Century Song

I was pleased to catch up with the sensational, compact, innovative Century Song, last night at Crow’s Theatre. Nightwood Theatre presents the Volcano Theatre production at the new Crow’s Theatre: an example of a wonderful collaborative spirit between three companies.

At the centre of the show is the dynamic and multi-talented performance of Neema Bickerseth, who sings and dances in a sophisticated, immersive and at times cinematic setting, in a wide variety of fabulous outfits. The musical program of this brave dramatic recital is made up of wordless songs from a handful of 20th century composers (Rachmaninoff, Messiaen, Cage and others) culminating in a beautiful song written especially for Bickerseth, by Reza Jacobs.

Pianist Gregory Oh and percussionist Ben Grossman provide spectacular support and also play extended improvisations evoking the social, political and innovative progress of the century. This includes a clever mash-up of television themes from the 50s, 60s and 70s.

It’s a riveting and highly original concept and show, and Bickerseth is sensational.

I had hoped to hear more about the show itself in the talk-back session afterwards. Instead, most of the time was taken up with a jumbled and strange rejection of the history of opera and declarations about the many ways in which opera is way behind theatre in its depictions of stories of real and powerful women. I was confused as to how this had any bearing on the show we’d just seen and disappointed that it led Bickerseth – when she was finally given a chance to speak – to apologetically state that the composers of the songs in her show were men.

In this age of mainstream culture finally catching up to the realities of gender fluidity, surely we must acknowledge that – while they were technically both “male” – Sergei Rachmaninoff and John Cage were two very different people and had, of course, both male and female aspects to their inner lives. I did appreciate so many of the other points Bickerseth made about her show and she should be so proud of this amazing production. Every singer should see it…it’s liberating in so many ways!

  • Larry Beckwith

Century Song continues at Crow’s Theatre until Saturday, April 29. Click here for more information.


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