X Avant Palais Royale, Toronto ON October 21

X Avant Palais Royale, Toronto ON October 21
This year’s X Avant festival was book-ended by two concerts that shared a somewhat bizarre genealogy. The opener was a night at the Palais Royale with a collaboration between the Sun Ra Arkestra and the Coleman Lemieux Compagnie dancers and the closing event was a concert of music by Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Both Sun Ra and Stockhausen shared a passion for non-scheduled theology, astronomy and home-grown mysticism that formed the basis for much of their work. While the Stockhausen concert focused exclusively on the music, the Arkestra show was a party that would’ve made Tim Burton proud.

The bandstand itself was decked out in skeletons and flowers, which set the stage for the entrance of a zombie-like female dancer who shimmied in a spastic display of eroticism to Duke Ellington’s "Black and Tan Fantasy.” She defied not only gravity but the whole concept of joints and bones. What followed were vignettes of semi-nude, blue painted kali figures, trios of pregnant businessmen, carnival costumed partygoers all set to the shambling magic of the music, which perfectly framed the choreography like some wacked out ’30s Fleischer animation.

Considering the variables, including very little rehearsal time, it could have been an embarrassing display, but the Arkestra, Coleman Lemieux Compagnie and designer Edward Poitras put it all together and wove Halloween magic that night.

Last Kontakte showcased three pieces by Stockhausen. The first was "In Freundschaft,” which framed the soprano saxophone, not only in the reverberant space of St. George’s Church, but the angular movements of musician Wallace Halladay, whose body and breath twisted and turned to accommodate the precise phrasing of the piece.

Stephen Drury’s sojourn into "Klavierstucke IX’ for solo piano was an ear opening glimpse into the possibilities of sound that reside in an acoustic piano; sounds that could easily be mistaken for electronics. "Kontakte” proved to be the evening’s peak as the percussion and piano, performed by Drury and Aiyung Huang, was played with precision and spirit but stood in stark relief to the four-speaker electronic interventions played by Halladay.

While the acoustic instruments sounded crisp and vital in the space, the electronic sounds were a bit muddy and a little more dub sensibility in playing with EQ may have added more presence.