What to see, do, hear and read in Toronto this January

What to see, do, hear and read in Toronto this January

Including a play about a real-life royal visit, a tour through the golden age of Vienna and a pop provocateur’s exultant return

Shelter II by Sharl G. Smith at the University of Waterloo Art Gallery. Photo by Scott Lee

A festival that spotlights creativity and invention

1 Toronto’s largest design festival returns this month with a series of in-person and online events, and sustainability is the focus. Exhibitions include the ninth annual iteration of Lucid Ideas, a partnership with interior design boutique Umbra that invites artists to experiment with transparent materials in homeware design. Another exhibition, Future Matters, showcases works that explore innovation and environmental sustainability. With more than 100 exhibitions and 160,000 attendees each year, it’s one of the city’s best events for groundbreaking art and design. January 19 to 28, various locations

A play about a real-life royal visit

2 The year was 1991, and the AIDS pandemic was in full force. When many hospitals were turning away AIDS patients, Toronto’s Casey House hospice met them with open arms. It also received a remarkable unexpected guest: Diana, Princess of Wales. Dora Award–winning playwright Nick Green’s Casey and Diana dramatizes the historic visit, chronicling the interactions between caregivers, patients and the princess— and how the event challenged stigmas and reshaped the course of the AIDS crisis. Originally produced by the Stratford Festival, the play makes its Toronto premiere at Soulpepper Theatre this month. January 23 to February 4, Soulpepper

Photo by Todd Rosenberg

A tour through the golden age of Vienna

3 Waltz into the New Year with the music of Johann Strauss—the 19th-century composer most famous for “The Blue Danube.” The Strauss Symphony of Canada will be joined by Viennese singers Katharina Rückgaber and Thomas Weinhappel as well as ballet performances by the Budapest Dance Ensemble and International Champion Ballroom Dancers. January 1, Roy Thomson Hall

4 Remember dorm life? The wild parties, late-night cram sessions and youthful desire? New York Times bestselling author (and professor at the University of Michigan) Kiley Reid sets her sophomore novel, Come and Get It, in those very student lodgings. The story follows a resident assistant in her senior year at the University of Arkansas as she receives a tantalizing offer from a visiting professor that soon turns her life upside-down. It’s a page-turning tale of desire, mischief and intrigue—and maybe just a little bit of undergraduate nostalgia. January 30

5 They tell you what music to listen to, what to read, what to buy and which opinions to heed. No, we’re not talking about the Illuminati. It’s algorithms, the mysterious mathematical models that are everywhere in our information age. New Yorker writer and tech journalist Kyle Chayka traced their impact on our digital, physical and psychological lives and came to some troubling conclusions. In this book, Chayka argues that our free will is under threat, and it will take an understanding of these AI brains—and the complex world they’ve created— to win it back. January 16

The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes
Photo by Jeff Busby

6 This new drama by Australian theatre company Back to Back opens in a community hall, where a group of activists with intellectual disabilities are holding a meeting. As the transcription service they’re using becomes increasingly sentient, the play poses a startling question: Who will we be in a world where, compared with AI, we all have intellectual disabilities? The ultra-timely story is written and performed by neuro-diverse artists. January 18 to 28, Berkeley Street Theatre

A comedy icon returns to his roots

7 Chris Tucker has earned the right to call himself a legend. After getting his start in Russell Simmons’s Def Comedy Jam in 1992, Tucker appeared alongside Ice Cube in the cult-classic stoner film Friday before going on to hit it big with Jackie Chan in 1998’s Rush Hour (and its two sequels). Since then, Tucker has appeared in blockbusters such as Silver Linings Playbook and Air and launched his own comedy special, Chris Tucker Live, on Netflix. Now, he’s returning to his stand-up roots for a 30-show North American tour that swings through Toronto this month. Fortunately, it’s scheduled for well after rush hour. January 9, Meridian Hall

Madonna at Scotiabank Arena

A pop provocateur’s exultant return

8 The queen of pop released her debut single, “Everybody,” back in October 1982, and she hasn’t slowed down since. In 1990, when Madonna played Toronto for her Blonde Ambition Tour, she famously went head to head with police over her racy rendition of “Like a Virgin.” This past fall, at age 65, she embarked on her multi-continent Celebration Tour, with Bob the Drag Queen joining her onstage as a supporting act. After postponing her tour over the summer due to illness and rescheduling her original Toronto dates, Madge promises to pick up right where she left off. January 11 and 12, Scotiabank Arena

A seminal Toronto artist debuts two new exhibitions

9 June Clark is having a moment. After working as an artist for more than five decades, the Harlem-born, Toronto- based photographer, sculptor and collage artist is being featured in exhibitions at the AGO this month and the Power Plant in May. Now in her 80s, Clark welcomes the retrospective. Her work deals with memory: Unrequited Love at the AGO explores Clark’s self-imposed exile from the US as a young adult through re-imaginings of the American flag. Meanwhile, in her solo exhibition at the Power Plant, Clark delves into her ancestry through creative stagings of family heirlooms. Here, she tells us about returning to her childhood home, her love of rusty objects and how her ancestors speak to her through art.

Harlem Quilt (1997). Returning to Harlem in 1996 after more than 20 years in Toronto, Clark found her childhood home in the throes of gentrification. “It was a schizophrenic situation,” she says. “I was happy to be back but also sad and angry.” She decided to document the neighbourhood, taking photos and printing them on scraps of fabric from Goodwill to create this large-scale installation
Dirge (2003), oxidized metal on canvas, 94 × 160 × 1.8 cm. This mournful take on the American flag reflects ideas of decay and neglect. “I’m in Canada because of the Vietnam War,” says Clark. “I think rust is beautiful, but it also signifies misuse.” The piece is a commentary on what Clark sees as the moral erosion of the US. “It’s me coming to terms with a symbol I was taught to revere,” she says
Enough (from Perseverance Suite, 2023). Metal, 49.5 x 29 x 29 cm. Like a reverse Pandora’s box, Enough depicts a cage containing the chains that hold us back. “A chain means you’re tethered,” says Clark. “Without a chain, you’re free.” This work also has an Ontario connection: the chain was found by Clark’s stepson, Joseph Heath—a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto—on a rural property near Mono. The chain weighs roughly 50 pounds and sits on a copper plate
Untitled (from Perseverance Suite, 2023). Silver tray, railroad spikes, 20 x 28 x 28 cm. This sculpture repurposes family heirlooms to pay homage to the artist’s heritage: her family’s labours in New York and North Carolina and the enslaved African people who worked in domestic and agricultural settings. By combining tools from her family’s different trades, the piece celebrates Clark’s ancestors’ perseverance
Keepers (2004). Mixed media, 59 x 76 x 18 cm (each). This sculpture is from Keepers, a never-before-shown collection of 18 images of Clark’s ancestors displayed on chairs built from old washboards. “They came from thinking about the people who have spurred me on. They’ve all died now, but I still feel them sitting on my shoulder when I’m in the studio,” she says. “Superstitious or not, I talk to them often”