Heartbeat of Home at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, Toronto, Canada

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Three of us from Trek and Run – myself, Lamia and Joanna – saw this show, which has just a week left to run here in Toronto. Here are a few of our thoughts, with more in-depth reviews following below…

“…the 2nd act commences with a Cuban/Irish mash up leading into a New York 1950′s Harlem style Hip Hop On-The-Road Beat Box face off. If this were all a meal the critics might describe it as a Gaucho Gazpacho with a Cape Verde salsa held together with a pint of Guinness…”

“…how beautiful the costumes were! The colour pallete throughout the entire show was incredibly stimulating…”

“…the cast dance our myths and legends into existence, giving form to our passions, to our doomed urges and uncontrollable longings alike…”

“…when you have this many brilliant and remarkable individuals in a show, it’s just got to be an incredible performance, and this was.”

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I realize that many readers won’t be from Toronto so won’t catch the final week of this play’s run but may be in town in the future and want to take in a show here, so we’ll talk a little about the experience of visiting the theater as well as the play itself.

The play was created by the producers of the international hit ‘Riverdance’, so we knew we were in for a night of quality dance. A world class cast of 38 of the best Irish, Latin and Afro-Cuban dancers and musicians have come together in this high energy performance, and Toronto was the curtain raiser before the troupe head off on it’s North American tour.

I’ve often passed the entrance to the Ed Mirvish Theatre on Yonge Street – it’s just a few minutes from Yonge and Dundas, the very centre of Toronto – and thought it looked classy but even that couldn’t have readied me for the opulence of the interior. Here’s a glimpse of the colonnade that leads from the doors to the inner circle and bar area.

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The bar area was even more stunning, although we didn’t take photos there as it seemed inappropriate. It’s an incredible looking theatre.

The show begins with a traditional Irish line dance that lasts for around 90 seconds before the first hint of flamenco announces itself. Not a full on fiesta but a whisper that threatens to develop into a thunder before…what? I’ve seen that move on the beach before…now, where was it, in Brazil, that’s right…it’s Capoeira! Well, I never expected that, flamenco and Irish dance all mixed up with martial art infused salsa within the first few minutes. This was going to be good!

As the acts develop it’s clear that the ‘Home’ referred to in the title is our earth, and perhaps our own species – the cast dance our legends and myths into existence, giving form to our passions, to our doomed urges and uncontrollable longings alike.

The music is provided by a live band who never put a note out of place. The Bodhran player often leaves the sidelines to interact with the performers, player and dancers taking turns to lead and instinctively react to the complex rhythm changes.

The dancers’ moves are, at times, astonishing. Ciara Sexton, 5 times world dance champion and lead female in the show, seemingly hangs mid air on several occasions, I haven’t seen such physical control since I ran the Athens Marathon and a group of Kenyans passed me and looking at them for a split second I saw all of their 7 pairs of feet off the ground at the same time. It’s always breathtaking for me to see people so in charge of their own bodies, and there’s plenty of that on show in ‘Heartbeat of Home’.

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Other dancers that stand out for me are Bobby Hodges, the male lead and a former principle dancer with the show ‘Lord of the Dance’, who has tremendous confidence, speed and power and Kieran Donovan, a younger lad from England who presents his streetwise style behind a flashing, infectious smile.

The sets are simple but powerfully themed, with films projected onto 3 backdrops showing raging seas, failing suns, lightening forks, straight train lines and telegraph poles leading through an old west landscape reminiscent of Monument Valley and birds, lots of birds, which the cast often imitates with grace and a profound sense of freedom. Irish pipe solos conjure up feelings of longing; I was born on a housing estate in southern England with no hint of Ireland anywhere around yet these pipes offer me up images of home, of sunny, hazy days on the beach with family and walks and picnics in springtime woodland. Such a lonely, melancholic but hopeful sounding instrument.

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After the intermission the action commences with a Cuban/Irish mash up leading into a New York 1950′s Harlem style Hip Hop On-The-Road Beat Box face off. If this were all a meal the critics might describe it as a Gaucho Gazpacho with a Cape Verde salsa held together with a pint of Guinness, but that’d be selling it short as it’s so much more than that, so much more that words fail it.

William Burroughs once said that if aliens landed on earth they’d first ask to see the manager, then they’d learn more and probably just destroy the planet as a result. It’s hard to argue with him if you spend any time watching the daily news. Yet, if the little green guys were to land I’d advise you leading them away from Wall Street and into a showing of ‘Heartbeat of Home’ and then, when they’ve seen the heights to which our species can climb if it tries, they’d more than likely order the Death Star to pass us on by.

I haven’t said anything about the flamenco. The 2 leads, Rocio Montoya and Stefano Domit, are dominant throughout. I’m no Jason Webster so can’t comment on just how good they are but when I see Stefano stamping and posturing I’m tempted to tell ‘Yes, yes! There is a man! There is a man!’

As I leave the auditorium I consider, did Rocio and Stefano achieve the summoning up of Duende, the heartbeat of the earth that all flamenco dancers aim for but so few ever achieve? I’m not sure – this is a modern theatre, after all, not the caves of Sacromonte in Granada, and surely location has to play some part in such matters  - but if they didn’t they were near. Bravo, magnificent.

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Joanna says “Having never attended an Irish dancing performance before, Heartbeat of Home was a pleasant surprise. Right from the beginning the show grabbed my attention with the beautiful lighting and dramatic music. The lighting was used in such a creative way, always matching the mood and timing of the music and dance. The next thing I noticed was how beautiful the costumes were! The colour pallete throughout the entire show was incredibly stimulating.

When a routine ended you had no idea what the dancers were going to come out in next, or even what the style of dance and music was going to be. This was my favorite part of the show because I loved the quick transition. This kept me constantly entertained.

So I was surprised by the show, for sure. I didn’t expect to see all the different styles of dance, and the constant merging of different cultures joined by riotous dance.”

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Lamia Says – “Venue: The Ed Mirvish theatre has a beautiful front entrance – so elegant and ornate – and walking into the theatre for the first time I discovered that the inside of the space is even more beautiful and with my photographic eye I immediately thought what an amazing space this would be for a fashion photo-shoot. I’d seriously consider it but I imagine there’s a super expensive permit involved! The beautiful, classical accents really got me in the mood to see a play, so well done on the people who designed the space!

Show: I remember the first time I ever saw a promo poster for Heartbeat of Home. It was on the train on my commute to school and I was so intrigued that I kept on staring at it for the whole 30 minute long journey. I was really curious to see the show when I found out that it was by the same producers as Riverdance as I‘ve never seen professional, top-class dancers in their full glory before.

I had goose bumps throughout the performance; the dancers were incredible! It was hard to look away to take notes because the show was just act after act of the most complete talent. The dancers were amazingly synchronized, totally in-tune with their bodies, the set and each other as a team. I felt really lucky when I saw the Flamenco dancers – such passion, life and coordination! The Irish dancers were brilliant too, every footstep and rhythm intense and full of energy!

The costumes were shiny, opulent; Joanna and I were in love with Flamenco dancer Rocio Montoya’s dresses! And to top it all of, the musicians on the side of the stage were skillful and gifted with their instruments. To sum up, when you have this many brilliant and remarkable individuals in a show, it’s bound to be an incredible performance, and this was.

To discover more about shows at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, please see http://www.mirvish.com/

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