Human Body Expression’s Resonance. Photo credit: Francesca Chudnoff.Friday, September 27 was the day Canada rose to join the Global Climate Strike, with hundreds of thousands of people taking part in climate marches in cities across the country. Those marches, inspired in part by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, were largely led by young people, though those of all ages participated.

This rise of the young in anger against the darker destructive forces of society was also captured by choreographer Hanna Kiel and her company Human Body Expression (HBE), in the recent world premiere of her dance work Resonance. Opening on Thursday, September 26—the day before the climate marches—Resonance was inspired by a recent South Korean political movement: the impeachment of now former president Park Geun-Hye in 2016.

Set to an excellent collaborative rock score with a strangely fitting 80s character by Juno Award-winning composer Greg Harrison, Kiel’s choreography has an idiosyncratic yet completely contemporary feel to it, seeming to be tailored to, and inspired by, the varying body types, physical styles, and personalities of Kiel’s dynamic company of 12 young professional dancers.

The first part of Resonance begins with a tortured solo by a single male dancer. As other dancers emerge onstage, we see a society filled by individuals trapped in isolated torment, although in a crowd. They respond separately to stimuli, not working or thinking together, but seemingly kept impotent by some controlling power – perhaps symbolized by the guitarist at centre stage, his sounds sparking angular reactive movement from the dancers around him.

Out of this physical disharmony slips a girl dressed all in black. “Can we learn to forgive what we cannot forget?” she says. “My body has been infected, infected with future from unknown answer (...) it is hunting my present so we are looking back as moving forward (...) and then it starts. Knocking at your chest, there's a pulse, a desire ... A desire to be rid of the storm. A pulse craving to be free.”

Another dancer joins in and the words interweave in a doubly spoken articulation of a society at odds with itself, a young generation looking for a way to make sense of the world they live in and to find some agency within it. “Each disconnected fragment lends a hand to the greatest transformation…” 

Particularly powerful in the midst of this world of rock-fuelled movement, these spoken thoughts (written as well as spoken by the dancers performing them: Zsakira Del Coro and Roberto Soria) seem to lead to an evolution in the physical world we are watching. This in turn is echoed by a morphing of the music to acoustic from electric (a small foot-powered organ is walked out onstage and joined by an acoustic guitar on the dance floor). A further evolution is sparked by the eerie sound of a single whirly tube (those plastic corrugated tubes that children play with), creating a wave of soft, whistling sound, as more whirly tubes are wielded by musicians and dancers together. A magical shift follows: this sound morphs into a strange singing created by the company all playing on silver disks with violin bows, as the choreography equally softens and melds newly awakened individuals into a cohesive communicating group.

After a musical interval, the final section begins with a single male figure, dramatically back lit, playing a drum, literally calling his forces to battle. This, apart from the actual spoken text, was the most literal part of the piece, and welcome as a clear “call to arms” – not only onstage but shared with the audience as well. Swiftly the choreography builds to a powerful, hopeful finish, as this group of individuals find strength in shared purpose and find themselves ready to make a difference in their world.

I had not seen Hanna Kiel's choreography before, but was captivated by her idiosyncratic physical style, and her passionate commitment to her dancers and to creating dance that connects to our contemporary world.

Human Body Expression (HBE) presented Resonance, with choreography by Hanna Kiel and music by Greg Harrison, from September 26 to 28 at Sts Cyril & Methody Church, 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.

A young boy watches a relaxed performance at the TSO. Photo credit: Jag Gundu.Printer’s gremlins, as they are called (although the glitch in question was mine, not our printer’s) came to play on the otherwise GORGEOUS cover of our 25th-season-opening September issue. “MUSIC AND HEALTH: Relaxed Performances Bring Barriers Down,” proclaimed the middle of the three teasers at the foot of the page. But as several readers have discovered, and pointed out, you will search the current magazine in vain for a story with that title or on that topic.

The closest fit to the title is Art of Song columnist Lydia Perović’s story in the issue, “Mysterious Barricades and Systemic Barriers,” page 40. That story starts out as an interview with soprano Monica Whicher about the Toronto contribution to a string of coast-to-coast one-hour concerts, all titled Mysterious Barricades, which took place this past September 14 on the final day of World Suicide Prevention Week. You can find the full 16-hour livestream of the event, along with videos of the individual concerts, here.

And the “barriers” in the second half of Perović’s title refer to the obstacles faced by musicians (along with many other participants in “the gig economy”) in need of systematic, affordable therapy of one kind or another. And those barriers, unlike those referred to in the optimistic teaser on our September cover, show few signs of coming down.

All that being said, you can stop searching in vain through the current issue for an item about how “relaxed performance is bringing barriers down,” because you won’t find it. Yet.

The story in question, by our Music and Health feature writer Vivien Fellegi, will appear in the upcoming October issue of the magazine. The story grew out of Fellegi’s attendance this past April 27 at a Toronto Symphony Orchestra concert titled “Let’s Dance,” conducted by Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser, a veteran of the movement. “Relaxed Performance,” as the term is used in Fellegi’s upcoming story, refers to performances designed specifically with neurodiverse audiences in mind – and in many cases, involves making live music events less prohibitive for people with autism spectrum disorders, sensory and communication disorders, learning disabilities, or anyone who wants a more casual concert experience. 

It was the TSO’s first foray into the area, but will not be its last. Already they have announced two such performances in the upcoming season (Feb 22 and May 24), and “Relaxed Performance” is even included as its own search category in the orchestra’s 2019/20 season concert listings. Having failed to honour the promise on our September cover that Fellegi’s Relaxed Performance story was within, it would be an equal disservice to steal its thunder here. It will be worth the wait. 

I confess that before the concert that served as the catalyst for Fellegi’s story this past spring, I was only dimly conscious of the term “Relaxed Performance” as an emerging practice. Since being made aware, I’ve seen it popping up all over! Which seems like a very good thing. 

Here, in no particular order, are four examples:

YPT (Young People’s Theatre) has two relaxed performances in every run. Looking just at their next two shows: for A Million Billion Pieces, these performances will be Wednesday, December 4 at 10:30am, and Sunday, December 8 at 2pm; and for The Adventures of Pinocchio they will be Friday, December 13 at 10:15am and Saturday, December 14 at 2:30pm.

Banff International String Quartet Competition, in partnership with Autism Calgary and Xenia Concerts, presented a relaxed concert on August 31 at Calgary’s Indefinite Arts Centre at the close of this year’s competition, by 2016 Competition winners the Rolston Quartet.

Soulpepper theatre company has had one relaxed performance already this season (Betrayal, September 15), and another two have been scheduled for the upcoming run of Peter Pan (December 19 at 11am and December 22 at 1pm).

The National Ballet of Canada will present a relaxed performance of YOU dance, the company’s community engagement program, at the Betty Oliphant Theatre this Saturday, September 21, at 5:30pm.

In closing, a request: if you are aware of other examples of relaxed performance opportunities, either recent or coming up this season, please let us know at editorial@thewholenote.com. That way we can participate, more systematically, in the process of raising awareness not just of the barriers, but to the ways they are coming down.

David Perlman can be reached at publisher@thewholenote.com.

banannaJessica Ackerley (left)On August 23, guitarist Jessica Ackerley released A New Kind of Water, a quartet album that features saxophonist Sarah Manning, bassist Mat Muntz and drummer Stephen Boegehold. Recorded at BC Studio in Brooklyn, A New Kind of Water was mixed by homonymous studio founder Martin Bisi. BC Studio has been the studio of choice for a wide variety of projects, from Sonic Youth’s album EVOL to the Herbie Hancock song “Rockit” to work by John Zorn and more. The connective tissue through all of these recordings is a certain kind of gritty aesthetic, a frank musical realism that is reflected – literally, in an acoustic sense – by the cavernous, unfinished walls of the studio’s live room.

While working with Bisi and recording in BC Studio proved to be integral components of the album, A New Kind of Water is the culmination of years of music-making and career growth. Ackerley has been based in New York since 2011; she first moved to Brooklyn, but now resides in Manhattan. Originally from Alberta, she attended Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton, St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and Rutgers University in New Jersey. It was at Rutgers – where she earned a master’s degree, and worked with American jazz luminaries such as Vic Juris and Victor Lewis – that Ackerley started to seriously explore composition. Through multiple residencies at The Banff Centre, she continued to develop her artistic voice, with mentorship from Vijay Iyer, Tyshawn Sorey and Zakir Hussain, amongst others.

A New Kind of Water.A New Kind of Water is Ackerley’s second full-length album as a leader; her first, Coalesce, was released in 2017. Coalesce – a trio album – also featured bassist Muntz, with Toronto’s Nick Fraser in the drum seat. While Ackerley “didn’t want to do a second album all over again as another trio,” she also “didn’t want to do a strictly quartet record” either, and A New Kind of Water certainly doesn’t feel like a conventional quartet record, in the sense where songs are written as blowing vehicles to fit a particular ensemble. Instead, the ensemble shifts to accommodate the music, both for individual songs and for specific sections within songs. “Space, Frame, Contain,” the album’s opener, begins with a duo between Ackerley and Muntz, with Boegehold and Manning entering later on. This approach to instrumentation is a big part of Ackerley’s interest in exploring the different situations within a single piece of music: ones that “[allow] things to ebb and flow,” to be “added and subtracted,” throughout a piece. Ackerley doesn’t “like the idea of cutting and pasting,” or of “haphazardly patching together” different sections of music, especially sections with varying compositional frameworks (such as a free section and a specifically-notated melodic section). Instead, Ackerley strives to create meaningful, natural connections between musical statements, both on individual songs and throughout her album as a whole.

These connections are made possible by the trust and rapport between Ackerley and her band, with whom she’s collaborated in a variety of settings. Ackerley has played the music on A New Kind of Water with Muntz as a duo, played a duo set with Manning, and has worked frequently with Boegehold in his project. Having these ongoing working relationships in a variety of settings allows for what Ackerley calls the “magical moments” in a song: “everything lines up, and everyone knows what to do in that moment, and something beautiful comes of it.” It is a sensation that is immediately palpable on A New Kind of Water, and is especially important in music (such as Ackerley’s) with significant sections of free improvisation.

In addition to her busy schedule as a performing musician, Ackerley is also active as a teacher and musical programmer. Amongst other ventures, she recently curated The Brink Guitar Festival, which took place in Brooklyn from March 28 to 31 of this year. Co-presented by Spectrum and Main Drag Music, the festival is a “celebration of the guitar and the musicians in New York City who continue to push its boundaries within the improvised and creative music scene.” The festival grew out of a monthly series at a guitar shop, loose in genre, with the basic format of four 15-minute sets of solo guitar music. With performances from figures such as Miles Okazaki and Dan Weiss, Naeemah Maddox, and Ackerley herself, the festival is part of Ackerley’s work in highlighting the diversity of the guitar at a time when, according to Ackerley, it is “fading from the mainstream, in terms of being a voice at the forefront of musical arrangements and songs.” It’s also part of the ongoing work of creating and fostering community for creative improvised music; as Ackerley puts it, “allowing people to showcase their music in a live setting – and even just seeing improvised music – is a really special thing.”

As the title suggests, one of the overarching themes of the album is a consideration of water. “One of the things that was really important to me in the execution of this album,” Ackerley told me, “was the sense of ebb and flow, and the ability to adjust to any kind of circumstance, whether it be improvisational or compositional.” It is through this process of ebb and flow that Ackerley found an apt metaphor for the way in which each of the band members can find the space to explore their own musical voice within the body of her music. When listeners first come to A New Kind of Water, Ackerley hopes that listeners will consider a “sense of water”: of “a river, or a waterfall, or the ocean,” of water’s “constant movement,” and of the power and tranquility that attends water in its various forms.

Jessica Ackerley’s A New Kind of Water was released on August 23, 2019, and is available for purchase on Bandcamp. 

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer, and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached through his website, on Instagram and on Twitter.

The cast of What Goes Up learning frisbee. Photo credit: Dahlia KatzOn August 19 to 22 on the 17th floor of the new offices of Canada’s newspaper The Globe and Mail, a remarkable new initiative for fostering the creation of new musicals is taking its first public steps.

REPRINT is the first project of a new program called LAUNCH PAD, created by the combined forces of The Musical Stage Company and Yonge Street Theatricals – and it sounds thrilling.   Three creative teams have spent the last ten months creating new short (approximately 20-minute) musicals, each inspired by an article and/or photograph from The Globe and Mail’s archives.

A photo of screaming fans at the Beatles concert in Toronto in the 1960s inspired the team of Anika Johnson, Barbara Johnston and Nick Green to create Fan Girl, set in a contemporary (2019) YouTube world of fans and idols. The famous widespread blackout of 2003, as captured in the photo of a couple sitting in a Riverdale Park looking out over a Toronto without lights, led to the creation of Cygnus by composer/lyricist Anton Lipovetsky and book writer Steven Gallagher, all intrigued about how major events like this can bring people together unexpectedly. And in perhaps the most unexpected choice of all, it was photos of frisbee players on the Toronto Islands in the 1980s that caught the imaginations of composer Colleen Dauncey, lyricist Akiva Romer-Segal and book writer Ellen Denny (whom readers will remember from playing the leading role in Britta Johnson’s musical Life After) and led them to create What Goes Up—an exploration of the little-known world of Freestyle Frisbee competition (which bears the same relation to the sport of Ultimate Frisbee that figure skating bears to hockey).

Each short musical has its own specific director and music director team, but all three shows share the same cast of four actors. Guiding the project as a whole are program co-directors  Robert McQueen (acclaimed director of Life After, Fun Home, and many more) and New York City-based orchestrator, musical arranger and music director Lynne Shankel (previously in Toronto for Life After).

Fascinated by this project, its structure and its ambitious goals, I reached out to The Musical Stage Company’s artistic director Mitchell Marcus to find out more.

The following interview has been condensed and edited.

WN: The upcoming REPRINT is the first project of LAUNCH PAD, a new initiative from The Musical Stage Company and Yonge Street Theatricals. Can you tell me what inspired this idea and what your goals with the program are?

MM: Because musical theatre is in its infancy in Canada, some of our most innovative and interesting writers likely have not had many (or any) chances to bring a musical to full production. This is problematic, as creating a good song or an interesting story is only the first phase of being a great musical theatre writer – musicals are a highly collaborative form and so much of the work happens not just in a writer's head, but through 'in the room' experience, where pieces are rewritten and honed over and over again in a collaborative setting.

LAUNCH PAD was intended to bridge this gap for a large group of people, in a country with limited capacity to develop tons of full-length musicals each year, and to offer exciting voices the chance to take their work through a full developmental process. Long-term, we hope that it gives us an army of artists (composers, lyricists, book writers, directors and music supervisors) who understand the trajectory and phases of developing new musicals, and who develop a common language around how to do development work.

WN: The performances of REPRINT will take place on the 17th floor of the offices of The Globe and Mail newspaper, and each of the three short musicals is inspired by a photograph and/or headline from the Globe’s archives. Can you tell me what inspired this specific location and context?

MM: In 2016 we invited writers to respond to the permanent collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario. The resulting short musicals were exceptional, and the experience for the audience was superb – having a common collection as a prompt, and allowing the audience to experience the final product in the space that houses the collection, really demonstrated the artistic process. It struck us that newspaper articles similarly offer a wonderful prompt. News tells us stories through facts. But it's ripe for inspiring characters, circumstances, worlds and conflicts. In particular, because of their glorious 17th floor space in their new building, we thought that The Globe and Mail would have both the right archive and the right performance space to help audiences see the hidden 'theatre' in our collective history.

WN: There are three teams involved in REPRINT, each responsible for creating and preparing one of three short musicals – teams that include composer, lyricist, book writer, director and musical director (though some team members wear two “hats”). How were these teams chosen?

MM: Because the goal of the program is to build an army of people who have a common expectation around new musical development, we chose a collection of people who are excellent in their craft, who we feel (based on their past work) can make a major contribution to the development of new musicals in Toronto, and who would benefit from fine-tuning their work on a full-length development process. Remarkably, other than two composer/lyricist teams, no one had partnered together previously. This was a huge risk, and the artists took an enormous leap of faith letting us pair them up in combinations that we felt would be fruitful based on what we knew of their work. Thankfully, I think the matches turned out to be fantastic!

The cast and creative team of REPRINT. Photo credit: Dahlia Katz.WN: There is one small team of four musical theatre actors who will perform all three shows. How were these people chosen, and how has having this set number of very specific performers affected the creation of the shows? 

MM: We went in search of actors who fulfilled two criteria: [first], we needed very versatile performers, as we had to choose a cast before the works were written. Second, we knew that these pieces would be seriously "in development" until the very first audience, so we needed actors who could learn music and lines quickly, and who thrived in an environment that was constantly changing. After we created a shortlist based on those criteria, we tried to find an assortment of ages, genders, looks, types, etc. so that we would be covered no matter what the musicals ended up requiring.

WN: Can you tell me about the process that the teams have gone through to create their new musicals for REPRINT

MM: In the fall, the writers were given access to the news and photo archive at The Globe and Mail. First step was to select a prompt which spoke to them alongside a rough idea for the musical. The writers created a first draft and had a chance to work with their directors, music supervisors and actors in a two-day workshop in the winter, after which they received notes from their teams, from our organization, and from two international mentors who were attached to the project. They then created a second draft in the spring and again had a two-day workshop and notes. Over the summer, they had the chance to go on a writers' retreat to fine-tune their final draft. And then, during the three-week rehearsal period, they had the chance to continue to hone the work as it was staged. In between, we also had sessions with international experts in musical theatre to talk about effective methods of collaboration, and at the end of the process, international guests come to see the works and then meet 1-on-1 with the writers about their musicals.

WN: This is an exciting experimental process for creating new musicals. Have there been any surprises for you along the way? What can audiences expect?

MM: The biggest surprise has been how well the teams have thrived in this complex structure – and how truly helpful I think this has been to solidify a practice of developing new musicals for them and for us as an organization. 

For audiences, I think it will be absolutely thrilling to watch three original pieces that are each so different and yet so compelling. It will be a tour-de-force to see these actors transform from show to show. Plus, REPRINT will demonstrate the breadth of imagination that exists in both the minds of our talented local writers and the black and white pages of the newspaper.

Fan Girl
Anika Johnson and Barbara Johnston (music & lyrics)
Nick Green (book)
Tracey Flye (director)
Adam Sakiyama (music director & supervisor)

Cygnus
Anton Lipovetsky (music & lyrics)
Steven Gallagher (book)
Ann Hodges (director)
Wayne Gwillim (music director & supervisor)

What’s Goes Up
Colleen Dauncey (music)
Akiva Romer-Segal (lyrics)
Ellen Denny (book)
Lezlie Wade (director)
Shelley Hanson (music director & supervisor)

All three musicals will star Brandon Antonio, Kaylee Harwood, Michael De Rose and Kelsey Verzotti.

REPRINT is onstage from August 19 to 22 at The Globe and Mail Centre, Toronto. It will be filmed for broadcast via podcast in 2020. The original articles that inspired the works can be viewed online here.

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.

Syreeta Hector in Black Ballerina. Photo credit: Jason Tse.The SummerWorks Performance Festival is celebrating its 29th year of showcasing new and groundbreaking multidisciplinary theatre, music, and dance in Toronto from August 8 to 18.

Though similar to the Fringe in that there are many wildly different companies and artists to see, SummerWorks is very different in that the Fringe chooses its shows by lottery, while Summerworks chooses its shows by a careful process of application and selection. Under artistic director Laura Nanni’s leadership, the festival’s jury process has led to increasingly fearless, risk-taking programming, giving both artists and audiences an opportunity to explore many of the often difficult ideas and topics at the forefront of our contemporary world.

This year there are over 400 performers in over 30 events, based mostly in the Queen Street West area near the Theatre Centre, but also at individual sites around the city. Looking at the lineup of music theatre works, five in particular  stood out for me. While all completely different, they do have two things in common: each piece has an urgent story to tell – and in each case, music is an integral part of the telling.

Cliff Cardinal. Photo credit: Nadya Kwansibenz.1. Cliff Cardinal’s CBC Special
Theatre Centre, BMO Incubator, August 11-17

Perhaps the most high-profile music theatre work in the Summerworks Presentations series is Cliff Cardinal’s CBC Special. A highly anticipated follow-up to Cardinal’s multi award-winning solo show Huff, it teams him again with his director/dramaturge Karin Randoja. While Huff  was hard-hitting in its depiction of the lives of a group of Indigenous youth dealing with substance abuse and a high risk of suicide, audiences also found it hilarious and this same combination of dark humour and grounded storytelling is expected in this new solo show, though this time it will probably be on the lighter side. Cardinal (son of acclaimed Canadian actor Tantoo Cardinal) grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation listening to CBC Radio, but not hearing the experiences of his family and community being represented very much in its programming. To address that gap, he has created his own ‘CBC broadcast’ and filled it with dark and catchy folk songs, miraculous stories of familial resilience, and legends of Turtle Island survival, with an aim of entertaining – as well as giving untold stories their time on the air.

2. Audible Songs from Rockwood
Theatre Centre, Franco Boni Theatre, August 10-18

On the darker side is Audible Songs from Rockwood, a “concert staged for theatre” based on the album of the same name by Simone Schmidt and her band Fiver. The songs in turn are based on the case files of women incarcerated at the Rockwood Asylum for the Criminally Insane in Kingston, Ontario between 1856 and 1861. Yes, prison and criminalized insanity make for a dark musical show, but this is part of what makes SummerWorks important – that it does not shrink from telling these uncomfortable stories.

Schmidt, a veteran songwriter, spent two years conducting research in the prison archives, retrieving the stories of these women. This led to an acclaimed album of songs that have now been turned into a theatrical event (co-created with director Frank Cox O’Connell and designer Shannon Lea Doyle), which uses these story songs as a starting point to ask questions about not only the historical definition of sanity, but also the contemporary ramifications of a system of incarceration built upon the foundation of a colonial settler agenda. Schmidt, who has a distinctive husky alto voice, leads the cast of three which includes Carlie Howell and Laura Bates.

3. Crossing Into Lullaby
Theatre Centre, BMO Incubator, August 8, 10, 11

In the Lab series of works at an earlier stage of creation, Crossing Into Lullaby takes as a starting point an old family story of an undiagnosable sickness that binds the living to the dead. More enigmatic fable than historical fact, the show revisits this story in a re-telling by creator Dian Marie Bridge and a team of multi-disciplinary artists, and harnesses voice work and electronic soundscapes in an attempt to cure the sickness by breaking the bindings of the story’s characters’ unspoken fears and laying them to rest. The use of music to heal in the story and production is particularly intriguing.

Syreeta Hector in Black Ballerina. Photo credit: Jason Tse.4. Black Ballerina
Theatre Centre, BMO Incubator, August 11, 14, 18

Another show in the Lab series, Black Ballerina, starts from a very real and very personal point of view – that of creator and performer Syreeta Hector, a young but already highly accomplished dancer and educator of mixed Indigenous, African, Canadian and French descent.

Trained at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre as well as the National Ballet School’s Teacher Training Program, and having received a master’s degree from the Dance Program at York University, she uses this new solo show to explore questions of identity and dance form, specifically the clash between her own blackness and the usually white bodies of the classical ballet world. She promises to dig into these issues, including the need we all feel to fit in, through storytelling, movement and music (an original score by Zarnoosh Bilimoria). To give even more depth and detail to her vision is movement dramaturge Seika Boye (It’s About Time, Dancing Black in Canada 1900 - 1970). It will be fascinating to see the range of movement the show employs.

5. The Breath Between
Theatre Centre, BMO Incubator, August 8, 10, 12, 16

The Breath Between, created and performed by the young artists of the AMY (Artists Mentoring Youth) Project, seems to strike a true note of hope in the context of calamity. Set in a future following a climate catastrophe where everyone is forced to live under the control and cover of “the Dome,” the queer youth of Tkaronto emerge to take part in the first Pride event in years, only to discover that it is not the celebration they had hoped it would be. A small band of them break out of the dystopia and journey into space to explore the meaning of community, connection, and home. While the format of an interweaving of monologues, poetry, movement and music is not in itself ground-breaking, it sounds as though the content is refreshing in finding positivity despite the surrounding dystopia. The young characters share stories of their resilience, but even more importantly, their dreams of what new worlds we can make together – even in apocalyptic times.

Please see www.summerworks.ca for a full schedule and information about all the shows and events. Tickets for most shows are $15-35, and some events are free.

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.

JenShyu Photo1 StevenSchreiberbannerJen Shyu, who performs at the Guelph Jazz Festival this year. Photo credit: Steven Schreiber.Though many summer festivals have already wrapped up their 2019 editions, the season isn’t over yet. There are a number of late-summer festivals slotted for August and September, both in southern Ontario and further afield. Whether you prefer to make a day trip out of town or stay close to home, there are upcoming musical offerings that suit your end-of-summer plans.

Here are five music festivals to consider visiting before the end of the summer.

1. Guelph Jazz Festival
September 11-15
Guelph, Ontario

Founded in 1994, the Guelph Jazz Festival always promises varied and risk-taking programming, with a range of local and international artists. This year – the festival’s first under the artistic co-leadership of Scott Thomson (artistic and general director) and Karen Ng (assistant artistic and general director) – features several notable experimental artists, including vocalist/dancer/multi-instrumentalist Jen Shyu’s interdisciplinary solo show Nine Doors and Nova Scotia-based jaw harp player chik white. The festival has organized a Friday Night Street Music Party, 7pm to midnight on September 13 in Guelph’s Market Square. Festival details at www.guelphjazzfestival.com

2. The 21st-Century Guitar
August 22-25
Ottawa, Ontario

This summer, the University of Ottawa Piano Pedagogy Research Lab, the International Guitar Research Centre (University of Surrey), the Canadian Music Centre, and the Ottawa Guitar Society have joined forces to co-host The 21st-Century Guitar, a conference focusing on interdisciplinary perspectives towards guitar performance, composition and pedagogy.

Featuring guitarists from classical, experimental, folk, and numerous other genres, the conference promises a wide range of guitar-centric music – including presentations of solo and duo pieces from Canadian and international composers, a selection of works using 8-channel sound and surround video projection, and performances by a giant ‘guitar orchestra’. Details at www.21cguitar.com

3. Prince Edward County Chamber Music Festival
September 13-22
Picton, Ontario

Running from September 13 to 22, the PEC Chamber Music Festival is one of several music events taking place in Prince Edward County each summer. Now under the artistic leadership of the New Orford String Quartet, the PEC Chamber Music Festival promises an impressive program of top-notch Canadian artists. With performances this year by the New Orford String Quartet, Gryphon Trio, soprano Julie Nesrallah with collaborative pianist Robert Kortgaard, and brothers Jamie and Jon Kimura Parker in a program for two pianos, the festival is full of concerts perfect for a mid-September day trip. Info at www.pecmusicfestival.com.

4. The Fifth Canadian Chopin Piano Competition
August 23-29
Toronto, Ontario

At the end of August, the Canadian Chopin Society will present the fifth edition of the Canadian Chopin Piano Competition, hosted at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto. Presented in conjunction with the renowned International F. Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, Poland, the Canadian competition is open to Canadian pianists in both Junior and Senior divisions.

In addition to competition rounds open to the public, the Canadian Chopin Society will also present Polish pianist Krzysztof Jablonksi, the competition jury chair, in a solo recital of Chopin’s music at Koerner Hall. Details at www.rcmusic.com

5. Summer Music in the Garden
Thursdays and Sundays until September 15
Toronto, Ontario

The Toronto Music Garden continues its annual summer programming until mid-September this year, offering a variety of free outdoor concerts from now until the end of the summer. Upcoming highlights include performances by Eastern European vocal quartet Blisk; Laüsa, a group rooted in the traditional music of Gascony in southwest France; local cello duo VC2; and Aiyun Huang and Mark Fewer, in a program of works for percussion and violin. More information at www.harbourfrontcentre.com.

Jake Epstein. Photo credit: Jacob Cohl.On July 12, I went an hour and a half early to Kensington Market in the hope of being first on the waiting list to get tickets for the brand-new solo musical at the Toronto Fringe Festival: Boy Falls From The Sky: Jake Epstein at Supermarket. Others had beaten me to it and I was number 3 in line, but I took my chances and waited.

The run had sold out very quickly, perhaps because of how well known Jake Epstein is from his time starring on TV in Degrassi: The Next Generation, and more recently on Designated Survivor and Suits – or perhaps because he was so brilliant as Bruce Springsteen in The Musical Stage Company’s 2017 theatrical concert Uncovered: Dylan and Springsteen. In any case, the word of mouth from long before the start of the Fringe was that this was a “must-see” production.

Written and performed by Epstein and supported onstage by music director Daniel Abrahamson on  piano, the show was developed with director Robert McQueen (Fun Home, Life After) and is produced by Derrick Chua for Past Future Productions. 

This is Jake Epstein’s first solo show, and is based on his own experiences of both the highs and unexpected lows of following – and achieving – his dream to be a performer on Broadway. The stories, interwoven with songs throughout, start off with relatable memories such as family road trips to New York, Epstein and his sister singing along in the back seat to recordings of Broadway cast albums from Lion King to Les Mis, imitating the voices of their favourite performers. Inspired by the audience reaction to the child performers they see in the musical Big, he auditions back home for the Claude Watson School for the Arts, and soon is auditioning for professional productions in Toronto and landing the role of the Artful Dodger in the Mirvish production of Oliver. Later he wins a leading TV role on Degrassi: The Next Generation, but when he auditions for the Juilliard School in New York he doesn’t get in – just one of the many self-deprecating stories about unexpected setbacks that he shares with us along the way. However, meeting with two strangers on the street outside Juilliard, they ask to take a selfie with him because they love him in Degrassi and he is inspired to stay in New York  and soon lands leading roles in North American touring productions of cutting-edge musicals American Idiot and Spring Awakening.

When in 2012 he is cast as the alternate for the lead in the troubled Julie Taymour/U2 musical Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark, it’s a dream come true (complete with actually flying around the Broadway theatre), but he gets hurt and doesn’t want to tell anyone back home. A year later he has another iconic chance – to create a leading role in a new Broadway musical, Carole King’s husband and songwriting partner Gerry Goffin in Beautiful. Once again there are brighter and darker sides to the story, and as a result he spends more time back home in Toronto.

A recurring theme in Boy Falls From The Sky (yes, the title is a tongue-in-cheek reference to his role in Spiderman) is Epstein not wanting to seem ungrateful for his luck and the success he has achieved, marked by the repeated singing of snatches of “give them the old razzle dazzle.” Luckily for us in the audience, eventually he did tell the full stories of what his life on tour and on Broadway was really like, and friends and family encouraged him to turn those stories into this show.

This is excellent musical theatre storytelling by a performer with natural star power – including the ability to make everyone in the audience feel as though he is talking to them alone. Add to that the edgy energy of a BYOV “Bring Your Own” Fringe Venue in Kensington Market and the fact that the star and writer is a hometown boy made good, and the 70 minutes speed by too fast and are over too soon.

Jake Epstein's Boy Falls from The Sky is from the first moment engaging and fun, his presence electric and yet relaxed, his timing perfection and the laughs strongly rooted in self-deprecating honesty. I loved this show – as I had hoped I would.

Boy Falls From The Sky: Jake Epstein Live at Supermarket ran from July 4 to 13 at Supermarket, Toronto, as part of the 2019 Toronto Fringe Festival.

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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