New Works Showcase at Watershed – Afarin Mansouri’s Zuleykha (Loose Tea Music Theatre). Photo credit Alain ViauEver since I began writing this column four years ago, I have searched out and championed companies and artists exploring and breaking down the barriers between musical theatre, opera and dance. Imagine my delight when I discovered a new festival debuting in the last week of May this year dedicated to the same goals, to  “reimagining the future of music theatre” and to building a new community of artists, scholars, journalists and students from across genres and generations. 

The Watershed Festival, given this name to symbolize the coming together of these many streams of interconnected art forms, is helmed by prolific Canadian composer Dean Burry, now also an assistant professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, where the idea of the festival was born.  Burry has been a friend of mine since I directed the world premiere of his opera Pandora’s Locker at the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Glenn Gould School in 2008; I got in touch to find out more about both the inspiration behind the festival and how the pandemic might be affecting plans for participants and attendees. 

One thing that is clear right away in speaking to Burry about Watershed is how closely the goals of the festival align with his own belief in the need to break through the long-standing walls between the worlds of opera and musical theatre: in both the professional and academic worlds. As he told me, “I feel as though this is something that my heart has been in for a very long time. I work a lot in the opera field, but never did think that opera had to be one boxed-in thing. I have had some professional musical theatre shows, as well, and I’ve found that as much as we all try to be open, a lot of people in those two fields have strong feelings about what ‘opera is supposed to be’ as opposed to what ‘musical theatre is supposed to be’. The reality, though, as far as I am concerned, is that they are all on the same spectrum; both are methods of storytelling that use every art form: drama, literature, music, movement and design.” 

Read more: Synchronicity and Innovation in a Watershed Spring

Lyne Tremblay. Photo credit: Bella Ciao Studio.“Have you been living in limbo?” sings Lyne Tremblay in the trailer for her upcoming online cabaret. “Well, we’re going to get you out of that!” On April 24 at 7:30pm, Tremblay will be presenting Living in Limbo, a bilingual cabaret live from her famous loft in Montreal.

This is Tremblay’s first foray into the virtual world—a new step by a ‘multi-threat’ artist whose performing credits range from dancing and singing as Cassandra in the original Canadian production of Cats at Toronto’s Elgin Theatre, to starring as Sally Bowles in Cabaret at the Mogador Theatre in Paris, to an eclectic collection of TV and film appearances. She is also an acclaimed creator of cross-genre theatre works and cabarets, and more recently, a recording artist.

Living in Limbo, Tremblay’s virtual cabaret debut, will showcase all her talents, with some surprises along the way—a rare chance to catch her up close and in full experimental mode. Wanting to know more details before tuning in to the livestream on April 24, I reached out to Tremblay to talk about inspiration, process, and creating during the pandemic.

Read more: With ‘Living in Limbo’, artist Lyne Tremblay brings her cabaret practice home

bannerDigidance’s upcoming digital broadcast of Joe was produced in 1995 by Bernard Picard for Radio-Canada and features dancers from Jean-Pierre Perreault’s own company alongside artists from Winnipeg Contemporary Dancers and Dancemakers. Photo by Robert EtcheverryThis is such a strange time to be writing about music theatre. As I scour the Internet for news of new works and remounts, the contrast with this time last year is impossible to escape. On top of that, as the one-year anniversary of the first pandemic lockdown approaches it feels as if we are collectively holding our breath as we wait to find out if we are actually on the road out of this horrific year, or if a longer period of isolation is first going to be necessary. 

Not only are live performances still not allowed in Toronto, but (as of March 5) the rules of the current lockdown, imposed in December, also forbid arts companies from even rehearsing to film content to be streamed online (as of March 5). This hits particularly hard when so many companies are using this method to not only survive by creating streaming content, but to share their productions beyond local borders thus extending their reach and their audiences across the country and even around the world.

Read more: The Many Virtues of Necessity

Skylar Campbell with Alexander Skinner and Siphesihle November in Chroma, part of The National Ballet of Canada's "Modern Masterpieces" series. Photo by KAROLINA KURASHow does a theatre company stay connected to its audience when no one is allowed to be in the theatre to rehearse or perform, or to take part with the audience? As we have seen, the answer is usually to go online with shows that are live, pre-filmed, or a combination of the two, with the exact recipe varying from company to company and project to project. Nearly a year after the first lockdown began last March, the experiments in creating streaming content continue with a number of exciting new multi-part initiatives from three of our major companies debuting in early 2021. 

National Ballet of Canada

Dance fans who have been missing the National Ballet of Canada’s patented rich mix of full-length story ballets and mixed programs of shorter works that allow the company to experiment with cutting-edge choreography will be happy to tune in to the new Spotlight series on the company’s website. Short films of ballet excerpts have been curated by artistic director Karen Kain to showcase the full range of ballet performed by the company’s talented dancers and the wide variety of choreographers who have contributed to the repertoire. Each film debuts on a set date and remains available for 30 days for viewing online, at no cost, although donations are welcomed. 

The series begins with Modern Masterpieces, a showcase of three exciting short works from the recent repertoire of leading contemporary choreographers Alexei Ratmansky, Jiří Kylián and Wayne McGregor, introduced by Kain. Immediately following is Power and Passion, which, in contrast, puts a spotlight on three full-length story ballets: John Cranko’s gloriously  romantic Onegin, Christopher Wheeldon’s brilliant adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, and John Neumeier’s non-linear  version of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. February 7 will see the digital debut of a full recent ballet: Robert Binet’s The Dreamers Ever Leave You, inspired by the works of Group of Seven painter Lawren Harris. Dreamers was scheduled to be performed at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre this past fall before the pandemic made that impossible.  Further  films will follow every few weeks highlighting the works of choreographers John Neumeier and George Balanchine, Marius Petipa’s classic The Sleeping Beauty, and a program of new works by Jera Wolfe, Alysa Pires, and Kevin Ormsby commissioned specifically for this project. For more information please visit national.ballet.ca.

Read more: The Lively Art of Stocking the Stream

"December" composer Monica Pearce. Photo MONICAPEARCE.COMFor those of you who might not have noticed, this holiday season will not be its usual live(ly) self; however, there are still exciting music theatre and dance productions to cheer the spirit coming to our screens and to at least one live stage. So to save you some shopping time, here’s a personal (and partial) list.

DECEMBER 

NOV 11 to DEC 19: The Musical Stage Company’s virtual edition of their signature concert series, UnCovered: Notes from the Heart (see our November issue), has been extended for an extra two weeks, due to overwhelming demand. The 65-minute series of new linked dramatic music videos can be watched by single ticket buyers or become the heart of a curated group experience. ONLINE. Specific day and showtime only. $25 - $40. https://bit.ly/UnCovered2020.

NOV 25 to DEC 4: Musical Concerts from the Shaw (Festival) directed and choreographed by associate artistic director Kimberley Rampersad, with music direction by Paul Sportelli. Alternating evenings feature the music of Duke Ellington, Dorothy Fields or Cole Porter followed by: 

DEC 5 to 19: Also from the Shaw, Songs for a Winter’s Night featuring favourite melodies from the holiday season. LIVE socially distanced audiences of up to 50. (Masks must be worn.) Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake. Tickets are FREE but must be reserved by calling the Shaw Festival’s box office at 1- 800-511-SHAW (7429)  For  details see https://www.shawfest.com/event/musical-concerts/.

DEC 4 to JAN 2: The Nutcracker (choreography by James Kudelka.) The National Ballet of Canada, in a new partnership with Cineplex, are making their signature holiday ballet available to watch on both big and small screens. Live captured at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in 2008, the cast is led by audience favourites Sonia Rodriguez and Piotr Stanczyk as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Nutcracker Prince. Tickets $12.95-14.95 at Cineplex Theatres not affected by the lockdown, or $29.99 to stream online from the Cineplex Store. For direct links go to  or www.cineplex.com.

DEC 6, 7PM: Together, Safe & Warm. Alexis Gordon, of the Stratford and Shaw Festivals, guest stars with the INNERchamber Ensemble in an intimate program of holiday music new and old, interwoven in the characteristic company style with the stories behind the songs. The performance will be livestreamed from Revival House, the exciting performance and dining venue in Stratford.  ONLINE. One show only.  Tickets $35 (student and arts worker discounts available) www.innerchamber.ca/together-safe-warm.

DEC 12, 7:30PM: WinterSong: A Virtual Watch Party. Canadian Contemporary (formerly Children’s) Dance Theatre. The annual holiday dance special inspired by the world’s rich solstice traditions will be experienced this year through the medium of film combining choreographic world premieres with a retrospective look at iconic solstice work. Nowell Sing We, and highlights from WinterSong’s 33-year history. ONLINE. Tickets $30. www.ccdt.org

DEC 12, 7PM: Opera Atelier presents their first livestreamed production, Something Rich and Strange, a brand-new production featuring theatre music by Handel, Lully, Locke and Purcell that explores the realms of sleep, visions and dreams, plus a new creation by Edwin Huizinga for soprano Measha Brueggergosman. Streamed from Koerner Hall. One Show Only. ONLINE. The Royal Conservatory Box Office at 416-408-0208 or tickets@rcmusic.ca.

DEC 11 & 12, 7:30PM: Going Under, Toronto’s Bravo Academy Senior Troupe presents a newly adapted virtual version of Going Under by cutting-edge Canadian musical theatre creators Matt Murray (book), Colleen Dauncey (music) and Akiva Romer-Segal (lyrics): “When the subway train they are riding comes to a screeching halt, a group of high school students on the way to their graduation are caught underground, forced to face each other and their own demons, and the tragic event that tore them apart four years earlier.”  ONLINE. Tickets: $16.95-28.25 www.bravoacademy.ca/events-north-york/going-under

DEC 14: Tiny Pretty Things debuts on Netflix. Based on the bestselling Young Adult book of the same name, this new series – which explores the lives of elite professional ballet students in Chicago – has been eagerly anticipated since filming began last year. Many Canadians are part of the production team, including executive producer Michael MacLennan, music supervisors Scott Belluz and Natasha Duprey, and lead choreographer and dance consultant, Jennifer Nichols (as previewed in The WholeNote’s summer issue). 

 DEC 19 & 20: This year, Ross Petty’s annual topical fairy tale-inspired Panto has had to travel into the virtual realm. Taking that as a cue, Matt Murray’s new script for There’s No Place Like Home For The Holidays begins as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz clicks together the heels of her ruby slippers and embarks on a magical roller coaster ride home during which she encounters new friends and panto favourites played by (among others) Dan (Plumbum) Chameroy, AJ Bridel, Eddie Glenn, and Sara--Jeanne Hosie, (last year’s hilarious Sheriff of Nottingham). Tickets: $35 per household. www.rosspetty.com. Watch anytime between 10am and 9pm ONLINE. A portion of each ticket sale goes to Kids Help Phone. 

DEC 21, 8PM: Essential Opera presents the world premiere of Monica Pearce’s new one-act opera, December, for three sopranos and string quartet. The story follows new couple Julia and Natasha as they plan to visit Julia’s family for the first time at Christmas. ONLlNE. Tickets $22.86 www.tickethalifax.com. https://youtube.com/c/EssentialOpera.

JANUARY

Read more: Yes December and January Will Still Have Their Highlights
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