Toronto's Dora Awards unveil contenders

Brothel #9 and Blasted are among the top nominees for the Dora Mavor Moore Awards, sharing the spotlight with high-profile shows like Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the modern ballet work Chroma and The Railway Children.
Pamela Sinha, left, and Anusree Roy in a scene from Brothel #9, which is one of the top contenders for the 2011 Dora Mavor Moore Awards. (Jeremy Mimnagh/Factory Theatre)

Brothel #9, the dark, full-length drama from Indo-Canadian playwright-performer Anusree Roy, and the bleak, incendiary play Blasted are among the top nominees for the Dora Mavor Moore Awards, sharing the spotlight with high-profile productions like Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the modern ballet work Chroma and The Railway Children.

The finalists vying for the Toronto's annual theatre awards were unveiled on Tuesday by the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts. Jurors saw 197 eligible productions over the past year.

Both Brothel #9 and Blasted will vie for the coveted outstanding production prize in the general theatre division, alongside the British hit The Railway Children, which is still playing in Toronto. Also in the running are Obsidian Theatre-Nightwood Theatre's staging of the acclaimed Congo-set drama Ruined and Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God, which Volcano Theatre created for Luminato in 2010 and showed as part of The Africa Trilogy.

Special awards

Along with Yvette Nolan, Dora organizers honoured two other theatre veterans with special awards on Tuesday.

Stratford Shakespeare Festival regular David Ferry took a brief break from his current performances in Richard III and Titus Andronicus to accept the Barbara Hamilton Memorial Award, which is presented to an individual who demonstrates excellence in the performing arts while also serving as an artistic ambassador.

Théâtre français de Toronto's managing director Ghislain Caron also was honoured, receiving the Leonard McHardy and John Harvey Award, which recognizes theatre administrators.

"We're in the middle of a change, I think, moving from a very white, a very 'dominant culture' kind of culture, to [being] more inclusive," playwright and director Yvette Nolan told CBC News.

Nolan, the former artistic director of Native Earth Performing Arts, received the George Luscombe Award for mentorship in theatre, as part of Tuesday's nominations announcement.

Theatre showcasing 'other realities'

"The nominees this year — there's Ruined, Brothel #9, [Nohayquiensepa (No one knows)] got nominated a million times, even Buddies with Blasted getting a whole wack of nominations — it kind of seems like we've arrived at the moment where the public wants to see something else. They want to see other realities," she added.

The Factory Theatre production of Brothel #9, a complex tale about a girl sold into prostitution in Calcutta, earned seven nominations, including two for Roy, for writing the new play and serving as one of its female leads.

Buddies in Bad Times Theatre's staging of the Sarah Kane's violent play Blasted also heads into the Doras ceremony as a leader, with its seven nominations including one for the company's new artistic director Brendan Healy, who helmed the controversial work.

paper SERIES, a collection of six short plays, and the children's theatre offering A Year with Frog and Toad are also top Dora contenders, earning seven nominations and eight nominations, respectively.

Director and playwright Yvette Nolan won the George Luscombe Award for her mentorship of emerging theatre artists. (CBC)

Nolan, who was honoured on Tuesday for nurturing artists in the aboriginal community, said she believes the theatre community is beginning to recognize the value of telling diverse stories. 

"The first time I ever saw myself represented on the stage was at the ballet The Ecstasy of Rita Joe," said Nolan, whose mother was an elder of the Kitigan Zibi Algonquin community. 

"For the first time, I saw my story, my mother's story. I saw something that I'd never seen onstage before and it was transformative for me," she recalled, citing it as one of the reasons she supports younger, emerging theatre artists from various backgrounds.

She has also worked with other troupes, like Cahoots Theatre Company and fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Company.

"We're all here together. Nobody's going 'home' – we’re all forced to be here to work together and be together," Nolan said.

Mirvish musicals, COC operas nominated

High-profile musical Priscilla Queen of the Desert picked up five nominations, while its fellow Mirvish production Billy Elliot nabbed three.

The Canadian Opera Company dominated among opera nominees, earning eight of the section's nine nominations for its productions Death in Venice, Nixon in China, Orfeo ed Euridice, La Cenerentola, Ariadne auf Naxos and Aida.

Rufus Wainwright is a Dora nominee for his first opera Prima Donna. (Kevin Westenberg/Luminato)

Luminato's production of Prima Donna is the lone, non-COC nominee for outstanding production in the opera division. Montreal-raised pop singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, who penned the composition, is also a contender in the musical theatre division for outstanding new musical or opera.

Among the dance categories, the National Ballet of Canada received four nominations for Chroma, the short, modern work choreographed by Wayne McGregor and set to the music of rock duo White Stripes.

Organizers are also calling on the public to vote for the winner of the audience choice award, with the nominees for outstanding production (in all divisions) eligible. The online vote, via co-sponsor NOW Magazine's website, opens Thursday and runs through June 24.

A full list of the 171 nominees is posted on the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts website.

The 32nd Dora Mavor Awards will take place June 27 at Toronto's St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts.