Circa’s Sacre is an exploration of humanity’s interconnectivity, our inherent sexual desire and our complex relationship with divinity. (photo by Pedro Greig)
DanceHouse and the Cultch present the Canadian première of Circa’s acrobatic Sacre, on stage Jan. 17-21, 8 p.m., at the Vancouver Playhouse. Directed by Jewish community member Yaron Lifschitz, artistic director and chief executive officer of Circa, Sacre is an exploration of humanity’s interconnectivity, our inherent sexual desire and our complex relationship with divinity. Inspired by Igor Stravinsky’s seminal production The Rite of Spring, the full-length work from Australia’s leading contemporary circus company is a blend of balletic lines and athletic feats, infused with pulsating and dissonant elements of a reimagined Stravinsky score.
“This is a work of powerful juxtapositions, blending the sacred with the profane; the ethereal with the visceral. On one level, Sacre is a work of mesmerizing beauty, drawing on the lyrical movement of contemporary dance and the intense physicality of the circus arts,” said Jim Smith, artistic and executive director of DanceHouse. “At the same time, the work offers a raw and bracing social commentary, drawing upon the ancient pagan traditions referenced within Stravinsky’s transgressive work – in which a virginal young woman dances herself to death. This offers an intriguing and gritty contrast to the pure spectacle of the performance, and invites reflection on the nature of humanity’s responsibility toward one another in a world on the brink of disaster.”
Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring was so scandalous that it incited a riot at its Parisian première in 1913. Despite – and partly because of – this incendiary start, the work is now considered one of the most impactful compositions of the 20th century. Circa’s new interpretation of the haunting work premièred in January 2021 at the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre in Wollongong, Australia. Sacre features 10 acrobats interwoven in ceaseless motion, as they deftly move in and out of technically complex grouping structures, lifts, tumbles and leaps.
Set to a pounding musical score by Philippe Bachman, full of fast-paced tempo and mood changes, and echoed by a lighting design by Veronique Benett that moves through intense flashes of light and darkness to dim lighting that slowly brightens, the work methodically builds into a crescendo with heart-pumping intensity.
Circa’s Lifschitz is a graduate of the University of New South Wales, University of Queensland and National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA), where he was the youngest director ever accepted into its graduate director’s course. Since graduating, Lifschitz has directed more than 60 productions throughout his career, including opera, theatre, physical theatre and circus. He was founding artistic director of the Australian Museum’s theatre unit and head tutor in directing at Australian Theatre for Young People, and has been a regular guest tutor in directing at NIDA. He was creative director of Festival 2018: the arts and cultural program of the 21st Commonwealth Games.
Lifschitz has served as artistic director and CEO of Circa, based in Brisbane, since 2004. The company has performed in more than 40 countries across six continents to more than 1.5 million people. Circa has presented at major festivals and venues around the world, including Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Barbican Centre, les Nuits de Fourvière and Chamäleon Theatre Berlin.
For tickets and further information about Sacre, visit dancehouse.ca.
Arash Khakpour and Alexis Fletcher première All my being is a dark verse (working title) Nov. 9-10 at the Rothstein Theatre. (photo by Peter Smida)
This year’s Chutzpah! Festival, which takes place Nov. 3-24, highlights Persian culture. The decision to feature Persian artists and stories – which was made well before the protests that erupted in Iran after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the country’s morality police last month – seems even more important and relevant now.
“When the festival was offered the opportunity to support the creation of a new dance work by Alexis Fletcher in collaboration with Arash Khakpour, two Vancouver artists I admire and enjoy working with, I began to explore the resonances between Persian artists and stories of both Jewish and Muslim background,” Jessica Gutteridge, Chutzpah! artistic managing director, told the Independent. “These communities are culturally rich and have been intertwined for a very long time, while at the same time in lesser and greater political tension over the course of history. The festival’s mandate includes exploring what Jewish culture has in common with non-Jewish communities, and bringing artists of different backgrounds into conversation, so I thought it would be interesting to pull on this thread and bring Jewish and non-Jewish artists and culture into a themed programming thread.”
The two main programs of the thread are the Nov. 9-10 world première of Fletcher and Khakpour’s All my being is a dark verse (working title), which was developed through an artistic residency at the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre, and the Nov. 23 concert by Israeli singer, songwriter and actress Liraz Charhi.
Two digitally streamed programs round out the offerings. On Nov. 14, Jacqueline Saper, author of From Miniskirt to Hijab: A Girl in Revolutionary Iran, will speak and answer questions about Jewish life in Iran pre- and post-Revolution. And, on Nov. 21, Israeli chef Ayelet Latovich will present “a menu drawn from the Persian Jewish heritage of her mother’s family, which includes her grandmother, Kohrshid Hoshmand, a well-known and beloved figure in the Iranian community in Tel Aviv.”
“The festival has always provided public outreach opportunities, ranging from master classes to workshops to public conversations with artists,” said Gutteridge about these events. In addition to the Persian-themed outreach, Chutzpah! is partnering with rice & beans theatre’s DBLSPK program to offer a public workshop of Tamara Micner’s new Yiddish panto-in-progress, Yankl & Der Beanstalk.
“We have a broad array of workshops to choose from as well,” Gutteridge continued. “David Buchbinder, Mark Rubin and Michael Ward-Bergeman will lead a creative workshop focused on making intercultural connections. Edith Tankus will bring clowning techniques for self-expression in a workshop tailored to parents and caregivers. Liz Glazer will lead a workshop on how to tap into your funny side and create comedy for the stage. And Maya Ciarrocchi will lead a series of workshops sharing the practice of Yizkor books as a means of remembering and mourning the lost people and places of our lives, that will lead into the final performance of the Site: Yizkor project.”
Life, love, longing, death
All my being is a dark verse is inspired by the poems of Forugh Farrokhzad (1934-1967), whose poetry was controversial enough in its expression of personal freedom to have been banned for almost a decade after the establishment of the Islamic republic in 1979. The project combines Farrokhzad’s poetry, the work of local artist Nargess Jalali Delia and the dance choreographed and performed by Fletcher and Khakpour. The shows will include a program of Persian storytelling curated by the Flame.
“I discovered Forugh’s poetry through Nargess, when I was helping her prepare for a visual art exhibit in 2020,” said Fletcher. “Nargess had a painting that captivated me, which I learned was inspired by Forugh’s beautiful poem, ‘Inaugurating the Garden.’ When I read the poem for the first time, I was moved to tears and felt so much of my own life inside Forugh’s words. From there, I started to research the work of this poet and felt viscerally connected to her work. When I began dreaming of creating a response through movement, I approached Arash – an artist I greatly admire and have always wanted to work with. We decided to create and perform together, and to bring together a mix of Persian and non-Persian artists to complete our team, including costume design, original music composition, lighting design, and translation work between Farsi and English.
“Both Arash and Nargess have welcomed me into their culture, language and their very personal connection with Forugh in the most generous of ways,” said Fletcher.
“I am excited to connect with an artist who comes from a completely different movement background from my own, and yet who shares so many of the same interests and curiosities about the place that dance holds in the world, what it can offer and how it can bring people together in unique ways,” said Khakpour.
“Growing up in Iran,” he continued, “I was reading Forugh’s poems at the young age of 11, even though I knew I wasn’t supposed to because her open-minded and dark-natured poems were not seen as ‘appropriate,’ and this experience had a profound effect on me. Forugh’s words were a revelation to read, something that someone wrote so many years ago and yet which seemed to speak directly to my fears and desires as if the words were both coming from me, and as if they were meant only for me.
“After moving to Canada at the age of 15,” he said, “I lost that connection to Forugh’s poetry, but now I am at a place that I feel the need to reconnect to her work again and integrate my love for her work, the knowledge and the sentiment it awakens in my dance practice.”
Currently, the pair are working with four of Farrokhzad’s poems: “The Wall,” “Reborn,” “Inaugurating the Garden” and “Window.”
“Forugh’s work is full of life, love and longing, yet full of death,” explained Khakpour. “I know from growing up in Iran that many people around me talked about her work as a forbidden reality, too forward, or too much – and the ways in which we should be talking, and the ways in which we should not be talking, as men and women. Forugh defied all of these binaries and all of this drew me to her magical poetry and body of work.
“As I was growing up, I have felt that similar feeling of defying the norms about myself, in terms of pursuing a dance career at all, as a man, which has many stigmas attached to it in my culture. I feel the same now as an artist at times.
“Forugh awakens the courage in us to be courageous,” he added. “This has always drawn me to Forugh’s work; her rigorous, rebellious nature has inspired many generations of artists since her death. Her writing, although being specific, is also timeless, transcends across cultures, and is full of humanity and love that goes beyond borders and ideologies. She longed for a world that could address and heal humanity’s pain.
“I think Alexis and I are drawn to Forugh and her work for these unapologetic tendencies and yet her humble nature of being, writing and expressing on the page. We strive for the same things in dance and choreography and long for a world that can address and heal its pain.”
“We both see dance as poetry in motion; a universal way of channeling poetry into the body and sharing that with the audience,” said Fletcher. “We believe this universality, along with the multidisciplinary and cross-cultural nature of this project, is a fertile ground that can draw new audiences to dance and connect different audiences to each other.”
Fletcher quoted from Rosanna Warren’s The Art of Translation: “The psychic health of an individual resides in the capacity to recognize and welcome the ‘Other.’” She explained that she and Khakpour “will use the act of translation as a practice of empathy; a way for artists and audiences to come together and lift the multiple veils of language, culture and ways of being that can obscure ‘the other,’ revealing the universality of our shared human experience, with language, visual art, dance and live performance as ways of ‘lifting the veil.’
“Expanding on the above,” she said, “we are curious about how we can use the practice of duet, including our partnership as performers, as a vehicle of exploration of ‘self’ and ‘other,’ and how this project can be a platform for this resonant conversation. This sparks our interest because, to execute duet skilfully and on an emotional level, one must delve into the other’s perspective more deeply…. We have the unique privilege of sharing this type of intimacy and connection with others as dancers because our bodies, especially in duet, are our physical and literal instruments: we must literally soften and yield our bodies and minds to give or receive the weight of another. We must take time to look into each other’s eyes and allow the other’s body to enter our private, personal space, learning what the impulses, dynamics, instincts and thought processes of that other person are. We must give each other patience and care for the relationship and choreography to work. We must acknowledge different subjective opinions and points of view. We feel that duet is a direct practice platform through which to investigate the myriad ways one can be in an empathic relationship with another.”
A dream come true
“Music in my life is the most important thing,” Charhi told the Independent. “When I started to create, to sing and to songwrite in Farsi, I knew that I had a message to be a little voice for the Iranian muted women. I knew that would be a continuation to the women from my family who are muted themselves. It wasn’t a question that I would do that. It’s not about me – I deeply feel I’m the pipe to tell a story.”
On Oct. 7, Charhi releases her third album in Farsi. Called Roya – a vision, a fantasy, a dream – she recorded it with Iranian musicians in Istanbul. “It was an extremely emotional journey I cannot even express with words,” she said, “but we made a wonderful album with wonderful meaning and we all share the same dreams together.”
Charhi collaborated secretly with several Iranian artists – singers, writers, instrumentalists – on her second album in Farsi. Secrecy was necessary because of the political situation.
“Recording my album Zan (woman in Farsi) and collaborating with Iranian musicians was a dream come true,” she said. “I felt that I can give and be artistically freed, especially because I felt that we needed to meet and to create together. [That] we love each other with no boundaries is a fact we wanted to spread to the world. There are bridges we can build despite this crazy situation and we have the power to make a change.”
Charhi chose the name Zan for that album, she said, “because it’s all about women’s freedom I sing about. Struggling and, on the other hand, rejoicing, singing and dancing, making little by little resolution, which is very, very relevant to what’s going on today in Iran.”
Charhi’s first Iranian album was Naz, which, she said means “coquettish manners.” It has been described as a “rebellious soundtrack.”
“It’s about being a good Iranian woman, using all her charm and politeness to get what she wants from her man and still stay determined,” she explained.
Charhi’s parents emigrated to Israel in the 1970s, before the Islamic Revolution, and Israel is where Charhi was born, in Ramla, in 1978.
“My music is built out of layers of my heritage, Israeli and Iranian,” she said, “and so I knew always I wanted to use traditional Iranian instruments and to mix them with my psychedelic music that I love so much [from] the Iranian ’70s.”
She also has released two albums in Hebrew, one self-titled, the other Rak Lecha Mutar(Only You’re Allowed).
As an actress, Charhi garnered a nomination for best actress from the Israeli Film Academy for her role in the 2004 Israeli film Turn Left at the End of the World. She has acted in theatre, television and film, including playing the love interest of Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the movie A Late Quartet (2012), the role of Frida Kahlo in a production by the national theatre of Israel (2017) and an Israeli Mossad agent in the Israeli TV series Tehran (2020).
A scene from Clowns by Hofesh Shechter Company. (photo by Todd MacDonald)
Double Murder takes audiences on a journey from cynicism and violence to hope and healing. The double bill from the United Kingdom’s Hofesh Shechter Company features Clowns, described as “a macabre comedy of murder and desire,” and The Fix, “an antidote to the murderous, poisonous energy of Clowns,” which “brings a tender, fragile energy to the stage.”
Presented by DanceHouse at the Vancouver Playhouse Oct. 21 and 22, U.K.-based Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter told the Independent he is excited to share the works with audiences in North America.
Clowns debuted at Nederlands Dans Theater 1 in 2016 and later was produced as a film and broadcast by the BBC. The Fix is a more recent piece. The company was in the middle of creating it when COVID hit and everything shut down, Shechter told the Independent. “And so we had this weird start/stop experience, where we sometimes could have two or three weeks of work, and again get shut in our homes for a few months. For me, it was a really interesting experience artistically. The work is about healing and about a communal effort, or the ability as a community, to heal ourselves and each other. The spirit of the time became a part of the energy of the work, and the craving for human contact and communication became even more urgent and relevant. There was a weird synergy between worldly events and The Fix, and I personally found it a very healing experience post-COVID.”
Hope plays a key role in the relationship between Double Murder’s two contrasting works.
“The energy of hope was something the dancers and myself discussed in the studio, months before COVID, as I knew I would like to create a balancing piece to Clowns,” said Shechter. “Clowns presents a rather sarcastic, somewhat hopeless world in perpetual power games. I was adamant to have another perspective in the evening on what the world can be, and we discussed in the studio that the most precious currency of our days must be ‘hope.’ It felt like an interesting and powerful direction to go to, and we embarked on trying to produce this energy through the means of movement and composition.”
Shechter is also a musician and composer and his original scores interweave with his choreography, deepening his dances’ emotional impact.
“Creating new work for me is a chaotic process of releasing thoughts, feelings and ideas from the inside out,” he said. “Anything can be an idea, from a sketch of sound to a sketch of movement; lots of writing in my messy notebooks and recording sounds/music and experimenting in the studio. There is no particular order in which the elements are born – it is an organic, chaotic process of producing material, which is then followed by the process of editing and decision-making. The process of decision-making is complex, and does not always happen through the thinking mind, instincts have a big part in deciding which way to go.”
And his instincts have proven sound. In addition to choreographing for leading ensembles around the world, Shechter has choreographed for theatre, television and opera. His works have been performed internationally and Hofesh Shechter Company has won multiple awards. Shechter himself was awarded an honorary Order of the British Empire for his services to dance.
When asked about the courage it takes to be creative in the public sphere and whether it has become easier or harder as his career has progressed, Shechter told the Independent, “The level of difficulty of being publicly creative is not really dependent on external elects, such as time or external success. I find that the internal processes and thoughts or, in other words, the way I perceive my reality is what can make things tough – the expectations I might think are placed upon me and so on. All these are thoughts and, in truth, I cannot know or presume to know what people might be expecting. Therefore, I rather divert my inner thinking and process to what excites and inspires me – sharing my experiences, thoughts and feelings and sensations with people through the means of movements and sound. This communal sharing of experience is the most powerful aspect of performance for me, and a very fulfilling one as well.”
For tickets to Double Murder: Clowns/The Fix, visit dancehouse.ca or call 604-801-6225 during a weekday.
David Cooper is renowned for the skill with which he captures energy and light in photographs and film. But the multiple-award-winning artist was not appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in 2020 only for his “innovative contributions to Canadian performance photography,” but also “for his dedicated mentorship of emerging artists.” One of the many ways in which he has shown that dedication is his support of the Downtown Eastside (DTES) community in which he is based.
Cooper has taken countless photographs for the DTES Heart of the City Festival since the annual festival began 19 years ago, and for Vancouver Moving Theatre – the festival’s main presenter, along with Carnegie Community Centre and the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians – for at least three decades. The festival photo sessions at his studio have been community-building gatherings and the festival provides copies of their photos to the culturally and socially diverse artists who live, perform and create in the neighbourhood. This year’s Heart of the City takes place Oct. 26-Nov. 6, with more than 100 events throughout the DTES and online.
It was Vancouver Moving Theatre co-founder Terry Hunter who introduced Cooper to the Heart of the City Festival, since it involved artists, writers, singers and storytellers and Cooper’s career has always been in the arts. Though that wasn’t always where his interest lay.
“I started training at U of T [University of Toronto] for architecture,” Cooper told the Independent. “It was a five-year undergraduate program and I came out west after my second year, as a break. I’ve always had a camera but never had formal photography training beyond a summer course at Banff when I was a teenager. Through a friend, I checked out a local theatre company to see if they needed any photos taken. Eventually, I was given a chance to shoot a play at the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre, directed by Christopher Newton. They were really excited about the results from a dress rehearsal and offered me a job. I spent four years there in the publicity department, also creating posters and marketing material.”
Cooper is from Forest Hill in Toronto. He grew up in a conservative Jewish neighbourhood. “I went to Hebrew school but I stopped practising Judaism when I moved out west from my family,” he said. “I still go back for special occasions and joined the JCC here in Vancouver.”
As a theatre, dance and music photographer for more than 40 years, Cooper’s photos and videos have publicized more than 60 companies throughout Canada and the United States. The Shaw Festival, Bard on the Beach, Arts Club Theatre, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, 605 Collective, Karen Flamenco Company, Vancouver Opera, Vancouver Symphony, Electra Women’s Choir, Chor Leoni Men’s Choir, Spirit of the West and Uzume Taiko Drummers are just a dozen-plus of the groups with which he has worked. He has been a stills photographer for several TV series and his dance videos have been shown internationally. In addition, he teaches and mentors students, holds workshops for both amateur and professional photographers, and photographs for theatre and dance schools.
Among the many recognitions Cooper has garnered, he received a Jessie Richardson Theatre Award in 1995 for his outstanding contribution to the Vancouver arts community and was elected a pioneer member of the B.C. Entertainment Hall of Fame in 2006.
“I’ve mostly been a theatre photographer, shooting live shows,” said Cooper. “I spent 15 years shooting film and transitioned to digital in 2001. It was a Canada Council grant in 1978 that took me to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet to learn more about ballet and I spent two weeks in class and rehearsals documenting the process.”
Firefly Books in Ontario recently published the coffee table book David Cooper Body of Work: Theatre and Dance Photography. Each of the 500 copies published includes a limited-edition print signed by Cooper.
“I have worked with a great graphic designer and art director, Scott McKowen, for 30 years, photographing marketing materials for the Stratford Festival, the Shaw Festival, Yale Repertory Theatre, Canadian Stage, Theatre Calgary and others together,” said Cooper of how the publication came to be. “He suggested we compile all our work into a book and include my dance work that is separate from the theatre.”
According to Firefly’s website, the book includes essays on Cooper’s theatre photography (by Newton, artistic director emeritus of the Shaw Festival), on his dance images (by Vancouver writer and arts commentator Max Wyman) and on his marketing images (by McKowen). Ballet dancer Evelyn Hart “has contributed an appreciation, and Cooper himself discusses the most intimate relationship between photographer and subject – portraiture.”
When asked what the most gratifying parts of his career are, Cooper told the Independent: “Working with talented performers. Getting to travel all across Canada and the U.S. shooting for different arts organizations.”
Artists of Ballet BC in a previous presentation of Bedroom Folk by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar. (photo by Cindi Wicklund)
Ballet BC will share five new commissions as well as beloved audience favourites in its 2022/23 season. From emerging, locally based voices to renowned choreographers with deep connections to the company, and from intimate creations to large-scale ensemble works, there is much to explore.
The season opens Nov. 3-5 with Overture/s, featuring a world première from Dutch sibling duo Imre and Marne van Opstal, co-produced by Finland’s Tero Saarinen Company, the return of Bedroom Folk from Israeli choreographers Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar, and Silent Tides, a work by Ballet BC artistic director Medhi Walerski.
The season continues with Horizon/s March 16-18. Vancouver-based Shay Kuebler and Czech choreographer Jiří Pokorný will each share a world première, new works exploring dichotomies within the human body and mind. Israel’s Adi Salant – former co-artistic director of the Batsheva Dance Company – will be back to share WHICH/ONE, originally commissioned for Ballet BC in 2019. Salant’s work is anchored by a deep sense of presence, navigating between explosive physicality and delicate scarcity. Set to musical excerpts from A Chorus Line, in addition to an original soundscape, the piece highlights the entire company and explores contrasting themes of human performance and mundanity.
The final program of the season, Wave/s, runs May 11-13. It features two world premières from two of today’s top visionaries in contemporary dance. Tel Aviv-based Roy Assaf shares his debut creation for the Ballet BC stage and Sweden’s Johan Inger returns to share an all-new work following the success of Walking Mad and B.R.I.S.A.
Lastly, Ballet BC welcomes Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Nutcracker back to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre Dec. 9-11.
For tickets to any of the season’s offerings, visit balletbc.com.
Take This Waltz performers Ted Littlemore, left, and Daniel Okulitch. (photo by Victoria Bell)
Take This Waltz world premières at Rothstein Theatre Sept. 10-11.
“The concert as a whole tells a story, and each song finds its place within that story,” Idan Cohen told the Independent about Take This Waltz, which sees its world première as a Chutzpah! Plus event Sept. 10-11 at the Rothstein Theatre.
Cohen is the artistic director of Ne. Sans Opera and Dance, so it might seem odd that he’s staging a show celebrating the music of Leonard Cohen. But he’s a fan of the Canadian icon, who died in 2016, and this production piqued his interest.
“I’ve admired Cohen’s lyrics and music for years,” said Cohen, who is not related to the singer-songwriter. “So, when Daniel Okulitch, one of Canada’s most appreciated operatic baritones reached out to me to directly to produce Take This Waltz, I immediately said yes. Daniel’s vision was to look at Cohen’s music through the classical tradition of the Song Cycles (Lieds). I thought that it was a really interesting way to look at Cohen’s music through a fresh, exciting lens.”
Okulitch contacted Cohen after having created a successful online concert that included some of Leonard Cohen’s work, as well as that of other singer-songwriters, which took place via Pacific Opera Victoria in winter 2020. Okulitch wanted to add dance to the concert.
“I knew that, if I was to take this on, I would want to focus on Cohen’s body of work and say something meaningful about the times we live in,” said Idan Cohen. “Ne. Sans’ mandate is to follow the operatic tradition in the full sense of it – to create work that integrates all the classical arts of theatre, music, dance, set and costume design. It is challenging to do in this economy, but I strongly believe in this type of offering.
“It took us some time to fundraise so that we can present this work as I believe it should be presented,” he noted. “We have an ensemble of cello, violin and accordion, with stunning arrangements by Adrian Dolan, and Daniel’s voice is so rich and sensitive, that it speaks straight to the heart. Amir Ofek is designing the set, Itai Erdal creating the light design and Christine Reimer the costumes. Alongside Daniel is the dancer/musician Ted Littlemore, with whom I’ve been collaborating for almost five years, who’s such a wonderful artist. I am truly blessed, and I hope that we’ll not just do justice to Cohen’s legacy, but help audiences experience it in a different, new way.”
About that legacy, Cohen added, “I had coffee with the wonderful Vancouver-based composer Rodney Sharman the other day, to discuss a future project that we’re working on, and Rodney said something that I found to be really relevant to Take This Waltz. He said that he thinks that my body of work is a variation of two core elements: love and death. And I thought to myself, that’s life, right? Cohen got it. His wisdom is so profound that it sometimes seems as if he knew the secrets of the human soul. I think it’s because he was brutally honest, a thing that we don’t see a lot in our contemporary culture. There’s so much pain and often bitterness and anger in his work, that are then composed in such generosity and love. What a beautiful combination. My work is to honour that.”
About his collaborators on Take This Waltz, Cohen said the production started at Pacific Opera Victoria, “as an intimate, beautiful concert of various music that included just a few of Cohen’s songs, and Vancouver Opera decided to support its development and creation. Jessica Gutteridge, a wonderful human and the artistic director of Chutzpah!, has given us a very generous creative residency at the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre in Vancouver’s JCC [to further develop the work]. It’s all live, no film or projections. I felt that Cohen’s work needs to be honest and direct. Having said that, there are quite a few surprises in the show – you’ll just have to come and see!”
Take This Waltz is being presented with Pacific Opera Victoria and Vancouver Opera, and Chutzpah!’s live music programming is supported by a grant from AmplifyBC. The Sept. 10-11 shows are also being supported by the Bierbrier family, in memory of Len Bierbrier, who was a dear friend of Chutzpah! board chair Lloyd Baron, said Gutteridge. Bierbrier was also a friend of Leonard Cohen, she said.
While most people cannot claim that level of connection to the legendary musician, many people do feel connected to him in some way. When asked to confirm that, indeed, he was not related to the singer-songwriter, Idan Cohen said, “We are all related, aren’t we? I first heard Cohen’s music through my dad and, in many ways, always felt that he is a father figure to me. So many of us feel that way about him and his music and poetry. I love him like family. Does that count?”
Montreal guitarist and member of the Jewish community Henry Garf takes part in this year’s Vancouver International Flamenco Festival. Presented by Flamenco Rosario, the festival features live performances, with both ticketed and free events.
Garf performs at the Waterfront Theatre Sept. 23, as part of Kara Miranda’s company. Sombras/Shadows is a live music and dance presentation with projections reflecting personal experience both visually and thematically. Shadows are explored as interplay between light and dark, through the lens of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung’s theories of the Shadow Self. A parallel search is for intangible shadows of the past, Miranda’s ancestral roots, living in the shadow of the flamenco greats that came before and the masters that reign today and finally accepting and actualizing her shadow side.
Garf also teaches a master class at the Scotiabank Dance Centre Sept. 24, with Alvaro Echanove, called Theory and Practice: Exploring the Skills of Improvisation, Dynamics and Active Listening through Palmas. Palmas is a style of handclapping that accompanies flamenco dance.
Other master classes take place Sept. 17 and 18, with Mucha Muchacha, and on Sept. 24, with Albert Hernandez. Other ticketed shows include Mucha Muchacha at the Rothstein Theatre Sept. 16. Their eponymous show started as theoretical and practical research about women artists from the “Generation of the 27th,” known as Las Sinsombrero, and evolved into a contemporary dance project focused on the ideas of empowerment, determination, voice, participation, freedom and cooperation. The performance is developed from force-driven movement, effort, celebration and physical exhaustion. They put “at risk” traditional Spanish dance’s corporeality in a confrontation with contemporary dancing.
The two other shows at the Waterfront Theatre are Anastassiia Alexander on Sept. 22, performing The Machination of Memories Suppressed, based on the poem “Maquina de Olvido,” which Alexander wrote, and the performance contains elements of spoken word with dance; and Flamenco Rosario on Sept. 24, with Nuevo III, a collection of new choreographies by Ballet Nacional de España choreographer Albert Hernandez, Granada’s Sara Jimenez and Rosario Ancer.
On the afternoons of Sept. 3 and 4, free performances take place on the Picnic Pavilion stage at Granville Island. The Saturday features Mozaico Flamenco, A.J. Simmons and company, Bonnie Stewart, Jhoely Triana, and Michelle Harding and Calle Verde. Performers on the Sunday are Mozaico Flamenco, Kara Wiebe, Harding and Verde, Linda Hayes, and Stewart. There is also a free 20-minute workshop on Sept. 4 for children at noon, and a 30-minute one for adults at 12:20 p.m.
The company of Bard on Beach’s production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. (photo by Tim Matheson)
The thespian delights of Shakespeare set against the glorious backdrop of mountains, sea and sky have been missed. But now, after a COVID-induced two-year hiatus, Bard on the Beach at Vanier Park is back with a bang, based on the audience buzz on opening night.
The comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a perennial crowd pleaser, will occupy the BMO Mainstage all season. Harlem Duet, a tale of Black life spanning three periods in American history, runs until mid-July on the smaller Howard Family Stage, with Romeo and Juliet taking over that stage in August through to September.
This is the seventh time Bard has produced A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and this rendition has “hit” written all over it. It is one cheeky dream.
Set against the backdrop of the upcoming marriage of Athenian Duke Theseus (Ian Butcher) to foreign Queen Hippolyta (Melissa Oei), three stories weave their way through a mélange of mistaken identities, unrequited love, feuding fairy royalty and would-be actors, riotously intersecting in the enchanted wood outside of Athens.
Four young lovers, Hermia (Heidi Damayo), Lysander (Olivia Hutt), Helena (Emily Dallas) and Demetrius (Christopher Allen) dash through the woods in a mad, “looking for love romp” replete with a WWE-worthy cat fight and zingy insults.
Meanwhile, in the sylvan wonderland, Fairy King Oberon (Billy Marchenski) and his queen, Titania (Kate Besworth), are in the midst of a custody battle. Oberon sends his trusty servant, the mischievous Puck (Sarah Roa), to exact revenge on his queen with a potion meant to make her fall in love with the first thing she sees when she awakes.
Finally, we meet a troupe of bumbling tradesmen who seek refuge in the forest to rehearse Pyramus and Thisbe, the play they have written in honour of the duke’s pending nuptials. It is during this rehearsal, that one of them, Bottom (Carly Street), morphs into an ass, both literally and figuratively, and becomes the love interest of Titania.
In a nod to diversity and gender fluidity, director Scott Bellis (who knows this play from top to bottom, having performed in five of Bard’s previous Midsummer productions) has cast lovers Hermia and Lysander as a lesbian couple, while two of the tradesmen, Bottom and Snug (Jewish community member Advah Soudack), are played as females.
Bellis has also incorporated some interesting staging devices. Oberon arrives on stage on stilts, towering over his subjects. Bottom makes numerous asides to the audience and takes forays up the aisles. And the Mechanicals characters, at one point, move in a shuffling turntable motion around the stage.
Street steals the show as Bottom, the know-it-all of the working class group. Although given the lead of Pyramus, she wants to play all of the parts, thinking she can act better than the others. In her quest to prove this, she gives whole new meaning to the concept of emoting. It generally works and the audience loves it, although she often upstages her castmates.
Roa provides a refreshing spin on her impish character and Soudack, although in a minor role, is hilarious as the timid lion in Pyramus and Thisbe, as is Flute (Munish Sharma) as Thisbe, the reluctant object of Pyramus’s affection. Many of the actors are making their Bard debut and it is good to see new blood in the Vancouver theatre scene.
Jewish community members are prominent behind the scenes in this production. Amir Ofek’s set, backed by two leaded glass windows framing the view of the North Shore, easily transitions from the staid royal Athenian court to the warehouse of the tradesmen to the whimsy of the Oberon realm. Mishelle Cuttler, as sound designer/composer, provides original music that complements Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg’s ethereal choreography, as performed by students from the Simon Fraser University School of Contemporary Dance. You don’t usually get to see Shakespeare with so many dance elements, which adds an interesting layer to the mix.
Christine Reimer’s costumes are a delight – earth-toned, tailored day suits and cloche hats for the women, a white bejeweled gown for Titania, frothy candy-coloured tutus for the fairies and silky evening frocks for the final scene. Gerald King’s lighting – the greens, the purples, the reds – all work in harmony with the sun as it sets behind the stage.
Back row, left to right: Jocelyne Hallé, Debbie Cossever, Nassa Selwyn, Susan Goldstein, Arnold Selwyn, Karon Shear and Marshall Berger. Middle row, left to right: Beryl Israel, Maurice Moses, Daniella Givon, Muriel Morris, Dawn Hurwitz and Rona Black. In front: Sara Bernstein, left, and Tamar Glaser. (photo by Jocelyne Hallé)
Shortly after she arrived in Vancouver from South Africa, in 2002, Beryl Israel founded Showtime, a seniors’ singing and dancing group. In the decades since, Showtime participants have performed 230 concerts. After a hiatus forced by the global pandemic, Showtimers are back to rehearsals, hoping to have their first public performance in September or October.
“It’s old-time, happy favourites, from the movies and from Broadway shows,” Israel said of the Showtime repertoire.
For most of the group’s history, rehearsals took place at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, but, as rehearsals return, they will be meeting at Kerrisdale Community Centre. Concerts are performed wherever they can bring happiness and good memories – community centres, church groups and Jewish venues like the Richmond Kehila Seniors, the Louis Brier Home and Hospital and the Weinberg Residence.
From the start, 20 years ago, the group – which usually consists of about 16 performers, many of whom are Jewish – has done a concert every three or four weeks. That came to an abrupt halt with the arrival of COVID. Now, as the group plans the first post-pandemic activity, Showtimers are reflecting on what the group – and Israel in particular – has meant to them. In a series of testimonials collected by participant Karon Shear, members spoke of the impact of their participation in general and of their friendship with Israel. The testimonials were compiled “behind my back!” Israel noted, and were shared in Senior Line, the publication of the Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver.
Muriel Morris, who has just retired as the group’s pianist, said the Showtime experience was important at a pivotal time in her life.
“Beryl came into my life shortly after Ben, my husband, died,” said the musician. “Meeting her was so fortunate for me. Showtime filled a great void in my life, as pianist of the group, giving pleasure to all our audiences and giving myself a true feeling of well-being and fulfilment.”
With Morris’s departure, the group will sing to music recorded by North Shore musician Bob York.
“We’re very privileged and lucky that he’s done this for us,” Israel said.
While Showtime includes a cadre of singers and dancers, Israel alone fills many roles.
“I’m the everything,” she said with a laugh. “I’m the director, producer, choreographer, I make the costumes, I do the arrangements, I do the bookings. I ended up doing it all.”
Most of the performers are north of 70.
“I don’t know what’s happened with the 60-to-70 age group,” she said. “They sort of disappeared.”
A number of the most active participants are in their 90s – and maybe singing and dancing keeps them young.
“It’s very rewarding, both for participants and for the audience,” Israel said, a theme reflected in the many testimonials collected by Shear.
“I love the costumes, the rehearsals, being on the stage, singing and dancing and entertaining folks,” said singer Debbie Cossever. “Beryl gave me the opportunity to use my talents bringing joy to the lives of seniors. I have been with her troupe for 17 years
because I love it! I am so proud I am a Showtimer.”
“Beryl has enhanced my life and my dreams have been fulfilled,” said singer and dancer Sara Bernstein. “It has been an honour over the 17 years being part of Showtime. I witnessed how people sprung up from wheelchairs in elation of the dance, costumes and musical joy Beryl produced. I shall never forget seeing stroke victims joyfully tapping a finger or toe in unrestrained elation. Caregivers and staff mentioned that the residual energy of the shows carried on for days.”
“Although my stage presence in acting and singing goes back over 75 years,” Arnold Selwyn added, “the last 16 years, performing with Beryl’s Showtime group, has given me, without a doubt, the most satisfaction and pleasure. Her professionalism, choice of content and skill of program arranging, makes each show run smoothly and [be] enjoyable for the varied audiences. It is a joy to work with her and watching her dance is a delight.”
“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do a mitzvah (again and again) while I do some of the things I love most – singing and dancing,” said Daniella Givon. “It is a pleasure to bring light and colour, music and movement to those who are wheelchair-bound, who cannot live on their own and who need special care. Every time I see our audience smile, nod their head, clap their hands and sing with us, I know this mitzvah counts.”
Dancers Alvin Erasga Tolentino, left, and Gabriel Dharmoo in Passages of Rhythms, in which Jonathan Bernard (below) is a percussionist. (photo by Yasuhiro Okada)
“Passages of Rhythms is inspired by a shared fascination with interculturalism, interdisciplinary activity, flamenco and collaborations between cultures,” percussionist Jonathan Bernard told the Independent about the Co.ERASGA production, which is being remounted May 19 and 20 at PAL Studio Theatre, in recognition of Asian Heritage Month. May is also Jewish Heritage Month.
“Canada is becoming well-known as an international centre of intercultural arts,” said Bernard, a member of the Jewish community. “I very much look forward to the remount and a bright future for the show on Canadian and international stages.”
In Passages of Rhythms, Co.ERASGA’s Alvin Erasga Tolentino highlights flamenco, Bharatanatyam and voices for the body, in a collaboration with local Chinese-Canadian flamenco artist Kasandra “La China,” Indo-Canadian Bharatanatyam dancer Sujit Vaidya and Montreal voice artist Gabriel Dharmoo. Ronald Stelting joins Bernard on the percussion music, and Jonathan Kim provides the lighting.
Bernard was in the original production, which took place at the Firehall Theatre as part of the Dancing on the Edge festival in 2018.
“The creation process of Passages was very smooth, full of joy and dedication, and the result brought a standing ovation from an enthusiastic audience,” he said. “Alvin is a director with a warm heart, an open mind, and is a passionate artist, so I’m overjoyed to be part of the remount.
“This is a dream gig for me,” he continued, “as I caught the flamenco bug back around 2005, I’ve traveled to the birthplace of flamenco in southern Spain to study and I’ve happily spent countless hours collaborating with flamenco dancers at local flamenco venues and on the concert stage. Kasandra was my first flamenco teacher, and we have had an artistic relationship going back to the mid-2000s. One of our groups, Orchid Ensemble, collaborated with Kasandra’s and Oscar Nieto’s Al Mozaico Flamenco Theatre to create a show named after the famous Café de Chinitas in Malaga, where Frederico Garcia Lorca penned some of his most famous works.”
Another reason this is a dream gig for Bernard, he said, “is that I have the pleasure of surrounding myself with many of my favourite instruments, collected from 25 years of travel and study around the world, scouring through ancient temple and traditional markets for the best sounding instruments. For example, you will see/hear temple bells and opera cymbals from Beijing and Sichuan province; tuned gongs found in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos; the riqq (Arabic frame drum), handmade in Cairo’s old city; bells from India; and, of course, the cajon, a box drum adapted into the flamenco tradition in the 1960s.
“My compositional ideas that form the soundscape for Passages are not only inspired by the dancers’ movement,” he said, “but by the instruments themselves and the ancient styles traditions they represent. Further, as most often I am busy interpreting the work of composers, Passages gave me a chance to compose my own original music.”
Since the mid-1990s, Bernard and his wife and artistic partner Lan Tung have been creating intercultural ensembles, mixing instruments and instrumentalists from traditions ranging from Chinese, South Asian, Persian, Arabic, North African and Western traditions, creating original Canadian music, and touring internationally. “We looked to ancient centres of interculturalism such as the Silk Road and El Andalus for inspiration, and as reflections of our own unique cultural environment,” he said. “Andalusia was a golden age of interculturalism, where Jews, Muslims and Christians lived in relative peace and shared knowledge and cultural traditions, from architecture to music to the culinary arts.
“Since the birthplace of flamenco – approximately one hour by train to the ancient Mediterranean port city of Cadiz – was located in the heart of Andalusia, I believe flamenco was certainly shaped by the liberal sharing and mixing of traditions,” he said. “For example, the 12-beat time cycles that are of central importance to West and North African traditions are also deeply embedded in flamenco forms; the castanets and palmas (interlocking handclaps) can be found in the carcabas and rhythms of the Gnawa and Berber people of Africa; the Ashkenazi cantorial traditions must have influenced the passionate flamenco vocal style. It might be said that flamenco borrowed rhythmic elements from North Africa, melodic elements from the pre-inquisition Ashkenazi Ladino song, and with simple harmonic structures and the guitar from Europe.”
Passages of Rhythms’ May 19 and 20 performances start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30 ($20 for students and seniors) and can be purchased at eventbrite.ca.