Dave Kelly Shines Bright in Epiphany



Dave Kelly’s Epiphany runs at Lunchbox Theatre, Nov 30 – Dec 23. Photo Credit: Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo.

Webster’s Dictionary defines epiphany as “a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way.” What Webster’s leaves out is that the road to epiphany is not always easy, in fact it can be really, really challenging. And what could be more challenging than trying to survive the holidays?

Enjoying its world premiere at Lunchbox Theatre, Dave Kelly’s new comedy Epiphany tells the story of Steve, played by Kelly, a middle-aged father whose world is turned upside down when he learns that his only daughter Amelia is pregnant. See, Steve isn’t ready to be a grandfather, not yet anyway. For one, he and Amelia don’t really get along, and then there’s the fact that Steve’s just too young to be a grandfather. In Steve’s mind, he’s still the young, promising musician who rocked the Ugly Buffalo so many moons ago with his buddy Danny (Tim Williams).

To add more stress to the holidays, Steve volunteers to play Jingle Bells at his wife Ruth’s Christmas pageant. The thing about that, Steve can’t actually play the whole song from start to finish. He’s lucky if he can play the first few notes!

There’s something very Canadian about this story that Kelly tells about a family who could very well be our own neighbors. A major reason for that feeling is the honesty of Kelly’s storytelling. In any other hands, Steve might fall under the tired ‘bumbling father’ trope, but here Steve’s shortcomings are presented with heart. Although he may not have everything all figured out, Steve tries anyway to do the right thing, even if it doesn’t always pan out. There’s something to admire about that sort of devotion in a person, and in a father especially.

It’s easy, isn’t it, to think of our parents as having all the answers when really, they’re only human. And that’s really what Kelly animates in this holiday comedy. Some audience members may go back and understand differently moments where they were at odds with their parents, or children. While no one is perfect, the best thing we can do is try, and always keep each other close. The life lesson is punctuated by delicious musical interludes from Williams, an accomplished blues musician, on guitar.

Director Christopher Hunt eases Kelly’s character transitions well enough considering the number of characters that make an appearance. Costume designer Rebecca Toon treats the audience to a real doozy of a pageant costume that makes the show’s finale all the more hilarious. (Seriously, the finale is a real hoot).

All in all, Epiphany feels like sitting beside a crackling fireplace on a cold winter’s night. There’s a lot to enjoy about a show that uncovers gems of truth through genuine, heartfelt humour. It’s no surprise that the show is almost sold-out, because audiences know Kelly is a charming and formidable storyteller. Audiences will not be disappointed by Kelly’s latest offering.

Dave Kelly’s Epiphany, with music by Tim Williams, runs at Lunchbox Theatre, Nov 30 – Dec 30.

For more information about the show, visit: http://www.lunchboxtheatre.com/epiphany/ 

Of Magic & Mumplings: Legend Has It Returns to Alberta Theatre Projects


The cast of Legend Has It, which opened November 24 at Alberta Theatre Projects. Image provided by ATP.

Two years have passed since Alberta Theatre Projects premiered Rebecca Northan’s Legend Has It as part of the 2014 Enbridge PlayRites Festival of New Canadian Plays. Audiences who missed Northan’s award-winning comedy the first time now have the opportunity to catch it this holiday season at ATP.

Every night, one lucky audience member is chosen to star in an epic fantasy adventure to save the land of Jaro from the evil Haldor (Jamie Northan). Tonight’s hero is Phil, an electrician from Calgary, who the prophecy foretold would return peace to Jaro.

When Phil arrives in Jaro, he is greeted by a Mumpling named Maggie (Northan) who informs him that her people have been taken from their homes by Haldor and his minions. Maggie’s plan to save the Mumplings is made more urgent when her Gran (Christy Bruce) is captured. Phil and Maggie encounter the strange citizens of Jaro along their way to save Gran and the rest of the Mumplings.

Here’s the thing, the journey to Haldor’s castle will not be the same every night.

The magic of Legend Has It is that the entire show is improvised by Northan and the show’s ensemble. As well, the hero gets to customize their experience by choosing who will play their companion and who will play the villain. Think of the show as a real-life game of Dungeons & Dragons. The major difference from D & D is that, instead of dice or a pencil, the hero gets to wield a sword and fight in glorious slow-motion in front of 400 people.

Our hero Phil is a fast learner. He not only learns the ropes of stage combat  – it’s all about the squat – but he also gets a handle on trading witty banter with the ensemble.  The audience gets in the action, too, with their own comments. The theatre feels like a very communal space, full of good vibes.

Given the show’s improvised nature, surprise is literally around every corner. Some may feel uncomfortable with this, but rest assured the ensemble’s talent for improv is magnificent. There are certainly moments where the show goes off the rails, but these moments are far from disastrous thanks to the ensemble’s lightning fast wit. The actors roll confidently with the punches, finding opportunity in nearly every random element thrown their way.

While the ensemble may not be too concerned with presenting a serious epic like, say, Lord of the Rings, there is a genuine concern here by Northan to explore what heroism means. Northan brings notions of bravery from the realm of the epic to the everyday by asking Phil if he has ever lost anyone in his life, and how he overcame that loss. In doing so, Northan reminds us that life is itself an epic adventure, full of obstacles that we overcome everyday, making us each heroic in our own unique ways.

The show’s fantasy elements come alive thanks to Scott Reid’s marvelous castle set, and his lighting design. Reid’s dramatic lighting gives the slow-motion fight scenes a comical edge. Deitra Kalyn’s fantasy costumes feel as though they were plucked straight out of a Terry Pratchett novel. Jonathan Lewis’ original composition and sound design succeeds at underscoring the whimsy of Phil’s journey. Major praise for Ellis LaLonde’s ability to improvise sound cues on the fly.

Top to bottom, Legend Has It is this season’s ultimate feel good show. Northan’s comedy invites us to laugh, reflect, and maybe discover something new about ourselves. With all the recent bad news for Alberta’s economy, there could be no greater gift this holiday season than the gift of laughter. A win for Alberta Theatre Projects.

Alberta Theatre Projects’ Legend Has It runs November 24 – December 31, 2015.

Legend Has It was originally created by Rebecca Northan with Renee Amber, Bruce Horak, Mark Meer, and Jamie Northan.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://atplive.com/whats-on/legend-has-it/

The Ensemble:
Josh Bertwistle
Christy Bruce
Bruce Horak
Ellis Lalonde
Jamie Northan
Rebecca Northan


Join The Club: MacIvor’s Inside Examines Modern Life

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The University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts presents Inside by Daniel MacIvor. Photo Credit: Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo.

Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor’s Inside is far from optimistic about modern life.

Directed by MacIvor, Inside stages nine characters whose lives are set to collide minutes before midnight at a high-end nightclub. The urban dwellers are hopelessly lost in a world disrupted by social media – a network of mirages. The authentic is bled dry for fame and followers; presence in the 21st century. The search for belonging in the age of Web 2.0 has led the characters to form difficult, and sometimes harmful, relationships.

MacIvor has adapted the play’s narrative and characters to suit the student actors cast in this production by the University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts,. The collaboration makes for an interesting blend of cynicism towards modern life. At some points, the cynicism seems to come from a Millennial’s viewpoint while at other times from the viewpoint of Generation X.

Take for example, the young, self-loathing activist Todd (Brandon Huszti). Todd sees a lot of problems with his generation, particularly the rise of selfies and artifice. Todd wants his generation, and everyone else, to look up from their phones, and he plans on achieving that with his devices (that won’t hurt anyone, he claims). The thing about Todd’s objective is, the objective seems concerned with returning to some sort of idealised past that Todd has never known, but only studied – like a freshman enlightened after taking one Philosophy course.

Then, there is Sana (Keshia Cheesman) and her sister Kara (Onika Henry). Kara, a lawyer, believes the only way to create meaningful change is to go through the proper channels. Kara believes that working from the inside is the most effective way to make change happen, while Sana stands firmly beside her method of making noise from the edges. Sana’s stance is not surprising given her obsession with social media, particularly its capacity to affect the offline e.g. produce celebrities like Kim Kardashian.

Sana and Kara’s argument boils down to this, what is the effectiveness of social media campaigns like #BlackLivesMatter? The skepticism of Generation X towards the influence of digital campaigns, versus traditional ‘analog’ methods, is well represented in Kara. Kara sees her younger sister as being naive for thinking that action without presence could have any impact.

Another interesting thread running through MacIvor’s play is the friendship between Jeanie (Paige Thomas) and Violet (Bianca Miranda). The emotionally abusive Jeannie exploits Violet’s kindness in order to satisfy her own interests. While Violet recognizes that Jeannie is not very nice towards her, she also recognizes that Jeanie is her only friend. Jeanie and Violet’s friendship is very much an exchange, as opposed to something founded upon mutual respect. It is a very cynical view of friendship that MacIvor presents us.

It is unclear what exactly MacIvor wants the audience to take away from Inside. MacIvor points out a lot of flaws about modern life, specifically emotional disengagement, but does little in the way of providing possible solutions. MacIvor’s concern for this road we are traveling down together is essentially a series of observations and thin arguments that land heavy without much subtlety. The play’s unrelenting cynicism makes it difficult for the audience to identify a common ground with the characters. The finale ultimately proves unsatisfying as it ends on a cheap moment of optimism that begs to be taken seriously.

MacIvor tries bleeding the scenes into each other with club music and dance, but the transitions feel hard nonetheless. The narrative’s episodic nature interrupts the steady momentum he tries to sustain in this ensemble piece. Fortunately, there is not much to move during transitions (set design by Skylar Desjardins) as the actors only have to move tables and chairs.

Anton de Groot’s edgy lighting design with Alex Allan’s pulse pounding sound work transform the Reeve Theatre into a nightclub, the evening’s hub for misery.

Thomas is absolutely vicious as Jeanie, a young woman abusing her disability leave. The audience is nearly on the verge of hissing at Thomas as she cuts into Miranda’s heartbreaking Violet without remorse.

Cheesman plays Sana confidently, as does Henry with Kara. The pair demonstrate that the sisters are, more or less, two sides of the same coin, even if they think otherwise.

Nick Wensrich delivers an eerie performance that burns slowly as Mason, a former soldier disturbed what he saw on deployment. He brings out the character’s manipulative personality that lays deep underneath his guise as a total schmuck. Vanessa Jetté emotes well Audrey’s vulnerability as a reluctant prostitute, hired by Mason.

Dylan Forkheim plays the nightclub’s manager Brian with the sleaziness most, if not all, nightclubs attract, though Brian’s sleaziness is punctuated by sadistic tendencies.

Kris Vanessa Teo’s free-spirited performance as Todd’s girlfriend Mary is a strong and much needed contrast to her boyfriend’s pseudo-intellectualism, played well by Huszti. Miranda’s Violet, pregnant, and Huszti’s Todd, on the way to enact his plan, play a rather touching scene together in the second act where the merits of modern life are debated.

While the ensemble manages well enough with MacIvor’s script, issues and all, there is a strong sense that the ensemble could go further with their performances. The ensemble might benefit from a more intimate space, because here the Reeve Theatre feels somewhat vacant, lacking in presence.

Overall, MacIvor’s Inside leaves much to be desired in terms of a narrative worth investing in. Audiences will feel disengaged by this play steeped in cynicism towards modern life. An underwhelming production that strays far from the SCPA’s usual fare.

The University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts’ production of Daniel MacIvor’s Inside runs Nov 24 – Dec 5 at the Reeve Theatre.

For more information about the show, visit: https://scpa.ucalgary.ca/events/inside


A Worthwhile Tradition: The Mousetrap is Set At Vertigo Theatre


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The cast of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, playing now at Vertigo Theatre. Photo Credit: Benjamin Laird Arts and Photos, 2015.

Vertigo Theatre has a long history with Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. Since 1980, the company has returned time and time again to Christie’s classic murder-mystery. This season, The Mousetrap returns for its 14th production at Vertigo Theatre, where the play was last staged in 2008.

Directed by Kate Newby, The Mousetrap finds Mollie and Giles Ralston (Anna Cummer, Devon Dubnyk) waiting for their guests to arrive at Monkswell Manor, a newly opened guest house in the country. Just before any of the guests arrive, the radio reports that the police are still searching for the killer who recently claimed the life of a local woman.

One by one, the guests arrive, beginning with a young, free spirited man named Christopher Wren (Geoffrey Simon Brown). Mrs. Boyle (Laura Perken) is instantly displeased with Monkswell Manor, and argues she was misled by Mollie and Giles’ advertisement. Major Metcalf (Duval Lang) arrives just behind the unpleasant woman, and fortunately he is far more jovial than her. The last scheduled guest is Miss. Casewell (Genevieve Paré), a well-travelled, yet reserved, woman. Mr. Paravicini (Cam Ashcroft), a strange man whose appearance seems disingenuous, joins the party after his car overturns in a snowdrift.

The guests are trapped indoors by a violent snowstorm, leaving no one able to get in or out. The only person able to reach the manor is Sergeant Trotter (Stafford Perry) who arrives by skis. The policeman is there to protect the guests, he reveals, as police have reason to believe the killer is on his or her way to the manor – if the killer is not already in their midst. When one of the guests is murdered, Sgt. Trotter must find out who among them is the killer and stop them before they strike again. And with no contact with the outside world, there is no time for anyone to withhold any secrets from the investigation.

By now, the whodunnit genre has been well-played, but there is something to appreciate about the classics. And here, we are not involved with just any mystery writer, but the Queen of Crime herself. Christie’s ability to build intrigue is second to none, and her attention to detail is impeccable – the radio report on the mechanics of fear comes to mind. The fun of a good mystery endures in this thrilling play where isolation pulls tension to the surface.

Newby’s lively, but measured, direction makes this production feel like an exciting game of Clue. There is almost a hint of camp, and that is not a stretch by any means. Via Mr. Paravicini, played by a very funny Ashcroft, the play already pokes fun at itself and the logic common in murder-mysteries. Christie had a good sense of humour about her work, and Newby emphasizes that for an audience well-familiar with the tropes Christie helped establish during her career.

If grizzly murder were not afoot, set & lighting designer Narda McCarroll’s gorgeous Monkswell Manor would be the envy of any traveller. The snow falling outside the spacious manor’s large window adds very nicely to the atmosphere. Add in April Viczko’s colorful costume design, and the audience is fully absorbed into the period.

The evening’s tension is heightened by Perry’s furious commitment to apprehending the killer. Perry’s Sgt. Trotter is intent on leaving no stone unturned during the investigation. Unfortunately, the guests are less like stones and more like boulders. Brown’s enigmatic, oddball Wren delights as he makes a joke of the whole thing, making everyone in the manor feel uncomfortable while doing so. Brown gives Dubnyk’s stuffy Giles more than enough reason to dislike him. Cummer’s Mollie tries desperately to keep the house running smoothly, while also trying to keep the peace between the guests. Cummer knows how to make small physical moments sing. Perken’s aristocratic Mrs. Boyle stirs the house like a witch at her cauldron. Paré plays Miss. Casewell with a firmness that stands well against Perken, and that cuts through much of the swirling around by the other guests.

There are some projection issues, as in the audience strains to hear bits of dialogue, but the cast is largely on point delivering the material. The accents could use some differentiation, however, as they all sound just a touch too similar to each other, an odd thing considering the guests come from all over.

The production has a vibrant energy surging through it, from start to finish. And the same energy carries during intermission and after the show where the audience buzzes about all the various clues. There is a seriousness to it all, which Newby is interested in exploring, but the show is mainly a lot of fun thanks to the strengths of its cast.

Ultimately, Vertigo Theatre’s The Mousetrap reminds us why Christie is the master of mystery, and why the company keeps returning to this classic play.

Vertigo Theatre’s The Mousetrap runs Nov 14 – Dec 13.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.vertigotheatre.com/the-mousetrap/


The Age of Love Turns The Taboo Into Something Sweet

Love, you never know where you’ll find it. Just ask 21-year-old Ash (Ryan Gray). Who have guessed that Ash would meet the love of his life at his grandfather’s funeral? Funerals aren’t exactly breeding grounds for romance, you know with the whole death thing. But when Ash laid his eyes upon his sobbing step-grandmother that day, something just clicked.

Presented by Urban Stories Theatre, Maria Crooks’ The Age of Love stages the ‘scandalous’ relationship between Ash and his 77-year-old step-grandmother Olivia (Diana-Marie Stolz). While the relationship is no problem for Olivia, a feisty mature woman, Ash has been slow about making their love known publicly. The thing is, Ash has a whole lot of money waiting to be inherited, but the inheritance is at the discretion of his mother Evelyn (Olga Primak). Ash can’t just marry anyone, you see, he needs to marry someone who has Evelyn’s approval, otherwise Ash receives nothing.

More libido than brains, Ash decides the best way to break the news to his mother is to have them all appear on a ratings thirsty tabloid TV show hosted by Lex Rodriguez (Ellen Sullivan).

Crooks goes beyond the taboo to find something sweet in Ash and Olivia’s relationship. Sure, the playwright goes for laughs, and maybe tries too hard in the process, but the playwright stays away from framing the two lovebirds as sexual deviants. Instead, Crooks is interested in exploring what exactly defines a normal relationship. So long as people are happy and not hurting anyone, then why should anyone worry about the status quo when their heart says otherwise?

Crooks takes a bite out of the status quo by positioning Ash and Olivia’s relationship against the outrageous spectacle produced by slimy, Jerry Springer-esque TV shows. Suddenly, there are far stranger things in life than a couple who just happen to be 50 years apart, like TV talk shows that exploit people for entertainment.

And in a fun twist, the eccentric psychologist and shoe fetishist Dr. Blezieau (Scottie Grinton) is perhaps the most rational person in the room.

With that being said, Crooks’ script could really benefit from a significant trim. 75 minutes feels just a little too long for this quirky play. While Britt Kennedy’s direction brings a lot of pep to the show, the material does start to run thin, especially towards the end.

On that note, there is not much on stage besides two chairs, a bed, and a desk. A good thing considering the front row has to be conscious of their feet so they don’t trip anyone during some of the more physical moments.

Stolz brings a lot of fire to the stage, and a lot of that fire comes out when she goes toe to toe against Primak. No easy battle given Primak plays Evelyn as less than a helicopter parent and more of a fighter jet. Gray is a lot of fun to watch as he tries to maintain the peace between the two fierce women.

Grinton is a real scene stealer with his faux, over the top German accent, and all the uncomfortable euphemisms that come out of his character’s well-meaning mouth. And the audience loves Sullivan as Lex, a TV host who cares more about camera angles than real human emotion. Sullivan has a great time with the character, and who wouldn’t when they get to poll the ‘studio audience’ on what they think about Ash and Olivia’s relationship?

Based on actual events, Crooks’ new play The Age of Love is a hilarious, oddly touching show that audiences will enjoy for its refreshing look at the taboo.

Urban Stories Theatre’s The Age of Love runs Nov 10 – 21 at Motel Theatre.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.urbanstoriestheatre.org/


The Far, Far Edge of Theatre: Nadia Ross Talks What Happened to The Seeker



STO Union’s What Happened to The Seeker opens next Wednesday (Nov 25) at Theatre Junction GRAND.

Founded in 1992 by Artistic Director Nadia Ross, STO Union is a multidisciplinary art and performance company that explores new methods of theatre creation and production by bringing together artists from a variety of mediums. For their latest show What Happened to The Seeker, the company has brought together exhibition, video, and live performance to stage an experience unlike any other.

“We are the far, far edge of theatre,” Ross says, “even to the point where we’re not even sure theatre critics can review it…[but] that’s what STO Union does is explore, what else can you do in a venue? What are other ways to communicate? It’s bringing up questions we want it to bring up.”

What Happened to The Seeker tells the story of a middle-class, North American woman who embarks on a personal journey to reclaim the ideals of her youth. The journey is based on vivid experiences from childhood, intertwined with the history of the Seekers – youth of the 1960s who travelled the world to find spiritual enlightenment. The performance triptych, encapsulating the era from 1965 to 2010, takes the audience on a journey of their own as they piece together the story of the character’s fragmented life.

“There’s an underlying franticness in her because of her search, her desire to find some sort of place where she feels okay in the world,” says Ross about the character. “There’s also this huge underlying – it’s subtle, but it’s there – level of disappointment because there was so much anticipation, so much hope, so much belief. I mean, they were talking about climate change in the sixties. They were talking about plastics. They were talking about all of this stuff.

“[The character] realizes that change is very, very slow. She did not expect that by the time she was in her fifties that women would be still be paid so much less than men. She thought they would be equals, that’s what she assumed was going to happen.”

Ross adds that part of the danger when talking about the sixties is the nostalgia surrounding the period. “A lot of people say, that was the highlight, and we’ve gone downhill since then.”

The internationally acclaimed artist explains that the show’s structure is inspired by changes currently developing in the communication revolution. “I think with the internet, Facebook, and all that, it’s changed how we look at things. We’ve become far more visual. It’s all about the image. Language is sort of deteriorating.”

“What I did with this show is I’m trying to imitate what happens when you go online,” says Ross about bringing together three mediums to tell a story. “One minute you have this; the next you have that. You have totally different formats that you are exposed to very quickly. We don’t do it as fast as online, but that’s why we give you very different experiences. So, one moment you feel like you are in an art gallery, then the next moment you are watching a puppet movie, eating popcorn.

“So, it’s sort of an experiment into, can you do that? Can you pile things on top of each other that are different forms and still, in some way, have communication with the audience? [Can you] still keep that red thread going through the whole thing?”

Even with all our progress, Ross believes that what will always remain true about human beings is our desire not to change what is there in order to feel better. “Our search [for spiritual enlightenment] is like, buy your lotto ticket and get your million dollars.”

“[The character] goes through hundreds of boyfriends,” she says. “She goes through different things at work. She’s just kind of tearing through life in hopes that she’s going to find it, find that sweet spot… that’s what we want to look at, that eternal desire for something else, for something more, for something that’s going to hit the spot, and how we never find it.”

Although the show may be far from traditional, the experiments that are being staged may one day affect the mainstream. Ross hopes that people who are curious about what is on the horizon will come see the show when it opens next Wednesday at Theatre Junction GRAND.

STO Union’s What Happened to The Seeker runs Nov 25 -28 at Theatre Junction GRAND.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.theatrejunction.com/portfolio/what-happened-to-the-seeker/

STO Union’s website: http://stounion.com/

A Waltz With History: Devon More on What She Learned From Berlin

Devon More's Berlin Waltz ran July 31 - August 8 as part of the 2015 Calgary Fringe Festival. Photo Credit: Petrocker Photography.

Devon More’s Berlin Waltz ran July 31 – August 8 as part of the 2015 Calgary Fringe Festival. Photo Credit: Petrocker Photography.

For singer-songwriter Devon More, live performance offers an invaluable opportunity to plant new ideas.

“I have a very active brain. I love to research, and I love to learn,” said the Vancouver-based artist. “I find that a lot of media and entertainment that we are exposed to is quite hollow, and I think what a shame…because entertainment value is the perfect way to educate or teach someone.”

And with endless information at our fingertips, live performance is more important than ever in this age of Web 2.0, says More.

“It’s amazing if people give you an hour of their time in a world where seven seconds into a Youtube video clip if it’s not entertaining, then you’re onto the next page, right? So, a full hour of time seems like a wasted opportunity to bring people into a room without trying to give them something… [that they] can marinate on later.”

Last month, More premiered her one-woman musical comedy Berlin Waltz at the Calgary Fringe Festival. Through original music and puppetry, More staged Berlin’s history during the Cold War, from the end of World War II to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

More felt inspired to develop Berlin Waltz after living in Germany’s capital city for four years.

“Everyone wants to know why I went to Berlin, but it was completely haphazard,” said More. “I had finished my first undergrad in Kamloops at Thompson Rivers University where I did a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and Anthropology. So, naturally, I was still working a restaurant managerial job after I finished. And I thought, well I could do this somewhere cooler.”

“I had done a study exchange to the Netherlands years previous, so I already spoke Dutch. My slightly flawed logic was that German would be the next easiest language to pick up after that, and I could get a working holiday visa for Germany.”

With her best friend joining her, More set off for Germany. Upon arriving in Berlin, More and her friend attended an orientation session on how to navigate through German bureaucracy e.g. work permits, tax numbers.

“[We] figured we would probably end up getting seasonal work somewhere else in Germany, like at a ski resort. But when we got to Berlin, it was just…you could feel the energy of the city,” said More. “People are out and contributing to the city, taking part in the city. I just couldn’t think of a good enough reason to leave, even though unemployment at the time was at almost 20%. This was during the 2008/2009 Recession.”

Despite her limited German, More found work at a pub. Working and living in Berlin, More started to recognize something amazing about the city. Even after “witnessing all the extremes, all the worst possible outcomes” just decades before, Berlin still held the arts in high esteem.

“It’s the only place I’ve ever been where if someone asks you what you do, and you say I am an artist, their next question is not “What’s your real job?” It’s a very creative city,” said More. “And it’s a very beautiful thing as a creative person to be in a city that’s been basically slapped in the face by everything that happened in the 20th century and to see the priorities of the city be art and culture.”

More returned to Canada in 2012. Development on Berlin Waltz would begin after More’s 2014 fringe tour.

“The fringe is…I’ve never worked so hard for meager returns, but you know it’s amazing,” said More about the fringe experience. “Professional development pays for itself — so don’t make me seem like I’m money hungry! But you spend so much time on the fringe working, selling, trying to promote, trying to get people excited about your show…I just couldn’t…you really need to care about, at least I do, what you’re trying to sell to be able to maintain that level of involvement with it.”

With this in mind, More searched for a subject that she felt ready to invest all her time and energy into.

“In Berlin, I learned so much just by living there about what the sort of broad political, ideological ideas, terms, and decisions mean when they actually get down to the human level, to one person, to an individual. And it was a really important lesson for me to know that. And so, I thought, well that’s something i could spend a lot of time and energy on and feel good about.”

Although much of the show’s content comes from what she learned while in Berlin, More says research was necessary in order to accurately and properly contextualize the events that shaped Berlin and its people.

“Berlin is a very strange city. It’s contradictory, it’s not like most first-world capital cities,” said More. “If you don’t know why, if you don’t know what happened in history to create that, it’s kind of hard to understand, so I didn’t feel I could give people the broad strokes of Berlin without planting it in its history.”

More’s Berlin Waltz stands as a love letter to a city, an intimate encounter between biography and history, and also, a call for action. In her show, the artist encourages her audience to question actions taken by the Canadian government, specifically the introduction of invasive bills like the controversial Bill C-51.

“I learned a lot about the Cold War living in Berlin,” said More. “And then, I came back to Canada three years ago, and I was kind of astonished by what I felt like were some political mistakes we were making here. What happened in East Germany proved bad for the greater good. So, I was concerned. I thought, we already know this, we learned these lessons from history. We learned about intense surveillance of the population with the Stasi, and now that beast has morphed with online surveillance and all the beautiful implications of technology.”

More fears that the Cold War has become distant in the minds of Canadians, that the high-tension era which saw so much propaganda has “become history, rather than contemporary history.”

“At this vantage point of 25 years down the road after the victory of capitalism…of this quest for unlimited economic growth and what that entails for the environment and resources, it’s only really now that we know what that meant. I think rather than just blazing forward on the same path we’ve been on for 25 years since the wall fell, maybe it’s time to take inventory and say “could it be better?”…I think the answer is absolutely yes. We’re at a point where we don’t have enemies like the Soviets versus the US anymore.”

Looking ahead, More says she will perform Berlin Waltz again. She intends on using all the feedback she received to fine tune and polish the show. Ultimately, More says, she hopes to continue inspiring people to consider the parallels between what happened in East Germany and what is happening here at home.

Devon More’s Berlin Waltz ran July 31 – August 8 as part of the Calgary Fringe Festival.

Visit CBC Music’s profile on Devon More to learn more about the artist: http://music.cbc.ca/#!/artists/Devon-More

Devon More’s Bandcamp Page: http://devonmore.bandcamp.com/ 

Tuplin Gets Personal With Dis/Connected

Melissa Tuplin's Dis/Connected was presented by Sage Theatre's Ignite! Festival. Image provided by Sage Theatre.

Melissa Tuplin’s Dis/Connected was presented by Sage Theatre’s Ignite! Festival. Image provided by Sage Theatre.

In our daily lives, do we exhibit the true self, that which is grounded in our personal convictions, or a false self, an image built upon expectation? For Melissa Tuplin, the former is a desire, while the latter is reality.  And so, she asks, if our identities exist outside ourselves, then what does that leave us with?

Presented by Sage Theatre’s Ignite! Festival, Tuplin’s latest solo piece Dis/Connected explores the complex relationship between who we are and how we want to be seen.

The lyrics “what is wrong with me?” repeat. It is a persistent echo of the mind. Nothing, Tuplin responds by baring herself to us. Yet, despite her confidence, there are small glimpses of hesitation that reveal themselves. But the desire to be happy, to be sincere and at peace with oneself is overwhelming. The dancer’s movements slice the air with vigor as she strives to resuscitate a connection lost too long ago.

In an act of defiance, Tuplin crosses the threshold and walks out into the audience. A determined look meets our curious gaze, until finally she takes a seat. No more is she an image.

Tuplin’s Dis/Connected is at once introspective and bold. Tuplin’s intimate examination of self-expression versus self-censorship excites with its vulnerability.

Melissa Tuplin’s solo piece Dis/Connected was presented by Sage Theatre’s 2015 Ignite! Festival. The festival ran June 18 – 20 inside The Studio at Vertigo Theatre.

A full recording of Tuplin’s Dis/Connected is available here: http://dancingmonkeylab.com/2015/06/14/disconnected-a-new-solo-work-by-melissa-tuplin/

For more information about Melissa Tuplin, visit: http://www.melissatuplin.com/


A Pioneer in Classical Ballet: JCBS Founder Umran Sumen Shares Her Story

Jeunesse Classique Ballet Society's Founder & Artistic Director Umran Sumen, standing beside a portrait of herself from when she was a leading soloist with The National Ballet Company of Turkey.

Jeunesse Classique Ballet Society’s Founder & Artistic Director Umran Sumen, standing beside a portrait of herself from when she was a leading soloist with The National Ballet Company of Turkey.

When Umran Sumen arrived in Calgary 33 years ago, the former leading soloist with The National Ballet Company of Turkey thought her days of dancing were over.

“When I came here, I was thinking that I am not going to dance. I danced 16 years [with the NBCT]…I have a family, so now I am going to be a mother and wife to my husband…But then, the three boys in my life, my husband and two [sons], saw that I cannot. I am bitten by that virus for arts.”

At the time, however, ballet in Calgary did not have quite the same presence as it does today. Alberta Ballet, Canada’s second largest ballet company, was still in Edmonton and would be until 1990 when it merged with the Calgary City Ballet. (Sumen was appointed Artistic Director of the CCB in 1986). There was yet to be a place that offered young dancers intensive training in classical ballet. For Sumen, there needed to be not just a school, but also a company where dancers could apply what they learned to the stage, enhancing their dance education through live performance.

In 1988, Sumen founded the International School of Ballet and Jeunesse Classique Ballet Society. Sumen’s mission: “to put Calgary on the international dance map.”

Today, JCBS is one of the only pre-professional youth ballet companies in western Canada that does full-length productions of classical ballets. In addition to supplementing ballet dancers’ education, the company also aims to preserve and promote the cultural aesthetic of classical ballet in southern Alberta.

“In that time, it was a dream, but I believed so much that if you are not dreaming then you cannot achieve. You have to dream. [And now] we are celebrating 28 years.”

And in those 28 years, JCBS has produced numerous professional dancers who are not only prominent here in Canada, but internationally as well. JCBS & IBS alumnus Alexandra MacDonald is a second soloist with the National Ballet of Canada. Heather Myers has danced with the Boston Ballet (as a soloist) and Nederlands Dans Theatre where her choreography has also been produced. Other notable alumni: Michael Binzer (Royal Winnipeg Ballet), Gillian Abbot (Cirque de Soleil, Juilliard N.Y), Natalie Chui (Alberta Ballet).

For those who have continued on professionally in other fields, Sumen says she is just as proud of them as she is of those who have continued with ballet.

“If they want to do other professions, then they will still…make me proud. They carry that love of discipline, teamwork and [I know] they will shine in their own profession.

“Do you know how much classical ballet and that kind of high intensive training helps [students] develop as humans? That strength, that involvement in teamwork…makes me so happy when I see that. Do not give up. Raise the bar, always.”

Taylor Yanke, 12, and Montana Chong, 16, are two long-time JCBS members who are driven to succeed, and who will be performing in the company’s upcoming production of Coppelia.

Coppelia is a comic ballet about a life-like mechanical doll invented by Dr. Coppelius and the trouble it causes between Franz and Swanhilde, an engaged couple. From below her balcony, Franz admires and falls in love with the doll, Coppelia, who he believes to be real. Jealous, Swanhilde decides to dress as the doll in order to win back Franz.

“You can tell the instructors have a big background in ballet,” said Yanke who has been with the company since the age of three. “You want to work hard. Everyone is nice to each other and help the younger ones out. The older ones are very supportive of everyone.”

And with Coppelia, as with other classic ballets in JCBS’ repertoire, Yanke is excited to perform roles that have been played by distinguished dancers.

“I love JCBS, it’s really a great place to dance at. You get multiple opportunities to do all of these different roles you see principal dancers in Russia, in France do. When you have the opportunity to do those same variations, it’s really exciting.”

Having just finished her Advanced 2 last year and now progressing to her Solo Seal (the Royal Academy of Dance’s highest level), Chong says the support from her peers is also important to her and her success as a dancer.

“Overall, it’s a really great community here. I feel like I can always come here and be supported both onstage and off,” said Chong who will be playing Swanhilde.

“Their age is so young but what they are producing is amazing,” said Sumen about the 40 dancers involved in Coppelia. “Whoever we are inviting [as] guest dancers, they [are] surprised of the quality of the dancers.”

This year, JCBS is joined by Cuban dancer Elier Bourzac. Bourzac trained at the National Ballet School in Havana for eight years and graduated with honours in 2003. In 2007, he became a principal dancer with the Ballet National Cuba.

Yanke is thrilled to be “dancing among such a high dancer.”

“Just to see how [Bourzac] dances and what he does. He helps us out, too. He gives us corrections after we dance. It’s really great to have him here,” said Yanke.

Sumen is excited to stage Coppelia as she believes there is something for everyone to enjoy in this fun, lighthearted ballet. But she reminds us that such a production would not be possible without the generous help from her volunteers.

“I owe everything to the volunteers. Everyone is so dedicated, supportive. I cannot find anywhere else that has what we have in Calgary. If they will understand that you love what you are doing, you have a respect for what you are doing, you have a strong education in what you are doing, they are behind you. That is why I owe a lot to volunteers in Calgary.”

A pioneer in classical ballet, Sumen looks back on her successes with great joy. She tells her story and speaks about her students with immense pride. And Sumen looks forward to many years to come, because this is not her job, she says, this is her life.

“The arts feed your soul and bring you different perspectives to look at life…to see what is the purpose of who you are and what you are going to bring after you leave this life. If you are going to bring one drop of change in people’s life, then you are successful.”

Jeunesse Classique Ballet Society’s production of Coppelia runs May 29-30 at University Theatre. 

For tickets and more information about the company, visit: http://jcbs.ca/

International School of Ballet: http://www.iballet.com/

Fire Exit Theatre & Corps Bara Dance Theatre Search For God in Absence

Corps Bara Dance Theatre rehearsing "Cleansing," one of six dance pieces in Absence. Photo Credit: Char G. Photography

Corps Bara Dance Theatre rehearsing “Cleansing,” one of six dance pieces in Absence. Photo Credit: Char G. Photography

What is the value of faith in a world full of injustices? This is one of many tough questions Fire Exit Theatre and Corps Bara Dance Theatre fearlessly tackle in Absence. Blending theatre and dance, Absence explores the doubt, fear, and perhaps even anger that some experience in their personal relationship with God.

Written and directed by Val Lieske, Absence stages three characters (played by Brendan Andrews, Jennifer Beacom, and Sarah Irwin) who feel utterly overwhelmed by the world. So overwhelmed by the world, in fact, that they are spiritually exhausted. For if God is everywhere, as he claims to be, then why do bad things continue to happen in our world today?

For these socially conscious youth, it is the poor and the downtrodden who suffer the most from God’s absence. And what frustrates the youth is that the marginalized are asked to remain firm in their faith. But how can one, the youth ask, trust in God when he has failed them, and so many others at home and abroad?

And their shared frustration reflects a larger phenomenon regarding youth and traditional teachings. For youth, of what relevance does the Bible have today in our chaotic world? How can we apply its teachings to unprecedented levels of disaster and conflict? And this scrutiny extends to the church where youth retention is a very present issue. What can the church do to help alleviate the dissatisfaction youth feel towards the Bible and its inadequacy to make sense of their everyday experiences? Lieske suggests that the church needs to modernize and acknowledge current affairs. Singing gospels can only get one so far in their spiritual journey, especially when there are so many questions to be asked. And so, the church needs to welcome and foster critical discussions where youth feel they can raise questions that challenge the foundations of faith.

Unfortunately, Absence lacks a central narrative to tie its main arguments together. The characters simply debate amongst themselves various positions regarding God’s inexplicable absence in the world. And they do so by making vague, heavy handed observations on politics, crime, and the media. So when there is a truly potent question raised, it has no support to carry it where it needs to go in order to have a real stimulating effect. Instead, the question becomes engulfed in an exasperating amount of talk.

Where the production does manage to hold our interest is in its six dance pieces led by Corps Bara’s dance ensemble (Laura Barcelo, Jessalyn Britton, Sarah Curtis, Valentia Dimitriou, Jason Galeos, Natalka Lewis, Sylvie Maquin, Caitlin Unrau). The reason being is that each piece is focused on one or two central ideas.

One particular piece that stands out is Cleansing, choreographed by Amy Meyers. Downstage centre, there is a bowl of holy water atop a pedestal. And the dancers each try to bring themselves to it, but they cannot for they feel unworthy. Externalized here is the spiritual agony that doubt creates. And it reads across the dancers’ faces and bodies as they frantically circle the holy water. The piece ends when finally, a dancer gives herself over and smashes the water with her hands. It is a striking image that brings the first act to a close.

And then, there is Cinch, choreographed by Krysten Blair. Setting up this piece is talk surrounding the debate between faith and reason; religion and science. And this piece explores this conversation with a recurring phrase of movement where the dancers pull apart threads or, depending on your perspective, split atoms. For once we apply scientific rationality to religious beliefs, we fall into an almost infinite series of questions that only lead to more questions.

These physical meditations of the soul are executed gracefully by the dancers.

But regardless, the sort of dramatic interest needed to fill an approx. two-hour run time is not here. The elements of the show operate in segments that result in a bland pattern of “acting/dancing/acting” and so on. There is no cohesion between the acting and dance segments until the end, but then it is too late. The audience is ready to exit the theatre.

Absence suffers from pacing issues and clumsy dialogue. While its dance pieces are exciting, the overall production lacks the necessary momentum to truly leave an impact on its audiences.

Fire Exit Theatre in partnership with Corps Bara Dance Theatre presented Absence at the Lantern Community Church, Feb. 25 – Mar 1, 2015.

For more information on
Fire Exit Theatre, visit: https://www.fireexit.ca/
Corps Bara Dance Theatre, visit: http://www.corpsbara.com/