It’s Rodeo season.
That’s the High Performance Rodeo, Calgary’s own international festival of performing arts.
The HPR has been around 31 years, since One Yellow Rabbit Michael Green and a few of his colleagues launched it in an elevator in the mid-1980s.
The Rodeo can get weird and experimental and interactive, but it also has grown over the years to collaborate with many Calgary arts groups, each of which brings their own sensibility and built-in audience to the festival.
So these days – in addition to the weird shit, as the late Michael Green used to say – the Rodeo features more mainstream fare, such as Six Guitars, a Fringe Festival greatest hit, at Lunchbox. This week, ATP opens Cathy Jones (This Hour has 22 Minutes) in her new solo show Stranger to Hard Work.
There have already been plenty of memorable 2017 Rodeo moments over the past 10 days, including: Songs of Resilience, from Toronto and Montreal’s Queer Songbook Orchestra; brilliant made-in-24 hour comedy sketches from Chromatic Theatre and Verb Theatre at the 10 Minute Play Festival (and Mayor Nenshi in the audience, heckling first-time emcee Stephen Hair that he could do better); Sebastien Heinz showcased some formidable chops in Brotherhood: The Hip Hopera; while 57-year-old Louise Lecavalier blew down the doors of the new DJD Dance Centre with her piece So Blue.
Karen Hines’ amazing and funny mind – she’s a cross between Spalding Gray and Caryl Churchill, with a dash of Atwood thrown in – was brought to stellar theatrical life in All the Little Animals I’ve Eaten at the Big Secret.
Over at the Pumphouse, Toronto’s Theatre Smith-Gilmour transformed William Faulkner’s classic As I Lay Dying into a smartly performed piece of physical, minimalist spoken-word theatre. Downtown at the Royal Canadian Legion No. 1 on Saturday night, Trace exposed some of the ghosts lurking under the stairwells of that awesomely beautiful venue, while Cris Derksen showcased how well an electric cello can go with hoop dancing on a vintage, 1922 dance-floor that still gets the job done.
I could fill up this column space just talking about everything that’s already gone on, but there’s still over half a Rodeo to go.
There are almost 30 shows in this year’s festival, from all over the place: Portland, England, Portugal, Montreal, Toronto, Australia and Slave Lake (that’s where Derksen, the amazing electric cellist, was born).
There are also a bunch of different venues hosting Rodeo events throughout the city, including the Pumphouse, West Village Theatre, various Arts Commons venues, the National Music Centre, the Church of the Redeemer, Vertigo Studio, Lunchbox, the Legion, Lougheed House, DJD Dance Centre, Theatre Junction Grand, the Simmons Building, Banker’s Hall, and the Calgary Municipal Building.
Venues aren’t performers, but visiting enough of them and seeing all the ways in which different artists reinterpret them, animate them, and engage audiences in them is a cool way to get to know this city. (Maybe next year, the Rodeo can put on some shows in all those empty office towers downtown. I bet the acoustics would kick ass!)
I’m not impartial here – I’m the 2017 High Performance Rodeo writer-in-residence, because we live in strange days in the media – but the city looks better filled with artists than without!
Hopefully theYYScene.ca can help fill the gap in local arts coverage and keep the conversation going, because there are lots of talented, creative individuals making cool new work in this city. It would be a shame if no one got the chance to discover them.
Week No. 3 of the Rodeo is packed with stuff to see – and a chinook has blown in to take the sting out of going out at night.
A few highlights:
• Every Brilliant Thing, from British playwright Duncan Macmillan featuring British standup comic Jonny Donahoe, is one of those international, feel-good, interactive smash hits that the Rodeo brings to town every now and then. At the Pumphouse through Jan. 21.
• Juliet & Romeo, DJD Dance Centre. See artistic director Kimberly Cooper’s take on one of the all-time classic love stories – with a DJD twist, of course. At DJD’s gorgeous new dance centre, through Jan. 28.
• Low fi technology – flipbook thumb cinema – and storytelling from German Volker Gerling, in Portraits in Motion, a story inspired by Gerling’s own walk across 3,500 kilometres of Germany. (This is a German thing. Werner Herzog did it, too, to heal his sick friend Marlene Dietrich and it worked.) At Theatre Junction Grand through Jan. 21.
• All’s Well That Ends Well, is the latest from The Shakespeare Company, telling one of Shakespeare’s difficult stories – a little bit rom-com, a little bit stalker story – about Helena, a woman determined to land a prince. Directed by Canadian theatre icon Peter Hinton, with an adapted script from Brad (Unidentified Human Remains) Fraser, All’s Well runs through Jan. 28 at Vertigo Studio Theatre.
• Stranger to Hard Work is Canadian comedy legend Cathy Jones’ new solo show that talks about aging, food, money and other stuff, all filtered through one of the country’s all-time funniest minds. At the Martha Cohen Theatre through Jan. 28.
• Why We are Here, from Toronto’s Nightswimming Theatre, is an interactive choral performance where the audience becomes a choir and belts out a few tunes in a variety of venues. Just think singing We are the Champions at the Dome – use your imagination! – and you’ll get the picture. Jan. 18 at NMC, Jan. 20 at Church of the Redeemer and Jan. 22 at Lougheed House.
Stephen Hunt is the 2017 High Performance Rodeo writer in residence. He wrote about theatre for the Calgary Herald for 10 years, and teaches playwriting at UBC. He is also the author of The White Guy: A Field Guide.