“Bringing together popular and contemporary music with old music in a way you imagine people’s iPods with all sorts of different genres…to me that’s what the masque is all about.” – Larry Beckwith

Myth of Europa header

Tickets: $45/$40/$20 at Toronto Masque Theatre

Audiences at Toronto Masque Theatre’s two-day run of The Myth of Europa (8pm on Friday and Saturday at the Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre) are in for a “very intimate show,” says the theatre’s founder and artistic director Larry Beckwith.

The show is inspired by on the classical myth of Europa and Zeus: the Greek god Zeus falls in love with the beautiful mortal Europa, and transforms himself into a tame white bull. When Europa climbs on the bull’s back, Zeus kidnaps and seduces her. It’s a well told story that will be presented through music of the past, and also that of the present.

The program will feature Le Europe, a baroque cantata by Michel Pignolet de Montéclair, followed by the premiere of Europa and the Bull by Toronto composer James Rolfe and Kingston-based author Steven Heighton. It will explore the darker themes of the Europa myth, examining questions of sexuality, power, and ethics.

(Montéclair’s Le Retour de la Paix)

Echoing the interdisciplinary spirit of masque theatres of 16th and 17th century Europe, the cast consists of soprano Suzie LeBlanc, dancer Stéphanie Brochard and actor Martin Julien all of whom appears onstage alongside each other throughout the evening.

“I got very interested in the relationship between baroque dance and baroque music. I fell in love with a certain repertoire: Handel and Purcell, Lully and Charpentier. To me it seemed that dance was an integral part of those pieces,” reflected Beckwith on the founding of Toronto Masque Theatre in 2003.

“It began as a real desire to bring dance and music together in a more comprehensive way. Through my work with Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière, who’s one of our associates, I realized that of course theatre was woven into that as well.”

Stéphanie Brochard

Stéphanie Brochard

This approach is reflected by the company’s artistic leadership: Beckwith provides the musical direction; Derek Boyes, resident artist with Soulpepper Theatre Company, provides theatrical guidance; and choreographer Lacoursière contributes to the dance elements – such as the choreography in The Myth of Europa.

Commissioning new works is an unusual thing to do for a company dedicated to presenting a Baroque form, but this is part and parcel of Beckwith’s vision. “I have an altogether different interest in contemporary music and contemporary theatre. I thought it would be interesting and innovative to take an old form like the masque, and to ask artists to write new pieces for that older form.”

Europa and the Bull is their seventh commission with the next one already in the works, and they are more than simply new adaptations of the classics. “Sometimes it becomes a companion piece to the traditional one, sometimes it becomes a very different take on the same story, sometimes it becomes a complete antithesis to the older piece.”

(James Rolfe’s Five and a Half Bridges)

“I felt that a lot of people shared my own eclectic tastes in art and in music.” he continued. “Bringing together popular and contemporary music with old music in a way you image people’s iPods [with] all sorts of different genres…to me that’s what the masque is all about.”

Toronto Masque Theatre’s performances combine not just disparate performance styles but they also cross boundaries of genre and time, interweaving baroque music with contemporary and popular musical themes. With so many elements to juggle, the performances are elegantly produced in an intimate format designed to draw the audience into the action.

Whether you’re new to the Masque or an old hand, make your way to Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre this Friday and Saturday. Don’t miss the pre-show chat with Beckwith and composer James Rolfe.

Tickets are available from Toronto Masque Theatre for $20-$45.