Simone Osborne, left, Tiffany Rivera and Matthew Rossoff are just three of the alumni who will help Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance! celebrate on Nov. 10 at the Rothstein Theatre. (photos from the artists)
“I never thought that Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance! would be so popular and I certainly didn’t think that I would still be involved 25 years later. I love these kids and being involved!” Perry Ehrlich told the Independent.
Ehrlich created the musical theatre summer camp at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver in 1995. Its first quarter-century will be celebrated at the Rothstein Theatre Nov. 10, with 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. shows, as part of this year’s Chutzpah! Festival.
“The two shows,” said Ehrlich, “feature opera sensation Simone Osborne, currently living in Germany, who was the youngest winner of the Metropolitan Opera theatre auditions; Matthew Rossoff, from New York and Toronto, who was dance captain for Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway; Tiffany Rivera, a pop, jazz and soul singer; faculty members Advah Soudack, who just toured Canada in the hit play Glory, and Meghan Anderssen, star of Annie Get Your Gun and Thoroughly Modern Millie at Theatre Under the Stars); my daughter, Lisa Ehrlich Kesselman, winner of the PNE Star Discovery and National Youth Talent Search; Erik Ioannidis, star of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat [at Theatre Under the Stars]; vocalist Andrew Robb; singer and bassist Benjamin Millman; and, of course, my ShowStoppers troupe, who performed with Eric Church and Barry Manilow at Rogers Arena, with the legendary troupe Foreigner at Hard Rock Casino Theatre, [on] Canada Day at Canada Place, [and] singing the anthems for the Canucks and at the PNE.
“Everyone – and I mean everyone, including the kids who will narrate the shows – participated in Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance! in the past. And Wendy Bross Stuart will be on stage with them!”
Since Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance! began, Erhlich said “four things have changed.
“One, the kids are now older. In year one, we accepted 6-year-olds. Now, the youngest are 9 or 10 and over 70% are in high school.
“Two, the curriculum for Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance! has become more intensive each year; the levels of singing, dancing and acting is at an all-time high.
“Three, there has been a great social dynamic among the kids that has increased over the years. I hear over and over again that kids have met lifelong friends at Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance!
“And, four, I am thrilled by the number of non-Jewish kids who participate in the program and love being at the JCC. In early years, I had to explain security and what it means to be Jewish. No more.”
Sandra Bernhard is at the Vogue on Halloween night, as part of the Chutzpah! Festival. (photo by Brian Ziegler)
“When I was a little kid, I had three older brothers and I got a lot of attention for being cute and funny, and I’ve always had an ability to comment on situations as they unfolded in front of me,” said veteran performer Sandra Bernhard in a phone interview with the Jewish Independent. “I think that’s what kept it going all these years – I find it entirely hilarious when you’re in the middle of something and you’re able to pull it apart and bring the most humour out of it, or the most outrage, and that’s always been the most interesting part of what I do.”
Bernhard is bringing her critically acclaimed show Quick Sand to the Vogue Theatre on Oct. 31 as part of the Chutzpah! Festival, which runs Oct. 24-Nov. 24. The comedian, actor, author and radio host is known for her outspokenness. She said it’s second nature for her to say what’s on her mind. “By being funny and being a character, which I’ve always been,” she said, “that gave me the access to say things that other people wouldn’t say necessarily, or that wouldn’t be heard.”
Bernhard’s daily radio show, Sandyland, which is on SiriusXM’s Radio Andy channel (created by Andy Cohen), earned her a Gracie Award, an honour given by the Alliance for Women in Media to “recognize exemplary programming created by women, for women and about women in all facets of media and entertainment.” Bernhard also stars as Nurse Judy in the award-winning, boundary-pushing show Pose on FX Networks, about “the legends, icons and ferocious house mothers of New York’s underground ball culture, a movement that first gained notice in the 1980s.”
Bernhard has countless film and television credits, has created and performed several one-woman shows, recorded a few albums and performed with or opened for many artists. She also has written three books.
While she knew from a young age that she wanted to be a performer, it wasn’t until her late teens that the goal started to become a reality.
“I moved to L.A. in the mid-’70s, when I was 18, 19,” she said. “I became a manicurist in Beverly Hills, so I had a day gig, but I didn’t really know how I was going to jump into the waters, because I also wanted to be a singer. I really wanted to be an entertainer, the whole package.
“And then I met up with a group of friends and they thought I was hysterical and then there was this woman I met who, I did her nails and she was a cabaret singer and she would go to the open mic nights and she said, ‘You’re really funny. I know you want to sing, but put your material together and I’ll take you to these open mic nights.’ She took me to one and then I met my friend Paul Mooney and my friend Lotus Weinstock the first night I got up and they took me under their wings. And that’s how I started – I literally fell into it, because I was a natural, and then I started doing the hard work, which was getting up night after night after night to do my act, and I honed my act and the material and then, eventually, I got good at it.”
One of the reasons she remains popular and her material fresh is because she keeps working at it, “finding different ways into it. For me,” she said, “the most important thing is being as authentic as I can, year to year, day to day, because you do change, you evolve as a person, you want to peel the layers of the onion away and get deeper into your core as an artist, as a performer, and I think that’s what continues to inspire you and make you a better performer.”
Describing her style as “edgy, funny, strong, no nonsense, but funny nonsense,” she said, “I don’t feel like I have to really temper anything because you shed your skin as you go along, and certain things just don’t work anymore.”
Born in Flint, Mich., and raised in Scottsdale, Ariz., Bernhard was bat mitzvahed, but, she said, “My father, I don’t think he related to being Jewish much at all, except maybe culturally, and my grandparents – my grandfather went to shul every day but I think that was a little bit later in life. When he came over here from Russia, everybody was busy trying to make a living. And, of course, people ended up in some small towns here and there, and you didn’t always have time for your religion and your traditions.”
Nonetheless, Bernhard said, “I find a certain amount of meditative escape just going to Shabbat and hearing the music and the songs I grew up with, and I like the community. Whether it’s the High Holidays or staying for kiddush and eating a bowl of cholent, there’s something very visceral about it. It connects me with who I was as a kid and my grandparents…. There’s all that emotion, it’s vivid and visceral and it’s just a nice place to calm down and go into and have a little bit of a break from the day to day.”
Saying that she’s “thrilled to be coming back to Vancouver,” Bernhard said the Oct. 31 performance will be “a fun night.” Accompanied by the Sandyland Squad Band, she will combine music, comedy and social commentary in Quick Sand, which, she said, offers “endless amounts of room” for her to go off script.
“I’m always prepared to jump off if something happens or inspires me or the thought process, my mind, and that’s the way it’s always been for me,” she said. “But I also have very set pieces that you want to be able to fall back on and have that continuity to the show, so that you’re not standing up there just talking about a bunch of silliness. I want people to walk away having been entertained.”
Cindy Hirschberg-Schon, left, as Maria Merelli and Tracy Labrosse as Tatiana Racón in A Comedy of Tenors, at Metro Theatre Oct. 4-19. (photo by Sophie Gardner)
Tracy LabrosseTracy Labrosse“What could possibly be better than escaping life with a frantically funny farce? A Comedy of Tenors has slamming doors, mistaken identities, ridiculous dialects and a very suggestive tongue prop. What else do you need?” said Tracy Labrosse about the upcoming production at Metro Theatre.
Set in 1936, A Comedy of Tenors centres on Henry Saunders’ efforts to put on the greatest concert that Paris has ever seen – The Three Tenors – but he will only succeed if he “can keep an amorous Italian superstar and his hot-blooded wife from causing runaway chaos.” Written by Ken Ludwig, the Metro production, which runs Oct. 4-19, is directed by Kayt Roth.
Labrosse, who works at Vancouver Talmud Torah, plays Tatiana Racón.
“I love to be challenged in each production I’m in [and] Racón has definitely been a fun challenge for me,” Labrosse told the Independent. “I tend to get the ‘girl next door’ roles, so playing a sexy Russian opera singer has certainly allowed me to tackle a type that I don’t normally get the chance to play. She’s bold, she’s vivacious, and she’s a troublemaker.”
Jewish community member Cindy Hirschberg-Schon takes on the role of Maria Merelli, the feisty wife of tenor Tito (played by Carlos Vela-Martinez).
“I tried out for both Maria and for Racón,” said Hirschberg-Schon. “I thought I’d keep the options open. But I have a lot more in common with Maria.”
She said, “Maria is her own woman – strong and independent – but she is also very loving. Maria has a lot of me in her. She and Tito have been married for 25 years and I have been married for 27 years. From their fierce love to their fierce fighting, I can relate.”
In addition to her role, Hirschberg-Schon also helped on the costume front.
“I work in fashion as a technical designer, so I know about apparel,” she explained. “I did costumes once before but, being also an actor, it would be a lot to take on. But we needed help so I stepped in…. I measured the full cast, which for me is not a big deal. I helped out when we needed a few extra eyes to find costumes in both the Metro costume closet and also the kindness of Vagabond Players [and their] closet.”
Hirschberg-Schon studied acting before changing career directions.
“I went to college for acting in Toronto for two years,” she said, “but then decided I did not want to be a waitress the rest of my life and went to fashion school. I then concentrated on career, marriage and motherhood. After 20 years, I finally decided it was time to get back to the stage, with the support of my husband and family. So, I guess I have been acting for seven years plus a few.”
“I’ve been in love with theatre ever since I was given my first speaking role in a school play at the age of 9,” said Labrosse. “I went to theatre school after high school, and have been involved in theatre consistently ever since. It’s a lifelong love affair for me.”
Labrosse said she didn’t audition for any specific role in A Comedy of Tenors. “For me,” she said, “if the story is something I’m drawn to – something that I find intriguing – then I want to be a part of it. After that, it’s up to the director. In this case, Kayt saw me as Racón, and I’m so glad she did. It’s such a fun role to play.”
Both Labrosse and Hirschberg-Schon have been in other Metro productions.
“I’ve had the pleasure of acting, producing and directing at the Metro Theatre. A Comedy of Tenors is my 10th production there,” said Labrosse. “There are so many wonderful community theatre organizations in the Lower Mainland and I think I’ve worked with most of them over the years. Some of my favourite previous productions include The 39 Steps, Steel Magnolias, Moon Over Buffalo (also a Ken Ludwig show) and Wait Until Dark.”
Among Hirschberg-Schon’s favourite roles are Evil Stepmother in the award-winning Cinderella panto with Metro Theatre and Lady Edith in Metro’s Robin Hood and Marian panto; Penny in Vagabond Players’ You Can’t Take it With You; Olga in Royal Canadian Theatre Company’s Bedfull of Foreigners; and Yenta in a Toronto production of Fiddler on the Roof.
“Growing up,” said Hirschberg-Schon, “I watched my mother, Marion Hirschberg, on the stage. She was very involved in community theatre and is still on the stage now, at 80. She taught me so much and I am in awe to see her perform. I have theatre in my blood and stage is home to me. But the biggest thrill is to share it with an audience – because theatre does not become alive until there is an audience to share it with.”
To be a part of that audience, tickets can be purchased by leaving a message at the Metro Theatre box office, 604-266-7191, or visiting tickets.metrotheatre.com. Note that A Comedy of Tenors “contains strong language and sexual references.”
Jonathan Winsby plays birthday boy Robert in Company, which opens Oct. 11. (photo by Nicol Spinola)
For his 35th birthday, Robert (Bobby), a bachelor, has invited a group of his married friends over to celebrate. And, married or not, you can be a part of Bobby’s party by attending Raincity Theatre’s production of Company, which runs Oct. 11-26 at “Bobby’s Apartment,” 2531 Ontario St.
The immersive production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company is being produced by the same creative team that was behind last fall’s award-winning immersive production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Co-producers are Chris Adams (director), Nicol Spinola (choreographer) and Jewish community member Kat Palmer. Also part of the Company creative team was researcher Michael Groberman. And there are other Jewish connections.
“It is only notated in the script that Paul, Amy’s fiancé, is Jewish,” Adams told the Independent. “However, it is mentioned that half of Amy’s friends are Jewish, meaning a few other characters probably are, too – most notably, Larry, played by Jewish community member Warren Kimmel.”
Larry is Joanne’s third husband. Joanne has known Robert for years.
“Larry is extremely wealthy and successful,” said Kimmel. “He is probably the oldest character in the play. His parents split when he was a child but he is fascinated by his wife and very happily married.”
Just now old enough to play the character, Kimmel quipped, “I intend to make him look younger than his real age.”
Company debuted in 1970.
“This piece is all about commitment and partnership and marriage,” said Kimmel. “It was written not long after the pill was invented, which, along with other cultural changes, threw into question traditional ideas around marriage, monogamy and the way men and women in society commit to each other.”
He added, “As is usually the case, Sondheim and his collaborators have created perhaps the most incisive examination of these issues and so they resonate even today. Every song is so specific and true to life that everyone can identify and, if you haven’t had these exact thoughts yourself, you will definitely have a friend or family member who is in just such a situation. Add to that the incredible music and one hell of a cast and what you have from Raincity is another ‘must see’ piece of theatre.”
As for Raincity’s choice to produce Company, Adams said, “Oftentimes, as it goes with equity collectives, it is a group of people who find a great show and want to see it produced. In this case, not only did I know the show was great, I knew we had Jonathan Winsby to play Bobby. Having worked with Jonathan on last year’s Sweeney Todd, I knew he was more than up for the challenge of this role and I knew it was on his bucket list to play. Sondheim is popular with actor/singers because it is difficult. People want to sing it and audiences seem to want to hear it. We are blessed as well that Company comes with such a strong book and brilliant songs.”
As with Sweeney Todd, the audience will be in the thick of things, specifically, in the midst of Bobby’s birthday party. “We have a bar set up to sell drinks, you can purchase birthday cake or come early and play a song on the piano – everything a fun 1969 birthday party should have,” said Adams. “The audience will grab their purchased seating – you can buy a pillow/floor seat, a couch, a chair or a bar stool – and cozy up to enjoy the show. While there is, obviously, no audience participation, they will feel very much included in the festivities and witness this brilliant journey of a man struggling through his 35th year.”
There is limited seating at the party, however, and Adams said the run is already more than 80% sold out. “If anyone is wanting tickets,” he said, “I’d suggest they don’t wait.”
Steven Skybell and Jennifer Babiak in the Yiddish version of Fiddler on the Roof, which is slated to run through January 2020 in New York City. (photo by Matthew Murphy)
It’s no wonder the current Fiddler on the Roof on stage in New York City has been extended several times since it debuted Off-Broadway last summer. The immense draw isn’t just the splendid choreography, the well-known beloved music, the compelling, stellar cast, the emotional dialogue – it’s the authenticity that strikes a chord. Based on a collection of vignettes by Yiddish literary icon Sholem Aleichem, this production of Fiddler is entirely in Yiddish, the guttural tongue that the people on whom the characters are based would have used in real life.
This is the first time in the United States that Fiddler is being staged in Yiddish. Directed by the venerable actor Joel Grey, it opened at the Lower Manhattan’s Museum of Jewish Heritage in July 2018 and transferred to the more commercial Stage 42 near Times Square in February 2019. It’s expected to run through January 2020. It has both English and Russian supertitles.
“When Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish first premièred last summer for a limited eight-week run under Joel’s vision, it was a show that moved people to tears and I knew it had to be seen by as many people as possible,” producer Hal Luftig told the Independent.
Set in 1905 in a Jewish shtetl in the town of Anatevka, on the outskirts of czarist Russia, Fiddler is centred around Tevye (played by Steven Skybell). He’s a poor dairyman with a wife and five daughters. Three of his daughters are of marrying age and the expectations are a matchmaker will find them a husband.
But, despite tradition, the strong-willed girls have their own idea of who they want to marry – and it’s all for love. Their marital choices give Tevye plenty of tsouris (aggravation). Eldest daughter Tsatyl (Rachel Zatcoff) marries a poor tailor in need of a sewing machine. Second daughter Hodl (Stephanie Lynne Mason) falls in love with a penniless Bolshevik revolutionary who winds up in Siberia. And though Tevye convinces his wife, Golde (Jennifer Babiak), that it’s OK to break from the matchmaker tradition, it is too much even for him when his third daughter, Khave (Rosie Jo Neddy), falls in love with a gentile – he banishes her from the family, declaring her dead.
Meanwhile, the political climate is very antisemitic. There are pogroms, and the czar is expelling Jews from the villages. At the end of the musical, the Jews of Anatevka are notified that they have three days to leave the village or they will be forced out by the government.
The original Broadway production opened in 1964 and, in 1965, won nine Tony Awards including best musical, best score, book, direction and choreography. Zero Mostel was the original Tevye. The music was by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and book by Joseph Stein. The original New York stage production was directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. In 1971, there was a critically acclaimed film adaptation that garnered three Academy Awards, including best music.
The Yiddish translation was originally performed in Israel in 1965. It was crafted by Shraga Friedman, an Israeli actor who was born in Warsaw, escaped the Nazis in 1941 and settled in Tel Aviv.
In the New York production, the set design, credited to Beowulf Boritt, is simple. The word Torah (in Hebrew) is painted across the main banner and is torn apart and sewn back together as a symbol of what the Jewish people have endured.
From the very start, the audience gets drawn in when the cast forms a circle and sings “Traditsye” (“Tradition”). Another familiar tune – “Shadkhnte Shadkhnte” (“Matchmaker Matchmaker”) has the audience moving in their seats. While most of the music and lyrics are basically the same, there are some changes. “If I Were a Rich Man” becomes “Ven Ikh Bin a Rothshild” (“If I Were a Rothschild”).
While most of the cast is Jewish, some are not, and very few of the actors actually knew Yiddish before the show. Jackie Hoffman, who brilliantly plays Yente the Matchmaker, grew up with some Yiddish in her home but was far from fluent in it.
“I didn’t learn the language for my role, I learned my lines,” admitted Hoffman, who grew up on Long Island, N.Y., in an Orthodox home and attended a yeshivah for nine years. “It was difficult, but when I’m hungry to learn a role, that helps a lot. We have great coaches who are relentless. I did hear Yiddish in the house growing up, my mom and grandmother conversed, and I’m now grateful for every word I’ve learned.”
Hoffman and the cast were taught the language phonetically. Many had seen Fiddler performed in English in various theatrical productions, as well as the film. “It feels bashert this is the first production of Fiddler that I have ever been in and it is clearly the most meaningful,” said Hoffman, who has been in dozens of television shows and films, including Birdman, Garden State and Legally Blonde 2. “It merges the Jewish part of my life with the career part,” she told the Independent.
It is hard to leave the theatre without thinking of the similarities between Tevye’s Anatevka and many parts of the world today, including the United States. Jewish traditions are often challenged and antisemitism is once again on the rise.
“I don’t think that antisemitism ever went away, but it is a very scary time now,” said Hoffman. “It is mind-blowing how current the piece feels in that way.”
At the end of each performance, it’s clear by the enthusiastic applause and the long standing ovations, that the audience feels they have experienced something great. “They seem blown away by it,” said Hoffman. “They are impressed that we’ve pulled off a three-hour musical in Yiddish and they’re staggered by how pure and emotional an experience it is.”
At Stage 42 on 422 West 42nd St. in Manhattan, Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish runs just under three hours with one intermission. For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit fiddlernyc.com.
Alice Burdick Schweiger is a New York City-based freelance writer who has written for many national magazines, including Good Housekeeping, Family Circle, Woman’s Day and The Grand Magazine. She specializes in writing about Broadway, entertainment, travel and health, and covers Broadway for the Jewish News. She is co-author of the 2004 book Secrets of the Sexually Satisfied Woman, with Jennifer Berman and Laura Berman.
Sandra Bernhard performs at the Chutzpah! Festival Oct. 31. (photo by J. Graham)
The Chutzpah! Festival returns during a new late-fall time period – from Oct. 24 to Nov. 24 – with performances at the Rothstein Theatre, Vogue Theatre, Rickshaw Theatre and the WISE Hall. Here are some of this year’s offerings.
Opening night, Oct. 24: Multi-award-winning, London-based songwriter, broadcaster and musical storyteller Daniel Cainer performs the Canadian première of his internationally acclaimed Gefilte Fish and Chips. Based on personal stories of what it’s like to be Jewish – and British – then and now, it includes travelers’ tales, feuding tailors, a naughty rabbi, family fables, and foibles. All of the human condition is here, lovingly and intelligently depicted in a remarkable collection of stories in song.
Quick Sand, Oct. 31: Sandra Bernhard is always three steps ahead of the crowd. She has to be. She’s “quick sand.” In these fast-paced times, a lady can’t stop moving. You never know what you might encounter next in this fun house world we’re living in. So, performing with a three-piece band, Bernhard takes control, bringing a mélange of musings, music and whimsy – “never boring, j’adoring” is her motto, covering the waterfront of the outrageous, quotidian and glamorous.
The Trombonik Returns to New Chelm, Nov. 1: Taking inspiration from the traditional comic tales of Jewish folklore about Chelm, songwriter Geoff Berner and writer, performer and satirist T.J. Dawe, along with friends Toby Berner, Tallulah Winkelman and Jack Garten, present a klezmer musical set in Depression-era Saskatchewan.
A wandering con artist posing as a rabbi becomes entangled in the Prohibition-era whiskey trade. This production combines the social critique of Berner’s decades of activist songcraft with the comedic zaniness of Mel Brooks. Following this performance is a celebratory full-on drinking, dancing Klezmer Punk performance with Berner and his co-conspirators, along with special guest and renowned clarinetist Michael Winograd, to mark the release of Berner’s new CD, Grand Hotel Cosmopolis.
The Diary of Anne Frank LatinX, Nov. 6-9: Everyone knows the story of Anne Frank, the Jewish teenager hidden away while Nazis hunted down Jews during the Holocaust. One American-Jewish director, Stan Zimmerman, adds a modern-day twist to the production, which will see its Canadian première at Chutzpah! Zimmerman said, “When I learned there are over a dozen Safe Houses in the L.A. area hiding Latinx families from ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], it got me wondering – How do these families survive with so little money and needing to remain in the shadows? How do they not lose hope? What are their lives like on a day-to-day basis? Do they see the parallels to Anne’s story?”
DAI (enough), Nov. 12-13: Iris Bahr is an award-winning writer, actor, director, producer and host of the hit podcast X-RAE and she is bringing her critically acclaimed, award-winning solo show DAI (enough) to Vancouver.
AvevA, Nov. 14: Chutzpah! presents the West Coast première of Ethiopian-Israeli singer and songwriter Aveva Dese. A rising star in the Israeli music scene, AvevA’s music fuses traditional Ethiopian sounds and groove with her soul-pop songs; she sings powerfully in both English and Amharic about society, freedom and love. Opening for AvevA is B.C.-based Leila Neverland with Mountain Sound.
Closing night, Nov. 24: Celebrates a week-long inclusion project of sharing, exploring and creating through art. Internationally renowned disability and mental health advocate and stand-up comedian Pamela Schuller and Brooklyn-based professional dancers and choreographers Troy Ogilvie and Rebecca Margolick will perform stand-up and solo dance work, respectively, in a shared evening of dance and comedy. The show will also present Ogilvie and Margolick’s new movement dance work created, directed and performed with members and guests of the inclusion community of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver.
In addition to these and many other shows, the Chutzpah! Festival will pay tribute to the JCCGV and celebrate the 25th anniversary of its long-standing and renowned musical theatre summer camp created by Perry Ehrlich – Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance!; present a Shticks & Giggles comedy night with local comedians Ivan Decker, John Cullen, Lisa Person, Yisrael Shurack and others; and host multiple workshops as well as creation residencies for artists in dance and theatre in urban and rural B.C. settings.
Artists of Ballet BC in a previous production of Bill. (photo by Cindi Wicklund)
Ballet BC’s 2019/20 season marks its 34th anniversary year, as the company continues to celebrate life as movement. The new season features a North American première, a Ballet BC première and the return of five renowned choreographers.
Reveling in the beauty of our humanity, the season opens with Program 1, Oct. 31-Nov. 2. It features the première of BUSK by Canadian choreographer Aszure Barton and B.R.I.S.A. by Johan Inger. Inspired by the world of busking and set to an atmospheric score, Barton’s BUSK showcases her versatile and poignant choreography. Inger’s B.R.I.S.A., a probing and liberating piece exploring themes of awakening and change, returns to the stage by popular demand.
In Program 2, March 4-7, the company revisits the pleasure, pain and politics of young love with Romeo + Juliet by Medhi Walerski. In response to unprecedented demand and soldout performances for 2018’s world première of Romeo + Juliet in Vancouver, Ballet BC returns to this iconic story set to Sergei Prokofiev’s score. Crafted by Walerski, an original voice in international dance, it is an innovative and contemporary retelling of the full-length classic.
The season closes May 7-9 with the return of two of the most influential artists in international dance today, both of whom are from Israel. Ballet BC will be the first North American company to perform Hora by Ohad Naharin, following the success of the audience favourite Minus 16 in previous seaons. Program 3’s dynamic lineup features the much-anticipated return of Bill by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar.
For the holidays in December, Ballet BC presents Alberta Ballet’s retelling of holiday classic The Nutcracker. With choreography by Edmund Stripe, sets and costumes designed by Emmy Award-winning designer Zack Brown, and Tchaikovsky’s musical score played live by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, this extravagant production is set in turn-of-the-century Imperial Russia. Reflecting an era noted for its opulent grandeur, this show, which runs Dec. 28-30, displays more than a million dollars in sets and costumes.
“In 2019/20, we are excited to continue a dialogue about dance and its power to transform and connect us in ways that echo across time, place and culture. Today, more than ever, we need channels of expression that examine society and our place in it,” said Ballet BC artistic director Emily Molnar. “Dance can move people to feel and interpret life in new and meaningful ways. This season we are eager to delve deeper into a dance with each of you.”
All performances are at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Tickets and more information can be found at balletbc.com.
Bangarra Dance Theatre (photo by Edward Mulvihill)
DanceHouse’s new season, October 2019 through May 2020, showcases the work of four new companies to DanceHouse audiences and two returning favourites. This season’s offerings highlight a diverse range of artists who are transforming traditional dance styles with fusions of genres and cultures.
“Dance is a vibrant art form that is constantly evolving. We are delighted to share a curated lineup of world-class dance companies at the vanguard of their respective fields in our 2019/20 season,” said Jim Smith, artistic and executive director of DanceHouse. “We strive to present works with a unique and compelling perspective that simultaneously entertain and challenge our preconceptions. Vancouver audiences will be inspired by the artists’ athleticism, artistry, diversity of styles and dedication to inclusiveness.”
This season, new additions to the DanceHouse family include Bangarra Dance Theatre, one of Australia’s leading aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dance companies performing Spirit, a collection of dance stories selected from their 30-year repertoire (Oct. 25-26); Montreal-based arts collective The 7 Fingers in collaboration with Artcirq of Igloolik and Taqqut Productions of Iqaluit with Unikkaaqtuat, a work that melds ancestral Inuit practices with circus arts (Jan. 22-25); Montreal’s RUBBERBANDance Group showcasing their dynamic blend of breakdancing, ballet and dance theatre in Ever So Slightly (March 20-21); and Spain’s Compañía Rocío Molina’s reinvention of flamenco dance in Fallen from Heaven (Caída del Cielo) (April 1-4).
DanceHouse welcomes back audience favourite and internationally acclaimed Brazilian company Grupo Corpo Feb. 28-29 in a mixed program featuring Gira, an homage to dance as a conduit to the divine. Finally, following their crowd-pleasing appearance in Vancouver in 2018, the New York-based tap dance company Dorrance Dance will return May 15-16 with ETM: Double Down, a celebration of the percussive potential of the human body.
All performances take place at the Vancouver Playhouse, except for Fallen from Heaven, which will be at SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts. DanceHouse subscribers get up to 30% off tickets to all six performances and single tickets will be on sale as of Sept. 9. For tickets and more information, visit dancehouse.ca or call 604-801-6225.
Janoah Bailin in SpinS. (photo from Janoah Bailin)
In anticipation of this year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival, which runs Sept. 5-15 at various locations throughout the city, the Jewish Independent interviewed some of the Jewish community members participating in the festival – Janoah Bailin, Erika Babins, Jed Weiss, Zach Wolfman, Melanie Gall, Susan Freedman and Shane Adamczak. They hail from as far away as Australia and their shows are vastly different, but they all have the same goal: to draw you into their world, perhaps allowing you new insights into yours.
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SpinsS, at the Nest:“A wildly dizzying whirl of juggling, giggling, magic and movement, puppetry, PJs, circus and socks, totally tangled together! A unicyclist careens on stage, unpacking a quirky world of clothespin towers, erratic toothbrushes and gargantuan grins. Objects swirl into chaotic creation as Janoah constructs a performing-partner puppet from piles of props!”
Clothespins are “a recurring object in the performance,” Janoah Bailin told the JI. And so are, from the looks of it, some dangerous manoeuvres. But looks are intentionally deceiving, in order to entertain.
“I’ve actually never been seriously injured doing my work!” said Bailin. “Some stubbed toes and scraped elbows, sore wrists from catching myself, but nothing major. The worst is taking a pedal to your shin. When you learn unicycle, you learn falling. It just happens, you develop an innate sense of what you can and can’t comfortably do. I know how to fall and it happens all the time and I get up, shake it off, try again.
“This show plays with limits and bringing the skills to their limits – I expand or contract juggling patterns until I physically can’t hold them anymore and there’s a spin I do on the unicycle that spirals in on itself until I fall. So, falling is inherent in the show and I need to know how to do it well.
“I think I forget that audiences don’t know this,” he said about his being safe during his act. “So they are a lot more scared for me than I am, which is part of the magic of circus: faking instability, making something seem more chaotic than it is. The most dangerous stuff is long-term: keeping your body healthy through the strain of performing every day, the bipolar energy of performance – being totally on for an hour, all your energy focused on that one thing. The solutions to this are getting really good at physical self-care: know how and when to rest and stretch. The hardest work is taking care of my body in the long run.”
Bailin understands the use of the word “escapism” to describe his show, but said his goal is to bring audiences into his world for an hour, and “that seems like incredible presence, not escaping.”
Playful is another common description of SpinS.
“One of the aspects of my show that I’m incredibly proud of is that even fellow performers find the show playful,” said Bailin. “A lot of circus can start to look similar in the tricks and how they’re presented and, in certain ways, I aim to break those forms and I think I’m successful.
“Play is so important, and I mean play in the sense of creating space, pushing boundaries, trying things out. In my opinion, getting locked in routines is quite dangerous and play is a solution to this. Circus can seem quite playful, but it’s incredibly repetitive, the tricks are so hard they take an incredible amount of practice, so, by learning them, we make ourselves routine. I try to counterbalance this by choreographing at the edge of my ability – I can’t comfortably do all the things I do on stage, so they remain alive because I need to concentrate and there’s a very real danger that they won’t work and then I need to find a different solution – and also by choreographing through games, playing games on stage – how can I unpack a suitcase without getting off the unicycle?”
Bailin started juggling when he was 10, so he’s been at this for some 20 years now.
“I’m at the point in juggling and unicycling where I’ve mastered the basics and get to develop my own style,” he said. “So, I’m watching and feeling myself do the skills and how I can integrate my personality into them…. Also, I am continually excited about the challenge of piecing together shows, taking all the bits and fitting them together into something cohesive through all the disciplines I work with: circus, dance, puppetry, storytelling, magic.”
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Lift, at Firehall Arts Centre:“Lift is a contemporary musical set in London’s Covent Garden Tube Station. The elevator ride takes one minute, but the journey inside takes us through eight lifetimes, allowing the characters to see and say things that might not otherwise … come up.”
“As a company, Awkward Stage is always looking to tell stories that haven’t been heard yet and, like many of our productions, Lift will have its Canadian première with us at the Fringe,” choreographer and Awkward Stage Productions artistic associate Erika Babins told the JI.
“I think what drew us all into this story was the way that it was told. It intrigued us, the way the play bends reality and imagination. Our setting never changes but changes constantly, the characters are all rich relationships yet are strangers. We are constantly playing with those dichotomies in rehearsal.
“The script leaves a lot of room for interpretation and we’re so lucky to be working with a cast of brave and intelligent actors who are making discoveries with us as we build this show. Plus, the music is beautiful; it’s been stuck in my head for months.”
Choreography is integral to the show. It helps delineate the imagined settings to which the elevator riders take us. “The jostling of a train, warming up at a ballet studio, being at a strip club. It also helps to blend the lines between reality and the imaginings in the Busker’s mind,” said Babins. “The choreography in this show is quite integrated into the storytelling – there aren’t any ‘dance sequences’ per se, the movement weaves itself into the text and music.”
Jed Weiss plays the Busker, who he describes as “the quintessential introspective artist.”
“This leaves him both capable of deep insight as well as myopic self-centredness,” explained Weiss. “His arc is largely around learning and accepting that he has to be more considerate of the needs and lives of the people around him, leading him to a profound personal growth that his self-centred introspection could not achieve. This connects with the theme of the piece as a whole, highlighting the need to be brave in the face of vulnerable social interaction, to make meaningful connections with those that are important to you.”
The character, he added, “shines light on the shortcomings of the artistic male archetype we so often see in rom-coms and other media. Instead of following the stereotypical path of a tortured artist pining after a muse until she falls for him, it shows that real growth comes instead from practising sympathy towards the needs of others, not a commitment to romantic obsession.”
“I am playing Tall Dark and Handsome (TDH), a psychiatrist, and an American tourist,” said Zach Wolfman. “TDH is the dating avatar for Bright Young Thing (BYT) and represents BYT’s online persona. The American tourist is lost and looking for directions in London, hoping to bump into the Queen and visit Buckingham Palace.”
For Wolfman, the character he plays allows him “to explore the dissonance between the face we show online versus how we act in real life. Getting to embody that daily interaction we all engage in online is fun for me.
“The play as a whole is very dynamic,” he said, “and I really enjoy the fast pace and shifts we make between different settings. One minute, we’re in a lift; the next, we’re in a club or a chat room. Lift definitely highlights the different masks we wear at work, online and in our relationships. How vulnerable are we and how willing are we to open ourselves up to those who are close to us, or simply strangers in a lift?”
“I hope the audience leaves the theatre with a little wonder,” said Babins. “I hope they wonder about what happens to the characters after the moments we meet them in, but I also hope they wonder about themselves, and the connections and disconnections they have every day.”
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Ingenue: Deanna Durbin, Judy Garland and the Golden Age of Hollywood, at Firehall Arts Centre: “Judy is an icon – loved as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. But, in the 1930s, Deanna Durbin was a far bigger star. A favourite of Roosevelt, Churchill, even Mussolini, her first kiss was front-page news. At 27, she disappeared to a life of obscurity in France. The true tale of the lifelong friendship and rivalry of two great stars of Old Hollywood.”
“I’ve always loved Deanna’s music and her movies. We have similar voices and look vaguely the same. Also, Deanna is a Canadian movie star who has almost completely been forgotten,” said Melanie Gall. “Her legacy is one well worth saving, and I hope that my show will help preserve her memory for old fans, and will introduce her and her music to a new generation.”
Always fascinated with history and with historic music, Gall has written and performed shows about Vera Lynn, Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, George Gershwin, and First and Second World War knitting songs. In creating a new work, she said, “First off, I think about the music. What are the songs I’d like to sing, and which songs will stay interesting and relevant to me after over a year of touring?
“I then look at marketability and if a topic I’m considering will have commercial appeal. I then ensure that it has not been done before, or that it has not been done in a similar way to how I plan to present the topic.
“I also try to find a topic I feel passionate about and that I’d like to share through a theatrical piece.
“Finally, I try to judge if I’m the best person to present the topic. Do I sing in the correct style? Can I do the topic justice?”
For Ingenue, said Gall, “I was performing another show of mine, Opera Mouse, Off-Broadway in New York. After performing each day, I went to the New York Performing Arts Library and dug through historic clippings, notes and scrapbooks. I spent days combing through crumbling articles and building a comprehensive biography of Deanna Durbin. Researching Deanna’s mannerisms and speech involved tracking down and watching all of her movies, most of which are actually very hard to find.
“Researching the music involved listening to and playing through dozens of songs to choose the tunes for the show. Then, with the help of pianist and recording engineer Bennett Paster, I arranged and recorded the backtracks, maintaining historic integrity, while creating original arrangements. Much of the script is taken directly from interviews and articles about her life, and several sentences are accurate historic quotes. So, it’s a lot of work, but it’s work I love doing.”
Preserving history is a passion. “So much wonderful music and stories are in danger of being lost or forgotten, and I have devoted my life to preserving them. Although Deanna Durbin wasn’t Jewish, the producer and director who made her a star, Joe Pasternak and Henry Koster, were Jewish – they arrived in Hollywood after years of working in the Berlin Universal studio, fleeing in 1933 when Hitler came to power. Also, the composers of most of Deanna Durbin’s songs were Jewish. So, there is a strong connection.”
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Old-ish, at the Havana Theatre:“It’s about aging and death only WAY funnier! Susan’s fifth one-woman comedy travels the hilarious, rocky road from denial to grudging acceptance of getting older.”
“I guess I’ve been ‘collecting data’ for this show for a long time,” said Susan Freedman, 77. “For about the last five years, whenever I hear news about my contemporaries, it is mostly not happy! The realization finally dawned that people do get really sick at my age and, yup, they die at my age too. I always write about issues and events that are important in my life and I always hope that my stories will resonate with audiences who may be experiencing similar events and feelings.”
The show is structured around events in Freedman’s life that lead into one another thematically and more or less chronologically.
“I have had so much fun working with my son (Alan Silverman) on this show,” she said. “This is the first time he has directed me, though he is an experienced film director. He is smart, he’s a great writer and he has a terrific sense of humour. Do I sound like I’m his mother?
“I have worked with my husband (Bill Galloway) on all five of my shows. He is stage manager – calling the lights and music – on this show and he has been stage manager or slide projectionist on the others. He’s a huge help and support for me and, as I travel across the country with my shows, I get to have him as a roommate on the road! We have a great time traveling together.”
This Fringe marks Freedman’s 20th year of writing, producing and performing solo Fringe shows. When she did her first show, in 1999, she said, “my mother was still alive and I was sure she would live forever, so I certainly didn’t think of myself as old. I am frankly shocked that I’m the age I am. Like most of my friends, I have no idea how the years could have raced by so fast! There are lots of changes as we age, but there are still so many things we can do and enjoy and so much that makes life worthwhile. I am enjoying the good luck of being healthy, although I’m aware that can change on a dime.”
Admitting that she was nervous “about doing a show on aging and death,” she said, “but we are all aging and, if we’re lucky, we will get old. Critics are saying the show is uplifting. So, even though getting old can certainly present us with plenty of problems, it’s always good to laugh – right?”
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Zack Adams: Love Songs for Future Girl, at Revue Stage:“… love, loss, heartbreak, growing bad ginger beards and everything in between. Think of it as a cross between a rock concert and group therapy.”
Shane Adamczak actually has two shows in this year’s Fringe. “Zack Adams got through because I won the lottery and The Ballad of Frank Allen is a one-off performance that the Fringe asked us to do as part of their Pick Plus season, where they bring back popular shows from previous years,” he explained.
The Ballad of Frank Allen, which is on one night only, at Performance Works, is “about a janitor named Frank who is accidentally shrunk in a science lab and ends up living in another man’s beard,” said Adamczak. “Yes, that is really what it’s about. It’s an exploration of masculinity in these modern times and what it means to be a ‘good man.’”
Adamczak uses music to tell his stories.
“I find it is such an accessible medium for people,” he said of that choice. “You’re so hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t love some music at least. It’s also a way for me to live a rock star wannabe fantasy out on stage but using music as a theatrical device to tell stories.”
Both of these shows, he said, “are labours of love and very close to my heart for different reasons. If you love music, good storytelling and to laugh your ass off, please do come along.”
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.”