Toronto’s mayor is a Mr. Dursley-esque grump face with a popularity rate so low in the heart of the city that I’ve literally never met one of his supporters. They like him in the suburbs I guess, or so the electoral map suggested, but down where we use the TTC and go to the theatre and have GBLQT friends and spend time in city libraries, he’s not so popular. The arts community, in particular, has it out for Ford- whose crusade to lower the city’s out-of-control taxes seems to threaten their very existence (right from the get-go he freaked out during a debate on arts funding, declaring “people, we have roads to fix!”). Even when he is, on occasion, right, the mayor is so incapable of presenting an idea as anything but hate-filled bullying that he’s become a symbol of everything the artist-intellectual downtown core hates. And with each “shut up, I’m going to my cottage” decision he makes, Ford only makes it worse.
So today’s announcement that he’s joining an age-old tradition of arts solidarity came as quite the surprise (and, frankly, a PR miracle for Ford’s office). On December 10th, the National Ballet of Canada will open their yearly production of The Nutcracker (James Kudelka’s oddly beloved Russian-influenced version that was created specifically for the company) with a 2pm matinee. Rob Ford will be there, but not in the audience. In Act I, the roles of the Cannon Dolls who begin the battle scene are generally reserved for special guests (past Petrouchkas include celebrities, politicians and sports stars like Margaret Atwood, David Miller and Mats Sundin). At the Dec 10, 2pm opening performance of the 2011 Nutcracker, the marshmallow-looking mayor of Toronto will play the role, dolled up in bright colours (and, I pray to god, a nice pair of tights!).
It seems every time I go to the theatre lately there’s an improvised comment, a sarcastic dedication or a scripted joke at Ford’s expense (he’s all over this year’s Ross Petty Pantomime, just for starters). Maybe he’s finally realizing that Toronto lives and breathes with its artistic and cultural identity, it’s what sets the city apart, and the artists have voices too loud to let them hate you this much. And maybe he was bullied into it, maybe the National Ballet isn’t exactly the struggling institution he should be focusing on. But hey, it’s a start, right?