Deirdre Kelly


Went with the family on our annual trip to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival — 15 consecutive years and counting! The kids are now old enough to start seeing some of the shows. This year, they took in Jesus Christ Superstar and Camelot, one of which I will review for  Here’s how the kids viewed them:

My 11-year old son on Camelot:

“Not enough action, not enough sword-fighting and the songs were terrible. The best thing about it was the hawk.”

My 8-year old daughter on Jesus Christ Superstar:

“They weren’t really whipping him, mommy. It was just acting.”

And good acting, at that. But more on that in a later post.

Alice s Adventures in Wonderland, The National Ballet of Canada

Taj at Luminato

Reading at the Library

I’ve spent many hours reading at the library. I’d say that reading in the library has very much informed the person I am today. The habit was formed early: Winnie the Pooh and Dr. Seuss followed by fairy tales then Greek myths and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In high school, the books were more Oscar Wilde and The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.

Those turbulent years of my teenage life were often spent at a library carrel, where I’d anchor myself after school to study and then study again: Books being my salvation, my escape route from all that tormented me at the time, my home life in particular. The library felt often like my true home, and as I’d wander the aisles after-dark, I’d discover new lives and new adventures, if not new cuisines in exotic cookbooks, all lined up of the shelves, inviting me in.

When I got to university I was already well-practiced in being a library habitue, which is likely why didn’t flounder in first year as many of my peers did. All this goes to say that I didn’t have much of a social life. Books were my main companions. At one point I realized that it wasn’t a good way to be. I tried branching out, meaning going to the library less, and trying out the campus pubs more. But at the time, I found real life less safe and reassuring (and inspiring) than my books at the library, so back I went, into my solitude.

In Paris, I even went so far as to live in a library: Shakespeare & Co., on the Left Bank, opposite Notre Dame, where Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Joyce used to go to read and borrow their books. I lived upstairs, sleeping among books by authors whose surnames began with the letter B. I write about that experience in my book, Paris Times Eight. Which brings me back to libraries again.

Recently, as a result of my book, I was a guest author as part of the Keep Toronto Reading Festival sponsored by the Toronto Public Library. I read earlier this month at the TPL’s Morningside branch, before an attentive crowd. All were library regulars and some arrived late to the reading because they had been busy borrowing books of their own.

Librarian Sheila Yates had decorated the meeting room to resemble a french cafe. It was beautiful, touching and charming.

I read from the chapter detailing my intimate encounter with the late, great dancer Rudolf Nureyev, and also from an earlier one in which I described my first impressions of the city that would eventually inform me, much the way libraries have: From the inside out, inspiring in me a desire for learning, for reaching after knowledge and wisdom and beauty, such as are often described in books.

Campari Consciousness

A drink to remember

As The Globe and Mail’s new cocktail columnist — a major vote of confidence on the paper’s part considering I’m such a lightweight when it comes to drinking — I’m starting to revisit tastes from my more alcohol-prone youth. Among them is Campari, a bitter Italian spirit that I had last week in a cocktail whipped up for me by Moses McIntee at Toronto’s new Ritz-Carlton Hotel. He made it with sparkling wine that he froze with liquid nitrogen (that be dry ice to the rest of us) and served it in a grappa glass with a spoon: A Slushie, Italian-style.  One slurp and I Was instantly transported back in time to when I first sampled the aperitivo.

It was in Siena, where in 1983 I was a summer student, studying art history. An exam was coming up and my friend, Susan Walker, whom I had known since grade seven, a sophisticate beyond her years, invited me to study with her in the Italianate gardens of a villa overlooking the Tuscan hills. It was a pensione run by a couple of old sisters I recall. The name of the place was Piazza Ravizza, the ravishing piazza, and one look at the views and you knew why.

Sue and I sat side-by-side, looking at our images of Giotto: Lots of Christs on the cross, and weeping Marys. The sun beat hot upon our bare legs. Sue suggested we get some refreshment. She called over the white-coat waiter and ordered two Campari, with aqua minerale, sparkling water, on the side. He soon re-appeared with the blood-red drink in two tumblers filled partially with ice, small bottles of water at the side, and a dish of orange slices. One sip of the Campari and I almost spat. It tasted not unlike Lavoris. 

Sue realized it was my first time, and patiently told me to follow her example. She poured a bit of water in, to dilute and then just wet her lips. I did the same. We repeated the ritual again and again over the next hour, or was that two, or three. I lost track of time with the lengthening of that Campari drink. The gradual addition of water seemed to stretch that cocktail indefinitely.

Eventually, we weren’t talking about Giotto any more, but about the colour of the sunset, the elegant sculpted shape of the cypress trees and our dreams for the future.

I remember a guest inside the villa started to play Chopin on the piano inside an ornate drawing room, just before the dinner hour. As we sat there outside on an ancient stone bench, nursing our Campari, listening to that divine gift of music most sublime, we both fell in love with the moment: Tuscany at dusk, the skies as red and glowing as the drink in our hands, two young women on the cusp of adulthood, their friendship sealed wi the clinking of the glasses.   


My Up Do Might Have Been a Big Don’t (But Sue Me, It’s Fashion Week)

I was having a bad hair day at LG Fashion Week in Toronto yesterday where all the week the graft has been flowing. I got a nifty notebook from the people at Korhani, the rug makers who showed their wares on the runway yesterday, which was a lot more exciting than you’d think, pure performance art: Gotta make carpets exciting somehow. I also got this sparkly key chain in the shape of a stiletto that I promptly put back in its box.

But for me the most exciting freebie of all is the hair and make-up applications by the team at L’Oreal. They are set up centre floor at the Heritage Building inside Exhibition Place where the shows are being presented this week, with all their tools of the trade surrounding them — curling irons, coloured pots of powder, foundation in every hue imaginable. Yesterday I took advantage of all the gratis primping.

I let make-up artist Julia Hofer make my eyes look bigger with a deft application of liner and gold shimmer on my lids: “Never use dark shadows,” she admonished me with her French-acccented English. “They make your eyes look small.”

After my face was done,  I headed in the direction of the hair team. When the shows are on all night, following a full day at work and hours in between shutting the kids between home and school and their myriad after-4 lessons, I haven’t had a inute to wash my hair,. I twas looking pretty lank when I first sat down on the white leather stool manned by the hairdresser-known-as-Stephen, he of the arm tattoos and a big boar bristle brush. He squealed when he looked at my hair. But not from horror. “Oh, it’s so perfect for an up do,” he said, underscroing what I’ve always been told, that dirty hair is better for working with than clean: it bends, it mpouilds, it doesn’t lose its shape. “How much time have I got?”

 The line-up was already forming in front of me for the aforementioned Korhani show, featuring jewels by Montreal’s Anzie family. But I knew I had a reserved front row seat and so didn’t need to hurry. I told him five minutes.

‘That’s all I need,” he said, and immediately commenced back-combing my greasy locks into a halo of brunette potenatial at the top of my head. 

He then quickly tugged and twisted and pinned my hair into an Audrey Hepburn-esque side-part, heavily hair sprayed beehive. His work done, he stood me up out of the chair, handed me a mirror and told me to feast my eyes: I was transformed.

But the image looking back at me seemed uncannily familiar. That’s it. I looked like my mother, circa 1968, in the days when she religiously used to go Saturday mornings to the hairdresser to get her hair backcombed and pinned into a helmet of hair that would last her the week.

I remember all too well how she used to sleep on it, gingerly and perhaps not all that well, considering hiow she used to yell at my brother and me, all the time. 

Later that night, I got several compliments in the darkness of the catwalk by some fellow members of the media. I think I was probably quite striking looking, in a mad, theatrical, what-the-hell-is-she-doing kind of way. I knew they were just trying to be nice.

Stephen had he told me to take it all out when I got home. He said I was to come back to him so he could do my hair again, foe each day remaining in LG Fashion Week. 

But I slept on my do last night, thinking of my mother but also of what might happen if  I took out all those bobby pins: My hair would look shocked, as if I had been electrocuted. It was late. I didn’t have time to wash it out. 

So I lay on on those pins, penance-like, waking up several times in the night when I felt them poking into the skin on my scalp.

In the morning, I did what I remember what my mother used to do: I got the pointy end of a comb and smoothed the strays back into place, pinning them down with a few more pins I had of my own.

I am at my desk right now, yawning, exhausted from my night of beauty-interrupted sleep.

But my hair’s awake, fully on: I feel every inch my mother’s daughter.

Mary McCartney — From Where I Stand (mini review)

Lighting Up



Yes, that McCartney — as in first born child of Beatle Paul whose late mother Linda was a photographer who influenced Mary to pick up a camera in the first place. And she’s good, very good, actually, as demonstrated by her first book of images collected backstage at sister Stella’s fashions shows and at the family farm in Scotland. There are others, of famous family members and their equally famous friends: Chrissie Hynde, Helen Mirren, Dennis Hopper, Sir Peter Blake, among them.  But the more interesting are those taken in the cramped and cluttered dressing rooms at the Royal Opera House. Operating like a modern-day Degas, McCartney focuses her lens on members of the corps de ballets, that anonymous rank of classically-trained dancers, and reveals the grit, the grind, even the boredom of backstage life. Her sharply edited collection of black and white and colour photographs also includes rockers, fashion models, and assorted Diane Arbus-like unknowns on the streets of London. Each is riveting, exhibiting compositional complexity as well as sensuality anda  sly sense of humour. Shots of celebrities like Joni Mitchell, Madonna, and a particularly compelling one of Bjork are interspersed with homey images of brother James amid the roses and children showering or jumping in the pool at Long Island. Then , of course there’s dad: but depicted as a creature of benign domesticity, and not as the famous rock star he is. McCartney’s title for her book underscores what’s most compelling about it: its intimate point of view. She has a unique take on the rarefied worlds of art and fashion and pop culture in which she inhabits. A book to savour.  (Abrams, 192 pages)

Russian program, National Ballet of Canada

There’s a new ballerina on the block: Moscow-born Elena Lobsanova. I saw her dancing last night at Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in the National Ballet of Canada’s mixed program of three Russian-themed works. She took the sparkling female lead in George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations opposite partner Piotr Stanczyk, himself no slouch in the virtuoso department.

It’s probably a coincidence that a Russian was at the centre of last night’s dizying choreographic universe. Lobsanova wasn’t exactly parachuted in for the evening.

She’s already a second soloist with the Toronto-based company, and was trained at the National Ballet School, so she’s no stranger to our shores. She took the top prize for a female dancer at the 2009 Erik Bruhn Competition. She’s getting more of the spotlight in the company right an, and and mark my words, she’ll be promoted at the end of the season. She’s got winning stage presence, and a solid technique she softens with a light-as-a-feather porte de bras and a  lovely, gentle smile. She’s obviously working so hard up there on stage but she appears not to break a sweat. Poise and elegance are already her trademarks. She needs, to my mind, to rise higher on her pointes, extend herself more through the arch of the foot to give her a bit more oomph, a bit more born-to-it majesty.

So far, she’s riding on pretty, an unoffensive dance quality also evident in her performance of Russian Seasons, an ensemble work by former Bolshoi director Alexei Ratmansky’s that was a company premiere.

Originally created in 2006 for New York City Ballet where Ratmansky’s now based, this rainbow0hued romp of a work combining folk dance, jazz, live voice (soprano Susana Poretsky) and a feverishly played live violin (Steven Sitarski) as part of  the self-named score by Leonid Desyatnikov, Russian Seasons is described in the program notes as a series of vignettes centered loosely around the Russian Orthodox liturgical calendar, but you’d not know just looking at it, the religious aspect isn’t obvious.

Lobsanova played a nameless role (just like the other 11 dancers in the piece), but was dressed in purple, and so stood out, and not just because of the garish (and that’s the word to describe the unfortunate costumes with their airline hostess hats by Galina Solovyeva — what was she thinking???) colour she was forced to wear. In contrast to the others who seemed to be rushing to keep up with the work’s break-neck speed, Lobsanova appeared comfortable and relaxed, as if the work were created on her. It really was remarkable, how she seemed to glide through it, seemingly even enjoying the complex pastiche of acrobatic moves that her colleagues strained to make look natural.

The work wasn’t my favourite of the evening. I felt there was far too much going on, and don’t get me started again on those horrible Smartie Box dresses!  It was as if Ratmansky felt compelled to say all he ever wanted to say, in one ballet, and the result was kinetic overload: ballet on Ritalin.

Calmer by far, and deliberately so, was the opening work on the program, Balanchine’s Apollo. celebrating the god of art, music and song, the work is a paean to cool, classical control, what the Greek god, often presented in opposition to his more lusty, more ribald, more chaotic kinsmen Dionysus, also represents.

Created in 1928 when Balanchine was a member of Diaghilev’s famed Les Ballets Russes, it is a remarkable achievement, packed with potent physical imagery, experimental choreography (straight-back ballet combined with hip-thrusting jazz moves and other popular social dance idioms of the day) and an original score by the incomparable Igor Stravinsky.

Guillaume Cote brought a robust, maverick quality to the role that was most satisfying to watch. His wife, principal dancer  Heather Ogden was strong as one of the Muses, Polyhymnia, imparting to the role sensuality. Bridgett Zehr as Calliope was less convincing; she had the technical acumen for the role but lacked emotional depth. Her dancing left me cold.

The best of Apollo’s female attendants by far was Xiao Nan Yu, as Terpsichore, the muse of dance. The choreography wrapped tightly around her like a second-skin,she danced with Cote as if she were locked in a physical conversation with him. You could sense her intelligence, feel her empathy with the music.

Enough said. Wonder what Lobsanova, the new girl, will do with the role if she ever gets the chance to perform it? Stay tuned.


The National of Canada revived its production of John Cranko’s Onegin last week, a full-length work inspired by the Pushkin prose poem of the same name, and finally the Toronto-based company has found a way to make the work come alive.

Leads Greta Hodgkinson and Guillaume Cote imbued the ballet with passion and nuanced dancing that lent the story of a jaded aristocrat in the Russian provinces an urgency and vitality missing last year when the National presented the ballet also at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

A 1965 story ballet in which serfs, samovars and duels at dawn form much of the  pre-revolutionary Russian atmosphere, last year’s revival featured new sets and costumes which elicited a great deal of attention. But it was a missed opportunity because the National Ballet failed to rise to the occasion.

Blame it on the surfeit of birch trees that designer Santo Loquasto chose to give the ballet some of its added naturalistic Slavic colour. But last year’s presentation was wooden.

The dancing looked stitled and the drab colours did nothing to enhance the drama.

The birches, in fact, often seemed to get in the way of the on-stage action. Parts of Lensky’s elegiac Second Act solo, for instance, seemed to take place in the shadows: A case of not being able to see the thicket of emotion the dancer was endeavouring to express for the trees.

This year, while the branches still lay thickly over the on-stage action, the production appeared to have blossomed over the intervening months.

This time around, there was no distracting from the skills of the respective dancers.

The Sunday matinee performance as performed by Hodgkinson and Cote — she playing Tatiana, the young bookish woman in the throes of first love, he the Byronic stranger who breaks her heart — was superbly acted and danced.

 Their final pas de deux in the Third Act bedroom scene was especially scintillating; each danced with abandon, making the lifts and twirls and impassioned feints to the floor extremely exciting to watch.

It was their ability to fully occupy their roles that set the performance apart.

Onegin is ballet as character study. It is best danced by seasoned performers, dancers confident enough with their dancing technique that they can allow themselves to revel fully in the moment.

Hodgkinson and Cote were those dancers — demonstrating a maturity that belied their thirtysomething years.

Each in turn used the ballet to journey into the soul of their respective characters, subtly adjusting the way they used their  hands, their eyes, the start-and-stop of their steps to convey a varied landscape of human feeling. In dancing the details they made the work breath as a living work of art. The standing ovation both received at the finish was well-deserved. Bravi.

Beware the Tides of March

It’s March and in my province of Ontario that means one thing: The thaw has finally come.

It started just this week, after a couple days of warm weather. Overnight, melting snow produced fast-flowing muddy rivers cascading from the top of the mountain ridge close to my rural property north of Toronto.  It also created deep puddles in my backyard in which I could see last fall’s unraked leaves, their brilliant autumnal colours preserved by the ice, twinkling inside the depths, a reminder of the life that was and the life yet to come. I saw it as a sign that spring is coming, time of rebirth.

All this water got me thinking of faraway Egypt, source of the Nile, how each year when the riverbanks overflow life returns to the surrounding desert.

Where I live is not arid, far from it. But still the winter did starve the land around Georgian Bay, near the Bruce Peninsula, of life forms that only this week started to make themselves known again with the return of flowing water.

These included flocks of Canadian geese suddenly back  at nearby Christie  Beach after wintering south of the border, and deer venturing out of the woods to forage openly for food, tender newborn fawn by their side.

I experienced a kind of rebirth myself just watching it all.  All this week, I slept better, yelled at my kids less, cleaned the kitchen more. I even remembered each to take my vitamins in preparation of the return of summer, the return of me, bare-legged and hat-free.  As the waters around me kept flowing, I was carried away on a fantasy of self-renewal. I would be stronger, more resourceful, better accomplished!

Emboldened, yesterday I strode through the puddles on my lawn to retrieve a stray plastic bag that had blown up against my cedar hedge.  Earlier in the week, I had been stubbornly ignoring it, my spring cleaning  impulse not yet having broken free of the lethargy of the long, cold winter. My kids had noticed small leak in the hose leading from the crawl space where a sump pump this week has been working overtime in redirecting the spring run-off from below my house. I thought I’d use the bag to bandage it up, kill two birds with one stone so to speak: fix a leak, clean the yard all in one semi-lazy go. To find the hole in the hose I positioned myself alongside it and waited for the water to spew as it always does this time of year, every three minutes or so. I’d spot the the geyser and set to tying my tourniquet.

I waited, looking at the lake-sized puddle just beyond the mouth of the hose that had grown since the beginning of the week.  I waited some more. And then some more. That’s when I grew worried.

The water wasn’t spewing. It wasn’t even dripping. Impossible, I thought as I sprinted through the water-logged grass to the rear of the house to access the crawl space.

I threw open the trap doors to the basement and then, whoosh! My own Nile flood! There was water everywhere, rising higher than my ankles. I knew in that instant that the sump pump wasn’t  working. I just didn’t know why.

The water was too deep for me to venture inside. I was wearing winter boots and they’d fill with water and likely pull me under. I ran past my son who, on seeing the panicked look on my face, asked me what was the matter. I was back to my old self. I yelled at him to back off.

Inside the house, I found an old pair of rubberized riding bots in the hall closet and pulled them on. I opened the doors beneath the sink and grabbed my canary yellow dish-washing gloves. I didn’t exactly know what I was going to to do with them. But I knew I needed to be prepared. I then glanced at the clock on the wall oven door: 6pm in a small town on a Friday night.  I was as good as doomed.

I jumped back down the outside stairs and waded through the deep in my  basement toward the flailing sump pump.  I could hear its motor whirring. But water was not flowing out, only in, and higher by the minute.

As luck would have it, I had earlier in the  week re-established contact with a  plumber I had worked with last summer. I meant what I said about wanting to be organized, anew spring 20011 me.  Just that day I had called him in hopes that he’d still be available to work with me when the weather got nicer, as I had plans to install a small bathroom in anew side addition. He had come during the day to pick up some documents I had left in a plastic milk bag tied to the door handle. Too bad I hadn’t know to tell him about the flood. The truth was, I hadn’t at all noticed that the sump pump, which normally clangs like an old train under the floorboards, hadn’t been working. I thought back on it: I think it must have been silent for at least 24 hours. I had obviously been too focused on my self-renewal projects to notice. I felt in that moment quite foolish.

Doug, the plumber, normally doesn’t answer his phone after noon on a Friday. But I dialed his number anyway. I was desperate. I had no one else I could call.

Just as I suspected he didn’t answer the phone. I left a voice message and then again ran downstairs to see if I could figure something out. I plunged a gloved hand into the murk and pulled it right back out again. Who am I kidding?

I ran back up the stairs and into the house and pushed redial, muttering a small prayer. Miraculously,  Doug answered, saying, “Please tell me me you got it going yourself.”

I told him I hadn’t, and apologized for calling him at night. He was having his dinner, he told me.  “But I’ll be over in half an hour,” he said. I thanked him profusely.

True to his word, he soon arrived in his truck on my driveway, carrying a pair of rubber boots under one arm, a tool kit with a blow torch under the other. He said it would be a one-man job, but I was so grateful for his assistance that I followed him down into the subterranean lagoon, offering to hold the flashlight while he wrestled with the black snake of a hose in the basement.

I made idle chatter while he took apart the sump pump, awkwardly linking my little natural disaster with the recent tsunami in Japan, as if the two were linked. After some banging around, Doug discovered that the hose was blocked with silt, stones and other bits of debris likely carried in to the crawl space by the thaw. It took some time, but eventually he unclogged it and soon got the water flowing out again. I was mightily relieved. Without his help, I really did think my house would have floated away. He bade me a good weekend, telling me he’d bill me later.  Nice guy.

That should have been the end of my pre-spring troubles, but after he left I was still so consumed by nerves that I opened a bottle of wine and gulped back two glasses in rapid succession, something I know not to do, and then sliced open my thumb with the vegetable peeler as I tried, belatedly ( it was now after 8pm) to make dinner.

My blood flowed as rapidly as the water outside my door, soaking through the makeshift bandage I had crafted from a sheet of paper towel.  It too was a sign of life, if not a sign that I am only all-too-human. Meaning fallible. Prone to making mistakes. In spite of myself.

And so I went to bed nursing if not the beginnings of a hangover, then the realization that I am flawed and that nature, as wonderful as sometimes can be, could kill me, if I’m not careful.

I guess that’s what’s known as a real spring awakening.