“Dueling pianists” Lester Soo and Marilyn Glazer entertain at the last Empowerment Series session of the season. (photo from JSA)
Co-sponsored by Jewish Seniors Alliance and the Kehila Society of Richmond, the fifth session of this season’s JSA Snider Foundation Empowerment Series took place at Congregation Beth Tikvah. It more than lived up to the series’ theme this year: “Renewing and Reinventing Ourselves.”
As usual, the program was preceded by a lunch provided by Stacey Kettleman. Beth Tikvah’s Rabbi Adam Rubin did the Hamotzi and Toby Rubin, co-executive director of the Kehila Society, welcomed everyone. Among the 120 or so attendees were members of the Kehila Society and of JSA, as well as a group from L’Chaim Adult Day Care.
The entertainment portion of the program took place in the sanctuary, where Ken Levitt, president of JSA, spoke briefly and Rubin introduced the “dueling pianists”: Marilyn Glazer and Lester Soo, both of whom are accomplished musicians and piano instructors. The two have known each other for 35 years and have been playing duets for much of that time – one piano, four hands. At the Empowerment Series performance, they began with four Hungarian rhapsodies and continued with Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. They then played a number of Gershwin tunes and ended with Cole Porter.
Rubin thanked the pianists for their wonderful performance, which was the last event of the 2018/19 Empowerment Series. The series will begin again in the fall, with a new lineup of events presented by JSA with other seniors groups in the community.
Shanie Levinis an executive board member of Jewish Seniors Alliance and on the editorial board of Senior Line magazine.
Food You Want for the Life You Crave by Nealy Fischer (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2019) is a delight to read. Not only are there at least 128 gluten-free recipes in this kosher cookbook, but there are 107 full-colour photographs, many of the author and her family sampling the recipes and enjoying them.
“These pages are designed to help you obtain a simpler recipe for success, both in and out of the kitchen,” writes Fischer, noting “these pages are infused with craveable global recipes inspired by our life in Asia and Israel.” The author started to adhere to a gluten-free diet more than 10 years ago.
The recipes have two strategies: “nail this,” the most essential elements to master for a dish’s success, and “flip it,” tips to encourage readers to be creative and to adapt the recipe to their preferences and limitations. Fischer gives readers a 10-step guide to becoming a flexible chef; a substitution chart; pantry, fridge and freezer essentials; and useful gadgets. Chapters include all-day breakfast, breads and muffins; soups and small plates; salads and dressings; fish, poultry and meat; veggies; desserts; drinks and nibbles for friends; and condiments and pantry essentials. The book concludes with a conversion cheat sheet.
One nice idea in the formating is a list of what tools to use above the list of ingredients, which is bolded and, where applicable, divided into dry and wet ingredients and toppings. She also has my favourite element in cookbooks – numbered instructions opposite the ingredients so you don’t have to keep looking up and down. My other favourite aspect is a comment about each recipe. Here are a few of the recipes to try.
SAVOURY QUINOA BOWL 4-6 servings
1/2 cup red or white quinoa (makes 2 heaping cups cooked) 2 small Persian or Kirby cucumbers, chopped (1 1/2 cups) 2 chopped tomatoes (about 1 cup) 1 peeled, chopped avocado (about 1 cup) 1 cup arugula 1/2 cup chopped green onion (about 4) 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots 3 tbsp lemon juice 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste 6 large eggs
Start by cooking the quinoa. Mix it with one cup water in a saucepan or pot over medium low heat. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, for 10 minutes. Check to see if it is done or needs a tad more liquid. Set aside to cool.
Toss the cucumbers, tomatoes, avocado, arugula, green onions, mint and shallots in a large bowl.
Add the cooled quinoa to the veggie bowl then season with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Divide the mixture between six bowls.
Fry the eggs in a lightly oiled pan over medium heat until the whites have set, or to desired doneness. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then carefully slide them on top of the quinoa bowls.
HERBED EVERYDAY BREAD 2 mini loaves or 1 large loaf
1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp) 1/4 cup warm water 1 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour 1 cup oat flour 1/4 cup almond flour 1/4 cup flax meal 2 tsp xanthan gum (omit if already in flour) 1 1/2 tsp dried rosemary 1 tsp salt 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 2 large eggs + 1 beaten for brushing 2 tbsp raw honey 1/2 tsp rice vinegar
In a large bowl, mix the yeast with the warm water; let stand until the yeast bubbles, about eight minutes.
In a separate medium bowl, whisk together gluten-free flour, oat flour, flax meal, almond flour, xanthan gum, rosemary and salt.
Stir olive oil, two eggs, honey and rice vinegar into yeast mixture. Stir dry ingredients into bowl. Mix well.
Transfer dough to parchment-lined loaf pans and let stand covered in a warm place until bread rises to double in height (about 45 minutes).
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Brush the top with the remaining beaten egg.
Bake the bread until it is golden and set in the centre, 30 to 35 minutes for mini loaves or about 45 minutes for a larger loaf. Cool the bread completely before removing from the pans and slicing.
DATE-BAR BITES 32 to 36 squares
1 pound Medjool dates, pitted and chopped 1/4 cup maple syrup juice and zest of 1 orange 2/3 cup coarsely chopped raw walnuts or pecans 1 tsp ground cinnamon 1 tsp vanilla extract 1 3/4 cups all-purpose gluten-free flour 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats 1 cup packed dark brown sugar 3/4 cup coconut oil at room temperature 1/2 tsp baking soda 1/8 tsp salt
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine dates with half-cup water, maple syrup and orange juice and bring to a boil.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the orange zest, nuts, cinnamon and vanilla. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 13-by-9-inch baking pan or line it with parchment paper.
In a food processor, mix together flour, rolled oats, brown sugar, coconut oil, baking soda and salt until combination is crumbly but still holds together.
Press two-thirds of the dough into the baking pan (reserve one-third for the topping).
Spread the filling evenly over the crust. Sprinkle the remaining one-third of the topping over the filling. Bake for 30 minutes or until lightly golden.
Cool completely then refrigerate until cold to make the cutting easier. Cut into one-and-a-half-inch squares.
Sybil Kaplan is a journalist, lecturer, book reviewer and food writer in Jerusalem. She created and leads the weekly English-language Shuk Walks in Machane Yehuda, she has compiled and edited nine kosher cookbooks, and is the author of Witness to History: Ten Years as a Woman Journalist in Israel.
On July 12, Strings for Peace will have its world première at the Indian Summer Festival, which is described as “a multi-disciplinary arts festival ‘where worlds meet’ in Vancouver.”
Produced by the Indian Summer Arts Society, the festival’s mission “is to offer daring, multi-arts events that bring together diverse artists, audiences and artists in a spirit of global dialogue and citizenship.” Sharing a similar spirit, it is fitting that Strings for Peace – created and performed by sarod masters Amjad Ali Khan and his sons Ayaan and Amaan Ali Bangash, and guitarist Sharon Isbin – will be unveiled at the festival.
“The legendary sarod master Amjad Ali Khan emailed me 10 years ago to invite me to a concert of his in New York and to explore the idea of a collaboration,” said Isbin, a three-time Grammy Award winner whose repertoire includes Baroque, Spanish-Latin music and jazz fusion. “I had long admired Indian classical music, and was bowled over to hear his performances with his sons…. A warm friendship developed and, six years ago, he conceived the idea of composing ragas for us all to perform together. I received the music last December and loved it. They said that’s good because we have already booked a tour with you in India in February 2019! I had little time with my schedule, but was motivated because the music was exquisitely beautiful, as is their artistry. It was a magnificent experience to perform together in Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi. I cherish our friendship and the opportunity this has given me to explore an inspiring new genre and collaboration.”
The four performers have made a recording for release in 2020, said Isbin, “and I am excited that Strings for Peace will be touring in the U.S. during summer and fall 2020.”
In an article earlier this year in the Hindustan Times, Isbin speaks about the difference between the Indian classical, mainly oral, tradition and the written Western classical music tradition. “Indian classical music has long pieces. You are taken on a journey,” she notes. “It is a very expansive state of consciousness, whereas a Bach or a Beethoven piece has a clear and defined sense of enclosure.”
“Performing together in India last February,” she told the Independent, “I was amazed to hear similarities between improvised embellishments in Indian classical music and melismatic nuances in Spanish, flamenco and Sephardic music.”
Born and raised in Minneapolis until age 18, Isbin lives in New York City. She is the founding director of the Juilliard School guitar department and director of the guitar department of the Aspen Music Festival. She performs around the world and has appeared as a soloist with almost 200 orchestras.
“When I was 9, my family moved to Italy for my father’s sabbatical year as a scientist and professor of chemical engineering,” she said of her beginnings as an artist. “My older brother Ira asked for guitar lessons, hoping to be the next Elvis. My parents found a great teacher who had studied with [Andrés] Segovia, but when my brother learned it was classical, he bowed out and I volunteered to take his place. I loved that an instrument was built for me, and that you held and caressed it to make music.”
Of the role, if any, Judaism or Jewish culture plays in her life, Isbin said, “My grandparents came to the U.S. as refugees from Russia and Poland to escape deadly pogroms, and I have many relatives who live in Israel. I have always felt a cultural connection to Judaism and to Israel. In fact, I was a teenager when the first work ever composed for me was a concerto by the late Israeli composer Ami Maayani, which I premièred with the Jerusalem Symphony and the Minnesota Orchestra. Since then, I’ve premièred more than 80 works written and arranged for me.”
Her experience with the Khans highlights how she views music’s potential to bring together different cultures. “There is only one human race, and we all need to appreciate and celebrate that commonality,” she said. “Music, because it transcends language, can be wonderfully uniting.”
Strings for Peace premières July 12, 8 p.m., at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts. For tickets and the full schedule of the Indian Summer Festival, which opened July 4 and runs to July 14, visit indiansummerfest.ca.
Ira Hoffecker’s current solo exhibit at the Zack Gallery, Conjunction, runs until July 21. (photo by Olga Livshin)
Conjunction, Ira Hoffecker’s current solo exhibit at the Zack Gallery, opened on June 13 and runs until July 21.
German-born Hoffecker and her family moved to Canada in 2004. “I always liked art, but when I lived in Germany, my husband and I worked in marketing for the movie industry,” she explained in an interview with the Independent.
Once, when her children were still young, they came here for a family vacation and traveled Vancouver Island. “We loved it,” she said. So much that, when they moved here permanently, they settled in Victoria. As if that wasn’t change enough, Hoffecker also decided to switch careers and follow her lifelong love of art. She enrolled in the Vancouver Island School of Art and has been studying and creating ever since.
Hoffecker’s previous show at the Zack Gallery, in 2016, was dedicated to maps. Since then, her art has undergone a couple of transformations. Conjunction is much brighter and more expressive set of works, although the abstract component remains.
On the journey to her new colourful mode, Hoffecker went through a black-and-white stage, which was the focus of her master’s in fine arts’ thesis, which she completed last year. The works she created for her master’s degree include a number of huge paintings – abstracts made with tar on canvas – plus three documentary videos. The theme – “History as Personal Memory” – was a painful one for the artist. She recalled, “One of my professors said that my works are the interconnected layers of urban setting and history. ‘Where is your personal layer?’ he asked me.”
Taking this advice, she has been trying to delve into her personal recollections, to uncover her place in history, her “personal layer” among the historical layers dominating her art. “In ‘History as Personal Memory,’ I tore pages from a history book about the Third Reich, an era in history that many Germans would prefer to forget. Yet I think it is important to face and discuss this past. Such dialogue might prevent the horrors from happening again,” she said.
In Hoffecker’s art, the artist’s memories are intertwined with the history of her nation. “Correlations between my childhood abuse, which I tried to forget, and the history of Germany, which the Germans tried to eradicate from their memories, exist in my paintings and films,” she said.
In her art and her videos, she opens up about the abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of her grandfather, who was also a Nazi. She is convinced that such openness has helped her heal, whereas suppressing the memories led only to the festering of her inner wounds.
The same is true for historical memories, Hoffecker insisted. “Germany needs to remember, to confront and challenge complacency to prevent a repetition of historical atrocities,” she said.
Her master’s thesis was a deep and painful discovery, a journey in black-and-white to underscore the grimness and tragedy of the topic. Once it was completed, she was ready for a change of direction.
“I spent the summer last year in Berlin,” she said. “When I came back home to Victoria, I wanted to paint some colours again.”
Hoffecker’s current exhibit bursts with vibrant colours and optimism. The series Berlin Spaces, like most of her paintings, has several layers. “There are outlines of many famous Berlin buildings there,” she said, tracing the architectural lines embedded in the abstract patterns with her finger. “The Jewish Museum, the Philharmonie, the library, the Reichstag. It is like a reconstruction, when I think about the past. I overlay history and architecture.”
One of the paintings, a bright yellow-and-pink abstract, has writing among its patterns. “It means ‘forgetting’ in German,” Hoffecker explained. “A few years ago, I was invited to have a solo show in Hof, a city in Germany. I worked there in the archives, found many old maps and records. One of their buildings is a factory now. After the war, it was a refugee camp, and there is a plaque to commemorate the fact. But, during the war, it was a labour camp, a place from where Jewish prisoners were transported to concentration camps and death, but nothing is there to remind [people] of that past. The painting reflects the current happy state of the building, but it also reflects the tragic past, the past we shouldn’t forget.”
While not many art lovers will see the horrors of the labour camp in the airy and cheerful palette of the painting, Hoffecker doesn’t mind. Like other abstract artists, she infuses her images with hidden messages, but doesn’t insist on her personal intentions.
“I own the making,” she said. “I bring in my memories and my heart, but I have to leave the interpretation to the viewers. One man in Victoria loves my art. He bought two of my paintings. He said he sees animal in them. I don’t paint animals, but I’m glad people’s own experience resonates with my paintings.”
Hoffecker is very serious about her art, but bemoans the need for promotion. “I did marketing for movies professionally, but I never really cared [about the reaction]. If someone didn’t like the movie we were pushing, it was his business,” she said. “But to promote my own paintings is scary. When someone doesn’t like what I do, I care. It hurts. I don’t want to do it. An artist wants to be in her studio and paint. It is all I want: to paint and to exhibit. I want people to see my work. Besides, a show is the only time when I see many of my paintings together. I never can do that in my studio. I only see one or two at a time.”
Zayd Dohrn’s Reborning returns to the New York stage this summer. (photo from Zayd Dohrn)
The play Reborning, written by Zayd Dohrn, is being performed Off-Broadway at the Soho Playhouse in New York City from July 5 through Aug. 3, thanks to Vancouver’s Reality Curve Theatre.
A Canadian nonprofit professional theatre company founded in 2011, Reality Curve reached out to Dohrn to bring this play, which ran in Vancouver last year, to the New York stage. The production is produced by artistic director Paul Piaskowski, Darren Lee Cole and Rebecca McNeil, and is presented by Playbook Hub with support from the Vancouver Film School, the Canada Council for the Arts and Shimon Photo.
Reborning is a dark comedy-drama with elements of horror. In it, people are able to buy life-like infant dolls that look like loved ones who have died. The play centres around Kelly, a woman who lives with her boyfriend in Queens, N.Y., and creates “reborn” baby dolls. She has a client who commissions her to make a replica of her dead baby girl and, as Kelly constructs this doll, it stirs up memories from her own life.
“It’s a relationship between a younger and older woman – a customer and an artist – who are both looking for something and it becomes dangerous,” said Dohrn, who lives in Chicago and is an associate professor at Northwestern University. “There is a whole subculture with these dolls. I wrote the play right after the birth of our first child. My wife was shopping online for baby toys and clothes and she found these life-like dolls. The photos of them are incredible, realistic, detailed and medically accurate. Some even have hospital bracelets. There is something beautiful about them, yet very disturbing.”
Dohrn talked to customers and heard their testimonials. “Many of these people can’t get over the loss of their baby and use the dolls therapeutically.”
The play stars Emily Bett Rickards (CW’s Arrow), Piaskowski (Unspeakable, The Twilight Zone) and Lori Triolo (Riverdale), who is also the director.
The first production of Reborning, which starred Ally Sheedy, was 10 years ago at the Summer Play Festival at the Public Theatre in New York City, when Dohrn was at the Julliard School. It has had more than 20 productions nationally and internationally over the last decade, including in Los Angeles, Brazil, Panama, Florida, San Francisco and, in 2018, Vancouver, where he connected to Reality Curve.
Dohrn’s life and road to literary success could be a fascinating play in itself. His parents, Bill Ayres and Bernadine Dohrn, were leaders in the radical group the Weather Underground (also known as the Weathermen) back in the 1960s and 1970s. There was an accidental explosion in a Greenwich Village townhouse where Weathermen lost their lives, and the couple went underground, using assumed names. Dohrn, who is now 41, spent his early childhood on the run.
“It didn’t seem strange to me to grow up being fugitives, that was just our life,” he said. “We lived in New York City in Harlem, traveled a lot, moved around a lot and lived in communes. Then my parents turned themselves in and we settled in New York. My mom went to jail for almost two years when I was 5, and I have vivid memories of visiting her there. My dad took care of me while she was gone.”
When his mom was released from prison, she became a lawyer. “My dad became a professor and I was raised in a middle-class house, although they still had their notoriety and they were committed to their politics and their cause,” said Dohrn. “Growing up, we would go to a lot of demonstrations and meetings with other activists.”
Dohrn went on to earn an undergraduate degree from Brown University, a master’s in fine arts from New York University, a master of arts from Boston University and a playwriting fellowship from Julliard. He also spent a lot of time in China. Fourteen years ago, he married Rachel DeWoskin, and they have two daughters. DeWoskin, who is from Ann Arbor, Mich., is an author, teaches at the University of Chicago and also spent many years living in China before she and Dohrn met.
Many of Dohrn’s plays draw from his childhood and life experiences. In one of his earlier plays, Haymarket, set in 1886, a bomb explodes in the middle of a peaceful rally of demonstrators in Chicago – at least one of the radicals goes into hiding. His play Sick, about a Manhattan couple who go to extreme measures to protect themselves from pollution, was reminiscent of living in Beijing and witnessing the fear during the SARS epidemic.
When asked about his religion, Dohrn said he considers himself a cultural Jew. “My mom was half-Jewish and my parents were atheists, but, culturally, my mom considers herself Jewish and we were raised as cultural Jews and celebrated Passover and Chanukah,” he explained. “We celebrated in a radical way – we did Passovers in a women’s prison in upstate New York, celebrating the Exodus as a story of freedom and celebrating with female inmates in prison.”
Dohrn noted that he, his wife and kids have traveled a lot, visiting Jewish sites. “My wife considers herself Jewish and we are raising our girls with a lot of Jewish cultural influences,” he said.
Dohrn and DeWoskin spend time each year in China. “Rachel kept her apartment in Beijing for at least 10 years and we would go for a few months every year,” he said. “When our kids started to grow up, we wanted a place where they could be more independent so we got an apartment in Shanghai. We spend three-quarters of the year in Chicago and one-quarter of the year in Shanghai. We both have academic schedules so we are able to spend the summers and winters there. There are still historical monuments and artifacts from the Jewish community in Shanghai and the synagogue is now a museum. Our apartment there is in the building that was the Jewish processing centre for the refugees during World War II.”
Currently, Dohrn is developing a series about radical political movements like the Weather Underground and the Black Panthers for Showtime and a feature film for Netflix. He’s looking forward to Reborning being back on the New York stage. “For me,” he said, “it’s a bookend, to have it back in New York again after all these years.”
Alice Burdick Schweigeris 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.
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.
* * *
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.”
* * *
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.’”
Finding Fukue follows Jessica Stuart’s journey to Japan to find her childhood friend.
To what lengths would you go to find a childhood friend whose letters stopped coming decades ago? When online searches proved fruitless, Vancouver-born, Toronto-based musician Jessica Stuart headed back to Japan, and her journey is recorded in the CBC Short Docs film Finding Fukue, which was produced with Real Stories. Since posted to YouTube last November, the charming and moving documentary has been viewed more than 3.6 million times to date.
“When I was 9 years old, my parents got English teaching jobs and moved us all to Japan for a year,” shares Stuart as the film starts. Among the images we see are clips of home movies from that year, 1988. “I was a blond kid, and that made me of interest to all the Japanese people because they had never really seen a blond-hair person before,” she says. “They would point at me or my sister, touch my hair, talk at me; I didn’t understand anything yet. The day after we arrived, I went to school for the first time and then that was crazy. I didn’t feel that anyone was interested in getting to know me, except for one person, and her name was Fukue, and we became best of friends.”
The Stuarts – Wendy, Ron and daughters Fiona and Jessica – settled in Saku, then a small rural village with no foreigners. Now, however, Stuart has to start looking for her friend Fukue in a city of 100,000 people. She visits the elementary school they attended and gets a yearbook, where she gets Fukue’s father’s name and an address from the year 2000, but this leads her to a new development, where she and her translator (for the more complex encounters) meet some women who remember her family but can’t help with finding Fukue.
At Saku City Hall, a press contingent meets Stuart and she gets the word out on television and in print. Finally, a clerk at City Hall manages to find a phone number for Fukue’s sister, who connects the two friends. The reunions – first by phone and then in person – are quite emotional. The two fall into a familiar comfort and get reacquainted. They have kept in touch since.
Did you know without goats, the coffee bean may have never been discovered? Are you able to recognize if the vinyl you hear coming from your neighbor’s apartment is a 78, 45 or 33? Do you type your university essays out on a typewriter? Barry knows, Barry can, Barry does, Barry will and Barry did. Introducing the next wave in AI customer service. Barry is the perfect fit for all your too-cool-for-school business needs.
In Jewish community member Ira Cooper’s Artisanal Intelligence, fellow community member Hannah Everett plays Jane, the entrepreneur and creative genius responsible for developing Barry, a fast-learning, curious and fashion-wise artificial intelligence customer service robot, played by Drew Carlson. Cooper describes his play as “not simply a form of absurdist, comedic, low-brow escapism as it may come across. It’s a conversation about identity, as most things are, and its tumultuous relationship with self versus societal box-fitting…. There are other dialogues, too; questions raised about creation versus intent versus audience response and who gets to create meaning. It’s also an affirmation of what love can be.” Artisanal Intelligence is at Havana Theatre July 5 and 7, 9:30 p.m. Tickets ($15) can be purchased at showpass.com.
George and Tamara Frankel at Masks, Revelations and Selfhood, the spring forum of Jewish Seniors Alliance, in partnership with the Louis Brier Home and Hospital, which was held May 26 at the Peretz Centre. (photo from JSA)
Since August 2018, Louis Brier Home and Hospital residents have explored themes of personhood and creative expression, crafting masks, narratives and original dances with expressive arts therapist Calla Power and choreographer Lee Kwidzinski. The whole process was filmed by Jay Fox for a documentary.
Power, Kwidzinski and Fox, as well as Louis Brier resident Jennifer Young, who participated in the project, shared their experiences with guests at Masks, Revelations and Selfhood, the spring forum of Jewish Seniors Alliance, in partnership with the Louis Brier. The forum was held May 26 at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture.
The four presenters brought with them many of the masks that were made by the Louis Brier residents, which they placed on tables near the audience. Everyone could examine them up close and try them on. This allowed people to experience the changes one feels when masked, hidden from others.
JSA president Ken Levitt welcomed everyone and spoke about JSA’s motto, “Seniors Stronger Together,” noting that JSA’s free peer support programs – which require the financial support of the community to continue – exemplify the power of older adults assisting other older adults. He then introduced Power, who has been working with residents at the Louis Brier for about five years.
The Masks Project lasted seven months, culminating in a program that includes masks, stories, poems, drama and dance. In her summary of the history of masks, Power said the oldest masks, dating from the Neolithic period, were found near Jerusalem several years ago. She explained that masks are used in many cultures as part of religious and/or spiritual ceremonies. In a slide presentation, she showcased masks from different cultures, including African, Indian and local indigenous cultures. Frequently, she said, those wearing the masks would represent “the gods” and be a conduit for messages from above.
Ginger Lerner, Louis Brier recreation therapist, had approached Power about making masks for Purim, obtaining a donation from the estate of Frank and Rosie Nelson that facilitated the project. Power did some research on Purim and discovered that many of the characters were masked; for example, Esther, who masked her origins, and Vashti, who refused to be unmasked. As residents engaged with the project, they discussed such topics as what parts of ourselves do we keep hidden behind a mask.
Kwidzinski, who specializes in dance movement, has 30 years of experience working with older adults, mainly those with dementia and those who are in wheelchairs. She has a dance company in Mission, and the dancers worked with the mask makers to create movements related to the masks and the residents’ ideas. The dancers became the bodies of the mask makers, who chose the movements and the music. The mask makers came on stage with the dancers for the performance.
Young, one of the mask makers, expressed how moving the entire experience had been. She said the group became close, even though they hadn’t known each other well before.
Young said she had been reluctant about the dance aspect but felt that the dancers were extremely supportive and, at the end, she said she found the movements liberating, as if she were also dancing. She said she gained energy and willpower from the experience, and thanked Power, Kwidzinski and Fox for giving her the ability and opportunity to “get up and keep going.”
Fox has produced award-winning films, documentaries, music videos and public service announcements. He was involved in the Masks Project from the beginning. He felt that the journey was as important as the film and the art produced. The film was screened at the forum, and can be viewed at youtube.com/watch?v=YspYE6juiy0.
Gyda Chud, JSA first vice-president, led the question-and-answer session. Members of the audience expressed their appreciation for the information and the beauty of the project. It was suggested that advocacy was needed to have this type of project adopted by other care homes and adult day-care centres.
I wrapped up the afternoon event with a thank you to the presenters, which was followed by snacks provided by Gala Catering.
Shanie Levinis an executive board member of Jewish Seniors Alliance and on the editorial board of Senior Line magazine.