Review: Apocalypsis (Luminato Festival)


Apocalypsis features 1000 Toronto performers on stage at the Luminato Festival

Apocalypsis, on stage now at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts as part of Toronto’s Luminato Festival, is a multidimensional, multifaceted journey for the mind and senses. The two-hour performance features 1000 local performers from actors and dancers to singers, musicians, and conductors of both professional and amateur backgrounds to create this experience.

Apocalypsis was created by Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer. This marks only the second time the piece was performed in its entirety since its premiere in 1980.

The prophecies were correct, the end is here. Apocalypsis is a visual, audio and emotional journey of souls descending into the underworld, being sorted, and reaching their ultimate destination of heaven or hell where a chosen few will be reborn. There are strong religious and biblical connotations in play here, but you don’t need to have read the bible to understand the content.

The story here is told in abstract terms through movement, music and sound rather than standard speech, aside from a few choice monologues throughout. It all creates a sensory experience that is jarring, alarming, and may trigger sensations, memories, and emotions that will be different for everyone.

The performance is broken into two parts (but there is no intermission) – John’s Vision, an exploration of the world entering madness as based on the Book of Revelations, and Credo, an ascension to the divine. The first part was dark and tumultuous. The music and sounds were cacophonous and loud. It was confusing and chaotic in  ways I found rather exciting.

The stage featured a large glass cube and in it sat a lone figure: Denise Fujiwara as John. The chaos happened around him in his mind, and it was clear that he was descending into madness. Fujiwara’s movements were ethereal and eerie, like she was floating in water while sitting on a chair.

The four ladies who played the Living Creatures (Bo Bárdos, Neema Bickersteth, Carla Huhtanen, and Xin Wang) felt more like demons as they screamed into the ether gave me deep chills. I was also impressed by Kawiti Waetford’s delivery and performance as the Archangel Michael, his voice and stage presence demanding attention. It was also a delight to see Tanya Tagaq, Polaris prize-winning throat singer, as the Old Woman who was simply mesmeric and superb.

There were still aspects that I found confusing — if I didn’t read in the program that Nina Arsenault portrayed the Whore of Babylon, I wouldn’t have recognized that in the performance. Her sharp and stiff dance movements were intriguing to watch but I wasn’t able to comprehend how they defined her role. Also, Brent Carver’s speech as the Antichrist started strong but felt a bit anticlimactic at the end.

The frenetic energy created in the first half fizzled and dissipated in the slow moving second half, Credo, to the point where I started to tune it out. The actions on stage became very minimal and drawn out at length to cover time. I found the music more intriguing and tended to focus on that.

I was intrigued when dancers were able to part a middle section of the stage to reveal a body of water, and at that point the metaphors became far more concrete.  The imagery created in these scenes were visually stunning but quickly lost momentum as the scenes lagged on.

There were also nude scenes in this part, and I don’t believe the nudity warning was communicated to everyone very clearly.  I mention this as there were a mother and son who sat behind me and his shocked whispered commentary during the nudity became a very amusing addition to the experience. There were signs at the door with an audience advisory for bright lights, haze, and nudity but I didn’t see them.

I may have a few mixed impressions about Apocalypsis, but despite that and the slowness near the end, I still believe that the entire show is something incredible to take in. I do suggest you see it this weekend. It’s also a great way to support performance arts in Toronto.


  • Apocalypsis plays until June 28 at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts (1 Front St E).
  • Performances are at 8 pm on Saturday and 2 pm on Sunday.
  • Tickets range from $66 to $158 and are available online.
  • Audience advisory: Please be advised that this performance contains bright lights, haze and nudity.

Photo of Kawiti Waetford and the Hamilton Children’s Choir by Bruce Zinger.