Review: Caminos 2015 (Aluna Theatre and Native Earth Performing Arts)

Photo of Marine Life provided by the festival

The Caminos Festival gave Toronto audiences five days of theatrical experimentations

In her interview with us last week, Artistic Director Beatriz Pizano talked about the themes of language, communication, and cultural interpretation that ran through this year’s Caminos Festival programming, as presented by Aluna Theatre in partnership with Native Earth Performing Arts at the Daniels Spectrum (585 Dundas Street East). After attending two nights of the festival, I have to add beautiful music and audience participation to that list. Caminos 2015 is a thoughtfully curated collection of compelling “performance proposals” and theatrical “experimentations” from Panamerican and Indigenous artists that I wish I saw more of in Toronto theatre.

Wednesday night of Caminos 2015 began with a performance and discussion on “Modes of Translation” from Aluna’s Interpretation Lab. We were first treated to a performance of real-time translations of English and Spanish texts in a number of different forms and the audience was then invited to an interesting conversation between creators and academics on the difficulties of translation and the importance of multilingual theatre. However, the most interesting revelation for me came from the performance where, in placing the act of translation on stage, I was able to see it as a theatrical art form rather than just a tool used to interpret and convey language.

After a quick intermission, the evening continued with The Stones Project, a twenty-minute interdisciplinary performance on the global practice of stoning. The performance started with a movement piece set to the names of the victims of stoning around the world and I was shocked to hear that the last stoning occurred only a few days before the performance. While some scenes lingered a little too long and certain ideas can be afforded to be delved into more deeply, I was still moved by their solemn handling of such a fraught yet not-often-reported issue.

The final performance of the night was Primer Amor, a Spanish adaptation of a short story by Samuel Beckett that seemed to exemplify the technical difficulties of performing theatre in two languages. The charismatic performance from translator/performer Walter J. Broderick was unfortunately undermined by an awkward placement of the English surtitles. My companion and I couldn’t keep our eyes on Mr. Broderick because we had to constantly shift our focus to the top left corner of the background screen for the translation. I also don’t think I would’ve chosen as dense of a writer as Beckett for this type of experiment.

I then had the pleasure of attending the sold-out Friday night performance of Ayelen, a mythological take on mining exploitation. It’s easy to see why the critics and crowds went wild for Ayelen during their run at this year’s SummerWorks Festival. The lush production and breath-taking performances complimented a story that spoke both specifically and universally on the theme of exploitation and oppression. However, there were just a few lines that seemed too obvious for a play that was already so clear in its intentions.

The shorter piece of Friday was Cacao, a beautifully-created movement piece on the harvesting of the chocolate bean in Venezuela. Some of the segments work better than others — especially the more lyrical duets between Mata and Tejpar — but the entire show flowed with a grace that was still weighted by strong, emotional choreography. I also want to applaud the work of composer Y Josephine and the uncredited lighting designer who enriched our journey across the Americas with their evocative sound and lighting designs.

And then there was Marine Life. To be honest, I’m still not sure what to make of it. In this telenovela-esque story about an environmentalist’s problematic relationships with her brother and lover, situations and characteristics are often almost taken to the point of absurdity. While the audience loved the committed performances and there were plenty of laugh-out-loud lines, sometimes the deeper messages got lost in the chaos. Although, to be fair, with all the comedic undercutting going on, I wonder if that just played into the playwright’s hands.

Caminos 2015 may have called itself a week of proposals and experimentation but everything I saw was impressively polished for new works. The programming was also refreshingly varied and I felt like the shows were welcoming to their audiences in a way that I don’t often see in other more formal theatrical productions. My companions and I enjoyed both nights immensely and look forward to seeing future iterations of these works.


Photo of Marine Life provided by the festival.