Ballet, bands and beaches
With friends and family asking about the cultural life of Toronto, it’s easy to argue that the city deserves its international reputation as a metropolis for the arts. Sure, it lacks the tradition of London or the opulence of Milan, but artists from around the world are attracted to Toronto for its ambitious aspirations and sizeable budgets. With several leading venues in walking distance, and tickets often heavily discounted or even free, we’ve stumbled across Canadian sculpture, Russian ballet and Caribbean jazz in the last week alone – and we’re just getting started!
On Saturday we headed to the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, where the National Ballet of Canada offered Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty. Hailed as “a signature work”, this was the piece that made the company’s name in the 1970s – with the first tour culminating in acclaimed appearances at the Met – and it remains a staple of the repertoire. A cheap tickets scheme for the under 30s and a large stroke of luck found us sitting at the front of the royal box for Saturday’s matinee, as we beheld a shimmering array of dazzling costumes and bewitching dance. Neither of us are ballet connoisseurs (it was my first time) and only a few moments of the performance seemed directly relevant to the storyline, but as spells were cast and weddings arranged we were impressed by the vibrant performances and the interplay between the troupe.
The previous evening brought a very different experience, as we headed once more to the Royal Ontario Museum. This might not be the most obvious place to start the weekend were it not for the ROM’s Winter Fridays series and promises of “drinks, snacks, live performances and a spectacular view of the Toronto skyline” in the rooftop bar. Sure enough, with a gin and tonic in hand, we were serenaded by the Riddim and Jazz band, their Caribbean jammin’ tunes filling the room as the sun set on downtown. (We also found time to visit the Vikings exhibition in the basement, which was notably popular even on a Friday evening – who would have thought? Did you know that Vikings never referred to themselves as Vikings? The word just means a raid or tour, so Scandinavians would go on a ‘viking’ for trade or plunder. They even settled in Canada briefly in the tenth century. Fascinating stuff.)
Toronto is not just renowned for its music: the city’s residents can stumble across artworks in the most unexpected places. The previous weekend we ventured towards The Beaches (and Woodbine Beach in particular), which lie on the northern shore of Lake Ontario just a short streetcar-journey from where we live. With blue skies and dazzling sun it was a delight to escape the concrete for a morning’s hike, and we were surprised to discover a series of sculptures on the waterfront. Each had been constructed around lifeguard stations on the sand, with artists from Canada, Europe and the USA offering a commentary on the modern world. Perhaps most striking was ‘The Wind Station’, propellers in the shape of a nuclear cooling tower that spun in the breeze as a call to renewable energy.
We’re only just beginning to scratch the surface here – the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, for instance, offers a varied programme from Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony to the soundtrack from Jaws – and we haven’t even begun to explore the many smaller art galleries or the wealth of theatres. The artistic tradition of the new world might have started much later than the old, but Toronto is catching up fast.