Growing up it was always that beautiful blurry line between daughter and disciple. So there was that aspect. Then, also, there was the aspect of marrying Western and Eastern Hemispheres, with new information being gleaned from both sides. And the fact that it was so close to his birthplace, I think hits very close to home on various levels: everything from his upbringing right through to what we call the gurukula system [how things pass from] the guru to the disciple. He had a very strict upbringing; the chance now to bring the music together with his personal life in his formative years was I think very, very compelling for him.” “Blue Gold” For all the major European colonial powers, the economic heft of indigo cake – “blue gold” as it was called – during the time explored in this project is impossible to overstate. “It became so popular,” Mackay explains, “that once they realized its potential they started to grow it in the plantations in their new colonies: the Dutch, as I already mentioned, in Surinam; the French in Haiti and Louisiana; and then the English a little bit later in South Carolina, and it was really because of that ….” “Louisiana [named after Louis XIV, King of France from 1643 to 1715] sounds like a cue!” I quip. “For me it’s always important to tie these projects in authentically to the Tafelmusik repertoire, so it made sense to concentrate on the 17th and 18th centuries,” Mackay replies “and then, also, to bring it up into the present. There are chapters to the story: we begin at the court of Louis XIV because Colbert [French politician who served as Louis’ Minister of Finance] wrote a treatise about indigo dyeing. Colbert had to keep a middle course between this new economically advantageous and technically better dye from the East and the old blue dye of woad … so in every vat of indigo for dyeing in France there had to be a little measure of woad in order to start the fermentation of the vat. I’m sure it didn’t really keep anybody happy, but it may be that it led to an especially gorgeous colour of blue!” Balancing the Louis XIV court chapter in the narrative is one on the South Indian court of Thanjavur: “There was a music-loving Raja there at the end of the 18th century,” says Mackay, “and he had a library in it with early editions of Corelli and Handel works, for his own edification, from visiting English tradespeople; he also had a musical February 2020 | 11

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