Wendy Bross Stuart accepted her GVPTA Career Achievement Award while playing the koto. (screenshot)
On June 29, the 38th annual Jessie Awards were celebrated virtually, with several Jewish community members among those being honoured.
The GVPTA [Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance] Career Achievement Award went to Wendy Bross Stuart, who gave her acceptance speech while playing the koto (a Japanese stringed instrument).
“Like most middle-class Jewish kids growing up in postwar New York City, I went to Broadway shows with my parents every few weeks,” she said. “I dreamed of conducting the pit orchestra and conducted many records in my living room on a regular basis.
“My first role was in Peter Pan – as Tinker Bell. I was 6 years old and three feet tall!
“I music-directed my first show – South Pacific – when I was 13, for a day camp in Tarrytown. I was given a script – no score – so I played it all by ear … in the preferred key for each of the teenage actors.
“Later, I went to a musical theatre training program in upstate New York, where I played scenes opposite a young man – named Stephen Schwartz.”
Bross Stuart did her graduate work in ethnomusicology, with a focus on Coast Salish music; research that was published, as was her later research on Northern Haida songs. She and her family lived in Japan for many years, where she continued studying traditional music for Japanese koto and shamisen, earning an advanced teaching licence.
“I’ve arranged and accompanied many Yiddish songs for voice and piano, producing four CDs with Claire Klein Osipov,” she said. “I’ve even arranged some Yiddish songs for koto and voice,” she added, noting “Yiddish was the language of my grandparents.”
“I love arranging and conducting choral music: 20 of my pieces have been published in the U.S. and Canada; most recently, an arrangement of my daughter Jessica’s composition,” she continued.
“For the last 15 years, we have co-produced and music-directed the annual Holocaust Commemorative Evening for the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre.
“In theatre, I have thoroughly enjoyed working with you. Where? At Theatre Under the Stars, the Arts Club, the Electric Company, Touchstone Theatre, Famous Artists, Blackbird Theatre, Snapshots Collective, Presentation House, the Chutzpah! Festival and 25 years at Perry Ehrlich’s Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance!
“My husband Ron Stuart – anthropologist and filmmaker – has been with me on this journey. Our most recent collaboration is our film company: Cultural Odyssey Films. All eight of our most recent films were shot on location in South Africa over the last 10 years.
“Thank you very much for this special honour. I look forward to working with you in the near future!”
In the small theatre category, Itai Erdal and Amir Ofek won for outstanding lighting design and set design, respectively, for the Search Party’s production of The Father, while Warren Kimmel was part of the cast of Raincity Theatre’s Company, which won significant artistic achievement: outstanding innovative and immersive storytelling.
Nominees for this year’s awards included, in the large theatre category, Erdal for outstanding lighting of Savage Society’s Skyborn: A Land Reclamation Odyssey (presented by the Cultch) and Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg for outstanding choreography in Cipher, presented by Arts Club Theatre Company (in partnership with Vertigo Theatre); in the small theatre category, Stephen Aberle for outstanding performance by an actor in a supporting role for his role in Slamming Door Artist Collective’s The Sea; and, for outstanding original script, Deborah Vogt for Big Sister, presented by Rapid Pitch Productions.
At LimmudVan’20, Anna-Mae Wiesenthal will present on The “Othering” of Germany’s Jews and Canada’s First Nations. (photo from Anna-Mae Wiesenthal)
The latest local incarnation of the global Jewish learning festival Limmud takes place Feb. 29 and March 1. LimmudVan’20, which is being held at Congregation Beth Israel, begins with Havdalah and a few musical and intellectual appetizers on the Saturday night, followed by a day of presentations on a diverse array of topics on Sunday.
Anna-Mae Wiesenthal, a teacher at King David High School and a PhD candidate in Holocaust and genocide studies, will present on The “Othering” of Germany’s Jews and Canada’s First Nations.
Originating from Winnipeg, Wiesenthal has long had an interest in First Nations issues and has been involved in community programs there. She is aware of the sensitivities around paralleling these histories.
“There is a lot of controversy surrounding the use of the word genocide and First Nations, but I approach it from an examination of looking at different viewpoints and different research that argue both sides,” she told the Independent. “What do these two experiences of these two people have in common?” The point, she said, is not to come to any firm conclusions.
“I want to leave it open to the audience to process the information and to assess the commonalities and the differences,” Wiesenthal said. “I’m certainly there to point some of them out, but I think it’s to provide a different perspective that will engage and inspire discussion and curiosity among the participants to go further with it.”
Also not promising any proscribed conclusions is Rabbi Philip Gibbs, who will ask: Would the rabbis approve of Uber? Gibbs, who is spiritual leader of Congregation Har El, in West Vancouver, said that even issues as seemingly modern as an app that permits ride-sharing can be addressed through ancient wisdom.
Traditional arguments around fair and unfair competition have remained with him since rabbinical school and came to the fore in recent weeks as British Columbia argued over, and then slowly and somewhat clunkily implemented, ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. Some of the issues that could arise include whether a company keeps money in the community it serves or extracts it to some distant parent company. But don’t expect him to come down clearly on one side.
“If you’ve ever looked into a question of Jewish ethics, you know that you can make the joke of saying two Jews will have three opinions,” said Gibbs. “Maybe, through the discussion, someone else will tell me what it seems like I’m thinking, but really I think the goal is just to be more attuned to what some of the issues are so that, as we begin to make choices of who do we call up for a ride to the airport, that we’re taking into account a wider range of values than simply how little we want to pay for it.”
Other presenters will talk about crafting Jewish children’s books (see jewishindependent.ca/new-publisher-set-to-launch); how Leonard Bernstein used the music of Selichot to create West Side Story; the rich and poor among Portuguese Jews in Amsterdam’s Golden Age; building Jewish micro-communities through co-housing; healing Christian antisemitism; analyzing the Israeli smash TV show Shtisel; and many other topics.
Ben Caplan is narrator and co-creator of Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story, which runs Jan. 24-30 at Frederic Wood Theatre, as part of the PuSh festival. (photo by Stoo Metz Photography)
The 2020 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival opens next week. Among the highlights is Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story, which follows Chaim and Chaya from the pogroms in Romania they are fleeing, to Halifax’s Pier 21, where they meet in 1908, to Montreal, where they end up living. The show, which runs Jan. 24-30 at Frederic Wood Theatre, is narrated and co-created by Halifax-based musician and performer Ben Caplan, with whom the Jewish Independent recently spoke.
JI: How and when did you become involved in the production?
BC: It all started with a phone call from 2b Theatre Company’s artistic co-director Christian Barry in mid-2015. Christian was familiar with my work as a songwriter and performer in the music world and he wondered if I would be interested in collaborating on creating a theatrical production featuring new songs that we would write together.
To be honest, I was skeptical at first. I tend to be a very solitary writer and, though I had a lot of experience in theatre many years ago, it had been a decade since I had performed in theatre. The first few writing sessions were pleasant enough and Christian and I got along great, but we were struggling to find the story that we wanted to tell. As we were searching and exploring to find the substance of what the work would consist of, a confluence of events conspired to show us the story that would become Old Stock.
The first thing was our growing consciousness of the scale of the human tragedy emerging in Syria as a growing number of refugees started trying to find their way out of the violence. Next came Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s comments about “Old Stock Canadians” during the 2015 leadership debate. This othering of “non-Old Stock Canadians” seemed to be vile and absurd. At what point does one get to call themselves “Old Stock”? I am the great-grandson of Jewish immigrants who came to Canada fleeing violence in their own home countries. Was I supposed to think of myself as “Old Stock” or did I fit into some other category in our [then] prime minister’s logic.
Around this time, Christian’s wife, who happens to be the celebrated playwright Hannah Moscovitch, gave birth to their first child, Elijah, and came across the immigration records of her own great-grandparents who immigrated to Canada in 1908 through Pier 2 in Halifax. She realized that, if her great-grandparents hadn’t made the journey to Canada, she would not exist, let alone her infant child. It was then that Hannah asked if she could write the scenes for the show we were trying to create.
With Christian’s vision of the artistic whole, my work as composer and lyricist, and Hannah’s work as playwright, we were off to the races and we worked together to create the show. We thought that the Jewish story from 110 years ago had a striking and tragic resonance with the tragedy unfolding in our own time. I should mention that, of course, the originating cast, musical director Graham Scott, our production manager and designer Louisa Adamson, and many others played a huge role in realizing the vision and bringing the music and the play into the world.
JI: In broad strokes, could you describe how the co-writing process worked?
BC: Christian Barry created the structures and conditions that made it possible for any of these songs to be written. I was probably not always the easiest artist to work with – I tend to desire quiet and solitude when I am writing.
The way it usually worked is that Christian would book a time and a space in whatever city we were able to meet up in (we did writing in Halifax, Montreal, Stratford and Banff) and the day would start with conversations and questions. We would talk, share ideas, listen to music, read texts, Google things, etc.
Out of our conversations and questions, the idea for a song would emerge. The first one we wrote was something for their arrival at Pier 2. We didn’t have a scene or a broader context to work with but, after awhile, Christian would say something like, “We know they are going to come through Pier 2, let’s start there.” I sat at the piano and started mashing out some chords and throwing words into the air. Christian had a wonderfully delicate touch after I got rolling, and would provide helpful comments, critiques, and throw ideas into the room.
JI: What is it about the production that drew you back to performing?
BC: I had stopped performing in the theatre after I became somewhat disillusioned of the possibilities of making a career in theatre. In 2005, the year I did my last theatre performance, I was working on academic pursuits, theatre and my hobby as a singer-songwriter. My life was over-full and something had to give. My logic was something like, in theatre, you need to rely on finding a lot of talented people who are willing to work on a project that takes a lot of time and resources to complete. As a singer-songwriter, there is more room to work solo and bring other people into the project as interest and resources permit. So, that’s the path I chose to express my artistic impulses. I gave up the dream of becoming an actor to focus on the more reasonable and safe path of becoming a songwriter. Ha!
When Christian called me to ask me to make a piece of theatre with him, it was a no-brainer. Being a part of this show has been one of the great privileges of my life. Not only did I get to collaborate with a crazy good team on writing the thing, but I had the opportunity to perform on stages that I wouldn’t have dared to dream of stepping onto when I was making theatre 10 years ago. It’s been an amazing learning experience and one that is sure to influence my work as a performer for the rest of my career.
JI: In what ways does the story and/or themes of Old Stock speak to you as a Canadian in 2020?
BC: What is most meaningful for me about the story and themes of the show is the humanization of the character of the refugee. It has been disturbing to see the ways in which migrants have been portrayed by so many politicians and media outlets around the world. They are often spoken of as hordes, masses and statistics. What is lost are the individual human lives – people with hopes, dreams, fears and trauma searching for a safe harbour.
In Old Stock, we tell the story of Hannah Moscovitch’s great-grandparents coming to Canada. We see their struggles to overcome their past and to generate new and complicated identities. I think that we all, as human beings, have complicated and multi-layered identities. I think that, among other things, this show is about demonstrating layered and sometimes tragic identities with compassion and a healthy dose of humour. That’s basically the most Canadian thing I can think of.
For tickets to Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story and other PuSh shows, visit pushfestival.ca. The soundtrack to Old Stock is available on Spotify, YouTube and elsewhere.
Musician Myrna Rabinowitz, left, and Jewish Senior Alliance’s Shanie Levin. (photo from JSA)
The theme of this year’s Jewish Seniors Alliance-Snider Foundation Empowerment Series is “Be inspired!” and the first of four sessions was called Be Inspired through Story and Song.
Held at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture on Nov. 29, Gyda Chud, co-president of the JSA, introduced the two presenters, referring to each as “a gift to our community”: storyteller Shanie Levin, who is a member of JSA’s executive board and on the editorial board of JSA’s Senior Line magazine, and singer-songwriter and guitarist Myrna Rabinowitz.
Rabinowitz opened with the Yiddish song “Abi Gezunt” (“As Long as You’re Well”) and the audience echoed enthusiastically the refrain, “As long as you’re well, you can be happy.”
Levin followed with a story by Kadya Molodowsky, the first lady of Yiddish poetry. A House with Seven Windows is about a proud, strong heroine in the mid-19th century who embraced the dream of “normalizing” Jewish life through a return and settlement in the land of Israel.
Other songs by Rabinowitz included the Yiddish translation of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” as well as “Sleep Little Boy,” a Yiddish song that she wrote eight years ago for her first grandson. She ended with the Yiddish rendition of “Sunrise Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof (Tog Ayn Tog Oys).
Tall Tamara by Abraham Karpinowitz, both sympathetically comic and painfully tragic, was another inspiring story of Vilna’s poor and the unexpected dignity available to one woman through a chance contact with Yiddish literary culture.
Levin also shared Ted Allan’s Lies My Father Told Me, about the relationship between a 6-year-old child and his grandfather that transcends the differences in ages with deep connection. This story was made into a Golden Globe-winning film of the same name.
The last story Levin read – If Not Higher by I.L. Peretz – was about a rabbi who demonstrates that doing good deeds on earth may be a more exalted activity than doing God’s will in heaven.
Chud thanked the performers and urged the audience to attend upcoming JSA events, the next one being the screening of the movie Music of the Heart, starring Meryl Streep, at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver on Jan. 15.
Marilyn Berger, who initiated the Light One Candle project and designed a card to help JSA celebrate Chanukah, encouraged the audience to spread the light and make a special donation to help JSA continue its peer support program, as well as its advocacy work.
Tale of the Eastside Lantern’s Shon Wong and Rosa Cheng. (photo by David Cooper)
Among the many artists participating in this year’s Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival is Jewish community member Elliot Polsky. The multi-percussionist joins the Son of James Band in Tale of the Eastside Lantern, a workshop presentation of a new hybrid Chinese rock opera.
From Oct. 30 to Nov. 10, the annual Heart of the City offers 12 days of music, stories, theatre, poetry, cultural celebrations, films, dance, readings, forums, workshops, discussions, gallery exhibits, mixed media, art talks, history talks and history walks. More than 100 events are scheduled to take place at more than 40 locations throughout the Downtown Eastside. This year’s theme – “Holding the Light” – has emerged from the need of Downtown Eastside-involved artists and residents to illuminate the vitality and relevance of the Downtown Eastside community and its diverse traditions, knowledge systems, ancestral languages, cultural roots and stories.
Tale of the Eastside Lantern is one of the top festival picks: “In the streets and shops of Vancouver’s Chinatown, Jimmy wrestles with his personal demons and sets out to solve a mystery that is guarded by Chinese opera spirits of the underworld. Jimmy is led by the sounds of rock music and motivated by the oldest feeling in the world … love.” Written and composed by Shon Wong and directed by Andy Toth, the rock opera is produced by Vancouver Cantonese Opera and Son of James Band in partnership with Vancouver Moving Theatre. Performed in English and Cantonese, the workshop presentation takes place Oct. 31, 8 p.m., at CBC Studio 700. Tickets ($15) are available at the door or in advance from eastsidelantern2.eventbrite.ca.
Another top pick is Sis Ne’ Bi -Yïz: Mother Bear Speaks, written and performed by Taninli Wright (Wet’suwet’en) about her Messenger of Hope Walk – she walked 1,600 kilometres across British Columbia to give voice to First Nations children and other marginalized youth. Developed in collaboration with Laura Barron, Jason Clift, Julie McIsaac and Jessica Schacht, the play is produced by Instruments of Change. There are several performances Oct. 30-Nov. 3 at Firehall Arts Centre. For advance tickets ($20/$15), call 604-689-0926 or visit [email protected].
Written and performed by Yvonne Wallace (Lilwat) and directed by Jefferson Guzman, ūtszan (to make things better) follows the journey of a woman to reclaim her language; in the process, she uncovers indigenous knowledge, humour, strength and resilience. The play has three shows at the Firehall Oct. 31-Nov. 2, with tickets ($20/$15) available at the door and in advance.
Of special interest to the Jewish community, whose oral histories form part of Daphne Marlatt and Carole Itter’s Opening Doors: Vancouver’s East End, is the dramatization of that book, which was first published in 1979. Directed by Donna Spencer and co-produced by the Firehall and Vancouver Moving Theatre, Opening Doors has several performances Nov. 6-9 at the Firehall, with tickets $20/$15.
While there are these and other ticketed shows, most of the festival events are free to attend. For example, on Nov. 2, 11 a.m., at CRAB Park, there is a mini-landing of canoes, featuring a welcome ceremony, after which paddlers and guests journey on land to the Police Museum and the exhibition Healing Waters, an exploration of how communities heal through connecting to cultural practice. This landing, in honour of the inaugural Pulling Together canoe journey in 2001, launches a year of story gathering and history sharing in preparation for the 20th anniversary celebration of the Pulling Together Society at next year’s Heart of the City.
In Speaking in Tongues, guests Woody Morrison, David Ng, Grace Eiko Thomson and Dalannah Gail Bowen discuss mother tongues and how their interactions can give birth to hybrid languages such as Japanese Pidgin, which is unique to the West Coast of Canada. This conversation is part of Homing Pidgin, an interactive installation by Haruko Okano, and takes place on Nov. 2, 1 p.m., at Centre A (205-268 Keefer).
Meanwhile, Irreparable Harm? is by Sinister Sisters Ensemble – activists and theatre folk, young and old, First Nations and settlers, many of whom were arrested in the protests against the twinning of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. It uses videos, transcripts of the court proceedings and statements that were read in the courtroom to shine a light on the justice system. It is at Carnegie Theatre on Nov. 8, 3 p.m.
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 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.
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.”
Left to right: Sheryl Wheaton as Rosie, Lori Ashton Zondag as Tanya and Caitriona Murphy as Donna in Mamma Mia! with Adam Charles as Jack, Caleb Lagayan as Race and Graeme Kitagawa as Mush in Disney’s Newsies. (photo by Lindsay Elliott)
Iconic Swedish pop music and a story that exemplifies America’s love of the underdog are coming to Stanley Park’s Malkin Bowl this summer. Theatre Under the Stars presents Mamma Mia! and Disney’s Newsies on alternate nights, starting with a preview of Mamma Mia! July 5.
Set in the Greek islands, Mamma Mia! features ABBA songs aplenty, as bride-to-be Sophie invites three of her mother’s former lovers to her wedding in order to figure out which one is her father. The TUTS production features two Jewish community members who are veterans of the stage: Wendy Bross Stuart as music director (and rock band pianist) and Stefan Winfield as Harry Bright, one of the possible fathers, a role that was played by Colin Firth in the film version of the musical.
About his preparation for the TUTS production, Winfield shared: “Main note to self: do not attempt to replicate Colin Firth’s performance! He is a great actor. His quintessentially understated, sensual and impossibly British charm that comes across so well on the screen is not something I’d ever be able to reproduce on the Malkin Bowl stage in a way that connects with anyone past the first row … so, I’m bringing what I can to the role, doing my best to fulfil the vision of the creative team.”
Winfield’s first TUTS show goes back to childhood. In 1976, he played Randolph in Bye Bye Birdie. “My next appearance on the Malkin Bowl stage was not until 1999,’ he said, “when I played an adult role (i.e., not a Jet or a Shark!) in West Side Story.”
Since then, he has been involved in several TUTS shows, including Jesus Christ Superstar, another mounting of Bye Bye Birdie and of West Side Story, and The Drowsy Chaperone. Among other things, he was also in Parfumerie at the Metro Theatre in 2014, directed by Disney’s Newsies musical director, Christopher King, and has been directed a few times by fellow Jewish community member Richard Berg, who is currently TUTS’s production manager.
“It’s a pleasure to be working again with Shel Piercy,” Winfield added. “This is the fourth time I’ve performed under his direction on a theatre production, but the first time dates back to 1977! I played Kurt in a very local production of The Sound of Music for Marpole Community Theatre, directed by Shel, who, I believe, had only recently graduated from Eric Hamber. He’s a guy who’s been telling great stories for several decades, on stage and screen; I am very honoured to work with him.”
Another co-worker partially explains why Winfield likes being involved in TUTS. “The opportunity to work under the direction of and perform with outstanding theatre professionals, including my wife, choreographer Shelley Stewart Hunt – not to mention the crowd of extraordinarily talented and impressively trained up-and-coming young people who give themselves over to TUTS for the summer. And, for me personally, TUTS has really lived up to its mandate of creating a family atmosphere in allowing me to share the experience with my son Wesley, who was ‘en ventre sa mère’ during Bye Bye Birdie as Shelley was choreographing, then performed in featured bits in The Drowsy Chaperone at the age of 5, and is doing the same now in Mamma Mia! – this time actually executing choreography set by his mum! To watch it gives me joy … naches, if you will.”
And it’s a family scene that is among Winfield’s favourites in Mamma Mia!
“There are a lot of great moments,” he said, “but I’d say my favourite occurs during the scene when the dads meet Sophie for the first time. Harry is singing ‘Thank You for the Music,’ playing the guitar while lost in wistful reminiscence, when, to his surprise, in walks Sophie who joins in on the song. It’s a moment made all the more special by the lovely voice and energy of the young lady who’s playing Sophie in our production, Keira Jang.”
Also a TUTS veteran, Bross Stuart has worked with Piercy and Stewart Hunt before.
“Shel, Shelley and I have worked together on many shows; we go back a very long time,” said Stuart. “In fact, Shelley was actually my student when she was in Grade 8. And an excellent student at that! As a team, I have profound respect for Shel and Shelley. There is a wonderfully creative synergy between the two of them and between them and myself. They see possibilities which are almost magical.”
Bross Stuart’s first TUTS production was Fiddler on the Roof in 1997.
“In those days,” she said, “it had not occurred to people in Vancouver that it might be useful to have an actual Jewish person involved with a production of Fiddler on the Roof. TUTS was ahead of its time, realizing how important this would be! In those days, there was very little Jewish influence in this town, especially compared to where I had spent my childhood and young adult life – in New York City and Montreal.”
Describing working at TUTS as “intoxicating,” Bross Stuart highlighted the beauty of Stanley Park and said about the feeling of “conducting/playing outdoors in front of a large, appreciative audience – absolutely second to none. A very special experience!”
As well, she noted that “each show has completely different demands because of the material we are using.” For Bross Stuart, ABBA’s music was a new challenge.
“ABBA was not in my repertoire at all,” she admitted. “During the ABBA period, I was busy living in Japan and studying traditional music for koto and shamisen, composed by Yatsuhashi Kengyo and Tsuruyama Kengyo. No pop music for me! However, I have learned so much about this style from working on Mamma Mia! Doing ABBA music has taken me to a new place in my musical life. Growing and learning is such an exciting venture.”
While music rehearsals officially started on April 24, Bross Stuart said she opened her home for early rehearsals to anyone who wanted a head start.
“The style of the music makes the approach much different from most shows,” she said. “Less on the micro details and more on the big picture. As a detail-oriented person, it is a great learning experience for me – and, I am playing keyboard in a rock ’n’ roll band (and conducting). Each of the four keyboards is hooked up to a computer with many sound patches. I love it!”
For tickets to Mamma Mia! and Disney’s Newsies – which may not have local Jewish community members in its creative team but has music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman and book by Harvey Fierstein – visit tuts.ca or call 604-631-2877.
The cast of Tara Cheyenne Performance’s The Body Project. (photo by Wendy D. Photography)
Among the more than 20 choreographers and companies from across Canada, Brazil and Korea that are participating in this year’s Dancing on the Edge Festival are local Jewish community members Alexandra Clancy (Soleful Dance Company) and Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg (Tara Cheyenne Performance).
Soleful Dance Company’s Where the Music Begins will take place July 12, 8:15 p.m., in the Firehall Arts Centre courtyard, and Tara Cheyenne Performance’s The Body Project (working title) is part of Edge 5 July 11, 9 p.m., and July 13, 7 p.m., at the Firehall. DOTE runs July 4-13. Click here to watch the festival trailer on YouTube.
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Where the Music Begins, created by Clancy and composer and musician Mike W.T. Allen, was commissioned by Dances for a Small Stage for its Summer Series.
“Mike and I had played music together but never officially constructed any works for stage,” Clancy told the Independent. “Throughout the rehearsal process, there would be a back and forth of ideas; sometimes I would have a rhythmical phrase of tap dance and Mike would then create a melody over top, and sometimes Mike would compose a phrase of the melody and I would choreograph specifically to that part of the tune. After some give and take between our prospective instruments and ideas, we solidified a melody and then decided upon the structure of the tune. Some of the tune is improvised, some is a conversation, and some is very set and predetermined. We both enjoyed the collaborative process and found a harmonious way to create music and dance together.”
Clancy grew up in Vancouver and has always been involved with the Jewish community. “I was raised Jewish; attending Hebrew school on Sundays, becoming bat mitzvah, and participating in holidays and traditions,” she said. “After going on Birthright a few summers ago, I was re-inspired by the beauty of the culture and have tried to stay more engaged in the community by attending Axis events and other social gatherings, as well as going to synagogue when I can. I am grateful for the support and familial kindness that I have received from the community, consistently reminding and encouraging me that I am capable of whatever I put my all into.”
And she has put her all into a lot, having trained in all genres of dance, studying at Danzmode and the Vancouver Tap Dance Society. She was a member of Tap Co., a pre-professional youth tap dance company, and has trained and performed across North America.
“After graduating, I lived in Austin, Tex., and was a member of Tapestry Dance Company in its 25th season,” said Clancy. “I then moved back to Vancouver and have been performing and teaching ever since. This past year, I taught at the Arts Connection, Dance Co., and the Pulse, sharing my love and passion for tap dance and educating the next generation of talented dancers.
“As recital season comes to an end, I am currently in a creative residency with Dances for a Small Stage, where we are developing works for our Summer Series and exploring digital literacy in dance. As well as preparing for DOTE, I am also in the studio rehearsing and creating for our upcoming performance at Jacob’s Pillow later this summer. In the fall, I will be moving to Calgary to attend the training program at Decidedly Jazz Dance Company.
“My goal,” she said, “is to broaden my toolbox to assist in expressing myself and telling stories through dance. This upcoming year, I hope to continue to collaborate and create through Small Stage, develop more new works with Soleful Dance Co., film a concept video, and share dance through as much teaching and performing as possible.”
Jacob’s Pillow is located in western Massachusetts in the town of Becket. Clancy auditioned for and then attended the inaugural tap dance program at Jacob’s Pillow in 2010 and returned two years later (again with an audition) for a second summer of learning and dancing. “My time at the Pillow was the most influential training thus far in my life and it has always been a dream of mine to perform my own work at the Pillow,” she said.
That dream will become a reality this summer.
“Jeffrey Dawson and I co-choreographed a piece for an online competition Jacob’s Pillow was running this year, and we were lucky enough to be chosen as Top 6 and then voted Top 3, meaning we will get to perform our work live at the Inside/Out stage on Aug. 17,” said Clancy.
In addition to choreographing and teaching, Clancy established Soleful Dance last spring. She and some other dancers “felt we needed a name and a clear avenue to share the work we had started developing. Based in Vancouver, this company is a platform to express ourselves and tell stories through the music of tap and the movement of dance.
“Although under my direction,” she said, “Soleful Dance Company is rooted in collaboration. Our ultimate goal is to make audiences feel something. All of the members of the company’s primary focus is tap dance; however, everyone brings a versatile background to the creative process, spanning from contemporary dance, to acting, to playing music and more. We hope to continue to grow and create more works to share with audiences in the near future.”
Clancy described tap dance as “a magical art form that allows one to not only express through movement but connect and emote through sound.
“This traditional American art form has a rich and complex history that is intertwined deeply with jazz music and culture,” she explained. “There is a sense of community that I have always appreciated about tap dance, and I feel a great amount of respect and gratitude that I get to perform and participate in its culture. It just feels good to get to move your body and dance and then, on top of that, creating and connecting with music opens endless doors of expression.”
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The Body Project is a new interdisciplinary performance created from interviews, symposiums and roundtables.
“I started research on and around the theme of ‘female body image’ about a year ago,” Friedenberg told the Independent. “Part of our research/creation process has been interviewing female-identifying and non-binary people (many dancers and actors). To date, 35 people have generously participated.
“In the studio, I have been mining my own complicated and unhealthy relationship with my body as a dancer in a female body with the help of my amazing collaborators/performers. The process so far has involved exploring how the forms of stand-up comedy and dance can express this difficult, and often absurd, story of struggling with body image that many of us share.”
The performers – Bevin Poole, Caroline Liffmann, Kate Franklin and Kim Stevenson – came into the process shortly after Friedenberg began her exploration of the topic.
“We are working very closely with intimate and difficult material so, although I am leading the process, it is essential that all the voices/bodies in the room are present in the work. For example, there is a section choreographed by Kim Stevenson – much of the gestural language has been created through our own gestures as we’ve spoken about our personal experiences with body image.”
About the creative process, Friedenberg said, “These are very busy people, so we have had times when we are all in the studio and other times when it’s just me and one collaborator. Making room for people’s lives and demands, including parenting and caring for parents, is an important part of our feminist practice.
“Justine A. Chambers is our dramaturge/outside eye and Michelle Olson will be involved in the project as a consultant and possibly a performer in the next phase of development.”
As professional dancers, the performers/creators have shared some common struggles and coping mechanisms regarding body image.
“The pressure to fit a very narrow ideal of the ‘dancer body’ has been difficult and complex for all of us,” said Friedenberg. “There’s the pressure to be very thin, small, more muscular, or less muscular. Pressure to fit an oppressive ideal of beauty. We each have found ways to navigate these limiting ideas. Sometimes we have had to remove ourselves from certain arenas in order to survive. Sometimes we have found power in defying the stereotypes of what a dancer should look like to the euro-centric patriarchal gaze. But I keep coming back to the effort and energy required to bare these expectations and what we can transform with that energy instead.”
She added, “It must be noted that the many voices, words, time and contributions from the people we have interviewed are alive in the work through our bodies and presence. Their names will be listed on our website. Although the work, at this early stage, is a version of my story, it is also very much a result of being together in conversation about body image, in a circle, speaking, listening, moving, supporting and sharing with many powerful female-identifying/non-binary people – ‘the personal is political.’”