The Egyptian qanun.Chinese guzheng, Indonesian kacapi, Iranian santour and Middle Eastern qanun: these representatives of the vast global zither family remain relatively unknown outside their region or country of origin. And yet they all have very deep musical roots, tapping into the bedrock of the communities in which they have flourished for thousands of years.

At 7:30pm on Saturday, November 30, “Encircling the World: Zithers!,” produced by North Wind Concerts (NWC) at the Heliconian Hall, aims to redress Toronto’s zither lacuna with a transnational zither exploration and celebration – or as NWC more succinctly put it, “Different cultures, similar instruments, shared musical meanings.” 

The event is the second installment of NWC’s ongoing “instrumental families” concert project. The first concert last March focused on members of the global flute family. This one features four different variants of the family of zither, dulcimer and psaltery, from Egypt, Indonesia, China and Iran, presented by leading Toronto musicians. The presentation format is unconventional, too: they will each play a solo feature and share about their instrument and music, then play together as a group and end with an interactive audience Q&A.

I spoke to NWC artistic co-director Alison Melville, as well as the four participating musicians, asking for their zither origin stories and thoughts on the future of their instruments.

It seems that in North America today, the zither’s profile is relatively low. Does it have an identity problem, I asked Melville over email.

“I think this depends on which musical community and musical tradition you're considering,” she countered. “The hammered dulcimer, for example, has a long and strong tradition in North America. Someone who listens mostly to European classical music, however, might have had no contact with the hammered dulcimer, and might think it's not as significant or developed an instrument as, say, the violin. That's an unfortunate assumption which I'm pretty sure would change if they got to know a great dulcimer player.”

What informed Melville’s choice of these specific musicians? “Toronto is very fortunate to have so many great musicians from different traditions living here,” she writes. “I've known qanun master George Sawa for many years and have long admired his artistry and his ability to easily connect with audiences. Lina Cao (guzheng), Amin Reyhani (santour) and Bill Parsons (kacapi) were all recommended by friends and colleagues.”

Melville also makes clear that each musician will present and demonstrate their instrument as they see fit. “This could include discussion of the construction of the instrument, playing techniques, etc., as well as the role the instrument plays within its musical tradition.”

Guzheng soloist Lina Cao shared her earliest musical memories. “When I was little my father had many musical instruments in our home, sparking my own my love of music at a very early age,” she says. “When I was five, I was strongly drawn to music coming from the home of my grandmother’s neighbour. My mother took me next door to investigate. I discovered the instrument making that beautiful music was the guzheng! Not so many years later I began to learn to play it.”

Here in Canada, Cao has performed in the opera The Monkiest King, produced by the Canadian Children's Opera Company, and has also played a guzheng concerto with orchestra. 

“I thought for a long time about what I will play at the concert,” Cao says. “In the end I decided to play a guzheng piece based on the Chinese folk song Jasmine.”

Also performing on the concert is santour player Amin Reihani, an Iranian traditional musician who also started his musical journey at an early age. Amazed by the sound of the santour when he first heard it, he has continued to play, explore and create music for it. 

A dedicated teacher of the santour, radif (the Persian tonal mode system) and Iranian ensemble music, Reihani enjoyed 20 years of teaching before immigrating to Canada, where he has since played santour with several Persian ensembles – in 2018 founding the Navak Ensemble to perform and record his compositions as well as those of past masters.  

At “Encircling the World: Zithers!” Reihani looks forward to “an environment in which musicians have the rare opportunity to compare their instruments and learn more about their strengths and weaknesses.”

“Other than physical and structural differences in size, shape, scales and playing techniques, I believe the most crucial aspect of music is the connection between the musician and the instrument,” Reihani says. “To me, playing santour is more than just playing songs. It is more like praying. It is my form of meditation, helping me relax.”

Veteran qanun master and respected scholar of its music George Sawa weighed in on how his instrument differs from the other zithers on the program. “I think the main difference is the presence of a fish skin membrane below the stable bridge,” he notes, “plus the set of levers that allow qanun players to get tones, half tones, quarter tones and [eighth] of a tone.” These fractions of tones produce the intervals essential in rendering the characteristic tonal modes of qanun music.

“From the time I was a kid in Egypt,” writes Sawa, “I heard the sound of the qanun on the radio. I would rush to the set and press my ears right to the speakers: I was mesmerized by its heavenly sound.”

Sawa notes that while it is the quintessential ensemble instrument, the qanun has a soloist side too, typically performing unmeasured improvisations. At the concert, he plans to discuss the essence of these improvisations and showcase the eleven levers on the qanun that give it its unique sound.

The final performer on the program – composer, guitarist, music educator and kacapi player Bill Parsons – is an old friend and colleague. He’s also the only musician not born into the culture of the zither he’s played for over a quarter century – and arguably the most experimental in his approach to it.

Parsons’ creative life began in Winnipeg as a teenager with a guitar. He first encountered the kacapi (Sundanese trapezoidal twenty-string plucked zither) in 1994, when he was invited to join Toronto’s Evergreen Club Gamelan (ECG). (ECG plays on a gamelan degung, a type of orchestra also from West Java.) Years later he travelled to the West Javanese kacapi heartland to further his studies with a local master.

“I feel honoured to be a part of the program,” says Parsons. “I plan to write a new piece that features the kacapi in the way I see it: in a largely textural role. I’ll be using looping, [and] preparations of the kacapi strings. Intermingling the techniques and cultures of the guitar and kacapi are on my mind at the moment.”

 “We had a wonderful time at the flutes show last spring,” North Wind Concerts’ Melville concluded at the end of our conversation. “There was a great atmosphere, lots of beautiful music and interesting questions from the audience. We're looking forward to another such evening on November 30!” As am I.

“Encircling the World: Zithers!” takes place at 7:30pm on November 30, at Heliconian Hall, Toronto.

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at worldmusic@thewholenote.com.

Dancers of The 9th!. Photo credit: Alexander Antonijevic.Thirty years ago, on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. After 28 years dividing East Berlin from West Berlin and standing as the tangibly concrete symbol of the Cold War's Iron Curtain, the wall was suddenly porous and would soon come down altogether, leading to the reunification of Germany. On Christmas Day 1989, a celebratory concert of Beethoven's famous Ninth Symphony was performed in East Berlin's 'Konzerthaus' by an orchestra made up of musicians from around the world, conducted by Leonard Bernstein who, to mark the occasion, changed the lyrics of the fourth movement's choral Ode to Joy, to Ode to Freedom (“Freude” to “Freiheit”). Broadcast to thousands in the square outside the theatre and to millions around the world via television, Beethoven's Ninth has been associated ever since with this moment in history.

Last week on November 8, I had the opportunity to see ProArteDanza's Toronto premiere of The 9th!, a powerful ode to freedom in dance form set to Beethoven's iconic score and inspired in large part by the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

Ten years ago in 2009, ProArteDanza artistic director Roberto Campanella and artistic associate Robert Glumbeck were invited by Trois Rivières’ Dansencore Festival to create choreography for the first movement of Beethoven's Ninth as part of a large anniversary project involving choreographers from around the country, with live orchestra and chorus. Something about the project resonated with the two creators: they received permission to perform their segment of the show with their own company, and then decided to go ahead on their own to explore and experiment with the other three movements, one at a time. In Campanella's words, they have “been humbly tiptoeing around this monumental masterpiece ever since, and it's more frightening now than it was then.”

Why frightening? For one thing, Beethoven's music is considered by dancers to be “un-danceable,” so choreographers tend to avoid it. For another, “The Ninth” (officially  Symphony No. 9  in D minor, Op. 125) is arguably Beethoven's most famous symphony, so 'daring' to choreograph to it can be daunting.

When I asked Campanella how they were dealing with this challenge, he laughed. “Yes, what were we thinking?” he said. “On the one hand,” he added more seriously, “we humbly bow to the music, but  on the other we layer our ideas on a conceptual level, so that at the end of the day what we are creating is not separate music and dance – it is one combined whole.”

The inspiration for the concept that would anchor the choreography came not long after the Trois Rivières experience, when Campanella was working on a film in Berlin and went on a day off to visit the site of the Wall. All around the site there are video stations where you can look at old archival images; one that “really hit” him, and still does, was from before the actual wall when the uncrossable divide was marked only by barbed wire: “There were two families waving at each other from either side of the barricade,” he said. “And what struck me was that the body language of these people who knew each other at first seemed the same – it looked as though they were using the same movements – but actually they were very different.”

So strong was the impact of this image, and the inherent power of the emotion in the two sets of figures, that Campanella says he called Glumbeck right away and asked, “‘Could it be that the concept behind all the layers for our version of the Ninth Symphony should be this wall that divides us, whether structurally or figuratively?’” Glumbeck agreed and they began what became, in total, a ten-year co-choreography process of experimentation and exploration. The coincidence of the music they were choreographing to just happening to be the symphony played to celebrate the fall of the Wall only added to this feeling of rightness.

For this production of The 9th!, there were a number of challenges. First, there was a decade’s worth of existing choreography for each of the separate movements for Campanella and Glumbeck to look at, work through, revise, and meld into a whole that would have a satisfying emotional arc. Second, ProArteDanza is known for its strongly muscular, athletic choreography that melds ballet technique with a more modern dance vocabulary, but this new work, with its ambitious thematic scope and emotional journey, was going to demand the performers be as much actors as dancers, willing and able to throw themselves into the creative process and performance with an emotional vulnerability not always looked for in the dance world.

Hearing about the process the company took to arrive at this point was fascinating. According to Campanella, they strove to not be tied to a specific point in history or to make any specific reference to current events. “What we are really focusing on is the people from this community who were forced to live in a completely different manner (behind the wall) and explore what that does to us as human beings,” he explained. “And then, where that is going to take you thirty years later when you actually have the chance to go back to the life that you once had.” To achieve this and go beyond the technical movement, the co-choreographers invited the dancers to be vocal and inventive in the creation process, speaking up and making suggestions to help the creators reach their goal.

In the final run of The 9th! from November 6 to 9 at Toronto’s Fleck Dance Theatre, the results of all this dreaming and hard work felt powerful, emotional and satisfying. The dancers were superb, their admirable technique and emotional commitment together enabling them to create onstage a society inhibited by barriers – walls both inside and out – that then finds its way to a stronger, happier, community of people. There were four strongly individual  threads within the arc: the tormented figure of Ryan Lee; Daniel McArthur’s emerging leader; the darkly energetic figure of Kelly Shaw who finds her way to peace; and Sasha Ludavicious as an emerging prophet of hope. (These are my characterizations, not anything stated in the program – but following their threads gave me a path to follow through the whole, to the joyful, hopeful finish of the choral “Ode to Joy” in the symphony’s fourth movement.

Altogether, this was a passionate performance of a powerful work that I hope will go on to further productions, with eventually live orchestra and chorus and more elaborate technical elements.

ProArteDanza’s The 9th! ran from November 6 to 9 at Harbourfront’s Fleck Dance Theatre, Toronto.

Jennifer Parr is a Toronto-based director, dramaturge, fight director, and acting coach, brought up from a young age on a rich mix of musicals, Shakespeare and new Canadian plays.

240A4205 1024x683bannerThe Canadian Arabic Orchestra and Choir.The third annual Festival of Arabic Music and Arts (FAMA), presented by the Canadian Arabic Orchestra (CAO), graces venues across the Greater Toronto Area, Montreal and Halifax in more than 12 concerts, shows and plays from October 25 to November 10. This year’s festival will include a satirical play, a comedy show and concerts covering several genres, including one aimed at children.

Ever since its establishment in 2015 by the husband-and-wife team of qanun (Arabic zither) expert/orchestra president Wafa Al Zaghal and pianist/music director Lamees Audeh, the Mississauga-based CAO has sought an inclusive modus operandi.

In a 2017 phone interview, Audeh stated that “we wish to connect expatriate Arabs with their classical Arabic musical culture… maintaining this cultural heritage in the hearts and minds of the Arab community in Canada and presenting it to future generations. But at the same time, we want to engage with all non-Arab communities. Our aim is to build bridges between Canada’s diverse communities... through music.”

FAMA’s programming shows both objectives at work.

In my November 2017 column First FAMA Fall Feast Continues, I spoke with two longtime Toronto Arabic music scenesters about FAMA’s place in the local musical community. George Sawa, a renowned scholar, qanun player and music educator, vividly recalled what it was like here in the 1970s. “At the time, Arabic music [in Toronto] was mostly encountered in cabarets and clubs which featured belly dancing.” He further observed that the GTA’s Arabic community has grown considerably in the past few decades. “For example,” he added, “I think it’s very significant and healthy that before securing support from Canadian Arts Councils, the Canadian Arabic Orchestra initially sought patronage from local Arabic businesses who believed in what they were doing.”

In 2017, I also spoke with York University ethnomusicologist and multi-instrumentalist Rob Simms, a specialist in Middle Eastern and West African musics. Simms reminded me of the devastation to cultural life impacting large swathes of Iraq and Syria as a consequence of sustained armed conflict in recent years. One of the results of this upheaval has been the displacement of millions of Iraqis and Syrians. Many have found themselves as refugees in foreign lands, including Canada.

Here are five highlights of this year’s upcoming Festival of Arabic Music and Arts. 

1. Carole Samaha - October 25, Living Arts Centre

Carole Samaha, one of the world’s top Arabic music, film and theatre divas, opens the festival on October 25 at Mississauga’s Hammerson Hall at the Living Arts Centre. Winner of the “World Music Award” for best performer in the Middle East (Monaco 2014) and other prestigious international awards, the Lebanese star launched her career as an actor at Beirut’s Drama Theatre, eventually starring in five popular TV soap operas. Refocusing a few years later to develop a solo pop singing career, in 2004 she won the Arab Music Award for best female newcomer. To date she has released six studio albums, each with charting songs.

The YouTube video of Samaha’s show at the 2016 Byblos International Festival in Lebanon shows her in full-on diva mode. There are gown changes, costumed dancers, elaborate background videos, a large band and choir, and even a passionate Miley Cyrus cover in English. Thematically the show is a pop music pageant of the millennia-long history of her home region’s peoples, including Phoenicians, Assyrians, Greeks, and Romans up to the present-day Lebanese. No matter what songs and production values she brings to Hammerson Hall, I’m sure Samaha’s concert will convert that Mississauga venue into a temporary centre of Lebanese identity. 

2. Hamza Namira - October 26, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts

On October 26, Hamza Namira and his band play the Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts in downtown Toronto. Namira is a Egyptian singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. In the early 2000s he established his band Nomaira, with which he has toured internationally and released four albums.

One thing that distinguishes Namira from fellow Arabic singer-songwriters is his avowed interest in regional Arabic folk song. In 2016 he launched a series titled Remix on the pan-Arab TV channel Al Araby. The popular series, filmed in a number of countries, featured Namira collaborating with singers, musicians and music groups, then remixing their traditional songs in line with contemporary pop aesthetics. It’s a safe bet his October 26 concert will feature his brand of Arabic pop with distinct folkloric musical touches.

3. Oumeimah El Khalil - October 27, Armenian Youth Centre

On October 27, the veteran Lebanese singer Oumeimah El Khalil takes the Armenian Youth Centre stage in North York. Already a singing star at an early age in the 1970s, at the pinnacle of her career El Khalil commanded international stages like Sydney’s Opera House, the Barbican Centre, Queen Elizabeth Hall in London and Montreal’s Place des Arts.

With a sweet, light, flexible and expressive soprano, El Khalil specialises in rendering the poetry of leading Arabic writers. Audiences can expect songs with universal themes by masters such as Mahmoud Darwish, Charbel Rouhana and Marcel Khlaifeh.

4. Greek Arabia (November 7) and Maghrebian Night (November 8), Aga Khan Museum

One of the more intriguingly-themed festival concerts is Greek Arabia, presented in associate partnership with the Aga Khan Museum on November 7. The CAO takes the audience on a musical journey mixing Greek and Arabic musical cultures. According to the FAMA website, the program promises to “transcend geography and the ages, speaking to us in one language, the language of love.”

Also in associate partnership with the Aga Khan Museum, FAMA presents Maghrebian Night on November 8 at the Museum. The CAO celebrates the music of the Maghreb region—Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco—with sounds that “carry the smell of the sea and the warmth of the sun.”

5. Musical Tribute to Arabic TV - November 10, Metro Toronto Convention Centre

FAMA’s 2019 music series concludes on November 10 with a concert at the 1,200-seat John Bassett Theatre, Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The CAO and Choir will perform “their largest production ever,” featuring theme music and songs from some of the best-loved Arabic TV series of the last three decades. This is certainly a must-see for Arabic vintage vernacular music and TV show fans.

The Canadian Arabic Orchestra’s 2019 Festival of Arabic Music and Arts (FAMA) runs from October 25 to November 10, in various locations throughout Montreal, Halifax, and the Greater Toronto Area.

Andrew Timar is a Toronto musician and music writer. He can be contacted at worldmusic@thewholenote.com.

Steel pan player, composer and educator Joy Lapps-Lewis.You might ask yourself, “Is it really necessary to have a festival specifically for women in percussion?”

The answer, as it turns out, is a resounding “yes.”

Tracy Jenkins, co-artistic director of Lula Music and Arts Centre, had heard from several percussionists and drummers that there are still a lot of barriers for women who want to become professional percussionists. In response, in 2017 she co-founded Lula’s Women in Percussion festival—a series of concerts and workshops celebrating local and international women percussionists.

The festival’s second edition took place this September 26-30, presented in collaboration with the Aga Khan Museum, Small World Music and Emerging Young Artists and featuring percussionists with roots in Brazil, Jamaica, Venezuela, Cuba, India, Korea, Japan and First Nations. The festival is shaping up to be a biennial event.

“Women are much more accepted these days as guitarists and piano players and, of course, singers, but they’re still not being encouraged—or sometimes are even overtly discouraged—from drumming,” says Jenkins. “For various reasons, drums are still viewed by some as mens’ territory. We wanted to create a space to present the work and have an atmosphere of celebration and include everyone, whatever gender they identify as.”

And they succeeded: the packed opening night of the five-day festival last month showcased four diverse acts—which included lots of supportive men both onstage and in the audience—and had a fun, celebratory vibe.

Y Josephine, a Venezuelan singer-songwriter and percussionist, opened the festival on September 26 with a couple of solo covers on cajon and voice (including, aptly, Miss Celie’s Blues, aka Sister), then teamed up with Carla Dias on bass and Anita Graciano on drums for a couple of originals.

Next, Joy Lapps-Lewis took the stage. The sight of a 37-weeks pregnant woman playing steel pan drums and leading a band of some of the most in-demand jazz players in the country seemed especially fitting for this event. Lapps-Lewis played shimmery melodies and fierce solos, while Rich Brown (bass), Jeremy Ledbetter (keys) and husband Larnell Lewis (drums) supported on a captivating set of original songs inspired by the women in her life.

Vulva Beats is a new percussion-forward eight-piece band and brainchild of Aline Morales, who has been a strong presence in the Toronto Brazilian music scene for many years. Morales said she started the group “to provide a multidisciplinary space for women to create and co-create.” The band’s set was a groovy mix of reimagined Brazilian, pop and hip-hop covers, and featured performances by Carlie Howell, Suzanne Roberts Smith, Chellz Gemmaria and Angela Vargas.

I asked Morales about how she came up with the name of the group; she explained that she felt that nothing better represented their cause. “Being a woman or identifying as a woman, we are emphasizing how capable we are in any industry. We are also honouring where we came from!”

The finale of the night was a group of Toronto-based samba drummers (mostly from the group T.Dot Batu led by Pato Irie Martinez) which featured Adriana Portela, who was brought in from Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, where she is the musical director of the region’s first all-women drum band (profiled in this New York Times article). Portela lent a high-energy presence to the percussion-driven samba-reggae tunes, along with the always-charismatic Cibelle Iglesias and Jerusa Leao, who sang a few popular Brazilian tunes by women songwriters to round out a fun set.

Workshops were a big component of the festival, and several were offered free over the weekend at Lula, in collaboration with the Aga Khan Museum and Emerging Young Artists. Improvisation in Indian traditions, cajon and Brazilian samba-reggae were among the offerings.

I also caught some of the Japanese taiko demonstration on Saturday, September 28, led by Aki Takahashi and featuring a performance by the Japanese folk ensemble, Ten Ten. Taiko is a form of Japanese ensemble drumming, traditionally used in villages and temples as a means of communication in festivals, rituals, prayer and war. Highly physically demanding, taiko (which means “drum” in Japanese but can also refer to the music that the ensembles play) has been the purview of men until relatively recently.

“Taiko for women is really contemporary,” Takahashi said. “Normally there are only one or two taiko players in a village and they are usually old men who represent the village and community to the gods, and women are not allowed to touch or play the drums.”

As taiko has become more prevalent in North America, so too has ensembles where women form the majority of the members. In some cases, women’s taiko ensembles have served as a way to subvert the gendered expectations of the genre.

“People are learning that women bring a feminine quality to the art form,” explains Takahashi. “They can play with as much volume and speed as men, but they do it using technique and finesse rather than muscle.”

Lula Music and Arts Centre’s 2019 Women in Percussion festival ran from September 26-30 in Toronto.

Cathy Riches is a self-described Toronto-based recovering singer and ink slinger.

A performance by Caroline Laurin-Beaucage at Union Station. Photo credit: Thomas Payette.Fall for Dance North (FFDN) is celebrating its fifth anniversary in Toronto this October 2 to 6, and enjoying a stronger presence and larger following than ever before. 

If this is your first time coming across this festival, that isn’t surprising, as it was on the fringes of many people’s awareness in its early years and has only recently received greater attention – both for its goals of making dance as available and accessible as possible, and for its innovative and exciting programming.

At the heart of the festival are three mainstage programs showcasing various companies, choreographers, and dancers from around the world, many with live music accompaniment. Two programs alternate at Meridian Hall (formerly the Sony Centre), each with Canadian and international content, and embracing a wealth of different styles.

Program One is the most international, combining companies from New Zealand, Brazil and Denmark as well as Canada’s Toronto Dance Theatre, and all (except the TDT piece) Canadian or North American premieres.

Program Two is all Canadian, apart from the Kuchipudi (classical South Asian) dance style of Indian choreographer Shantala Shivalingappa. The Canadian works are an eclectic mix: a FFDN commission from acclaimed street dance artist Caroline “Lady C” Fraser with live music by re.verse; the National Ballet of Canada performing one of their signature short ballets by choreographer William Forsythe, with the National Ballet Orchestra playing the Schubert score live; and another FFDN commission from Montreal-based Anne Plamondon titled “Fiddle Embrace,” featuring live music and students from the Ryerson School of Performance.

At Ryerson Theatre is Program Three, showcasing Indigenous dance from around the world, including Australia’s Jasmin Sheppard, Taiwan’s Bulareyaung Dance Company, the New Zealand Dance Company and Canada’s Northfoot Movement/Cody Berry.

The festival also features free programming at Union Station. This begins with open studio rehearsals from September 23 to 25 of two of the works being presented later on the mainstage, and continues October 3 to 4 with an experimental piece by Caroline Laurin-Beucage from Montreal, which anyone can come along and watch for as long as they choose. To finish off – and to fully involve anyone who wants to literally experimentally dip their toe into the world of dance – is The Big Social, a full day of free dance classes in Union Station’s newly renovated west wing, hosted in partnership with Kaha:wi Dance Theatre, Lindy Hop Revolution, and Bulent & Lina Tango; this sounds like great fun.

Tickets for the mainstage shows are $15, and programming at Union Station is completely free.   There is also a rich program of masterclasses, pre- and post-performance talks, and an International Presenters Program that connects local artists and companies with a network of international programmers, producers and presenters. 

Excited by all I have heard and read about FFDN and wanting to know more, I spoke with founding artistic director Ilter Ibrahimof.

The following conversation has been condensed and edited.

WN: How did you come to co-found Fall for Dance North in Toronto?

II: In 2013 and 2014, while I was living in Montreal, I had the pleasure of acting as an artistic advisor to the Fall for Dance Festival in New York (where I used to live). I always loved the festival's model and the excitement that it creates for the art form of dance. I thought, we should have a Canadian edition of the same event! And I thought that it should happen in Toronto, because looking at the dance ecology in Canada, it was clear that Toronto was the city that had the most potential to support a truly international dance festival. During a meeting with the Sony Centre's programming team in the winter of 2013, I impulsively proposed the idea, and to my delight and surprise they said yes...and they were dead serious about it. We presented our inaugural festival in 2015 (which is when I officially moved to Toronto) and are so happy to be celebrating the fifth anniversary this year.

WN: What makes FFDN unique among other dance festivals?

II: I'm proud to say that our festival is one of the most diverse, affordable and accessible dance events anywhere in the world. Because we present mixed evenings with a variety of dance styles at the highest quality we can find, you see audiences that come to see a certain company get exposed to many others, which helps them develop a broader taste. Not to mention, they get to sit side by side and make friends with people whose cultural experiences and interests are very different than theirs.

WN: How are the curatorial decisions made? As part of that decision-making process, how do you make sure you know about new and emerging Canadian choreographers and composers so that you can commission new works?

II: Myself and the rest of our programming team travel extensively and attend as many performances as possible throughout the year, to be able to keep our thumb on the pulse of the dance world in Canada and the rest of the world. Over the many years I've been working in the dance field, I was lucky to develop an extensive network of colleagues that I regularly connect with, to share ideas and find ways to work together to make presentations and tours happen. As an artistic director, of course at the end of the day I need to listen to my gut feeling and make the best instinctual decisions possible.

WN: Why do you think it is so important to make dance accessible to as many people as possible?

II: Everybody in the world knows how to move. Dance is in all of us. It's an art form that has the ability to connect on a universal level and be relevant to all cultures. It is a unifying force that I believe has the power to heal and change people's hearts and minds. But to produce and present professional dance productions is a very expensive business. Our festival team works very hard to break the price barrier and offer our signature $15/any seat for any performance. 

The New Zealand Dance Company. Photo credit: John McDermott.WN: Of all the events in the festival this year, are there any in particular that you would recommend for someone new to the dance world?

II: This is a difficult question! Of course I would recommend them to see everything. And chances are, they can probably afford to do that. That being said, I'm really excited about the world Indigenous program that we are presenting at the Ryerson Theatre, with companies from Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Taiwan.

WN: Do you see FFDN expanding further in the future, perhaps moving out to more locations around the city, or around the country?

II: At the moment we are concentrating on gradual growth in Toronto. We started with only three evenings at Sony Centre in our first year, and this year we are in two theatres presenting seven performances (Meridian Hall and Ryerson Theatre), which means almost 17,000 tickets on offer! Then there is our free programming at Union Station, which reaches many more thousands. We have plans to expand further in the near future, but we are trying to do it thoughtfully and carefully. It's been wonderful to create a truly international dance festival right here in Toronto that we can all be proud of.

Fall For Dance North runs October 2 to 6, 2019, at Meridian Hall, Ryerson Theatre, and Union Station, Toronto. For details and ticket information, please see www.ffdnorth.com.

Jennifer Parr is a Toronto-based director, dramaturge, fight director, and acting coach, brought up from a young age on a rich mix of musicals, Shakespeare, and new Canadian plays.

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