Against the Grain Theatre Commissions ‘Identity: A Song Cycle’ Exploring Multiple and Shifting Identities

By Chris Ruel

Toronto’s Against the Grain Theatre (AtG) has announced the commission of composer Dinuk Wijeratne and writer/poet Shauntay Grant’s “Identity: A Song Cycle.”

Baritone Elliot Madore will perform the cycle that charts the protagonist’s journey of self-discovery. The song cycle will premiere as a film in 2022 with an eye toward producing a live show in the future.

Madore opened up on social media in June 2020 about his identity struggles as a biracial person, after being asked repeatedly throughout his career about his race and being met with surprise when he stated he was Black.

“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,” said Elliot Madore in a statement released by AtG.

To bring Madore’s story to the Canadian arts community, AtG Artistic Director Joel Ivany partnered with the singer to create the cycle using original Canadian poetry written by Shauntay Grant, an acclaimed multi-generational Black-Canadian “storyteller” from Nova Scotia.

For the music, Madore requested JUNO Award-winning Sri Lankan-born composer Dinuk Wijeratne to join the project. Wijeratne lives in Canada but has spoken often about feeling like a “nomad” because of his multiple identities.

“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,” Wijeratne said in the AtG statement.

The cycle will feature Madore sharing the stage with Wijeratne on piano, together with bassist Justin Gray and world-percussionist Nick Halley to perform the East-West inspired music that fuses genres and incorporates improvisation.