Tina Rasmussen is the Artistic Director of World Stage at Harbourfront Centre and while she towers over me I’ve never been much for intimidation. She flashes a smile, humours a room with ease and when on the topic of art, manages to reel you in to her world of contemporary performance.
Ever year Tina exhaustively travels the globe in search of the theatrical crème de la crème. In 2013 the Calgary native whisked her way through Japan, Denmark, Ireland, Scotland, Poland, South Korea, France and across Canada in search for works worth showcasing to Toronto audiences via World Stage.
On date night I marched up to Bayview Village eager to enjoy a globetrotter’s feast at Chef Claudio Aprile’s Origin North. His kitchen offers a modernist spin for those looking for an around-the-world culinary tour: Italian Mozzarella Bar, Spicy Spanish Fries and Bangkok Beef Salad. Our final bow would be the “Northern Harvest” a jaw dropping tableside nitro ice cream parlour. I giggled as Tina chanted “oh my God,” while a whimsical cloud spilled across our table.
Claudio and Tina live parallel lives albeit in different fields. While Claudio creates magic in the kitchen through cultural culinary play and out of the box technique, Tina curates her own menu where ingredients are actor-dancer-director and her dining room is a packed house before the curtain is torn away.
The panache of Aprile’s nouveau cuisine has Rasmussen comparing her work to his. “I imagine building a program that introduces new flavours or ideas,” she says. “Staging a dinner experience is the same as curating a season. Introducing combinations of things that are not meat, potatoes and gravy. I think everyone wants to be adventurous in some small way in their lives; we provide a feast of performances that will make you think and be hungry for more.”
While Rasmussen’s dedication to inspiring local audiences with internationally acclaimed works is clear, her passion for offering Canadian artists a platform to showcase their work locally in hopes of going on to become ambassadors abroad is an achievement she seems to relish even more.
In the Spring of 2012 World Stage presented Paris 1994/Gallery, a heartfelt offering by Toronto based The Dietrich Group which went on to dazzle audiences at the da:ns Festival in Singapore that Fall. She chirps, “my goal is to take a wee Goldfish and watch it grow into a colourful Koi. The Dietrich Group proved it is possible to create meaningful work at home while also inspiring audiences abroad.”
This year Ms. Rasmussen offers up a smorgasbord of performances which offer theatre fans an opportunity to devour works from Finland, Sweden, Germany, England, South Africa, USA and Canada. Her menu is hot, spicy, sweet and sour. For contemporary performance newbies she simply states, “being uncomfortable is the best position for our growth, don’t just watch the world go by, get off right here.”
The theatre doors open and I hold back as eager beavers pounce to find their seats. A moment goes by, I grab my ticket, strolling toward the same door ajar. Entering into a dark hallway I am abruptly greeted by a smiling blond with dog on leash. It is the star of tonights show, Victoria Melody who is humorously handing out programs with the help of her on-stage-mascot.
The show begins as she shuffles through the aisle and once on stage encourages her co-star bassett hound Major Tom to sit back and relax on his luxuriously comfy canine bed. Ms. Melody has constructed a show which is presented as a personal narrative alongside her very own wo-man’s best friend.
She spends the next hour playfully pitching her quest for success to the crowd. It all started when Ms. Melody entered her dog into a competition, and then by guilt, accident and necessity she ended up as a beauty pageant competitor herself. Part documentary, part act of protect, Major Tom is a deceptively simple story about the ugly business of beauty.
The crowd giggles throughout the performance entirely willing and able to put themselves in her shoes. Who isn’t convinced they have the prettiest dog in the world? When Major Tom loses (comes in dead last) in several dog shows across the UK Victoria humorously throws herself into a three year adventure where she primps and plucks to better understand the process of transformative beauty and the tole a judging panel can play on both mutt and mannequin.
That night the audience enjoyed a post performance Talk Show where anyone could throw up their hands and ask Victoria about how she creates her work. I found it most interesting that she deliberately throws herself into these very invasive research projects. She appears to enthusiastically live an investigational life-as-art by practice which to many people might come off as a joke or a bit oddball. During several parts of the show I most certainly thought she was weird, her thought process was so unexpected and antisocial. But it was her uninhibited ambition and pursuit of understanding that made me realize she and I would probably be best of friends if we had the opportunity. Hell, I’m the one that typically suggests “robbing a bank” as a first date idea to potential suitors. More people need to live their lives magically, outside of the box.
The hot topic during post show discussion period focussed on how the development of her art impacts her personal life. It was no shock to hear that her family and friends are used to these antics and some indulge while others wish her the best of luck. Victoria humorously chirps that her husband grew tired early on, rolling his eyes as she pursued the two cultural rituals of dog show and beauty pageant competitions.
In the end Victoria and her basset hound make a perfect pair. The audience departs, thankful they haven’t had to dedicate years of their own lives to The Major Tom experiment but smirk with gratitude for its honest revelations.