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

The team at the Glenn Gould School films their fall opera double bill, Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins + William Bolcom’s Lucrezia. Photo c/o The Royal Conservatory.How do you teach opera during a global pandemic?

This was the question facing the team at the Glenn Gould School (GGS) in Toronto, tasked with planning its annual fall opera production. It was April 2020, and no one knew how long newly-imposed COVID-19 restrictions would stay in place, or what might be happening six months in the future when rehearsals were officially scheduled to begin. Little did they know at the time that they would be working on a new, operatic hybrid of stage and film – rehearsed, sung, and recorded for online consumption. 

“My meetings in the spring and early summer were all about ‘How can we do this? What kind of project can this be?’” explained director Amanda Smith when I spoke with her in November 2020. “Just trying to pay attention to what was happening in the world and what would be safe meant that it took several months to figure this out, always looking at the potential of what we could create.”

Read more: This fall, the GGS adapts opera for online – plexiglass and all

The UnCovered: Notes from the Heart ensemble, recording the full cast finale in front of Koerner Hall, Royal Conservatory of Music. Photo by Dahlia KatzAs Halloween approaches, I would normally be looking forward to going to Toronto’s beautiful Koerner Hall for one of my favourite events in the fall music theatre calendar – The Musical Stage Company’s annual UnCovered concert. Clearly, this won’t be taking place this year as it usually does, so I got in touch with company founder and artistic director Mitchell Marcus to find out about how the company is reinventing itself in response to the pandemic. What struck me most in our conversation was a sense of renewed emphasis on the importance of creating, maintaining and expanding community through the sharing of music and storytelling. 

Mitchell MarcusCommunity has always been at the heart of Musical Stage’s mandate, he told me, but with the company’s rebranding in 2017, and recent explosive expansion, “perhaps we have lost a little bit of that.” But with the intense process of the last seven months it has come very much back into focus. Like other companies forced to pivot when theatres were shut down in the middle of March, MSC has leapt into the new world of experimentation: with small outdoor physically distanced live shows (Porchside Songs); with rehearsals and workshops conducted online via Zoom; and, most prominently, by reimagining their signature annual theatrical concert, UnCovered

Read more: MSC’s UnCovered Reinvented

Image from Crow’s Theatre/Project Humanity’s 2019 play Towards Youth.“Is there a radical hope to be found in the humble drama classroom?”

This question was asked (and answered in the affirmative) by Towards Youth, a play by Andrew Kushnir produced by Crow’s Theatre and Project Humanity in the early spring of 2019, almost exactly a year before the current COVID-19 lockdown. Originally commissioned through, and inspired by, University of Toronto professor Dr Kathleen Gallagher's research project Youth, Theatre, Radical Hope and the Ethical Imaginary, the play was created from verbatim interviews  with drama students in India, Taiwan, England, and Greece, resulting in a production described by Now Magazine as “ambitious, sprawling, and invested with tenacious heart” that captured the imaginations of audiences and critics alike.

In a time when the role of the arts in schools is under budgetary and philosophical attack, this is an exciting and crucial argument to the contrary. Now that – thanks to the ongoing pandemic –  almost all live performance has been shut down, we are all feeling the lack of connection and community that live theatre provides. What better time to celebrate and explore the power of drama studies in schools, and the belief that exposure to (and participation in) the arts can not only change individual lives, but empower those individuals to change society for the better?

Read more: With “Dinner and a Show”, Crow’s Theatre goes online for a cause
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