“Sex,” (along with love, birth, pain, and passion), proclaimed Luminato Artistic Director Jorn Wesibrodt, when announcing the theme of this year’s annual festival.
It’s a theme that certainly falls in line with the event’s goal of providing original programming accessible to “all people regardless of background or experience,” appealing to Weisbrodt’s ideal festival audience — subway passengers, which to him represent “a complete cross-section of Toronto.”
This may come across as risqué when considering that subway-car audiences often include underage patrons. Weisbrodt acknowledged the potential for age-related inaccessibility and assured Torontonians that the theme would not prevent the festival from being child-friendly. This reassurance does, however, raise the question of why the topic of sex still raises brows.
While the act of sex itself is not entirely taboo, the social dressings that accompany it — how it is performed, who participates in it, and with whom — contribute to the creation of many societal conventions and restrictions. Primary among them is the notion that sex should remain in the private sphere, and not be the subject of public conversation.
This year’s festival embraces both commonly and peripherally accepted aspects of sex and sexuality. From June 12 to 15, Mammalian Diving Reflex will screen its live theatrical presentation “All The Sex I’ve Ever Had: The International Edition.” The presentation features a series of older men and women from different cities around the world describing their sexual adventures. The presentation has a candid tone in its conversations about sex with people who have had the bulk of their lives to experience, encouraging viewers, perhaps, to similarly engage in casual discussion of their own perspectives.
One of the more mainstream facets of sex is how it functions in the animal world. Actor Isabella Rossellini will be performing Green Porno, Live on Stage, a theatrical production that features her acting out the bizarre, quirky, and sometimes potentially fatal mating rituals of the animal world.
While Rossellini explores the creativity of sex in its biological sense, filmmaker Matthew Barney uses sex to explore the type of creativity that is more tightly bound to the artistic process. His work, The Cremaster Cycle, named after the muscle responsible for the ascension and descent of the testes, uses this reference to metaphorically explore the ups and downs inherent in the process of creation. Photographs, drawings, sculptures, and installations comprise the work, which has been both banned and acclaimed.
The emotions and acts affiliated with sex — its siblings, as Weisbrodt puts it, — will also play an important part of this year’s festival.
The theme of love will be examined as the sister phenomenon of sex, such as in a series of duets collectively presented as If I Loved You: Some Men Prefer Broadway. The show, imagined by Canadian singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, will feature prominent male singers performing classic Broadway love songs to each other.
With the variety of events at this year’s Luminato festival comes a broad array of content that is tied together sometimes tightly, and sometimes loosely, by the overarching theme. The ability of the festival to conform or deviate to it speaks to the spirit of creativity, accessibility, and learning that Luminato promotes. The choice of theme points to a movement within the artistic community to broaden our conceptions about sex, and the definition of what is considered “appropriate” in our society. If the goal is to bring sex into the public sphere, it’s succeeded before the festival has even begun — because it’s certainly got people talking.