Here are my choice Montreal arts and culture highlights for March 2019:
Many top touring acts headline various Montreal concert venues this month.
Over at the Corona Theatre, headliners include Aurora (March 3), Finnish extreme metal band Children Of Bodom (March 14), Matthew Good (March 15), Montreal indie electro-pop band Men I Trust (March 16), Australian reggae/indie rock band Sticky Fingers (March 23 and 24), and heavy metal double-bill Graveyard and Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats (March 29).
The Corona also hosts The Barr Brothers playing three different albums on three nights: “The Barr Brothers” (March 7), “Sleeping Operator” (which featured the classic track “Half Crazy,” on March 8), and “Queens of the Breakers” (March 9).
Meanwhile, Swedish pop singer Robyn (who will show us love on March 13), Parisian rapper Lomepal (March 8), Jungle (March 17) and Marianas Trench (March 18), all headline MTELUS, the nation’s top music venue.
Of special note is the all-star A Bowie Celebration : The David Bowie Alumni Tour at MTELUS (March 2), in the very venue where Bowie himself once thought he spotted the ghost of Sarah Bernhardt backstage when he headlined the venue for two nights in September 1997 on his Earthling Tour. This show features key alumni musicians of David Bowie’s bands from across the decades, anchored by his longest standing member Mike Garson along with other amazing Bowie band alumni including Earl Slick, Gerry Leonard and Carmine Rojas, plus an assortment of world-class vocalists.
As Westworld’s Evan Rachel Wood recently proclaimed on The Tonight Show after having been guest-featured on a number of shows on tour with the alumni band, “It’s not a cover band. It’s the actual band. It’s as close as you’re going to get to Bowie.”
Over at Place des Arts, much-anticipated headliners include Massive Attack (Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier on March 11), rock hit makers Foreigner, with special guest Pink Floyd Experience, performing Dark Side of The Moon (Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier on March 12), and the Kronos Quartet (Maison symphonique on March 16).
Last but not least, two icons of African music, Habib Koité and Bassekou Kouyaté, headline Le National theatre in the Village on March 3.
Mali’s Habib Koité is nothing less than an Afro-pop god, descended from an 800-year-old noble line of Khassonké griots, storytellers who preserve the history of a village and/or family through oral tradition.
The Hendrix-influenced Koité was even dubbed “the African Clapton” by Netherlands music magazine OOR. But as Koité once told me himself, perhaps it is Eric Clapton who should be called the “British Koité.”
Local shows of note: Montreal’s very own Murray Lightburn – best known as the frontman for Canadian indie-rock veterans the Dears – launches his solo album Hear Me Now with a concert at the RITZ PDB on March 1, before heading out on the road on an intimate tour which will take him from Hollywood USA to London UK. David Fricke of Rolling Stone praises “the vulnerable, urgent songwriting and deep-flair soul of (Lightburn’s) second solo album, Hear Me Out.”
Other local shows worth checking out include The Besnard Lakes at l’Escogriffe Bar Spectacle (March 8); Montreal singer-songwriter Paul Cargnello & The Primitive Workers Songbook at the Casa d’Italia Montreal (March 13); guitar god Steve Hill, the meanest guitar player in Canada, hailed by BB King and Billy Gibbons, at Club Soda (March 16); and indie rock & soul singer Hanorah – whose EP For the Good Guys and the Bad Guys comes out on March 22 – headlines Casa del Popolo (March 21).
Over at Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill, ranked by DownBeat magazine as one of the top jazz nightclubs in the world, the soulful Ben Racine Band will record a live album on March 27 and 28. Racine’s vocals are a throwback to the great Rhythm and Blues vocalists of the ‘50s and ‘60s, inspired by such artists as Junior Walker, Bill Withers, Stevie Wonder and Clarence Carter.
The Opera de Montréal’s lesbian-themed Twenty-Seven, about famous couple Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas – who welcomed to their Parisian salon the greatest artists of their era, such as Hemingway, Picasso, Matisse and Fitzgerald – runs for six performances at the Centaur Theatre from March 23 to 31.
Opera fans will also love Franco–Belgian playwright Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s musical production Le Mystère Carmen (The Carmen Mystery) about the life of George Bizet, who achieved few successes before his final work Carmen, which he was convinced was also a failure following its world premiere in 1875, three months before he died at the age of 36. Carmen has since become one of the most beloved and most performed operas in history. This much-anticipated production stars Schmitt, Montréal soprano Marie-Josée Lord, tenor Jean-Michel Richer and pianist Dominic Boulianne, at the Théatre du Nouveau Monde, until March 16.
Opera McGill closes its season with three performances of Caccini’s La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Alcina, at Pollack Hall from March 29 to 31.
Fresh from her debut at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, Montreal soprano Sharon Azrieli joins the McGill Chamber Orchestra for Hector Berlioz’s magnificent song cycle, Les nuits d’été, in the French Music concert at Oscar Peterson Hall on March 31.
To mark its 70th anniversary, the Pro Musica Society presents Grammy-winning violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja with pianist Polina Leschenko at Salle Pierre-Mercure on March 31, and celebrated German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter at the Maison symphonique on March 15.
Over at the Orchestre Métropolitain, Maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts the much-anticipated Bluebeard’s Castle on March 1 at the Maison symphonique.
ART AND MUSEUMS
I attended the opening of Montreal Museum of Fine Arts absolutely fantastic career retrospective of global fashion icon Thierry Mugler, the French couturier who has dressed everybody from Diana Ross and David Bowie to Lady Gaga and Liza Minnelli, not to mention Québec icons Céline Dion and Diane Dufresne.
Thierry Mugler: Couturissime features more than 140 ensembles, most of them on display for the first time, created between 1973 and 2001, as well as many never-before seen accessories and stage costumes, clips and videos, archival documents and sketches.
The exhibition displays Mugler’s haute couture as the objets d’art they are.
The exhibition also features some 100 works by such famed fashion photographers as Richard Avedon, David LaChapelle, Herb Ritts and Helmut Newton. In fact, Couturissime marks the Helmut Newton Foundation’s first participation in a foreign museum exhibition.
Says Mugler, “I have always been fascinated by the most beautiful animal on Earth: the human being. I have used all of the tools at my disposal to sublimate this creature: fashion, shows, perfumes, photography, video… I am not a person who dwells in the past, but the MMFA was the first to propose to me to stage my creations and imagine together a free, global and reinvented artistic vision. How could I refuse?”
Thierry Mugler: Couturissime runs from March 2 to September 8.
The 11th edition of the major public art festival Art Souterrain takes place from March 2 to 24 in a 6 km segment of RÉSO, Montreal’s underground pedestrian network: Place Guy-Favreau, the Palais des congrès, the Édifice Jacques Parizeau, World Trade Center Montréal and 1000 de la Gauchetière.
The festival’s activities also extend to the four corners of the city, thanks to eight satellite locations, including Arsenal Contemporary Art Montréal (in Griffintown), the Cinéma du Parc (in the Quartier des spectacles), the Ubisoft exhibition space (Mile-end), the Espacio México Montréal cultural centre (Ville-Marie), the Maison de la Culture in Pointe-aux-Trembles and, for the first time, the Maison de la Culture in Verdun and the Place Ville Marie Observatory.
On display are contemporary art works by some 60 international and local artists, free of charge and accessible 24/7 from March 2 to 24.
Also, the acclaimed travelling exhibition Missing or Forgotten: Akonessen, Zitya, Tina, Marie and others runs March 8 to 31 at the Ashukan Cultural Space (431 Place Jacques-Cartier) in Old Montreal. Through the collaborative work of contemporary First Nations artists in Quebec, this exhibition pays tribute to Indigenous women and highlights the contribution of these women to the country’s art history. It also honours, with respect and compassion, the tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women.
The all-new 10th anniversary touring production of the crowd-pleasing, Tony-nominated jukebox musical Rock of Ages headlines Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier for one night only, on March 22. Set in 1987 on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip when a small-town girl meets a big-city rocker, Rock of Ages features some fun renditions of classic hits by such iconic bands as Styx, Journey, Twisted Sister and Whitesnake, among many others. This show promises to be headbangers central!
Canadian theatre legend Morris Panych – famous for his biting satire and witty dialogue – takes a look at the differences between the haves and have-nots in a world driven by corporate greed and profit in his play The Shoplifters. Panych has created a new version just for the Centaur Theatre Company’s 50th anniversary season, adapting two of the four English-speaking characters into Francophones, making this production as Montréalais as a two-cheek kiss. Panych will also direct a superb cast: up-and-comer Laurent Pitre, Marie-Ève Perron, Michel Perron and national treasure Ellen David. The Shoplifters runs at the Centaur from March 19 to April 7.
Over at the Sylvan Adams Theatre at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts, Montreal native Rick Miller stars in the excellent BOOM X, which picks up where his smash hit show BOOM left off – at Woodstock in August of ’69. Rick time travels by way of multimedia up to 1995, weaving together the history, politics and pop culture of the era he grew up in. Some classic characters reappear (Elvis gets fat, Lennon gets shot and Reagan gets elected) as Gen X-ers navigate the legacy of the baby boom. This production is a high-octane, crowd pleasing barnburner. I also appreciated how the Montreal Expos, AIDS and LGBTQ civil rights were threaded throughout this production. Highly recommended. BOOM X runs to March 10.
Canada’s oldest professional Black theatre company, Black Theatre Workshop winds down its 48th season with How Black Mothers Say I Love You by playwright Trey Anthony. Directed by Tamara Brown, this production is an introspective look at mother-daughter relationships, separation and reconciliation, and runs at the Centaur Theatre until March 16.
Danse Danse and BJM – Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal co-present Dance Me, the spellbinding performance inspired by the work of Montreal icon Leonard Cohen, who also approved this production during his lifetime.
Under the artistic direction of Louis Robitaille and bold dramaturgy of Eric Jean, this homage to the famed poet-singer-songwriter evokes the grand cycles of existence in five seasons, as described in Cohen’s music and poems. Three internationally renowned choreographers – Andonis Foniadakis, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Ihsan Rustem – put movement to Cohen’s legendary songs that are brought to life by 14 BJM dancers.
I was blown away by this production at its 2017 world premiere in Montreal. Dance Me has since become a global success story: BJM will have performed the show 80 times in Canada, the United States, Europe and China by the end of this season.
Dance Me returns to Théâtre Maisonneuve at Place des Arts on March 14, 15, 16, 21, 22 and 23.
There is also a BJM benefit gala performance of Dance Me on March 13, with a pre-show cocktail dinner, followed by a performance of Dance Me and an after-show cocktail with the artists. Funds raised will go toward creating major new works.
March 7 UPDATE: Due to strong demand, two extra performances of Dance Me have been added, on March 20 at 8 pm and March 23 at 2 pm.
Dance Me will also be aired on the big screen on Sunday, March 24, in theatres and cinemas in more than 40 cities across Quebec.
The Montreal International Children’s Film Festival, better known as FIFEM, runs from March 2 to 10. Their English section features screenings at Cinéma du Parc, including the North American premiere of the animated feature Leo Da Vinci : Mission Mona Lisa on March 4 and 7.
Apollo 11, of course, was the spaceflight that landed the first two humans on the moon, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, on July 20, 1969. The IMAX film uses archival 70 mm film.
Over at the 37th International Festival of Films on Art (FIFA) which runs from March 19 to 31, the documentary Les Guerres de Coco Chanel about the iconic fashion designer Coco Chanel is a must-see. The doc unflinchingly looks at the businesswoman behind the famous designer, who consorted with Nazis during the Second World War and who also saw herself as a fighter in a time of war — and of women’s emancipation. The film screens March 24 at the McCord Museum, and again on March 30 at Cinéma Cineplex Odeon Quartier Latin.
Renowned Montreal writers H. Nigel Thomas, Horace Goddard and Maguy Métellus co-host Lectures Logos Readings, the monthly bilingual reading series of poetry, fiction and spoken word at the Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A. Hall at 2741 Notre Dame St. W.) in Little Burgundy, March 11 from 7 to 9 pm. The guest readers this month are Anne Janice Farray, Clarence Bayne, Ali Ibrahimi and Grace Moore, followed by an open mic. The event is free, but a small donation is welcome.
Montreal writer Ann Lambert launches her debut novel The Birds That Stay at a March 5 reading, signing and Q&A hosted by Michaela Di Cesare at Paragraphe Bookstore. Refreshments will be provided. Free admission.
Argo Bookstore hosts their Spring Fest Reading: An Evening of Poetry & Prose & Music on March 7 with writers, authors and performers Stephen Morrissey, Ilona Martonfi, Greg Santos, Erika White, Mike Di Sclafani, Steven Manners, David Gates, Jim Olwell, Marie Dupuis and Marc-Alexandre Chan. Admission: $6.
The queer reading series The Violet Hour returns with host Christopher DiRaddo for an evening of short readings by LGBTQ writers, including SK Dyment, Lise Weil and two of my great friends, screenwriter and playwright Steve Galluccio and poet, novelist and playwright RM Vaughan. This promises to be a fun edition of The Violet Hour, at gay strip joint Stock Bar in the Village, March 21 at 7 pm. Admission: $5 PWYC.
Meanwhile, Jamaican literary icon Marlon James – who won the 2015 Man Booker Prize for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings, which revolves around the attempted assassination of reggae star Bob Marley – launches his just-published novel Black Leopard, Red Wolf, the first book in the author’s Dark Star trilogy which is being described by everybody as “an African Game of Thrones.”
When I recently caught up with James on his current book tour which brings him to Montreal’s Rialto Hall for a public Q&A with author with Dimitri Nasrallah on March 5, I asked him if people dubbing Black Leopard, Red Wolf “an African Game of Thrones” is reductive.
To which James replied, “I understand why people say it because I said it! I said it as a joke in a magazine years ago. It is apt and it is reductive. To say “African Game of Thrones” is to serve as a promise and as a warning that not only is this a world of make believe and monsters, it is also a very adult world of violence and murder.”
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly presents Marlon James in Conversation with Dimitri Nasrallah at Rialto Hall on March 5 at 7 pm. Admission: $10
Drag fans will love Canada All Stars with Nashville-based, Toronto native Brooke Lynn Hytes (a.k.a. Brock Hayhoe) – the first Canadian to be a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race, on the current 11th season. Other guests are Jane Smoker and Montreal drag legends Rita Baga and Manny, at Cabaret Mado on March 7. I highly recommend you purchase tickets in advance.
Quebec’s Black community will be celebrated and honoured at the third annual Gala Dynastie at the TOHU on March 10. Popular comedian Erich Preach will host, and awards will be given in 20 categories, including in arts and entertainment. For tickets, visit galadynastie.com.
Children of all ages will enjoy Disney On Ice presents Mickey’s Search Party at the Bell Centre. Joined by Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse, live hosts will welcome you into the magical world of Disney On Ice, setting the stage for a participatory adventure. Guests will embark on a search for clues to find Tinker Bell after Captain Hook tries to capture her magic. Each scene unfolds via multi-level production numbers by skaters, performers and acrobats. Multiple English and French-language shows run at the Bell Centre from March 7 to 10.
Over at the PHI Centre in Old Montreal, The Horrifically Real Virtuality is a collective immersive experience combining virtual reality, cinema and audience participation: the installation invites participants on the set of a new film by cult filmmaker Ed Wood where the public interact in a virtual environment as well as in real time with characters and material objects. The “film” stars Bela Lugosi, the actor known for his vampire portrayals, who agrees to participate in his friend Ed Wood’s film. The experience runs from March 2 to April 28, is available in French and English, and is limited to ten people at a time. Reservations are required. Access to the exhibition is strictly for 13+.
I am delighted to learn that my old friend, Montreal nightlife icon Plastik Patrik —who hung up his heels in 2016— is back sharing DJ duties with DJ Diskommander, co-hosting the inaugural Cliché w/ DJ Plastik Patrik & Diskommander on March 29 with Ken Antonio R. (kickass dancer and choreographer for the House of Manny) at the brand new Cabaret Berlin in the Village, an establishment dedicated to marginal and underground cultures. Says Patrik, “I just wanna throw a dance party and the space is grrrreat!!”
Drawing some 300,000 night owls, the Nuit Blanche all-nighter is the best-attended one-day event in Montreal, featuring more than 200 activities spread throughout the city on 150 sites, including museums, theatres, art galleries, bars, boutiques, bookshops and, of course, the Montréal en lumière outdoor site, an illuminated, activity-filled urban space lit up like a pinball machine, with 150 kilometres of cable, 1,600 lighting projectors and 18,000 electrical connections. Free installations include the 110-metre-long ice slide, the 20-metre-tall ferris wheel with its 16 gondolas — which can hold 60 adults and 90 children — and the wildly popular zip line, where one can soar from one end of the outdoor site to the other.
Download the Montréal en lumière app to better plan your Nuit Blanche, get updated details on all available activities, as well as see your current location on the geolocated map.
The Montréal en lumière app also enables users to reserve a spot on the ice slide, ferris wheel and zip line. Once you reserve your spot via the app, present your electronic ticket upon arrival.