Stage Door News

Toronto: Against the Grain Theatre commissions “Identity, a Song Cycle” for baritone Elliot Madore

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Premiering as a film in 2022, Against the Grain Theatre (AtG) has commissioned Identity: a Song Cycle for baritone Elliot Madore, by writer and poet Shauntay Grant and composer Dinuk Wijeratne. This song cycle will use original poetry and music to chart the protagonist's journey of self-discovery. Building on the successes of AtG’s digital projects in 2020 and 2021, this song cycle will premiere as a film in 2022 with the intention to expand for a live-show production. 

In early June 2020, Torontonian Elliot Madore opened up on social media about his struggles with “unabashedly expressing [his] identity” as a biracial person. When asked about his race throughout his career, he was often met with incredulity when he would reply “I’m black”, and soon began to try and avoid the line of questioning altogether. 

“Through my personal story and my strife with identity, I've come to realize that this is a common theme throughout society that hasn't been fully explored: our collective and individual struggle with who we are, our identity,” says Elliot Madore.

Dinuk Wijeratne adds: “I believe that, under the surface, more people than we think struggle with the notion of a ‘conflicted’ identity. For instance, on any given day I never feel fully eastern or fully western. I feel blessed that I am able to use my music to reconcile multiple identities in a way that often eludes me in daily life. I hope that, in some small way, we can inspire the listener to dig deeper into what the word ‘identity’ means to them.” 

AtG Artistic Director Joel Ivany and Madore came together in collaboration to find a way to present his story to the Canadian arts community and resolved to create a song cycle set to new and original Canadian poetry. Madore wanted to work with genre-bending JUNO Award-winning Sri Lankan-born composer Dinuk Wijeratne who, though he calls Canada home, has often spoken about feeling like a “nomad” in relation to his multiple identities. The music will be set to poetry written specifically for this project by Shauntay Grant, an acclaimed multi-generational Black-Canadian “storyteller” from Nova Scotia. 

“AtG is so excited to support Elliot, Shauntay and Dinuk in this way. Getting artists to work together for the first time is always rewarding,” says AtG Artistic Director Joel Ivany.

This new song cycle, inspired by that original Instagram post, features Madore sharing the stage with Wijeratne on piano, together with bassist Justin Gray and world-percussionist Nick Halley. The East-West-inspired music, which will fuse genres and incorporate improvisation, will challenge the parameters of Western classical traditions, through the cultures of these artists who live in our country. 

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Photo: Elliot Madore. © Kristin Hoebermann.