Review: DANCE TO THE ABYSS, Music from the Weimar Republic

by Lynn on February 25, 2024

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Presented by Art of Time Ensemble, playing until February 25.

Artistic director, piano, programmer, Andrew Burashko

Lighting designer, Bonnie Beecher

Cast: Martha Burns

John Millard

Patricia O’Callaghan

Musicians: Andrew Burashko, piano

Andrew Dowling, bass

Kelsey Grant, trombone

Wallace Halladay, saxophone, clarinet

Nathan Hiltz, guitar, banjo

Drew Jurecka, violin

Larry Larson, trumpet

Kris Maddigan, percussion

Lydia Munchinsky, cello

Kevin Turcotte, trumpet

Perry White, saxophone, clarinet

Andrew Burashko formed The Art of Time Ensemble 25 years ago in an effort to introduce audiences to different forms of music that intersected and complimented each other. He programmed concerts that melded classical music with popular music, jazz, folk etc. and wove in spoken word, dance and literature as well. When one hears him explain what we are to hear and why he programmed it, one realizes that Andrew Burashko is also an historian, philosopher, sociologist, teacher and educator. His explanations are deeply thought, serious, whimsical, esoteric and illuminate our world, even if the music is hundreds of years old.

Besides being a programmer of music and picking the musicians and other artists involved he has become an archaeologist of sorts, finding a lost gem of a composer and bringing his/her music to the attention of the serious and curious music lover.

Burashko has decided that this will be the last year of The Art of Time Ensemble. His present offering: Dance to the Abyss; Music from the Weimar Republic (Feb. 23, 24, 25) exemplifies the best of Burashko’s exacting standards in music, the eclectic mix of music and spoken word, and references to the Dada movement, all explained in a thoughtful commentary.

The run of the performances of these concerts is always short (three days) and I wish I had been able to see more of his offerings, but a packed theatre going schedule prevented that. I am so lucky to have seen Dance to the Abyss; Music from the Weimar Republic. Burashko has said in his introduction that he wanted to do a show on the music of the Weimar Republic for 25 years. The Weimar Republic lasted from 1918 to 1933 with the rise of Nazism. The music was bold, daring, whimsical and cynical.

The programme began with “Hot Sonate for Alto Sax & Piano” by Erwin Schulhoff, one of the lost composers resurrected by Andrew Burashko. Burashko played the piano with Wallace Halladay on the Sax. Halladay created raw, erotic sounds from is saxophone I hadn’t heard before. Burashko is a gifted ‘accompanist’/equal partner in the four-movement piece. Later in the programme Burashko would also play “Five Jazz Etudes For Piano” also by Erwin Schulhoff, which was based on five different dance forms (Charleston, Tango etc. including “Kitten on the Keys). Schulhoff’s career was cut short because of the rise of Nazism. He was arrested because he was Jewish and later died in a concentration camp.

“Cabaret Songs” by Mischa Spoliansky, and especially “I Am A Vamp” were sung with classy distinction by Patricia O’Callaghan. According to Burashko’s introduction, Mischa Spoliansky was a prolific composer and allegedly discovered a talent in an orchestra playing second violin—her name was Marlene Dietrich and Spoliansky wrote “I Am a Vamp” for her.

Burashko introduced “Sonata Erotica for Solo Female Voice” by Erwin Schulhoff, as one “that does not need introduction”. Martha Burns performed the piece that started slowly, talking softly to an unseen partner, gradually getting more and more impassioned in her language. It’s best to listen to the piece with one’s legs tightly crossed. The final image is jaw dropping and eye-brow-raising. Martha Burns performed it with insouciance, breathlessness, and irreverence.

The inclusion of the Cab Calloway jazz-scat song, “Minnie the Moocher” is Burashko at his incisive, perceptive, ironic, best. Burashko and Jim McGrath arranged the song and treated it with “Nazi Germany’s Dance Band Rules and Regulations.” There were nine rules that regulated the instruments that could be used (no saxophones), the tempo, that music could only be played in a major key (no scat) and rules that were racist in intent. The orchestra first played the song as Calloway intended. It was buoyant, lively, jazzy and full of freedom. But then Burashko read some of the Nazi Rules followed by how “Minnie the Moocher” would sound following such rigid rules. When the ninth rule was read, the once buoyant, colourful song now sounded, lifeless, dirge-like and with out colour. The orchestra then played the last variation of the song as it was intended to be played—Brilliant.

The concert concluded with “Excerpts from “The Threepenny Opera” by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, sung by John Millard and Patricia O’Callaghan: “The Ballad of Mack the Knife” sung with coolness by John Millard; “Pirate Jenny” sung with haunting hardness by Patricia O’Callaghan; “Tango Ballad”, “Barbara Song” and “How to Survive” a wonderfully cynical, angry song sung with intensity by both O’Callaghan and Millard.

The result was a bracing, biting, smart, sometimes whimsical, and always engaging concert of powerful music, wonderfully played or sung, and beautifully curated and programmed by Andrew Burashko. What a gift he has been to the world of music and the arts by creating these concerts through the Art of Time Ensemble.

The Art of Time Ensemble Presents:

Plays Feb. 25, 2024.

I saw it Feb. 24, 2024.

Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes (1 intermission)

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lydia February 28, 2024 at 8:59 pm

I so wanted to see this, had a ticket and then was just too knackered and under the weather to leave the house on Friday night. Now that I see THAT picture of Martha Burns, I’m even more sorry I didn’t go.


2 Lynn February 28, 2024 at 11:48 pm

Never pass up another opportunity. Burashko and company are terrific.