Archive for the ‘Dance’ Category

Today my friend and colleague Kat Fournier and I launched the very first episode of Just Another Gala: Your Ottawa Theatre Podcast. Ottawa’s theatre scene has exploded in the last few years, and we feel that some thorough on-air discussion is in order. Join us!

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Where are the poets?

Hiding between the pages of books

Mumbling loose phrases on street corners

Or wringing their hands behind the red curtain

I find it funny that a poem has to ‘hold up’ on the page in order to be considered successful. Would you say the same thing for a musical composition or a choreographed dance?

I watched her take off her shoes, her socks, her jewelry

Before approaching the microphone

Her words strung together like the Spanish guitar

Her hands flowed like a Flamenco dancer, vibrant

Music can be a literary art when it involves lyrics; poetry can be a musical art when it involves rhythm.

Speak the speech I pray you

Let not the instruments muffle the sound of your voice

Nor the awkward rhythm of language make music coarse

We are for each other

We are for each other

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So it’s the last weekend of the Ottawa Fringe. Not sure what to see? Not sure how to best spend your time? I highly recommend checking out FullyFringed.ca for a complete list of reviews. That’s right: we fifteen theatre critics have successfully reviewed every single show at this year’s Fringe. Woot!

I reviewed five shows, which can be seen by clicking the following links:

Every Job I’ve Ever Had

Love and Hate in the Post Modern Age


It’s Just a Stage

7 (x1) Samurai

Also, I would highly recommend the following shows:

featuring local talent Margo MacDonald (also the playwright) and Sarah Finn

Cactus – the Seduction…
featuring Fringe veteran Jonno Katz, who is taking this show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer

7 (x) Samurai
featuring David Gaines (just read my review)

The Duck Wife
Inuit myth narrated by a live rock band and illustrated by erotic duck choreography. Need I say more?

Six: At Home
site-specific magic created by Emma Zabloski and the cast

Mixing Boal: Kitchen of the Oppressed
an interactive cooking show conceived by Bronwyn Steinberg

The Beer Tent Reflux
because Kel and David mention me in the show, and I’m vain like that

The Capital Poetry Collective presents ‘The Adorkables’
uh, I’m in this show, and no, I’m not biased; it will be truly awesome

I have also heard great things about:

The Peter and Chris Show!

The Sputniks

The Last Straight Man in Theatre

Purely Cabaret

Phone Whore

Men Telling Stories

Multinational gRape Corporations

A Day in the Life of Miss Hiccup

Oh heck, just see all of them. You have four days left. GO!

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This weekend the girls and I went on a quick train trip to the Bristol Zoo. The last time I was there was I was nine years old and had my face painted like a tiger, so says my mum. I’ve always said that zoos and farms and music festivals and camping trips and most outdoor activities are a hundred times more fun when you bring children along. This particular child was on a mission to find the penguins, which just so happened to be hidden in the most obscure part of the zoo. Thankfully we found them:

Yay Penguins!

Aren’t they adorable? We also visited with lots of other animals, photos of which can be viewed by following this link. By noon, A.L.bion had to return to Cardiff to take her little girl to a birthday party. I decided to stick around Bristol and attend Mayfest, a festival of “adventurous theatre for playful people”. Excellent marketing, I must say. I booked tickets (for myself and my friend John, who would be visiting from Truro) for a dance-theatre performance called “Love and War” that looked rather interesting.

Yay cyclists!

I spent the afternoon shopping (and sinfully spent a few too many pounds on the perfect summer dress…) and exploring the downtown core. I was terrifically impressed by Bristol in terms of being a cyclist-friendly city. There were signs all over, encouraging drivers to share the road with cyclists. I even saw one of those raised side”walks” especially for bikes. Unfortunately, it is bloody difficult to get around by bike in Bristol: the streets are incredibly steep; you would either break your back cycling up, or break your neck cycling down. At least you won’t get run over.

I also found it rather curious how many people were dressed as pirates. I wondered if it was “regional pirate day” or something. I asked one group of middle aged woman donning pirate attire, and they said they were on a scavenger hunt. Another group of twenty-somethings said they were celebrating a birthday. Strange.

Later that afternoon I met up with John at the Arnolfini Art Gallery and we wandered around the exhibits. I wish I had known ahead of time about this mini Performance-Writing festival that was happening all this weekend: there were films and spoken word happening in different gallery rooms. Also this weekend was an event that resembled Ottawa’s Centretown Art Tour: Bristol artists opened up their homes to the public for the purpose of displaying their art work and having tea with the participants. John and I only had the chance to visit one home that was made obvious by balloons on the front steps.

Yay tobacco! Uh, wait...

That evening we attended the Mayfest show at Tobacco Factory Theatre. By the way, the theatre actually used to be a tobacco factory, so that’s not just a ploy to get people to buy cigarettes – though I did find myself craving a spot of rose hips… I went to pick up my tickets at the box office only to discover that I had booked for the Friday night rather than the Saturday when I reserved them online. Bugger. The nice box office guy gave me a discount on the next two tickets I had to buy for that night. They can consider it a donation, I rationalized, as I gritted my teeth and grumbled that this had better bloody well be a work of absolute brilliance.

I didn’t have the chance to find out. As soon as the lights dimmed in the theatre, I was hit with a surprisingly vile dose of narcolepsy (my mother is convinced I was victim of a date rape drug; I think not), and my eyelids became heavier than sandbags and my head more flopped than a rag doll. I kept having to pinch myself to stay awake for the performance. Thank goodness the show was only 70 minutes. I do remember hearing loud music from Queens of the Stone Age and seeing flashing lights, a old fashioned bathtub rolled onstage, a cheerleader, and a performer in an impressively detailed spider costume. From what I experienced, the show seemed a little disjointed and missing the through-line that seemed to be implied in the show description. But hey, I was probably drugged, so I wouldn’t take my word for it.

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Since writing my post on The Value of Bloggers back in January, I have become more consciously aware (yes, I realize that phrasing is a tad repetitively redundant…) of arts companies that make special effort to connect with bloggers in the community.

Last year the Ottawa Fringe Festival had a special wine and cheese event just for bloggers. These writers – many of whom weren’t ‘theatre people’ – published posts about the Fringe for their readers, thereby connecting a new audience with this incredible festival. Lately the Great Canadian Theatre Company – thanks to GCTC Marketing Associate Nancy Kenny – has been paying more attention to bloggers, offering them complimentary tickets to opening nights and encouraging them to write Twitter updates about their experiences. The Ottawa International Writers Festival – that just completed its spring edition a few days ago – invited local bloggers to attend events and write for the festival blog.

National Arts Centre Associate Marketing Officer Jennifer Covert, it seems, has always been a major advocate of the blogging community. For the current NAC dance production (see video below) she took the initiative to invite a handful of bloggers from the community to enjoy a tour of the NAC backstage, to meet with Dance Producer Cathy Levy (an articulate, intelligent, passionate person — and with a real knack for programming consistently good work), and see the show right afterward. The whole evening was very informative and friendly.

When I first starting writing online, I resisted calling my writing outlet a ‘blog’ because it seemed unprofessional. In fact, to me, ‘blogger’ was a dirty word, suggesting a lesser writer than a journalist. These days I’m quite happy to tell people: Why yes, I am a blogger!

Do you know of any other blogger-friendly arts organizations? If you are an arts marketing professional, what do you think are the benefits of getting bloggers involved in your arts organization? All thoughts and name-dropping are encouraged!

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Feathers ruffle like

Modern Ballet practicum

Dancers crinoline

Photo: Jessica Ruano

Image: Edgar Degas

Image: Edgar Degas

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… and that’s why I love it.

scenes from Poetics: a ballet brut

One of the first performances I caught at the 2010 PuSh Festival was called Poetics: a ballet brut by this New York group the Nature Theater of Oklahoma. I decided to attend this show on a whim, so I didn’t have the chance to read up on the company (bad blogger, bad!), and for that reason assumed that I was going to be watching something resembling a ballet.

I have learned never to make assumptions about festival performance.

Four odd-looking performers (two male, two female) take the stage wearing eclectic street garb (running shoes et al), holding grocery bags, and flirting passive-aggressively with each other. The closest thing to dance in the first fifteen minutes is a series of gestures, such as putting hands on hips, crossing arms above the head, making devil horns, and grabbing their own chests. What followed was a series of movement pieces that seemed to be based around yoga and aerobics.

Immediately I was disappointed, as I recognized this as one of those shows that has been put on earth to bug me: more concept than result, more comedy than actual dance talent; some post-modern garbage that young people put out there to be different.

And yet I was seduced. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but at some point my eyes lit up and I thought to myself, This is genius. I think it was around the time the performers were doing some kind of rolling-in-your-sleep dance, and one of the guys rolled too far upstage and shrieked shrilly as he “fell” behind the curtain. It was a priceless, priceless moment: everybody got it and everybody laughed.

Then at another instance (at this point the upstage curtain has opened to reveal more audience seating) this guy strolls in — seemingly accidentally — from the back, and decides to find his place in the empty seats opposite us. As he watches the dancers, he pulls out his camera and snaps a picture of the dancers with flash. I think the funniest thing was how much this upset me: I get so annoyed with people who leave their cell phones on during a performance, or try to take pictures, or whisper back and forth. And yet, here it was, happening onstage in front of me, and it was part of the performance, so of course I had no right to be annoyed. It was so infuriating!

And then, near the end of the performance, the curtain opens yet again to reveal a 30-person dance chorus that participates only in the last few minutes of the show. And this was even more ridiculous! In my arts-administration mind, I imagined the cost of including all these dancers in the show and all the work involved for that short-lived routine, and it just boggled my mind. Same with the brief inclusion of the ballerina near the end — which, for me, made all sorts of implications about how street dance can influence classical dance, as she incorporated many of the contemporary movements they had used earlier into her routine.

This show is perfect for uptight people like me who need to loosen up a little bit.

Clark and I Somewhere in Connecticut was another odd performance. Wearing an adorable bunny suit, James Long (Theatre Replacement) recounts the tale of trying to put together a show based on a number of family photo albums he found abandoned in an alley way in Vancouver. He tried to contact the family to ask permission, and had some trouble with certain members who ordered him to drop the project immediately. This turned into a whole debate about morality, legality, copyright, and ownership.

This show was originally presented two years ago at PuSh, mere weeks after Long was told he couldn’t use the material. Within that short period of time, he had to rework the show entirely to be in accordance with the family’s wishes, but still retain his sense of artistic integrity and share the story of which he had grown so fond. I think seeing this same show two years ago would have captured that sense of urgency and made for a really exciting performance. The one I saw this week, while delightful, was a tad too relaxed; and until a certain secret is revealed at the end, I wondered what the point of this would ultimately be.

That being said, Long is a wonderful performer: his writing style reminded me of a lot of storytelling and spoken word I’ve seen recently. I’ve learned that people love sharing stories and hearing shared stories, and that’s exactly what he is doing — offering up fragments of this simple family that has a dog and goes to the cottage with lots of children and takes lots of photos. It fills a basic need, provides a human connection. After the show as everyone was piling out of the theatre, I noticed an elderly couple still sitting in their seats, gazing at the empty stage, just holding each other. I’m not sure if it was because of the show, but I’d like to think so.

I’m glad I had the chance to see the video presentation of The Passion of Joan of Arc. The screening of this 1928 silent film was held at the gorgeous Christ Church Cathedral and was accompanied by the Eye of Newt Ensemble and singer Vivane Houle performing a new score by Vancouver composer Stefan Smulovitz. The film is haunting and the music was beautiful.

Also it gave me some context for another performance I saw two days later…

Reid Farrington’s The Passion Project is an electrifying work that compresses the entirety of Carl Dreyer’s classic silent film The Passion Of Joan Of Arc into a 30-minute concentration of movement, projection, installation and sound collage. The audience surrounds a 10×10 foot area, flooded by four projectors, in which Laura K. Nicoll meticulously arranges and rearranges a number of parchment screens in a series of choreographed movements that explode the film into three dimensions. A transformative and dynamic sculpture takes form as the hanging canvases grab hold of the fleeting, flickering images.

Reading the program, I was excited to note that Farrington is a former member of the Wooster Group, that very famous experimental theatre company based in New York. I had read so much about the collective, so I was glad to get a taste of this video artist’s work.

I loved the urgency with which the dancer Nicoll captured each film image with her panels. It seemed to say something about our desire to archive things that could very well be lost in time. This connects directly with the history of the film itself, so controversial that it had been destroyed and recreated more than once. This performance was more of a moving visual arts display than a theatre piece, and once I had that idea in my head, I could enjoy it entirely.

And that leads me to something I have been noticing lately about myself: I have become far less critical (far more open-minded, perhaps) when it comes to performance. Whenever I see something I don’t quite understand, or something that is unfamiliar to me, or something that I would not consider conventional “theatre”, I force myself to look at the piece from another point of view, to see its merits from an angle I had not considered.

This may be a good thing. After all, being open-minded opens up all sorts of possibilities and imaginative ideas; it makes room for discussion rather than flat-out criticism; it allows me to consider other genres and aesthetics when seeing theatre. I find that rather exciting.

But then, I don’t want to be one of those people who likes everything. I want to have strong opinions and strong tastes and be able to distinguish the brilliant from the banal. What do you think? Can I be open-minded and critical all at the same time?

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Okay, that’s a lie. I’m actually leaving on Air Canada. But that doesn’t sound half as romantic, and the plane will probably be late, and there will be all sorts of complications, and I’ll lose my suitcase, and there will be jet lag and general nausea…

I mean, yay! traveling!

This Sunday I am leaving Ottawa to do some research in Western Canada for my MA thesis. In case you’re not familiar with my academic work, I am currently studying at the University of Ottawa in the new Master of Arts program in Theatre Theory and Dramaturgy. That means lots of writing.

My thesis examines the role of festivals in the consecration and distribution of new works. I’m researching three different companies – Catalyst Theatre in Edmonton, the Old Trout Puppet Workshop in Calgary, and Electric Company Theatre in Vancouver – and looking at how their productions have developed through the process of touring and participating in festivals. Here’s hoping it’ll be awesome and revolutionary; or at least that I’ll pass the program…

Here is my itinerary so far:

  • EDMONTON – January 10 to 17
    Purpose: visiting with Catalyst Theatre and attend rehearsals for Nevermore. Also visiting with the Artist in Residence at the Citadel Theatre. Oh, and freezing to death in the street.
  • CALGARY – January 17 to 28
    Purpose: seeing shows at the High Performance Rodeo (long-running international festival created by members of One Yellow Rabbit) and getting the general vibe of the event. Hopefully visiting the workspace of the Old Trout Puppet Workshop.
  • VANCOUVER – January 28 to February 7
    seeing shows at the PuSh Festival (newer international festival) and meeting with Norman Armour. Also visiting the Electric Company Theatre and finding out more about their first show Brilliant! The Blinding Enlightenment of Nikola Tesla. I’ll be seeing the following shows at the PuSh Festival: Joan of Arc, Clark and I…, Passion Project, Edward Curtis, Sonic Genome, Nevermore, Best Before, and Kamp.

I will try not to have too much fun because this is supposed to be a research trip for academic purposes and I’m going to be working really hard. At least that’s what I’m telling the university…

Check back on this blog for more details: I’ll be posting reviews of shows, sharing travel stories, and disclosing fun theatre gossip. Stay tuned!

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The Drowsy Chaperone: Canadian Company

The Drowsy Chaperone: Canadian Company

Review by Jennie Barnes

Sprightly, frenetic, and utterly ebullient, the National Arts Centre and Citadel Theatre’s co-production of The Drowsy Chaperone is certainly not what its wearisome title suggests. Originally conceived as burlesque stag party entertainment by playwrights Don McKellar, Lisa Lambert, Greg Morrison and Bob Martin, this Tony award-winning Canadian show makes its Ottawa debut and runs in the NAC Theatre until October 31. Branded as a musical within a comedy, Drowsy ushers in the 40th season of English Theatre at the NAC with an apt fusion of wistfulness and mirth.

Even before the curtain rises, uproarious laughter seizes the audience. “You know what I do when I’m sitting in a darkened theatre waiting for the show to begin? I pray. Oh, dear God, please let it be a good show,” sighs Man in Chair (Jay Brazeau) a jittery, Zoloft-addicted divorcee seated at stage-left. But he need not fret; the cast of this vaudeville pastiche are anything but lackadaisical. As the middle-aged recluse sets his record player to his favourite 1920s revue, kaleidoscopic lighting (Gerald King) transforms the stage into a histrionic universe teeming with song, spit-takes and tap-dancing.

The Drowsy Chaperone, the musical to which the Man in Chair introduces us, mainly centres on Janet (Debbie Timuss) an ostentatious showgirl poised to abandon the limelight in order to marry Robert (John Ullyatt), an equally vainglorious oil magnate who spends a good part of the play blindfolded whilst roller-skating across the stage in a slapdash fashion. Scatterbrained wedding planner Mrs. Tottendale, played by veteran actor Nora McLellan, endears herself to the audience with her odd facial expressions and other such winsome foibles. Susan Gilmour skilfully portrays The Drowsy Chaperone’s eponymous heroine, an alcoholic duenna tasked with keeping the bride and groom apart prior to their nuptials.

Thom Allison steals the show as Aldopho, a stereotypical European playboy commissioned by Feldzieg (Mark Burgess), Janet’s frantic producer, to ruin the celebrity wedding. Other notable performances include Josh Epstein and Neil Minor as pastry-chef gangsters, Ryan Reid as best man, Julien Arnold as Underling the butler, Nathalie Marrable as Janet’s lacklustre successor and Lovena B. Fox as the Aviatrix.

Sumptuous stage design (Jean Claude Olivier) and flamboyant costumes (Phillip Clarkson) provide ample eye candy for the audience. In the wake of musical director Lloyd Nicholson’s untimely death days before opening, replacement Scott Davey does a superb job of conducting the on-stage band. Thirteen numbers with intentionally asinine titles such as “Cold Feets” and “Love is Always Lovely” breathe comical life into the hackneyed plotlines.

Man in Chair warns the audience that Janet’s “Bride’s Lament” is especially lame as the lead singer bemoans having put a “monkey on a pedestal” after a ludicrous argument with her fiancé. Admittedly, Man in Chair’s caveat could apply to the entire performance, which is largely satirical. In any event, director Max Reimer has categorically succeeded in staging a show “so bad that it’s good.”

Jennie Barnes is an undergraduate student at the University of Ottawa.

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Originally posted on the Apartment 613 website

Lainie Towell

Lainie Towell

“It feels like someone has died, like we just pulled the plug.”

Ottawa artist Lainie Towell was the Director of Communications for Le Groupe Dance Lab, the only full-time dance company in Canada that devoted all its resources to research and development for choreographers. For over forty years – including twenty years in Ottawa – Le Groupe provided incomparable opportunities for local dance professionals and celebrated choreographers from around the world. Tragically, the company announced on July 31 that it was closing its doors.

For many people associated with Le Groupe, this news is not a complete surprise. Back in January, all members of the company – the office staff and all six full-time dancers – were let go for financial reasons; but still there was hope that the artists would return to work in the fall. Towell explains that none of the former artistic members were involved in, or even made aware immediately of the decision to shut down the company for good.

“The decision was made by the board; Peter Boneham, a founder of the company, was only informed of the news the night before it was released to the media,” says Towell, who would use Le Groupe’s space in the Arts Court for her own dance projects.

To continue reading this article, please follow this link.

Peter Boneham

Peter Boneham

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