For eight days, Aug. 2-9, the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture will be transformed into a hub of Latin American culture as it hosts Festival Judío, a multifaceted celebration showcasing Jewish artistic work from Argentina to Mexico. The festival, revived after its original 2004-2006 run, is expected to be the largest of its kind in terms of scope anywhere in the world.
“There is so much material to choose from that there could easily be separate festivals for Latin American Jewish visual art, books, films and music,” said organizer David Skulski, who also spearheaded the previous festivals.
Among the highlights of this year’s event is a show featuring Mauro Perelmann, who fuses various Brazilian styles with Israeli and klezmer music.
“My aim is to stir emotions through my music. I want to be evocative and create an atmosphere. It is more important for me to get a reaction from people than to play what is written,” he told the Jewish Independent from his home in Rio de Janeiro.
The samba was invented in the same Rio neighbourhood that later became a Jewish enclave, and there have always been links between Jews and Brazilian music in the city, he said. “With some modification of the scales,” he added, “I am able to turn familiar Brazilian tunes into sounds that resemble klezmer.”
A known composer and choir conductor in Brazil, Perelmann is no stranger to Vancouver audiences, having performed here in 2015 and 2016. His Festival Judío appearance on Aug. 8, as part of a nine-piece musical ensemble, will be preceded by a samba dance lesson.
Buenos Aires-based bandoneonist Amijai Shalev will present the lecture Tango: The Jewish Connection. “Jewish musicians and songwriters were very involved in the creative process of tango,” he explained. “The style of the violín tanguero is that of a Jewish violin arriving in Rio de la Plata (Argentina and Uruguay).” His Aug. 5 discussion of the parallels between tango and klezmer will examine the habanera rhythm (heard in George Bizet’s opera Carmen) that is present in both tango and klezmer. He will also trace the Eastern European origins of the bandoneon, a concertina that is a fixture in tango music.
On Aug. 3, Argentine-Canadian mezzo-soprano Andrea Fabiana Katz’s performance will cover several works by Jewish composers. “People associate tango with earthiness, passion and emotion…. The texts are very, very rich and full of metaphor and deep emotions, mostly about love, especially old familiar love. The poetry is always wonderful,” said Katz, who lives in Metro Vancouver.
The evening will be a milonga, which can be taken to mean both a musical genre and a tango party. Prior to the concert will be a tango dance lesson, and Jewish foods from Latin America will be available.
Among the festival’s offerings are five films. An Unknown Country employs firsthand accounts in following the lives of Jews who escaped from Nazi Germany to Ecuador, and shows their contributions to the economic, artistic, scientific and social life of their adopted country. Director Eva Zelig will be on hand after the film, on Aug. 7, for a question-and-answer period.
Other films at the festival include Los Gauchos Judíos, based on an Alberto Gerchunoff novel portraying the thousands of Russian Jews who came as farmers to Argentina in the late 1880s and 1890s; and The Fire Within, a documentary chronicling the integration of Moroccan Jewish settlers with the indigenous women of rural Peru in the late 19th century.
Two dramas, the bittersweet comedy Nora’s Will (Mexico) and the slow-burning thriller The German Doctor (Argentina), complete the cinematic line-up.
Lectures and artists
The Song of Lilith, an Aug. 6 talk by visual artist, filmmaker and Jungian therapist Liliana Kleiner, explores the ancient myth of Lilith found in the Talmud and in kabbalah, its incarnations through the ages, and how this legend relates to the present day.
Additional events include a writers workshop led by young-adult author Silvana Goldemberg and a presentation about the reality of the situation in Venezuela, led by Jack Goihman, who was an agriculture engineer when he left his home country of Venezuela because of its political instability. Arriving in Vancouver in 2014, Goihman completed a master’s in business administration and now works as a project manager.
A visual art show and sale will exhibit works by local and internationally shown and collected artists, including Miriam Aroeste and Kleiner, as well as a mural by the late Arnold Belkin.
A book sale, primarily of selections from the University of New Mexico Press, includes Oy, Caramba! An Anthology of Jewish Stories from Latin America, edited by Ilan Stavans, and Yiddish South of the Border: An Anthology of Latin American Yiddish Writing, compiled by Alan Astro, with a introduction by Stavens.
“Festival Judío is a double celebration of Jewish culture and Latin American culture,” observed Shalev. “Both are expressions of the richness and diversity of humanity.”
Jennifer Lines and Andrew McNee in The Taming of the Shrew. (photo by Tim Matheson)
Bard on the Beach celebrates its 30th season with an eclectic, nontraditional mix of three Shakespeare plays – a western Taming of the Shrew, a Bollywood All’s Well that Ends Well and Coriolanus, a political drama with gender reversal – and a stage version of the Oscar-winning movie Shakespeare in Love.
A Western-style Shrew
How do you present Shakespeare’s tale of a strong-willed woman brought to her knees by a tormenting husband in today’s #metoo world? Can you justify staging a misogynistic play in the 21st century? That was the dilemma facing director Lois Anderson, who played the female lead in 2012. Her solution? Take some liberties with the script – nip it here, tuck it there, add in some role and speech reversals, set it in the American Wild West of the 1870s. While purists may bemoan the surgery, there is a lot to like about this production.
In Shrew, Lucentio (Kamyar Pazandeh), the son of a wealthy merchant from Pisa, comes to Padua to study and is smitten by Bianca (Kate Besworth), the lovely younger daughter of Madam Baptista (Susinn McFarlen). He is resolved to marry her but the good Madam insists that her older daughter, Katherine (Jennifer Lines), must be married off first. Unfortunately, Kate has the reputation of being an über shrew and none of the local men sees her as wife material. Enter Petruchio (Andrew McNee), a down-on-his-luck Veronan who has come to Padua to “wife it wealthily” and sees Kate (and her dowry) as both a challenge and an answer to his prayers.
Their first meeting is a fiery battle of evenly matched wits and an insight into things to come as the “taming” journey begins from a spontaneous marriage proposal, through the outlandish wedding to the honeymoon in a canvas tent on the range. The scene with Petruchio’s men lounging around the campfire singing in harmony about tumbleweed is a harbinger of Kate’s metamorphosis from the shrew to the good wife.
Meanwhile, back in Padua, now that Kate has been married off, Bianca’s admirers are set to woo her. Lucentio and Hortensio (Jewish community member Anton Lipovetsky) disguise themselves as tutors to vie for her affections. Lucentio wins the battle of the swains, the couple elopes and Hortensio consoles himself by marrying a wealthy widow. Kate and Petruchio return to Padua to celebrate the nuptials and a wager is made among the three grooms as to which wife will be the most obedient and come when called. Although Kate is the one who appears to obsequiously respond, she makes her final exit with a bang.
Lines is stellar as Kate. We see her feisty side when she lassoes her sister Bianca and drags her around the room, when she throws a flowerpot out of a window onto a mocking crowd below and when she breaks a lute over Hortensio’s head – Lipovetsky plays the part with great comedic timing. We also see Kate’s more vulnerable side, as she sits alone contemplating her spinsterhood and what is, in essence, the bullying she endures from the townsfolk.
Petruchio’s character has been made into a kinder, gentler soul, more palatable to today’s sensibilities, but the nice guy doesn’t always mesh with the mean one Shakespeare wrote. That said, McNee is strong in his portrayal and you cannot help but like him. It helps that the chemistry between the two leads is palpable – their characters are outsiders who have finally found their soul mates and revel in the discovery.
The production values are high for Shrew. Mara Gottler has done a stellar job with the costumes, the colourful frocks worn by the women, the cowboy dusters and the urban togs of the localites. Cory Sincennes’ set is simple, with the opening scene of Padua City’s main street readying for a summer fête easily morphing into the Baptista sitting room or a saloon. Gerald King’s lighting design and Malcolm Dow’s western sound design, replete with sounds of galloping horses in a very funny pony express scene, complete the theme.
This Shrew is certainly worth seeing but it would have been better with the original script, acknowledging the culture of the Elizabethan period regarding the treatment of the “fairer” sex and opening the dialogue about how far women have come in the past 400 years and how much further there is to go. After all, you don’t take the antisemitism out of Merchant of Venice or the elder abuse out of King Lear – and you should not take the misogyny out of The Taming of the Shrew. Shakespeare’s works, warts and all, should be looked at through a 16th-century lens, not a modern one.
The Bard in India
All’s Well that Ends Well defies classification into one of Shakespeare’s genres – comedy or tragedy. Bard on the Beach plays it as the former and it pays off, with an audience-pleasing feast of colour, music, bhangra dancing and swordplay.
The setting is 1946 India in a country on the cusp of independence from British rule prior to the partition with Pakistan, which divided the country into Hindu and Muslim nations. The story revolves around Helena (Sarena Parmar), an upper-class Hindu physician’s daughter and ward of the aristocratic British Countess (Lucia Frangione), who falls in love with the Countess’s soldier son, Bertram (Edmund Stapelton). Bertram is dismissive of Helena, considering her beneath his station.
However, Helena is determined to have him. The Viceroy (Bernard Cuffling) is ailing and near death. Helena, remembering her now-deceased father’s various remedies, offers to treat the Viceroy in exchange for the right to marry any man of her choosing. But, while she gets her wish and Bertram is forced to marry her, he abandons her to go to battle. He leaves behind a letter stating that he will not live with Helena as her spouse until she retrieves a ring he is wearing and bears him a child.
In Delhi, Bertram meets virginal but coquettish Diana (Pam Patel) and seduces her (so he thinks) but Helena has previously met with her and made plans to trade places with Diana in the bed chamber. This deception allows her to meet Bertram’s conditions and finally convince him that she is worthy of him – although why she would want such a cad is beyond comprehension.
Helena’s journey of self-discovery is symbolized by her sartorial choices, as she changes from Western garb to a traditional sari by the end of the play, paralleling the Indian journey from colonization and British rule to independence.
It is nice to see the diversity of cast in this production and the use of Hindi dialogue, particularly by Diana’s mother, the widow (Veenesh Dubois). Parmar is lovely as Helena, Cuffling a grouchy but avuncular Viceroy. David Marr as Lafeu, the minister, is hilarious and Jeff Gladstone as Parolles, one of Bertram’s military mates, steals the show with his slapstick antics. Newcomer Patel as Diana is a breath of fresh air. The ensemble dancers under the direction of choreographer Poonam Sandhu and the two Gurkha guards, Munish Sharma and Nadeem Phillip, bring authenticity to the onstage movement.
This show is all about the visuals – the set, the costumes, the dancing and the lighting. Kudos to costume designer Carmen Alatorre for her stylish choices and to set designer Pam Johnson for the stunning terracotta arched set, which transitions from a palatial Delhi home to a Punjabi marketplace brimming with colour and activity. Co- directors Rohit Chokhani and Johnna Wright, with their talented cast and crew, have created a gem. This fusion of East meets West is a winner.
Fall for Shakespeare
As director Daryl Clonan – who helmed last year’s hit, As You Like It, Beatlemania-style – said to the opening night crowd of Shakespeare in Love, this play is a love letter to the theatre. Not only that but it is great fun. The costumes, the acting, the set, the ambience, all do honour to its namesake 1998 film starring Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow. The movie took the cinematic world by storm, winning seven Oscars, including best picture, and this summer’s stage version is set to wow Vancouver audiences.
The story is set in period, the early 1600s. The Bard (dashing Charlie Gallant) is suffering from writer’s block as he works on a new play, Romeo and Ethel and the Pirate’s Daughter. His inspiration ultimately arrives in the form of muse Viola De Lesseps (Ghazal Azarbad), the daughter of a wealthy merchant, who dreams of acting on stage. However, as women were not allowed thespian careers at that time, she has to disguise herself as Thomas Kent in order to audition for Shakespeare’s new play. As Kent, she gets the part of Romeo.
Meanwhile, Shakespeare meets Viola and falls for her – and she for him, although she has been promised to Lord Wessex, a nasty fortune-hunting aristocrat who plans to whisk her away to his family’s Virginia tobacco plantations.
This show has something in it for animal lovers (the dog Spot is a scene stealer), movie buffs and, of course, Shakespeare mavens, who will delight in identifying the various lines from the Bard’s repertoire, the play-within-a-play, mistaken identities, swordplay, a balcony scene, an in flagrante delicto moment and more.
The ensemble cast is terrific and Gallant and Azarbad are sublime in their portrayals of the two lovers, who enjoy some steamy moments behind the bed curtains. Jennifer Lines has a small but memorable role as a regal and stately Queen Elizabeth I. Mention must also be made of newcomer Jason Sakaki, who plays Sam, the young boy who plays Juliet until opening night, when his voice changes, giving Viola a chance to tread the boards without hiding her gender. Kit Marlowe (Austin Eckert), one of Shakespeare’s competitors, has been given an enhanced role in this rendering and he helps Shakespeare muddle his way through Sonnet #18: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day….”
Four Jewish community members are involved in this production. Warren Kimmel – last seen at Bard as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice – plays Fennyman, a local impressario who takes a share in one of Shakespeare’s plays and, while it is a small role, Kimmel plays it to the comedic max. Anton Lipovetsky makes the unctuous groom Lord Wessex utterly repellent, Mishelle Cuttler provides a potpourri of baroque melodies as sound designer and musical director, and Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg’s work as movement coach adds energy and playfulness, as it does in The Taming of the Shrew.
Set and costume designer Cory Sincennes once again keeps the set simple, a stark sepia-coloured Globe Theatre, but goes all out on a colourful feast of costumes.
This will likely be the hit of the season.
Three of the four Bard productions are up and running; Corialanus opens Aug. 21. For the schedule and tickets visit bardonthebeach.org or call 604-739-0559.
Tova Kornfeldis a Vancouver freelance writer and lawyer.
Erica Dee curated the show Weaving Voices, which takes place Aug. 9 at CRAB Park at Portside. (photo from Vines Art Festival)
Weaving Voices features Jewish community member Erica Dee, Tonye, Miss Christie Lee, Janelle Reid and Sara Cadeau, with instrumentalists Sean Mitchell and Jonny Tobin. The performance at this year’s Vines Art Festival on Aug. 9 is based on Dee’s singing workshop, Sing for the Soul.
Dee has been offering the group singing classes over the past two years. “This has been one of my favourite projects I have ever created and it has inspired me to write a whole new album and live performance,” Dee told the Independent. “Sometime in 2020, I will release this new project with a new name and it is very different from anything I have performed. It will be a live, multi-sensory experience that is meant for listening rooms and theatres, or parks. And I will activate the spaces with my singing workshop prior to the show and then include the participants in my live performance. I won’t share the name yet, but it does include my family’s name in it.”
Dee’s cultural heritage includes Jewish and Italian roots, and jazz on both sides of the family. Her paternal grandparents are Evelyn Stieglitz (z’l) and Murray Landsberg, who she described as “the sweetest Jewish couple, who met in the Bronx in the 1930s. They were 13 and 15 and they were together until my grandmother past away a couple years ago. My father, Paul Landsberg, is a prolific jazz guitarist, who started his career teaching at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass. My mother, Rita Marie, was born to Rita Shirley Dallesandro and Jim Smith. Rita Shirley’s brothers, Frankie and Arthur, started a jazz big band in the ’50s called the Dellasandro’s, where they played saxophone and clarinet.”
Born Erica Dee Landsberg in Boston, Mass., Dee goes by only her first and middles names. She grew up “in the mountains of the Sinixt Territory (Nelson, B.C.). My mother, father, sister and I moved to the Kootenays in 1989 because my father helped start Selkirk College’s music program.”
Expressing her gratitude at being a Canadian citizen, Dee said she first moved to Vancouver in 2005, a couple months after graduating high school. “I followed my passion,” she said, “as I had already been performing and writing and I was ready to move to the big city to expand my artistry. I also followed my heart here, after falling deeply in love with a female DJ and producer who was running Vancouver’s only lesbian bar at the time.”
Dee is a vocalist, DJ, writer and producer. She released her first recording, Golden Mixtape, a combination of remixes and original work, in 2011. Her debut album, New Skies, came out in 2016.
“I am firstly a singer,” she said, “which means I get to connect to my instrument (aka my body) in such a deep and intimate way. I usually have some burst of inspiration come to me, whether it’s a hook, or a bass line, or a drum beat. Then I spend time developing the tone, feeling and resonance. Words usually come after, as I find when I add words to my art, it brings it into the mind and I like to stay in the body for as long as possible.
“As far as production goes, I have been producing music for over 10 years and have yet to release something that is completely self-produced. I use production as another way to get my ideas out, using drum pads, keys and programs like Logic and Ableton, and then eventually collaborate with other musicians and producers to complete the creation.
“Recently,” she added, “I have been creating on a loop pedal, which has taken my artistry to a completely new level. I started DJing when I was 20, when I realized that I could be my own band mate, and started touring a performance where I would sing and MC over top of my DJ sets, fusing together the music that I love and moves me with my originals and remixes.”
Dee collaborates a lot, both in performances and in the creation of new work. Her bio notes that she has “supported and toured with artists such as Lil’ Kim, Mos Def, Quest Love, A Tribe Called Red and Bad Bad Not Good.” Past guest artists have included Snotty Nose Rez Kids and Desiree Dawson.
“I love the magic that happens when artists share space together,” she explained. “Each person is unique, with their own experience, tone, voice, stories and inspirations. It activates every part of my soul to witness artists coming together in this way, harmonizing, improvising, and the dynamics of different voices coming in and out of the music. I always say, sometimes just having another person in the room is enough, without a word shared. I can feel every piece of music they have absorbed since their creation lighting up the space. It is truly is my favourite part about being an artist.”
For the Vines Art Festival show, Dee said, “I have brought together a group of such powerful artists…. Each of these artists shares their stories and truth in such a real and accessible way.”
Dee said she is honoured to be part of the festival, as she really connects to its core values. Part of the festival’s mission is to offer “platforms for local artists and performers to create with and on the land, steering their creative impulses toward work that focuses on the environment – whether a deep love of nature, sustainability, or climate justice.”
“Growing up, I spent a lot of time outside and I find a lot of my inspiration in nature,” said Dee. “I attended Waldorf School as a kid, where I learned how to use my hands to connect and create with the natural world in a sustainable way.
“Since then, I have always had a very strong connection and appreciation for the land I occupy. Wherever I travel, I always take the time to educate myself on whose land I am on and acknowledge that within my show. I use my platform to share information about the social and environmental issues that I feel are important – I actually got fired from a festival in Calgary for speaking about the pipeline and how much harm it will cause to indigenous communities.”
For the performance at Vines, Dee shared that there is going to be “an extra special element.”
Of that element, she said, “I have never done this before and I am so excited. During the first time I sat down with Heather [Lamoureux, the festival’s artistic director], I had a vision and I am really looking forward to bringing it to life!”
Weaving Voices on Aug. 9 takes place at CRAB Park at Portside, at 7 p.m. Other Jewish performers in the festival include mia susan amir, Ariel Martz-Oberlander and Rabbit Richards, and it features more than 80 artists overall, performing at parks throughout the city. Every event is free admission and more information can be found at vinesartfestival.com.
Ken Hughes infuses his paintings with messages. (photo by Olga Livshin)
Ken Hughes has always been fascinated with typography. “Since childhood, letters of the alphabet have intrigued me,” he said in an interview with the Independent.
“Public lettering is a centuries-old method of civic communication, both official and informal,” he said. “It goes back to Mesopotamia. By Greek and Roman times, public writing – inscriptions on buildings, commercial graphics, signs, epitaphs on tombs, graffiti – was common. The messages could be political or commercial, funerial or commemorative, religious or frivolous. In more contemporary times, particularly in Europe, public inscriptions have undergone a revival.”
The artist draws from this rich tradition for his paintings and his new show at the Zack Gallery, Ancient Writings in Contemporary Contexts, opens next week. A collection of inscriptional paintings, beautiful and evocative, colours and shapes of the images enhance and deepen the meanings of the lettering, and every piece tells a story.
Before retiring, Hughes was a professional graphic designer. He taught graphic design for years at Emily Carr and Kwantlen universities. He turned to art five years ago.
“Inscriptions – texts expressed formally or otherwise in different alphabets or languages – are a major source of inspiration for my paintings,” he said. “This particular exhibition’s goal is to visually express texts related to Jewish beliefs and culture. Some of the paintings have writings in the Hebrew alphabet. Others have transliterated Hebrew using the Roman alphabet.”
He explained that the messages in his paintings come from various sources: the Hebrew Bible, fiction and nonfiction by Jewish writers, as well as quotes by famous people, all related in one way or another to Jewish culture.
“I don’t speak Hebrew,” he said, “but I have friends who do. I always ask them to check the writing before I incorporate it into my paintings.”
In his work, the esthetics of the letters are intertwined with the message of the citation used. He has been collecting quotes, personal mottos, sayings and other forms of public texts for a long time. “I sing in a choir, and much of choral music is liturgical,” he said. “It has incredible messages, many of them in Latin. I also read a lot and get my messages from books, from newspapers, from common idioms.”
In 2002, Hughes took a yearlong sabbatical from teaching to prepare for what he does now.
“I traveled through Europe – Poland, France, Turkey, Belgium, Greece and Israel,” he said. “I took photos of the public inscriptions on civic buildings, in churches, at cemeteries. I wrote down quotes from illuminated manuscripts in national libraries. There are incredible inscriptions on the tombstones in Budapest, where many famous Hungarians are buried. Jewish cemeteries have beautiful inscriptions in Hebrew.”
Sometimes, a line of text or a quote stays in his memory or in his notebooks for decades before appearing in one of his paintings. Many of his pieces are sad, executed in a darkish palette, underscoring words of deep emotion: grief, fear, despair, memories of hard times and bleak thoughts. But there is hope and joy, too, and Hughes uses bright and colourful compositions to accentuate those messages.
One of his uplifting works, a multi-paneled cycle based on the story of Genesis, with Hebrew lettering dancing across the panels, is decorative as well as informative. The series will be in the exhibit at the Zack.
“Alphabets are amazing inventions, incredible almost,” Hughes said. “They allow people to communicate ideas with just a few symbols. And they are all different – the Roman alphabet, the Cyrillic letters, the Hebrew. In all cases, letters by themselves mean nothing; they’re just symbols. But a combination of letters, a phrase, could have profound meaning.”
When Hughes starts working on a piece, he approaches it as a designer, with a typographer’s attention to detail. He makes many sketches while investigating each idea. What colours should be employed and in what combinations? What is the best number of panels for this message and the most expressive configuration to highlight the meaning of the words? Even the font used can make a difference.
“Some letters look better in a rounded font; others need a blockier typeface,” he said. “The positioning of the letters and the words could be of paramount importance in my paintings. They constitute the composition. And, of course, the message itself often dictates the font type.”
There are not many artists in Canada who dedicate their art to this kind of painting.
“I wanted my paintings at the Zack,” Hughes said. “I don’t want to display at commercial galleries. I think my works are much more suited to schools, churches or community centres.”
Ancient Writings in Contemporary Contexts runs from July 25 to Aug. 25. To learn more, visit kenhughes-art.com.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Michael Germant, left, Sarah Boes and Drew Henderson co-star in Island Production’s The Understudy, Aug. 1-10 at PAL Studio Theatre. (photo by Jayme Cowley)
Oftentimes, in cultural endeavours, there is a tension between artistic vision and profit margins; that is, if there is any money to be made. This is one of the themes of The Understudy by Theresa Rebeck, which is being presented by Island Productions next month at PAL Studio Theatre.
The show co-stars Sarah Boes as Roxanne, the stage manager, who also is a frustrated actor; Drew Henderson as Jake, the good-looking action-hero star trying to be taken seriously as an actor; and Jewish community member Michael Germant as Harry, the understudy, who happens to be Roxanne’s ex-fiancé. Despite the personal drama, “a stoned lightboard operator, an omnipresent intercom system [and] the producers threatening to shutter the show,” Roxanne must try to run the understudy rehearsal for the Broadway première of a recently discovered Franz Kafka masterpiece.
Existentialism, explains director Mel Tuck in his online notes for the production, “denotes the inexplicable nature of human existence and emphasizes man’s freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of his acts.”
“What I like about The Understudy and what I think is funny,” Germant told the Independent, “is that, just when you think the characters have got things under control, everything falls apart. I also love how Rebeck makes the events of the play intertwine with the events of Kafka’s ‘undiscovered’ play-within-the-play thematically.”
Echoing Tuck’s comments, Germant added, “The existential aspects in Kafka’s play lead to the final choice that our three protagonists make at the end, both within and ‘without’ Kafka’s play.”
About those protagonists and what they symbolize, Tuck writes, “There are actors that have substantial careers because they are attractive, and then there are actors who have chameleon-like skill at hiding themselves within the role they are playing. Both have their place and purpose. The battle between art and business is forever being played out before our very eyes. There are many arguments for art as opposed to business. We artists believe in the value of entertainment and intelligent growth for ourselves and our public. We are exploring polarities and the implications of internal versus external thoughts; how we are affected by our conditioning and how that manifests in our social lives and activities. In the theatre, as in movies and TV, one prime issue has taken precedence: money. Money is a defining and deciding factor in avenues of artistic endeavour. What is the best possible way to make a play, movie or TV show successful? The sad reality is usually money takes precedence. And often funny means money. This is a very funny play.”
The Independent has interviewed Germant a few times, all for serious dramas, but he has done comedy before.
“Good dramas have humour written into them,” he said. “It’s the spoonful of comedy that makes the drama go down. And vice versa – good comedies like The Understudy have drama at their core.
“We’ve actually done another comedy, called Seminar, by Theresa Rebeck…. A drama we did – John Patrick Shanley’s The Dreamer Examines his Pillow – has a lot of humour, and a comedic ending. Both of those plays were also at the PAL Studio Theatre and both in 2014,” said the actor, for whom this play marks his seventh for Island Productions.
“On screen,” he added, “I was in a pilot called High Moon, where my character was the comic relief, and I did a short dark comedy, which was really well-received at film festivals this year called Caught in the Spokes.”
About the ways in which comedic and dramatic roles differ, Germant said, “Comedy is heightened pace and energy. In drama, you can set your own pace – you can pause or take a break or a breath wherever you want. But comedy is structured very specifically and timing is the golden rule. In that way, it’s more disciplined and difficult than drama.”
Byron Schenkman performs in the concert called Chopin Preludes on Aug. 1 at Christ Church Cathedral. (photo from Byron Schenkman)
“I think Chopin was an exceptionally sensitive pianist and composer – more of a poet than most. Sometimes his music is almost painfully beautiful. And, these days, I think we need all the poetry and beauty and sensitivity we can find!” Byron Schenkman told the Independent.
Schenkman returns to the Vancouver Bach Festival this year. Presented by Early Music Vancouver, they will perform preludes by Frédéric Chopin on Early Music’s 19th-century Broadwood fortepiano on Aug. 1, 1 p.m., with a pre-concert talk at 12:15 p.m., at Christ Church Cathedral.
The concert is a collaboration with the Vancouver Chopin Society. Describing Chopin as “a central figure of 19th-century Romanticism,” the program summary notes that “his connections to Bach are clear in his own preludes, which were directly inspired by Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier.” To place “Chopin’s music in the context of Romantic composers who influenced his work,” Schenkman’s performance will include pieces by Maria Szymanowska, Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms.
Of playing Chopin, Schenkman said, “I think the biggest challenge – and the greatest joy – is honouring the delicacy of Chopin’s music even when it is intellectually complex and emotionally very deep. Compared with performing most other composers’ work, it’s like creating art out of glass instead of marble or bronze.”
Schenkman performs on piano, harpsichord and fortepiano, which is, simply, a piano made in the 18th and early 19th century. They also have contributed to more than 40 CDs, including some on which they have played on historical instruments from the National Music Museum, in Vermillion, S.D., and from the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston. The award-winning musician is a founding member of several ensembles, and teaches music history at Seattle University, as well as being a guest lecturer on the harpsichord and fortepiano at other institutions. In 2013, they launched Byron Schenkman & Friends, a Baroque and classical chamber music series in Seattle.
A graduate of the New England Conservatory and Indiana University, Schenkman said, “I grew up in a home with lots of music. I often heard one of my older sisters practising the piano and it is still a very comforting sound for me, especially the repertoire that she practised most: Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin.”
In past Bach Festivals, Schenkman has performed Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Felix Mendelssohn and Ignaz Moscheles.
“I am really happy to be returning to Vancouver, one of my favourite cities,” they said. “And I am honoured to be part of the wonderful Vancouver Bach Festival along with so many inspiring colleagues.”
This year’s 14-concert festival, which runs July 30 to Aug. 9, begins with EMV’s ensemble-in-residence, Les Boréades, in a performance over two nights – July 30 and 31 at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts – of Bach’s Complete Brandenburg Concertos. It also closes at the Chan Centre – with Henry Purcell’s Hail Bright Cecilia – but the other concerts take place at Christ Church. For tickets and more information, visit earlymusic.bc.ca or call 604-822-2697.
When Jeanne Abrams told a friend she was planning to do her doctorate dissertation on an aspect of Colorado Jewish history, her friend replied, “What a wonderful idea! You’ll hardly have any work to do.” She proved wrong.
“While I was researching my dissertation and finishing up my PhD, I visited the Beck Archives of Rocky Mountain Jewish History at the University of Denver,” Abrams told the Independent. “The director, when she retired, asked me to interview for the job. The rest is history. As director of the Beck Archives, one of my tasks was to become an expert on Western American Jews, and that’s how the book came about,” she said, referring to Jewish Women Pioneering the Frontier Trail: A History in the American West (New York University Press, 2006).
“I’ve always had an interest in American Jewish women, and found there were some differences that I wanted to point out, and that Jewish women played a very important part in settling and developing Jewish communities in the American West,” she said.
Abrams herself was born to Holocaust survivor parents in Stockholm, Sweden. Sheltered there after the war by the Swedish Red Cross, her family moved to the United States when Abrams was less than a year old.
Through her research, she has learned that, in the United States, while Jewish men were very involved in city and organization building, it was often left to the women to develop religious continuity and community.
She said Jewish women “were in the forefront of founding synagogues, keeping Jewish tradition alive in the home, and they also branched out in many areas – particularly strong in philanthropy and charitable enterprises. At the same time, because of a combination of factors, including the more open environment in the West and that kind of spirit of adventure, Jewish women also really ventured into professions, into higher education.
“I think this environment in the West made this area of the country different for Jews in general. I certainly don’t want to suggest that there was no antisemitism in the West but … [Jews] were more prominently accepted into general society, so American Western Jews, men and women … were often leaders in both the general community and the Jewish community simultaneously.”
Throughout Denver’s history, there have been many endeavours that have involved people of different faiths. As an example, Abrams cited the Denver Charity Organization Society, which was organized in 1887 by a Jewish woman, a rabbi, a Catholic priest and a Protestant minister. The society evolved into what is now known as the United Way.
“Jewish women were also in the forefront of political life here in many ways, and I don’t think that most people realize that women voted in the West long before they did on the East Coast…. We’re coming up to the 100th anniversary of the amendment that allowed women to vote in the U.S.,” said Abrams. “In 1893, women were already voting in Denver. It was the largest city in the U.S. in which women could vote. I think people often think of women’s suffrage with the East Coast, New York, and minimize the amount of influence that early suffragettes had in California, here in Colorado, and in many other cities.”
In 1899, the National Jewish Hospital was founded as a place for people with tuberculosis. It drew patients and staff from all over the country, and was funded by people all over the country. According to Abrams, this was likely one of the first national Jewish organizations to hire a Jewish woman in the role of executive director, in 1911.
While Abrams’ research has primarily focused on Denver’s Jewish population, she also has come across parallels in Canada.
“We know Jews have a very long tradition of philanthropy and social justice. I found that across the border as well,” said Abrams. “But, in terms of the hospitals, when I studied them, I’d say, in Denver, the two Jewish sanatoriums actually had more interaction by women than I saw in Montreal.”
With her book, Abrams wanted to impart a sense of appreciation for women in the American West – of them having been leaders.
“They’ve often been overlooked, because historians tend to be very East Coast-centric,” she said. “I think that people generally seem to be surprised that there are Jews living out in the West. If they thought of anyone, they had the stereotype of cowboys living there.”
While more people associate Denver with the gold rush, Abrams noted that more people actually came to Colorado in search of health than wealth, specifically referring to the tuberculosis treatments available.
These days, Abrams has mainly been studying early American history. Her most recent book was, she said, “on America’s first three ladies. It’s called First Ladies of the Republic: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison and the Creation of an Iconic American Role. I’ve moved back and forth, but I’ve enjoyed the different topics I’ve covered.”
Gabriel Paquin-Buki, far right, founded the band Oktopus, which started performing in 2010. (photo by Rémi Hermoso)
Among the Jewish performers at this year’s Mission Folk Music Festival, July 26-28 at Fraser River Heritage Park, are Vancouver’s Jesse Waldman and Montreal’s Gabriel Paquin-Buki. For both musicians, family has been a key inspiration.
Waldman is a guitarist, singer-songwriter, studio producer, sound designer, and film and TV composer. Originally from Thornhill, Ont., just north of Toronto, his bio describes a cassette of his grandmother singing the Yiddish folk song Papirosen to his mother as one of his “most cherished possessions.”
“That recording was from the late ’50s, most likely 1957,” Waldman told the Independent. “My family had one of the first consumer-level tape recorders, they also had one of the first eight-millimetre film cameras, too. They always loved documenting the family, taking time capsule-like snapshots to cherish and enjoy later on in life.
“The recording of that particular song – which is about a young girl selling cigarettes on a street corner – has a beautifully haunting melody. I believe my grandmother learned it from her mother, my great-grandmother. At some point, it was transferred onto a stereo cassette recorder and a few copies were made. The same tape also contains interviews with my mother, a toddler at the time, and other family members, since passed away.”
A guitar he found in his parents’ basement also played a part in the start of his musical career.
“The guitar was an old beat-up nylon-string classical guitar that belonged to my Aunt Sherri,” said Waldman. “Actually, I suspect it belonged to one of her ex-boyfriends. I figured out how to play ‘Smoke on the Water’ on one string and was hooked for life! That was back in 1989.”
Waldman made his way to Vancouver in 1995 “on a whim,” he said. “I wanted to go somewhere where no one knew me and reinvent myself. From the moment I saw the mountains and smelled the ocean, I instantly felt at home. Then, after meeting the people and getting a feel for the laidback vibe of the West Coast, I was sold on Vancouver.”
For Paquin-Buki, whose group Oktopus began performing in 2010, it was his father who introduced him to klezmer.
“My father was born into a Polish Jewish family and has carried klezmer music with him all his life. His transmission to me of this cultural legacy occurred quite naturally. The cassettes he would play in the family car, the klezmer recordings during parties at our home, the live bands at family weddings and those rare times he would play songs on the piano were enough for me to access the roots of this musical tradition,” said Paquin-Buki.
“As it is for many children, I believe it was the rhythm of this music that excited me. The recordings we listened to were mostly of fast songs and, for me, were synonymous with joy. My love for this music today has so many facets! When we listen to klezmer, we can somehow feel the richness of the Jewish people’s millennial history and hear their encounters with musicians from all over the planet and across centuries. Also, major-minor ambivalence in the main klezmer scale (the freygish) embodies the dichotomy between laughter and tears so characteristic of Jewish culture. And it’s always fun music to play.”
Waldman has similar views. “I’ve always enjoyed klezmer music,” he said. “The mile-a-minute dance numbers, the sorrowful ballads and the cheeky vocals. Many klezmer compositions use melodies based on the harmonic minor scale, which includes a minor third and a major seven, which makes it sound particularly haunting and mournful to me. In terms of culture, all of my band mates in my early days were Jewish. I definitely cut my teeth with fellow Jews who know the delights of Shabbos dinner and a good bagel with lox and cream cheese!”
While he enjoys klezmer, Waldman’s music is predominantly folk and blues. “I love the sound, the rawness and heavy emotional weight of those styles,” he explained. “I also love the storytelling aspect of it, specific life experiences, places and relationships. Real folk and blues is unique to each artist but also has a tradition of carrying classic songs through the generations. I also love how blues has a way of transforming deep pain into something beautiful.”
Waldman’s debut album, Mansion Full of Ghosts, which was released in 2017, is described as “an exploration of the city’s vast duality, a backdrop of beauty mirrored by a fierce underbelly and a need to keep a light on in the dark.” It includes songs about his neighbourhood, the Downtown Eastside, and, in talking about what drives him to make socially conscious music, he said, “I think mostly my compassion for other people, particularly those less fortunate than myself. I also yearn to connect with people on a deeper level and music and honest lyrics are a good way to achieve that.”
Among the talent featured on that album is his partner, Megan Alford. Currently, the two are working on a recording of her music, Field Guide to Wildflowers, scheduled for an early 2020 release. “My role is producer and guitar player,” said Waldman. “She is an outstanding songwriter with a great voice and poignant and deeply personal lyrics. We’ve been working together for a couple years now and the songs have really come to life.”
As can blues music, klezmer holds space for both happiness and sadness. In addition to being a musician, Paquin-Buki holds a master’s degree in comparative literature. In his first semester, he took two courses that focused on literature from the concentration camps. Le Verfügbar aux enfers (The Lowest-Class Worker Goes to Hell), written by Germaine Tillion, a prisoner at Ravensbrück, particularly caught his attention. “This work has a substantial musical dimension and contains a lot of humour…. I was very keen on exploring this taboo subject of laughter and the Holocaust and especially on trying to understand what its benefits were and what shapes it could subsequently take…. For the time being, there is no direct connection between this topic and Oktopus’s music but, in performance, it allows me to flesh out historical intros between pieces. It also adds a new dimension to these tears that are halfway between laughter and sorrow, since klezmer music – and particularly the clarinet – reproduces vocal inflections that convey laughter and sorrow.
“I would very much like to compose a piece based on one of the works I used in my thesis, ‘La danse de Gengis Cohn.’ I also have a mind to add a work from KZ Muzik, a vast box set recording that traces and publishes many works composed in concentration camps. But, overall, the fact remains that my own academic project on such a profound and terrifying topic has changed my general view of the world and impacts everything I do.”
Paquin-Buki is the driving force behind Oktopus’s mission to perpetuate klezmer. “By striving to perpetuate this musical tradition, I am keeping the culture of my ancestors alive and this is of special significance to me,” he said. “Nevertheless, since klezmer carries universal values, our approach also makes substantial room for the musical traditions of Quebec.”
Indeed, Oktopus combines elements of different cultures.
“The klezmer repertoire is so vast that we cannot possibly cover it all in our lifetimes,” said Paquin-Buki. “But we have also chosen to incorporate classical melodies – we are all classically trained and so we necessarily view klezmer through the lens of classical music, in the way our ears have been trained to hear it – as well as Quebec chansons [folk songs] and, sometimes, songs from other cultures around the world.
“Trying to somehow recreate these songs as they were played decades or even centuries ago is not really in line with our view of tradition, which is not a static concept for us. Tradition is something that evolves and so, in certain respects, we try to imagine what the klezmorim repertoire might have been like if they had settled in Montreal. They would have necessarily incorporated Québécois and Canadian songs and styles. Historically, klezmer absorbs the different cultures it encounters along its way, while staying true to its deep roots, which colour everything it touches. The important thing is to remain connected to those roots.”
One challenge in maintaining that connection for Paquin-Buki has been that his “classical training got in the way in some respects because klezmer is largely an oral tradition.” He couldn’t find any scores for a klezmer ensemble and, he said, “In the environment in which I functioned as a musician, nothing was possible without written-down notes. But, to make a long story short, I finally decided to write out the arrangements myself. They turned out very badly at the beginning, but with help and a lot of work, they evolved into something presentable.
“The group’s configuration,” he said of Oktopus, “is loosely based on what I heard on recordings of the Klezmer Conservatory Band: clarinet, violin, flute, trombone, tuba (now bass trombone), piano and drums. Back in 2009, I was not acquainted with that many musicians, so I recruited a few friends and other promising students from the faculty of music. The group began playing in 2010 – three pieces performed in a chamber music concert at the Université de Montréal. The following year, we were offered our first professional engagements.” Oktopus has two albums – Lever l’encre (2014) and Hapax (2017) – both of which were nominated for Juno and Canadian Folk Music awards.
Michael Scholar Jr. co-directs the political comedy Born Yesterday, which opens July 13 at the Jericho Arts Centre. (photo from ETC)
Garson Kanin’s comedy Born Yesterday opened on Broadway on Feb. 4, 1946, and was a hit. It has been made into a film (1950), returned to Broadway twice (1989 and 2011) and seen countless productions. About political corruption, it has a timeless quality.
“This play seems to have been written for this exact moment, when populism, corruption and bullying are an omnipresent part of our political and personal lives,” co-director Michael Scholar Jr. told the Independent.
Scholar co-directs the Ensemble Theatre Company (ETC) production with Shelby Bushell. Part of the company’s Annual Summer Repertory Festival, Born Yesterday opens July 13 at the Jericho Arts Centre.
“Kanin wrote the piece while in Europe,” said Scholar. “While he was serving in the army to defeat fascism abroad, he seemed more concerned about those same tendencies within our own democracy back home. This play and one of its central figures, Harry Brock, the bullying millionaire who tries to buy his way into power, are sadly all too familiar 80 years on.”
In Born Yesterday, junkman Harry has come to Washington, D.C., to use his money to influence legislation. Despite his own uncouthness, Harry is concerned that his girlfriend, Billie, a former showgirl, will make him look bad, so he hires a reporter, Paul, to educate her. As her newly released intelligence begins to surface, she could prove Harry’s undoing.
The Independent last spoke with Jewish community member Scholar about The Enemy, another political play, which was at the Firehall Arts Centre late last year.
“Since The Enemy, a lot has changed for me,” he said. “I spent a semester teaching acting and directing at Arizona State University in Phoenix. And now, on my summer break, I’m co-directing Born Yesterday for ETC and, a day after opening, I fly to New York to direct A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Colonial Theatre of Rhode Island, which I get to work on with my 6-year-old daughter, Alice.”
About how he came to co-direct Born Yesterday, Scholar said, “I was talking with artistic director Tariq Leslie while on a movie set here in Vancouver, and we got to talking about how ETC was hitting above its weight class and doing some powerful work in town. He had seen my production of As You Like It at Studio 58 and enjoyed my work. And so a match was made.”
Scholar described having a co-director as “a real blessing.”
“It means that we can tag team on rehearsals, and I actually get to have a day with my family each week,” he said of working with Bushell. “Also, having her perspective in the room has meant that we are covering more ground and that, together, we have fewer blind spots. This play is about a woman who is perceived to be a ditz, but whose sense of civic duty is awoken through education and intellectual stimulation. This play, written in the ’40s by Garson Kanin, is surprisingly relevant to our current political climate, but it also has some potentially problematic elements [so it is] worth having two sets of eyes looking at this material.”
One of those elements is the depiction of women.
“Brock is a bully and, without giving away too much of the plot, he is a violent character towards both men and women in his entourage,” explained Scholar. “The play deals with toxic masculinity, misogyny and stereotypes, but, in its time, it was working to subvert those ideas. So, we’ve reworked parts of the piece to highlight this intention and to not reinforce gender stereotypes, which has been another great reason to have Shelby as a collaborator on this project.”
Ensemble Theatre’s website highlights a quote from the play: “A world full of ignorant people is too dangerous to live in.” It notes, “By turns uproarious and sobering, and packed with a cast of vibrant characters throughout, Kanin’s play reminds us that a healthy democracy depends on its inhabitants to stay healthy, and that abuse of power cannot be stemmed without an informed and engaged citizenry.”
Scholar stressed that, despite the weighty issues tackled, the play is primarily a comedy. “It has a fast-pace banter and physical precision that is almost farcical,” he said. “It uses comedy as a way of dealing with challenging ideas, disarming us with laughter so that we can reflect on our situation with not just our heads, but our hearts, too. I’m sure audiences will have much to discuss afterwards, but they will also be entertained while on this poignant journey.”
ETC’s summer festival runs to Aug. 16. In addition to Born Yesterday, it features Michael Healey’s The Drawer Boy, which opened July 12, and Tracy Letts’s Superior Donuts, which opens July 19. For tickets, visit ensembletheatrecompany.ca.
“Dueling pianists” Lester Soo and Marilyn Glazer entertain at the last Empowerment Series session of the season. (photo from JSA)
Co-sponsored by Jewish Seniors Alliance and the Kehila Society of Richmond, the fifth session of this season’s JSA Snider Foundation Empowerment Series took place at Congregation Beth Tikvah. It more than lived up to the series’ theme this year: “Renewing and Reinventing Ourselves.”
As usual, the program was preceded by a lunch provided by Stacey Kettleman. Beth Tikvah’s Rabbi Adam Rubin did the Hamotzi and Toby Rubin, co-executive director of the Kehila Society, welcomed everyone. Among the 120 or so attendees were members of the Kehila Society and of JSA, as well as a group from L’Chaim Adult Day Care.
The entertainment portion of the program took place in the sanctuary, where Ken Levitt, president of JSA, spoke briefly and Rubin introduced the “dueling pianists”: Marilyn Glazer and Lester Soo, both of whom are accomplished musicians and piano instructors. The two have known each other for 35 years and have been playing duets for much of that time – one piano, four hands. At the Empowerment Series performance, they began with four Hungarian rhapsodies and continued with Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. They then played a number of Gershwin tunes and ended with Cole Porter.
Rubin thanked the pianists for their wonderful performance, which was the last event of the 2018/19 Empowerment Series. The series will begin again in the fall, with a new lineup of events presented by JSA with other seniors groups in the community.
Shanie Levinis an executive board member of Jewish Seniors Alliance and on the editorial board of Senior Line magazine.