Luminato 2008 Press

Mikel Rouse, seen here in New York City, builds multimedia works that are
called opera but actually defy categorization. (May 9, 2008)

Ushered into multimedia world of a rabblerouser
Mikel Rouse presents extraordinary trilogy for first time in repertory
June 07, 2008

If the job of an artist is to upset expectations, stimulate the viewers’ imaginations, critique the corporate driven culture and expand the possibilities of any given genre, then Mikel Rouse is at the top of his league.

For the last couple of decades this emphatically multimedia creator has been building works that are called operas but actually defy categorization. His technologically advanced and mind-expanding trilogy – Failing Kansas, Dennis Cleveland and The End of Cinematics – presented by Luminato for the first time in repertory, opens this evening with Dennis Cleveland in the studio of the Toronto Film School.

Picture this: a TV auditorium where cameras are turned on you, the audience, and on a roving talk-show host. Cleveland is not just about the dumbing down done by popular culture, or about the demeaning and falsifying influence of reality TV. It is a talk show, and you are in it, watching yourself live on screens above the stage.

Rouse, fashioning himself along the lines of New Jersey talk show host Richard Bey, is the presenter, surreptitiously casting the audience as a creative collaborator of the piece. A live chorus of performers sing their sad tales, encouraged by Cleveland to “share your memories.” Singers stand up in the audience to deliver their laments, the way studio audience members will leap to their feet during a taping.

When the production premiered at The Kitchen in Manhattan in 1996, it was the literal talk of the town and the scarcest ticket Off Broadway. This despite its effect, summed up by a woman Rouse quotes as saying “that was the most entertaining and the most disturbing thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”

“Reviewers described it as a three-ring circus,” says the composer/director over a tall coffee and a pastry, sheltered from the rainstorm at his local cafe near the Port Authority. “But it’s a very serious piece. The goal is not only to entertain but to (let the audience) actually see the culture they’re participating in.”

The interactive performance gets its serious intent from “a couple of ideas I nicked from” John Ralston Saul’s Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West.” One of these notions is distilled in the Cleveland text as “the conformity that passes for individualism.”

The basis for all three works is a series of song cycles Rouse composes in a mode that Village Voice music critic/composer Kyle Gann calls his “simulation of normalcy, his suave rock surface, which when you listen to it, is highly structured via unusual rhythmic devices.”

Rouse, speaking in a steady, stimulating stream of ideas and experiences, refers to his musical output (running to a discography of 25 titles) as being “very interested in structure, but also very interested in embracing the vernacular.”

A native of a small town near St. Louis, Mo. that was lacking in cultural attractions, Rouse enjoyed a classical composer/musician’s training at Kansas City Art Institute and the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri. Landing in New York City at an artistically fertile moment in 1978, Rouse applied his wide-ranging intellect and imagination to music, dance and theatre projects that juxtapose high art structures and lowdown pop culture content. (A clue to his creative wanderlust: as a teen, he ran away to join a carnival.)

In the course of a prolific career, he has invented forms such as “counterpoetry,” the basis of the first opera Failing Kansas, which premiered at The Kitchen in 1995. Inspired by materials relating to Truman Capote’s writing of In Cold Blood, Rouse began work in 1989 on a one-man show. Live vocals respond to prerecorded, multi-tracked voices, including his own. “It feels like you’re inside the heads of the characters, but you don’t always know which ones.”

Failing Kansas is remounted Friday at Factory Theatre.

Rouse’s third work of “opera verite,” The End of Cinematics, opening Thursday, was sparked by reading two Susan Sontag essays on the death of formal cinema with the onset of a fragmentary, constantly bombarding form of moving image exemplified in TV commercials, music video, YouTube. With Cinematics, which premiered in 2005, the artist lodged himself in the labs at the National Supercomputing Center where he was given “a toybox” of tools to work with.

The resulting show creates an environment to lull the audience into a state akin to watching a conventional movie, but then the fun begins. The End of Cinematics is a live 3D phantasmagoria of sound, images and live action that lifts the movie-watching experience to a level beyond IMAX. Using a film he made of him and his wife, Canadian dancer Lisa Boudreau, walking in Paris, Rouse digitally removed the people in the celluloid story and posed real actors in front of them, thereby merging live and film.

“It is playing with time in the way film can do but in a much more surreal musical and numerical way,” says Rouse. He hopes Cinematics will provoke a watcher to question the global stranglehold that Hollywood has on cultural production.

“I provided one solution. Not the solution,” he says of his powerful critique/composition aimed at returning the means of artistic production into the hands of the individual. “New concepts happen.”

Expect to see Ralston Saul and Adrienne Clarkson, whom he counts as good friends, in an audience eager for immersion in Rouse’s surreal world.


Dennis Cleveland has left the building
Mikel Rouse’s acclaimed opera left him in five-figure debt. A decade later, it’ll have a final hurrah in Toronto. Simon Houpt reports SIMON HOUPT JUNE 7, 2008

NEW YORK — Mikel Rouse didn’t single-handedly cause the collapse of the subprime credit market in the U.S. economy, but he did his part. This is how it happened: In the late summer of 1996, Rouse was getting his dystopic pop opera Dennis Cleveland on its feet at the downtown performance space The Kitchen when he was informed that some promised funding had fallen through. He’d already spent $20,000 (U.S.) of his own money developing the show, and if he didn’t find more cash, it would never get onstage. He figured: in for a penny, in for a pound. And back then, credit-card offers were arriving in the mail multiple times a week.

“First of all, they should never have given a credit card to someone like me,” he said with a wry chuckle the other day, sitting in the back room of a Hell’s Kitchen bakery near his Manhattan apartment. “That’s my excuse. They were giving them out like it was candy.”

Rouse, a wiry Missouri-born transplant who is 51 but looks a decade younger, possesses the fervour of an evangelical preacher and the restless mind of a polymath. “I was really nervous, but I thought: I can probably do this. I believe in the work, I think it’ll be okay,” he explained.

Though Dennis Cleveland earned a few strong reviews and great word of mouth among the downtown crowd – it is said to be the only show in The Kitchen’s three decades ever to attract scalpers – administrative issues prevented an extension past its scheduled five-night run. For years, Rouse (whose first name is pronounced Michael) struggled under mounting debt to breathe new life into the piece, a multimedia critique of the trash television genre (Geraldo, Maury, The Jerry Springer Show) then littering the afternoon landscape.

Three years later, just as his Dennis Cleveland-related debts were hitting about $70,000 and he was defaulting regularly on the interest payments, a sophomore five-night staging in Los Angeles brought him another raft of strong reviews – The Los Angeles Times said the work pointed the way toward a bright future for American opera – and the attention of an agent. By 2004, he had finally paid back the principal of his debt (even if most of the interest had to be forgiven).

By most accounts, Dennis Cleveland is a bracing experience: As the eponymous TV host and ringleader (played by Rouse) prods four dysfunctional couples to spill their secrets, actors planted in the audience jump up and over-share as well; their images, captured by a pair of TV cameras, are projected on large video screens. Two other people hold up cue cards urging the “studio audience” to applaud, just as in a real TV taping.

“It is absolutely all-encompassing – music, sound, video, and environment – which is why the pieces were called operas. It wasn’t to be pretentious, that was the term that made sense, in terms of using all the forces that are available right now in this time period,” Rouse said. “If there’s a piece made by somebody my age that is as innovative as Dennis Cleveland that doesn’t deserve to be called opera, then I welcome somebody to tell me what it should be called – because, let me tell you something, I’d do a lot better in ticket sales if they weren’t called operas.”

In developing the show, Rouse attended a number of real talk shows. “I wanted to get the feel of what it felt like to be in it. I didn’t want to make an artsy-fartsy piece. If I had a string quartet in it, it wouldn’t work,” he said. “There were shows on at that time like The Richard Bey Show out of New Jersey – strange shows. This guy did something called the ‘Wheel of Torture.’ If you were cheating on your lover, you were put on the Wheel of Torture and she got to spin it and throw food on you. And I thought, the only difference between this and [the chocolate-smearing performance artist] Karen Finley is that she plays for 200 people a night at The Kitchen and this is going on TV. For better or for worse.”

Today, Rouse begins what might be Dennis Cleveland’s triumphal last stand when the show unfurls at the Toronto Film School as part of Luminato; more than 15 years after hatching the idea, Rouse is ready to bid it adieu. He will perform it a total of three times in Toronto, along with the other two pieces in a loosely connected trilogy of operas that take a cold look at the state of American culture: Failing Kansas (1995) a solo work based on the 1959 Clutter family murders at the centre of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood; and The End of Cinematics, a film-based multimedia piece inspired by Susan Sontag and Jean-Luc Godard, originally staged in 2005. (One of Luminato’s busiest figures, Rouse will also participate in a panel discussion on blurring the boundaries between disciplines – he is, after all, a composer, filmmaker, actor, singer, musician and director – and perform two numbers at the Canadian Songbook celebration at Massey Hall.)

Though Rouse has never played Toronto before, his visit to Luminato will in some ways represent a coming home. His wife, Lisa Boudreau, was born in North Bay, Ont., and trained with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet before moving to New York and landing a spot with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, where she danced for 14 years. (She just left the troupe.) And Rouse was greatly influenced in the creation of Dennis Cleveland by John Ralston Saul’s dissection of Western civilization’s dependence on reason, Voltaire’s Bastards; he has become good friends with Saul and his wife, former governorgeneral Adrienne Clarkson.

Listening to the music for any of the three pieces – it can be sampled at his website – brings comparisons to Laurie Anderson, Steve Reich and occasionally Talking Heads, though Rouse’s love of complex rhythmic patterns far exceeds them all. But music is just a part of what he does: His pieces also build a hypnotic effect through their non-narrative approach and the use of surreal film images. If Rouse hasn’t achieved the success of those other artists, he suggests the fault may lie in part on critics’ inability to grasp – or even describe – his work.

Furthermore, he argues, in their totality his pieces are unlike anything else out there. “I always think about people like Merce Cunningham and John Cage: You’re not gonna make a school after me. It’s not like, oh, that’s a great idea, let’s go and do a slight variation on that. But at the same time, my biggest influences when I was in school were Jasper Johns, Bob Rauschenberg, Cage and Cunningham,” he says. “Bob Rauschenberg, rest his soul, once said, ‘No one else wanted to do what we were doing, so there was no competition.’ It’s a pretty interesting way to think about the world.”

Rouse’s pieces certainly unsettle audiences’ preconceptions. During Dennis Cleveland, the house lights are never lowered, reinforcing the lack of separation between ticket holders and cast members. Though The End of Cinematics is playing at the St. Lawrence Centre’s Bluma Appel Theatre, popcorn and other movie-house snacks will be sold. And Cinematics begins with more than 10 minutes of trailers for current Hollywood movies. “It’s all about corporate entertainment, and God bless the corporations,” Rouse says with a laugh. “They’ve never let me down: Every time, from the very beginning, there was a new Batman that went along with it. So of course now we have a new Batman trailer, we have the new Hulk trailer.”

Cinematics is perhaps the most perceptually unsettling piece: It deploys six rear-projection screens displaying a non-linear series of prerecorded scenes, a scrim four metres in front of that and live actors placed in between, whose live images are projected on the front scrim. The actors mimic, in costume and action, much of the filmed scenes projected on the back screen. The result is vertiginous.

“Remember the story about the [first] people to see a film and a train was coming at them and they ran out of the theatre?” Rouse asks. “I know it’s hard to believe, but there are people who come to this show, I’ll see them afterwards, and they’ll say, ‘You’re telling me there were live performers onstage?’

“One of my favourite comments ever was, ‘It’s like a moving Rauschenberg.’ And I thought, that’s it! I don’t care whether it’s an opera or not. Whatever it is, it’s an art piece, and I’m happy with it.”

Rouse at the fest
If there is an It Boy of this year’s Luminato festival, surely it is Mikel Rouse, who is associated with six events:

Dennis Cleveland At the Toronto Film School. June 7, 4 p.m. and 9 p.m.; June 8, 7 p.m.
The End of Cinematics At the Bluma Appel Theatre. June 10, 11 and 12, 7:30 p.m.
Failing Kansas At Factory Theatre. June 13, 7 p.m.; June 14, 10 p.m.; June 15, 4 p.m.
Crossing the Line Free discussion with Rouse, director Marie Brassard and composer Christos Hatzis, moderated by the Barbican Centre’s Graham Sheffield. At Toronto Film School, Studio 887. June 8, 1 p.m.
Canadian Songbook Rouse will join Ron Sexsmith, Molly Johnson, Luke Doucet, Karen David and others at Massey Hall. June 9, 7:30 p.m.
SeeHearFeelTaste The End of Cinematics inspires a prix fixe menu at Bymark. June 10, 4:30 p.m. to closing.©Copyright 2008 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

NOW Magazine



MIKEL ROUSE TRILOGY (DENNIS CLEVELAND/THE END OF CINEMATICS/FAILING KANSAS) Written and performed by Rouse. June 7-?14, various times, locations. 416-872-1111. See Openings.

Mikel Rouse wants to dispel the myth that opera is archaic and inaccessible. “People shouldn’t be afraid of the word ‘opera,'” he says. “The term is much broader than most people think.”

Take his trilogy of acclaimed “media operas,” Failing Kansas, Dennis Cleveland and The End Of Cinematics, performed in repertory for the first time. Rouse, who wrote and performs in all three shows, has been on the cutting edge of music and performance art for almost two decades. His goal in these high-tech operas is to reach out to new audiences by updating the traditional theatre experience. “My dilemma with music theatre is how to engage younger audiences,” he explains on the phone from his Midtown Manhattan home. “They just don’t find current Broadway and off- Broadway shows very believable.”

To combat this perceived indifference, Rouse sets his mixed media pieces in places that TV and film have already rendered familiar. Dennis Cleveland, for example, takes the form of a daytime talk show. Throughout the performance, camera operators and a live production team project real-time video of Dennis (played by Rouse), his zany guests and the audience onto massive screens, just like on TV.

Rouse also employs his obsessive attention to detail to better reproduce these familiar spaces. For The End Of Cinematics, which blurs the line between film and reality, the audience is immersed in the typical moviegoing experience. Trailers for coming attractions are screened beforehand, and popcorn and soda are available at a concession stand. He’s convinced that the smell of butter and the sound of people chewing and slurping adds to his work.

Rouse also incorporates elements of popular music into his complex and nuanced classical arrangements. He’s an accomplished composer outside of the theatre (his fans include ex-Talking Head David Byrne), and many consider his music part of the totalist movement, a populist turn in composition that began in the 80s as a response to minimalism.

While his works are intentionally a far cry from fat ladies in Viking helmets, Rouse insists that they count as opera. “I’m not calling them operas to be pretentious, and I’m certainly not calling them operas because I don’t want people to come,” he says with a laugh. “I’m calling them operas because if you update that term to account for the kind of technology that’s available in the 21st century, opera is the right word.”



American culture in the hot seat


Dennis Cleveland Written by Mikel Rouse At the Toronto Film School

Marshall McLuhan famously said that television was the “coolest” of media, because it leaves so little to the imagination. But on Saturday afternoon, composer-librettist-actor Mikel Rouse shed some warmth on TV with his thought-provoking multimedia opera Dennis Cleveland, presented in its Canadian premiere by Luminato.

Rouse’s 1996 work – which portrays the taping of a talk show, hosted by the fictional Dennis Cleveland – adroitly marries television and opera. In fusing the two genres together, he has created a multilayered work that’s absurd, surreal and more than a little disturbing.

The opera is set in a television studio, complete with cameras, monitors and production assistants who prompt a round of applause every two minutes. (The audience finds itself part of the show, simultaneously applauding for it and in it.) Half the cast appears onstage, as a gaggle of dysfunctional guests, and the other half is planted in the audience.

The glue that holds it all together is Cleveland, performed with conviction by Rouse himself: a charismatic guru who speaks in strange aphorisms about “the animist watusi” of modern life, and “the confusion of animals riding other animals.” He’s part Maury and part Geraldo, with a dash of Jerry Springer – and his penchant for philosophizing in rhyming couplets gives him a suave Leonard Cohenesque touch. (“And the power of suggestion, in this moment, on this day / Is the way we make religion: how we make up what to pray.”)

In this inverted world, where TV is reality and nothing else exists, the guests’ banal marital problems and financial fixations are conflated to epic proportions. When Cleveland turns his microphone on his studio audience (interviewing the planted cast members), their values turn out to be just as warped. “I feel empowered to change my life, quit my job, leave my boyfriend and have more work done on my face,” declares one woman with rapturous enthusiasm.

But Dennis Cleveland doesn’t just mock American culture, the work also embraces it. Rouse has adopted a musical style that straddles the not-very-wide gap separating such minimalist composers as Philip Glass and Steve Reich from mainstream pop music. The result is a slick prerecorded soundtrack with lots of repetitive chords and a steady rock beat. It doesn’t, I don’t think, work very well as stand-alone music, but in its intended dramatic context it’s apt and effective.

The words are alternately spoken and sung – and when they’re sung, it’s by actors who are clearly not trained opera singers. While Rouse’s performers don’t lack for musical or dramatic talent, we won’t be hearing them on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera any time soon.

As with most talk shows, nothing much really happens in Dennis Cleveland. Yet, at its conclusion, there’s a sense of catharsis: secrets have been revealed, issues have been vetted, advice has been dispensed, and the guests are hopeful that having exposed their personal lives on national television will somehow change them for the better.

This year, Luminato has heavily committed itself to the work of Rouse, with two more of his operas in its schedule: The End of Cinematics and Failing Kansas. It looks like the festival is onto something good.

The End of Cinematics runs June 10-12 at the Bluma Appel Theatre; Failing Kansas runs June 13-15 at the Factory Theatre. © Copyright 2008 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Luminato’s `Dennis Cleveland’ at once irritating, strangely compelling


We’re in a television studio waiting to watch – and take part in – a Jerry Springer-style talk show.

There is a row of eight chairs out front for the guests, pitchers of water and boxes of tissues at the ready on side tables. Behind the chairs and hung throughout the studio are banks of video monitors. A camera crew prepares to shoot the show from a variety of angles.

After we’ve been instructed in the etiquette and ritual of applause and when to “give it up,” show host Dennis Cleveland arrives, microphone and cue cards in hand. We’re ready to start.

Dennis Cleveland, presented at the Toronto Film Studios, 39 John St., for three performances over the weekend, is a multimedia opera by New York composer/performer Mikel Rouse. It’s part of a trilogy of Rouse operas that will be presented at this year’s Luminato festival.

The guests file onstage. One guy has spiked hair while his partner is wearing a short dress and fishnet tights. There’s an exuberant, hip-swinging cross-dresser in a gold lame dress; his partner is a women with the brightest of bright red hair.

Today’s topic, we’re told, is Memory Day, covering both personal and collective memory.

What follows is fragmented, thoughtful, irritating and strangely compelling. We slowly gather snippets of information about the eight guests. And Cleveland (played by Rouse) roams the studio, thrusts the microphone at (planted) members of the audience for their stories and opinions.

What eventually becomes clear is that it’s the sad, loveless life of Cleveland himself that’s also being revealed under the hot glare of television lights.

Modern opera? Worry not. The music is accessible, with choral work that has moments of lyrical beauty and power, combining the minimalism of Michael Nyman, the liveliness of rap with a hint of rock musical and a dash of religious revival meeting. (More than once, I found myself thinking of the hippie rock musical Hair.)

Rouse is clearly ambivalent about television, acknowledging its place at the centre of American pop culture and its importance as a source of information and entertainment, but irked and frustrated by its cliches, banality and bottomfeeding tendencies.

There’s despair here, but there’s also hope. Possible answers to our lack of spirituality and faith are explored and a strong message sent about instinctive compassion, tolerance and understanding for other people’s ways of life.

This is not your ordinary talk show. Nor is it your ordinary opera.



Rouse’s Kansas a breath of fresh air

JUNE 16, 2008

Failing Kansas
At the Factory theatre In Toronto on Friday

Luminato’s staging of Mikel Rouse’s multimedia “opera-verite” trilogy wrapped up on the weekend. For some reason, the festival got things out of order: When Failing Kansas opened on Friday at the FactoryTheatre – the first piece in the trilogy, dating from 1989 – the other two had already come and gone. This was perhaps unfortunate, as it obscured the development of Rouse’s work.

Yet after the elaborate confusion of The End of Cinematics, mounted earlier in the week, Failing Kansas was like a breath of fresh air. While still a multimedia work, its elements were modest: a projection screen, a pre-recorded score and four mounted microphones, which the one actor (Rouse himself) used at various times in the show as he wandered around the stage.

The theme of Failing Kansas is the Clutter murders: the 1959 killing of a family in Holcomb, Kan., by two drifters, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith. Seven years later, the incident was made famous by Truman Capote in his non-fiction novel In Cold Blood – in turn the subject of the 2005 movie Capote.

Despite its gruesome subject matter, Failing Kansas is a poised and elegant piece. Rather than choosing to dwell on the gory details, Rouse offers an evocative reflection on the United States in the 1950s – a time when homespun America was fast becoming unspun.

Visually, Failing Kansas is dominated by grainy black-and-white projections – mostly film footage of highways, airports and other images of a restless, urbanized culture. Against this backdrop, Rouse appears as a dark-suited Beat poet, rhythmically reciting texts drawn from various sources, ranging from interviews with the murderers to Pentecostal hymns and poems by Robert W. Service. All this was delivered with a jazzy posturing as cool as Jack Kerouac’s.

He sang a couple of ballads in a pleasantly smoky voice somewhere between Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen – but it was the spoken portions of the show that stood out. Rouse has coined the term “counterpoetry” to describe his carefully arranged recitations: a kind of counterpoint generated by the simultaneous presentation of multiple spoken texts. The effect (achieved through the use of prerecorded texts with live “voiceovers”) is like a Bach fugue without any pitches.

Indeed, in all three works in Rouse’s trilogy, this composer-writer-actor-director displays a remarkable capacity to effectively rework principles of classical music. Outwardly, his music is unapologetically vernacular in its idiom, with a constant drum beat and short, catchy, syncopated phrases. But it’s also sophisticated in ways that set his oeuvre well apart from those pretentious “rock operas” that are really just a string of overwrought pop songs.

Of his three “operas,” Dennis Cleveland – Rouse’s portrayal of a TV talk show – is the most conventional, with arias, duets and ensemble pieces. The End of Cinematics and Failing Kansas stray far from this model. Yet there’s something operatic in their multilayered textures and grand, expansive forms.

The crash and burn of Cinematics – which lacks the coherence and clarity of his other two operas – is sobering proof that not all of Rouse’s experiments are destined to succeed. But never mind: He’s pressing forward into new territory. It will be interesting to see whatever he comes up with next.

© Copyright 2008 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Luminato Festival – Mikel Rouse’s Failing Kansas
by Paula Citron.06/22/2008

Failing Kansas
Luminato Festival
Composed, directed and performed by Mikel Rouse
At Factory Theatre

The Luminato Festival presented American composer, director and performer Mikel Rouse and his trilogy of media operas.

Dennis Cleveland is about the decline of the West. The End of Cinematics imagines the possibilities of 21st century film, while Failing Kansas uses Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood as its wellspring.

It was Failing Kansas that I was able to fit into my busy Luminato schedule, and Rouse turned out to be a unique creator. As grainy black and white images of the 1950s showed behind him, Rouse moved between four prepared microphones singing, chanting, and rhythmically speaking. The live performance was layered over a sampled soundscape of text and music.

The sum total of Failing Kansas is a poetic stream of consciousness that takes the audience into the disordered minds of the killers with abstract commentary from Rouse.

The rhythmic cadence of Rouse’s live performance was mesmerizing, and the effect was transportation to another astral plane. Nothing made sense, yet everything did.


Luminato 2008 10/06/2008

A’Rouse’ing Performance by Rouse — The End Of Cinematics

by Imelda Ortega Suzara
Location: Bluma Appel Theatre St. Lawrence Center for Arts

a-rouse ( -rouz ) v. a-roused, a-rous-ing, a-rous-es 1. To awaken from or as if from sleep. 2. To stir up; excite: The odd sight aroused our curiosity. See Synonyms at provoke.

Aptly named to match his work, The End Of Cinematics, Mikel Rouse does arouse excitement and amazement with his layering of film screens and live theater. He is a genius for multimedia, using a background of 6 screen projections, live performers including himself in between, and a large transparent film screen in front.

It was a very impressive piece that is surely worth the time and money to watch and wake up to a very cool mixture of film, poetry, music, and performance acting. As for the story, it was deliberately confusing or confused due to the layered technique and multi-projections, traveling images of trains, boats, street scenes, and Mr. Rouse act of a man in love, stalking a woman played by Lisa Boudreau, his real wife, who seems to be chasing an American dream of becoming a city girl?

But why is it set in Paris, instead of a city in the USA? Or are they Americans pretending to be in a French film, lost in their fantasies of romantic cafe meetings, chasing each other through the city streets? There are other performers who are dressed the same as him and her, and he meets a few other females, yet he remains obsessed about the same female in a black and white checkered coat. In the end, they are all in their night clothes, pajamas and nighties, still yearning without fulfillment. ‘God is out of control’, maybe should have included ‘man is out of control’, and ‘white/black/yellow man bringin me down’ means possibly a male rivalry where Rouse feels defeat (in love? in control? in getting who he wants? racially?).

It is frustrating not to see a climax or see him succeed in winning the woman’s affection. In one earlier scene where he stalks her through the streets, the line ‘I did not want to see you alive’ expressed her indifference. How tragic to see love unrequited!

Trying to figure out some of the lines and scenes is difficult considering this technique is new and unusual, plus Rouse himself seems to have a confused expression throughout, like a man who is puzzled about his own feelings for a woman yet remains obsessed about having her for himself. Perhaps, this is a message about people who move to the big city hoping to become somebody or urbanized, leaving their hometowns and love ones behind confused, or women who try to become famous through movies or films, hoping ‘everybody wants everybody, everybody wants me’, yet strangely not wanting a real man in love?

Is this possibly a good reason for theThe End Of Cinematics — when film fantasy beats live reality, including a potential love relationship? Or is the title about ending traditional one screen films, for multi-screen projections? Whatever one’s interpretation, this is a definite MUST SEE for aspiring multi-media artists who want to combine various creative disciplines, and hopefully Rouse’s layered and multi-screened technique will be studied and copied by future artists, until the general public and media understand the complexity of his simplistic messages, and reach an epiphany to match the prolonged clapping for his performance feat in multi-media.

Refer to Definition of Arouse
Refer to Epiphany
Refer to Genius

NATIONAL POST Review: Mark McEwan’s Bymark and Luminato’s The End Of Cinematics

Posted: June 12, 2008, 8:33 AM by Karen Hawthorne

When did dinner-and-a-movie become so intense? No burgers and fries then off to the Adam Sandler flick for me. I went to Mark McEwan’s Bymark for duck confit and then to Luminato’s The End of Cinematics.

This year’s Luminato arts festival in Toronto included taste as part of the sensory experience and invited culinary kings Mark McEwan and others to pair their restaurant menus with a particular show.

Complex layers of flavours and textures – duck confit with fava bean and passion fruit reduction – brought out the oh-my-god sensations of tasting and savouring. Follow this with the film-slash-live-musical production’s blasts of colour and sound, and the experience became sensory overload in the best kind of way. It’s all about layers; it’s about perception and presentation.

To start, the vichyssoise is poured from a glazed kettle over caviar creme fraiche. The seared foie gras is complemented by crisped pear and a reduction of sweet cherries.

“Our kitchen is a classic kitchen done with a twist,” McEwan says. “House classics like a vichyssoise, we give it a whole different dimension. We incorporated wild leeks into that which is such a fantastic distillation. Then we have the caviar which gives it that fish flavour with a punch of salt. We take something that is known and elevate it.”

Indeed. The roasted duck breast and confit is served with chanterelle ragout, golden soubise and passion fruit reduction sauce. My, oh my.

Executive chef Brooke McDougall explains the night’s menu as a reflection of (Rouse’s) Cinematics, highlighting the past, present and future: “I interpreted the past and brought it into the present, because soubise is a classical dish of rice and onion paired with egg. We took the onion and rice and cooked the moisture and broth out of it, so we can make these little cakes out of it and we fry them, so they’re like little rice onion cakes. Then the passion fruit reduction goes very well with the fattiness of the duck leg.”

If only McEwan or McDougall could have gone with me to the show – but they were working – to see how Mikel Rouse, the New York composer and director of The End of Cinematics, delivered his take on sophisticated layers.

Rouse slices and dices the conventions of film with an onslaught of sounds and visuals. There is popcorn for sale in the lobby and movie previews for The Incredible Hulk and Mama Mia before the feature, but that’s as close to a regular movie as it gets.

Sequences from the streets of Paris and people socializing are projected onto a backdrop screen, while characters in the film footage sing live to an electronic music score for the length of the nearly 90-minute performance. The lyrics are fragmented and brilliant when the performers also use sign language or speak in Spanish and French, for layers of dramatic narrative.

Video cameras film the live performers and simultaneously project them onto a transparent screen, adding another layer to what the publicist has labeled “a dreamlike mediation on the possibilities of film in an age attuned to the fragmented media experiences of channel-surfing, YouTube and MTV.” I do see that – I also came away thinking that I should dust off my Erasure and Daft Punk albums and just unplug my TV for awhile.

“I think the Luminato festival, tying in with the restaurant scene in Toronto, is a very natural, smart fit,” McEwan says.”The arts and food. There’s always comparisons. They are two, feel-good categories that really work well together.”

Whether it’s feeling good or feeling hyper-stimulated, the combo sets the bar pretty high when someone suggests dinner and a movie on a Tuesday night. – Karen Hawthorne, National Post CLICK HERE FOR THE BYMARK MENU

So much going on, so little revealed


THE END OF CINEMATICS Written by Mikel Rouse At the Bluma Appel Theatre In Toronto on Wednesday

One of the charms of composer-writer-actor Mikel Rouse’s Dennis Cleveland – his 1996 opera about talk shows, presented earlier this week during Toronto’s Luminato festival – is its solid grounding in American pop culture.

In 1998, when he wrote The End of Cinematics, he might have taken a similar approach. Instead, he constructed a high-concept, multimedia rumination on the state of cinema at the dawn of the 21st century. Rouse has called his work “an immersive, sensual experience.”

In fairness, this is an apt description. The audience witnessed what at first appeared to be a more-or-less conventional film, evidently shot in Paris, and projected on a large screen in front of the stage. To replicate the movie-going experience, there were even a few trailers screened at the opening of the show, advertising the latest summer blockbusters.

But Rouse added an element of depth to the two-dimensional world of cinema – when, through some clever lighting effects, it became possible to see through the screen, and watch half a dozen actors on the stage. And it soon became apparent that the actors in the projected film and onstage were the same characters: principally a middle-aged man in a trench coat (played by Rouse himself) and an attractive young woman in a blunt-cut hairdo: Last Tango meets Amelie.

Added to this visually arresting effect were six big screens at the back of the stage, stacked up like Hollywood Squares, each a displaying a cornucopia of abstract, fleeting images. And finally, the live action was often simultaneously projected on the big screen. All considered, it was psychedelic and trippy – but with every added layer of content, Cinematics made less, rather than more, of an impact.

The action in the “film” was an incoherent jumble of Parisian street scenes and cafe interiors. In this environment, the actors seemed to interact in some kind of vague relationship with each other – but it remained undefined. As for the action on stage, it was almost non-existent, as the performers spent much of their time firmly rooted in one place, singing bizarre texts. (“Throw the harpoon; a broken relief/ Society wails; a marginal thief.”) There was little dialogue, in any conventional sense, but there was music: lots of it, loud and rhythmically driven. Rouse’s score was often intense and dramatic – but it was hard to know what to make of his occasional replication, right down to the tambourine beat, of 1960s pop music. One of the numbers, Cindy, When You Comin’ Out?, could have begun its life as an early Beatles song.

Rouse’s “dreamlike meditation on the possibilities of cinema” (as he describes it) doesn’t so much miss its mark as fail to establish where its mark lies. Hijacked by its own elaborate technological resources, The End of Cinematics is overwhelming yet diffuse, and its message remains obscure.

The End of Cinematics finished its run last night. The third Rouse work in this year’s Luminato, Failing Kansas, plays tonight, tomorrow and Sunday at Factory Theatre (416-504-9971).

In The End of Cinematics at Luminato, clever doesn’t mean coherent


Toronto audiences don’t usually walk out of live performing arts events. They are much too polite. Last night was an exception, however. A trickle of people headed for the hills during the performance of The End of Cinematics, the second Mikel Rouse opera to be featured at this year’s Luminato festival.

I can’t say I blame them. Last week’s Rouse opera, Dennis Cleveland, was irritatingly fragmented at times but at least you could work your way through it. Not so The End of Cinematics.

We are told that it is an examination of the commercialisation of film. Can it still challenge us or has it been taken over by capitalist society? Is the art movie dead? These may or may not be valid questions but you’d be hard put to get any coherent answers from what was presented at the St. Lawrence Centre’s Bluma Appel Theatre last night. First, we saw trailers of several upcoming, ultracommercial movies. Then the show began.

The staging is very clever, using video, projection, back-projection and a scrim. Rouse used digital technology to remove the actors from a piece of film he shot in Paris. This is then projected on panels and on the scrim, while actors on stage perform (or lip-synch) Rouse’s deeply repetitive music.

Those actors are filmed in action, and that video is also projected on the scrim. It’s a fascinating, multi-layered effect. And the actual music is very listenable, with interesting counterpoint and moments of charm and beauty.

But then there are the lyrics. I really can’t tell you much more because the words stubbornly refuse to make sense. Okay, so it’s a kind of poetry where the sound is as important as the sense.

But what does “Settle the bet; the one with the legs” mean exactly? Then there’s “everybody wants everybody. Everybody wants me.” Well, that’s nice.

Certainly some people want and like Mikel Rouse. Pockets of enthusiastic applause greeted the end of the performance and a trickle of people lined up afterwards to buy the album of the show.

The End of Cinematics continues tonight and tomorrow night, 7:30 p.m. @ Bluma Appel Theatre. 416-872-1111


Mikel Rouse, the New Yorker whose trilogy of chamber operas is running in rep all through Luminato, provided one of the high points with an unforgettably wonderful performance of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.”

-June 11, 2008 MARTIN KNELMAN, The STAR

Alex Cuba, Mikel Rouse, Nikki Yanofsky, Karen David and Ron Sexsmith were all particularly strong.

-JAMES BRADSHAW JUNE 11, 2008, The Globe and Mail
JUNE 6, 2008 AT 4:06 AM EDT

MUSIC: Carl Wilson
Mikel Rouse
Hailed as a leader of the “post-minimalist” generation of American composers, Rouse interweaves global influences and Beatlesque pop with electronic ambience and mesmeric repetition. Coming out of the interdisciplinary downtown New York scene of the early 1980s, he’s best known for his “multimedia operas” where action bounces between live performers, recorded soundtracks, videos and, occasionally, the audience. In this late-1990s triad – Failing Kansas, inspired by Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood; Dennis Cleveland, based in part on Jerry Springer-style talk TV; and The End Of Cinematics, inspired by Susan Sontag’s essays on film – he lambastes mass-media-era America with a carny’s wink. Presenting all three is a first for any festival. Rouse also participates in a June 8 panel and joins a raft of other singers in the Canadian Songbook show at Massey Hall on June 9. Dennis Cleveland, Toronto Film School, June 7- 8, $35; The End of Cinematics, Bluma Appel Theatre, June 10-12, $25-$45; Failing Kansas, Factory Theatre, June 13-15, $35 (package of all three, $97.75).


Rousing premiere of composer’s multimedia trilogy June 05, 2008

A mix of opera, cinema and literary sources, Mikel Rouse’s multimedia trilogy makes a world premiere at Luminato festival. The groundbreaking composer’s technique of “counterpoetry” – multiple unpitched voices layered in strict metric counterpoint – makes for a sensory experience that stretches the definitions of art, film and music.


John Ralston Saul’s Voltaire’s Bastards was a literary inspiration for New York composer, filmmaker and performer Mikel Rouse when he made his very disturbing Dennis Cleveland in the form of a multi-media live talk show. The experience is one you won’t soon forget, because you’ll be in it. Opens at 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. and runs again Sun. at 7 p.m. in the Toronto Film School Studio at 39 John St. Tickets: $35, general admission.


Can the cinema still move us, even change us? Rouse took a pair of Susan Sontag essays as his inspiration for The End Of Cinematics, a digitally dazzling cinematic/musical performance involving a film made in Paris in 2002 that he digitally depopulated and uses as background for live actors. At the Bluma Appel Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre, opening at 7:30 p.m. and running Wed. and Thurs. at the same time. Tickets: $25-$45 at


Delving into the archives of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Rouse devised a form of counterpoetry matched with vocals and his own songs for Failing Kansas, an orchestration of the many voices involved in answering a question about why the two killers of the Kansas family acted as they did. Opens at 7 p.m. in Factory Theatre and runs Sat. at 10 and Sun. at 4 p.m. Tickets: $35, general admission. Susan Walker


Previews and Reviews by Jeniva Berger 6/5/08

Mikel Rouse – Dennis Cleveland. Dennis Cleveland is a multimedia environmental opera set entirely in a talk-show studio. A chorus of “guests” relate their sorry tales of lost love, obsession, crime and regret. But as their disjointed emotional sagas unfold, it becomes apparent that what they are really telling is the story of Cleveland’s own life. Drawing not only on the cliches of trash-talk TV but also on such literary sources as Sinclair Lewis’s Elmer Gantry and John Ralston Saul’s Voltaire’s Bastards , Dennis Cleveland offers a brilliant and disquieting critique of the late 20th century’s promise of salvation through popular culture. Luminato presents this opera in a world-premiere repertory trilogy with its two companion works: Rouse’s one-man show Failing Kansas and his The End Of Cinematics , an eye-popping blend of computer-generated visual effects and live performance. June 7 at 4pm and 7pm; June 8 at 7pm. Toronto Film School Studio, Studio 887 39 John St.

On The Beat
By Chris Twomey

The summer festival season is heating up and Luminato, Toronto’s ambitious Festival of Arts & Creativity, is back for a second year with an international line-up of music-related performances. From the art-sy side of things comes American minimalist Mikel Rouse who is presenting three of his multimedia ‘operas’ at different venues during Luminato. Rouse is from St Louis, and made a name for himself in the ’80s in the New York downtown scene with the Mikel Rouse Broken Consort (and releases on the Belgian labels Made To Measure and Les Disques Du Crepuscule). The earliest of the trilogy, “Falling Kansas” was debuted at The Kitchen in 1994, and interprets Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood as multi-voiced “counterpoetry” with backing films. The similarly formatted second work, “Dennis Cleveland” turns the cliches of talk TV into a search for the American soul, and the recently completed finale “The End Of Cinematics” questions Hollywood’s control of culture, under the influence of essayist Susan Sontag. Tickets are available for each individual performance, as well as a package deal for the entire trilogy. Visit his myspace page for a preview of Rouse’s music and video work.


Luminato isn’t playing it safe Dec 06, 2007 04:30 AM MARTIN KNELMAN

The Mikel Rouse Triology is a multimedia series by a composer and performer known on the U.S. avant-garde circuit. They include Failing Kansas, a one-man show about murders familiar from Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood; Dennis Cleveland, in which trash-talk TV morphs into rock poetry; and The End Of Cinematics, a 3D movie live onstage, with live actors shadowing the ones on the screen. (All three have been seen elsewhere, but Luminato puts them together in repertory for the first time.)


From June 6 to 15, the city’s signature festival returns for 10 days of international artistry and
inspiration. Focus your fun with Where’s top three picks in a variety of creative categories.
By Craig Moy


American avant-garde composer Mikel Rouse brings to Toronto his trilogy of modern multimedia operas.

DENNIS CLEVELAND June 7 & 8 Set in a television studio, this tale of a trashy talk-show host and his ill-fated guests offers a critique of popular culture’s promise of success. Toronto Film School Studio, 39 John St., $35.

THE END OF CINEMATICS June 10 to 12 Music, theatre and film combine in an immersive meditation on cinema’s corporate transformation and the fragmentation of the modern media-viewing experience. Bluma Appel Theatre, 27 Front St. E., $25 to $45.

FAILING KANSAS June 13 tp 15 The notorious events described in Truman Capote’s 1966 book In Cold Blood are the basis for this audiovisual interpretation of ritual, religion and the mystery of fate. Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst St., $35.


Luminato to go BY DAVID BALZER May 28, 2008 17:05

Only in its second year, Luminato has rapidly established itself next to TIFF as one of the city’s most enterprisingly global festivals. In addition to Supple and his Dream, 2008’s event brings in an array of performers for whom hybridity, experimentation and passport-flashing is a way of life. Check for info.


Those unfamiliar with the works of avant-garde American composer Rouse will get a good primer at Luminato, which puts together his Failing Kansas, Dennis Cleveland and The End of Cinematics for the first time. Cleveland is a “multimedia environmental opera set entirely in a talk show studio”; Cinematics is inspired by Susan Sontag’s late-’90s essays “The Decay of Cinema” and “A Century of Cinema.”

failing kansas: june 7, 4pm, 9pm; june 8, 7pm. $35. toronto film school studio, 39 john, ste 887. dennis cleveland: june 13, 7pm; june 14, 10pm; june 15, 4pm. $35. factory theatre, 125 bathurst.