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  • Writer's pictureMisty Anderson


Against The Grain Theatre's collaboration with the Toronto Symphony gives us all the gift of seeing and hearing Handel's most famous oratorio, The Messiah, as if for the first time in their Messiah/Complex. The production, which is streaming free during the holidays, foregrounds First Nations voices and re-imagines the The Messiah through the lens of sovereignty, indigeneity, and queered perspectives on gender, all in a specifically Canadian landscape. Selections like "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth" sung in Dene, and Spencer Britton's queering of "Every Valley Shall Be Exalted" are thoughtful, generous, gorgeous reconsiderations of Handel's libretto and the imperial confidence of its Christian nationalism. The selections intersperse languages in "a truly cross-Canada performance — in Arabic, Dene, English, French, Inuktitut, and Southern Tutchone." Beginning with its land acknowledgement, this production names and claims its contradictions and the histories of violence that mark the territory in which it unfolds, yet it manages to point us toward gratitude and the discovery of mutual blessing in one another's presence. Reneltta Arluk and Joel Ivany co-directed this feat of "vocal distancing" and cinematographic adaptation in the place of their planned holiday production of The Messiah. The presence of masks and the creative use of solo footage remind us that is it possible to meet this present moment of our pandemic winter with a spirit of joy, creative energy, and profound goodwill. In their words, "We all need a sense of hope right now, and this was our way to keep the candles burning." They succeed beyond all expectation with this deeply moving production. While you can watch for free, consider a thank-you gift to Against The Grain, which is doing the work of re-imagining the repertoire and theatrical history for the 21st-century. My personal thanks to my colleague Alison Conway for sending me this precious gift.

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