Folk Music Ontario Conference Celebrates 30 Years

October 26, 2016 12:21 pm

All photos by Andre Gagne.

When Murray Foster of Great Big Sea and other bands took the stage at the Folk Music of Ontario Conference Awards Brunch on Sunday, he admitted it was his first time at the conference. He didn’t know what to expect and now that it is concluding, he is still not sure what it was. He offered the following description: a three-day house party at a hip hotel where some networking took place. For someone attending for the first time, it could easily appear that way. There was hardly a corner of the trendy Delta Ottawa City Centre that was not a backdrop to an impromptu jam session or a showcase concert but there is so much more to it. What began thirty years ago as a meeting of executive and artistic directors of folk festivals in Ontario has since grown into a community of stakeholders that encompass everyone from the artists to festival staff to media to promoters – everyone attending has prioritized the beauty of folk music.


Tony Turner was just one of the many musicians you could spot roaming around bringing music to all corners of the Delta.

The conference experience is intended to cultivate an inclusive community for all involved. Celebrating the diversity and history of folk music traditions in Ontario and Canada was front and centre. A panel on Indigenous Audience Development was moderated by Aboriginal Music Week’s Alan Greyeyes, who also hosted an Indigenous Artist Showcase.

A networking event for Women in Music was held for the third year, to which music maven Lynn Miles said: “It was great to be in a room filled with strong women who are passionate about music, and to listen to their stories of struggle and triumph. We hope more women keep coming to the meetings.”

Séan McCann formerly of Great Big Sea, now a local resident, delivered the Folk Music Ontario 2016 keynote address. Since leaving Great Big Sea, McCann’s work has dealt with the sexual abuse he faced at the hands of a priest and the alcohol abuse that ensued. His two solo releases (Help Your Self, 2014 & You Know I love You, 2016) enabled him to face this part of his life and also move forward. Both solo albums were produced by his friend, the gifted Joel Plaskett.


Local folky Chris White was live with the Folk Booth!

Abigail Lapell was honoured with the Colleen Peterson Songwriting Award by the Ontario Arts Council. She is being honoured for her song “Jordan”. The unapologetic lyrics, wintry voice and folk roots of her story-songs caught the jury’s attention. The award is designed to support emerging Ontario singer-songwriters. Further, the Estelle Klein Award recipient Anne Lederman, honoured at the concluding Awards Brunch which was hosted by CBC’s Alan Neal, reflected this attention to inclusivity. Beyond Anne Lederman’s efforts to preserve traditions of music and culture, she was lauded in particular for her work with the Indigenous fiddle traditions of her home province Manitoba and for bringing that music to the world.

The conference is also intended to support the tremendous possibilities innate to folk music. The rich panels and networking sessions looked something like this: developing your audience, industry insider tips and tricks to claim the maximum in allowable expenses, what is folk music, maximizing attendance in rural and remote communities, small festivals verses large festivals, this grant is your grant… to name only a few.

img_4528These serious subjects were framed by those jam sessions mentioned above and most importantly, the FMO Presents Official Showcases featuring great acts like Amanda Rheaume, AHI, IVA, Lynne Hanson & The Good Intentions, Moonfruits, Pretty Archie and so on. The conference is a good indicator that the FMO is working hard all year long and busy responding to artists’ as well as audiences’ needs.

To that effect, FMO President Rachel Barreca writes in her final annual report: “The good news is that we now have some breathing space to move forward in more creative, meaningful ways that will help us create more value for our members, sponsors, and funders, and to meet our mission, vision, and strategic goals. This, in turn, will be what takes us towards the next phase of this organisation’s life and makes us relevant in the 21st-century landscape of folk, roots and acoustic music.”

To further drive the FMO inclusivity point home, Ms. Baracca signs off in three languages: English, French and Ojibwe.

Next year’s event will be taking place in Toronto from September 28 to October 1 in 2017.

Say Goodbye to the Outside World with the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

October 22, 2016 11:00 am

Featured image from In-game screenshots taken by Isabel Payne. All rights belong to CD Projekt Red.

There is a reason the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt sold more than six million copies within the first six weeks of its release and has won over 800 awards (including an astonishing 250 Game of the Year awards from various companies). It has been over a year since this masterpiece was released and even though I’ve logged over 170 hours into this game and its two DLCs, I’ve yet to actually finish it.

Based on a popular fantasy book series of the same name by Andrzej Sapkowski, the Witcher 3 concludes the adventures of Geralt of Rivia, a genetically mutated monster-slayer-for-hire (called a Witcher) infamously known in-game as the Butcher of Blaviken. In the Witcher 3, Geralt must face the Wild Hunt, an army of specters which have made appearances as antagonists in the first Witcher game. The Wild Hunt is after Ciri, Geralt’s adopted daughter and former princess of Cintra, who has extraordinary powers that they wish to control to conquer other worlds.

The main story line on its own is already long and packed with adventures where you can explore the open-world from Novigrad to Skellige. But in order to2016-10-20-6 get a full experience of the Witcher 3, the side quests are, in my opinion, what makes up most of the meat and are the best part of the game. They give more opportunity for Geralt’s character to really shine in situations that are not always as dark and serious as the main storyline. Some of these side quests are packed full of easter eggs and real world references, as well as hilarious situations that can easily be missed by simply choosing the wrong speech option (who else got into a rap battle in Beauclair?). Not only are these side quests actually being useful in levelling Geralt up and earning coin and cool gear, I felt they also brought a different light onto the game and helped build the intrigue into Geralt’s life with actual Witcher contracts and pleas for assistance from old friends.

Some side-quests even include the popular, and highly addictive, in-game card game called Gwent. I made the mistake of not listening to the NPC who was so kindly explaining how to play the game, and ended up losing hundreds of gold crowns to merchants and barkeepers over this game. As I spent more time actually paying attention to the rules, I found myself excitedly searching for new characters to play against or adventuring across the map trying to find new cards. Of all in-game mini games, Gwent is the only one so far I’ve actually enjoyed playing and am excited to try the stand-alone Gwent: A Witcher Card Game set to launch later this month.

Having a background knowledge of the Witcher lore is a definite bonus as many characters and stories are 2016-10-20-4referenced throughout the series. Since I’ve only read The Last Wish, which is a compilation of short stories of Geralt’s adventures, I found I had to read a lot about the lore in the game’s journal system and online in order to have a full grasp of what was happening in the story and the importance of certain characters. A general knowledge of the game’s lore can help with understanding relationships between characters, which plays a significant role in this game and while the majority of the game’s NPCs will show hostility or dislike for Geralt, he does have many he friends (and lovers) he holds dear. The Witcher 3 allows you to explore these relationships in-depth and gives you the option to pursue them more fully or simply leave them be.

While the story itself is massive and complicated, the in-game area you get to explore is even bigger. The land itself is beautifully constructed and has many secrets to reward those who actually go adventuring off the beaten path. The game’s landscape ranges from beautiful mountains, to rolling hills, dotted with settlements both large and small. I’ve often ambled through a forest to come across gorgeous Elven ruins, lost to time and covered with flora. However, while there is much beauty, the darker side of the Witcher universe is still very much present. It is not uncommon to emerge from a flower-filled forest onto scorched fields scattered with corpses and drenched with blood. Rotting bodies hang from trees along main pathways to settlements, and it’s easy to stumble upon a horrific monster or two feasting on the body of an unfortunate traveller. The world of the Witcher 3 is by no means a kind one and it’s quick to remind you of that.


What really helps put a game together is the music that goes along with it, and the Witcher 3’s OST is a brilliant example of how to tell a story through sound. The ambient sound in the game alone help create an atmosphere that is almost real—that is, until the screams of a Drowner or the wings of a Wyvern flap above you snap you back into the real world. However, the soundtrack is what truly brings this game to life with its primal cries and strong percussion rhythms. Expect powerful music throughout composed by Marcin Przybyłowicz, Mikolai Stroinski and Percival to amplify the atmosphere of the game. Whether it amps you up for a battle or draws tears at emotional cut-scenes, The Witcher 3 boasts a soundtrack like no other and, on its own, provides over two hours of adventures across the lands of the Northern Kingdoms. My favourite? A ballad about the romance between Geralt and the sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg called the Wolven Storm, sung by the bard Priscilla towards the middle of the 2016-10-20-5game.  

I’ve only had a couple annoyances with the Witcher 3, one of which being the sheer size of the map. With fast-travel being limited to travel to and from designated signposts, expect a lot of wandering on foot or by horse to discover new signpost locations when entering a new location. The combat system is also a bit more complicated than a typical slash-and-smash. Geralt has the ability to use magical Witcher signs that can set enemies alight or influence their minds. You can also brew up many oils, potions and other concoctions to give Geralt an edge over his opponents. I’ve found it can be difficult to remember the many combination of oils and signs to use on an enemy, especially if you’re a lazy gamer like me and run into a monster fights without learning about your foe in 2016-10-20-7advance and reading about them in Geralt’s Beastiary. Despite these things, The Witcher 3 is definitely a game I intend to replay at some point once I’ve finished reading the novels. For the first time in a while, I felt that I really got my money’s worth when purchasing the game and its DLCs, and I’m genuinely afraid that I’ll never find an RPG quite as fantastic as the Witcher 3. 

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is available for PC, Xbox One, and PS4. The Game of the Year edition was released this past August and includes all of the game’s expansions including Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine.

Unpacking Mental Health with Rosanna Saracino’s Suitcases

October 21, 2016 6:48 pm

Today, mental health is out in the open. Whether it is government, individuals or corporate Canada, there has been a groundswell of support in helping raise awareness, reduce stigma and improving access to mental health care. However, this was not always the case.

rosannacanstage-1292This makes the new theater production Suitcases all the more relevant. The play was inspired by the 1995 discovery and photography of a collection of over 400 suitcases that belonged to patients of the Willard Psychiatric Center in Willard, NY between 1910 and 1960.

Suitcases creator and director Rosanna Saracino was immediately drawn in by the objects contained in each suitcase and the stories they told. Now, after months and months of research, writing, reflection and workshop, Rosanna has created a full-length production to help fight the stigma and isolation that often plagues those individuals with mental health issues.

The play features a cast of 21 performers, guest writers and artists as well as a hard-working back-of-house team including, Co-Producer Maighdlin Mahoney, Choreographer Linda Garneau, Wardrobe Designer Katrina Carrier, and Lighting Designer Bryan Steele.

Suitcases is running from November 1st to November 6th, 2016 at the Artscape Sandbox in Toronto, but for Ottawanians it will be worth the trip. In the meantime, Ottawa Life caught up with Rosanna to learn more about her project and her passion behind it.


Ottawa Life: “Suitcases” touches on so many current societal issues including mental health. How do you hope Suitcases will influence the narrative?

Rosanna Saracino: I hope Suitcases will cause audiences to challenge the narrative around what is “crazy”, and the seeming need for secrecy that is often prevalent when diagnosed with mental or emotional illness. There is a shame around these conditions, and fears, judgments and preconceptions fraught by misinformation, or a lack of education. I think we are all harbouring secret and often invisible “monsters”. I am hoping that a dialogue will ensue, which allows us to chip away at the boundaries, which divide our human experiences.

What was your process for creating the story for each suitcase? 

My initial responsibility was to research Willard Asylum itself, and then other asylums of the period, across the world. I discovered that some of the reasons for placement in an asylum seemed absurd in many cases. Reasons such as: Novel Reading, Women Troubles, Grief for longer than 3 months, Bad Company, Greed, Egotism. I came to find out that an individual who was deemed undesirable by their spouse or community could also be locked away – even though they might not be experiencing any formal psychological condition. The research sparked questions: If I had to pack a suitcase, what would I take with me? What would that say about me? Would it reveal my “problems’? Fears? Hopes? And further to this: what is the impact of being institutionalized if there is no outstanding pre-existing condition?

I questioned how we treated “others.”

In rehearsal, I provided the cast with exercises, which would challenge them to develop characters and text based on the images of the cases, and the research. The play evolved from there, and we developed scenes and an episodic, impressionistic arc.

The result is an image, dance and text driven piece, which I believe challenges and inspires those secret illnesses, and humanizes the loneliest parts of our experiences. It is rife with the dark corners, but holds plenty of light, humour, and hope, as the characters come to find community in their space.

What was the most challenging part of the casting process?

I knew I needed a large cast for this show, but I am producing this independently. The greatest challenge in the project was navigating costs versus the needs of the story and the show. Also, there were so many talented artists who auditioned, and who shared their experiences with anxiety, panic, depression, and other conditions. Their generosity and inspiration were a gift. And they taught me how important it is to be doing this show.

The other challenge was ensuring diversity – I wanted to represent a broad range of ages and experiences, as this felt most accurate to the story, both in its inspiration and contemporary relevance. I feel that I took a good step in that direction.

rosannacanstage-1316What role does dance play in the performance?

Suitcases is theatre with heavy movement. There is not much formal “dance” in the piece, but most of the episodic scenes contain physical expressions of the characters, themes, or events in a given scene. Movement is used to highlight the inner struggle or the subject matter of many of the given pieces in the play. An example is the monster scenes – where the invisible monsters of mental illness are manifest on stage. Another is a recurrent motif of waltzing. Though it is not precisely choreographed, it is a representation of memory, the past, and a nostalgic impression of love and connection to the outside world.

I worked collaboratively with choreographer Linda Garneau to create these physical landscapes of emotional experiences.

Which character do you most relate with?

As a child, I knew I wanted to work in theatre, or be an archeologist. So, I became a director who is also a hoarder. I have collected vintage items since I was about 11, and always wondered who these objects belonged to, and what that person’s life was like. So, Suitcases, inspired by the possessions of these real people is an obvious love letter from me to the past, in hopes of connecting to the future.

Ofile-page1ne character in the original source material had 4 suitcases to herself. They were filled with lush furs, French silk beaded shoes, lingerie, French perfume, all from the 1930s. In the middle of her belongings, they found a syringe kit. The contrast between the beauty of her items, and this dirty glass needle captivated me. It is at once shocking and tragic, beautiful and flawed. And, I have always been a lover of the fallible in our identities and our humanity.

After your run at the Artscape Sandbox, do you have plans in place to perform the piece anywhere else in Canada?

I would love to tour the show to other Canadian cities, and perhaps to New York – given the Willard Asylum was originally in upstate NY. The challenge is that it is a large cast, and the costs are tricky to navigate. But, I do believe this is an important, timely show. I know it is unapologetic in its exploration of mental and emotional conditions, and also an embrace to all who have felt otherness in their lives. My hope is that people come to see it, the word spreads, and that our Suitcases get to travel and finally tell their stories.

Weekend What’s up – October 21-23, 2016

6:34 pm

Here at Ottawa Life, we are on the lookout for great events to do over the weekend. Here is what the Ottawa has in store for you this weekend from October 21-23. See you there!

mammoth_in_books_smallerMammoth Used Book Sale, 100 Tallwood Drive, October 22
Come join this month’s used book sale presented by The Friends of the Ottawa Public Library. From fiction to biographies, explore your interest in literature with friends and family in a place full of many different stories to be read and with amazing prices; including 4 books for only 1$! How great is that? Mammoth Used Book Sale will be taking place this Saturday, at James Bartleman Archives and Library Materials Centre located on 100, Tallwood Drive from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. For questions or more information, please call (613) 580-2424 x27875 or send an email to: and don’t miss out!

Dial “M” for Murder, 400 King Edward Avenue, October 21 and 22dialm
Halloween is right around the corner, and you know what that means? Exactly, lots and lots of candy! At least for the children. We have read/seen/heard of many stories in our lives, and since we are currently in the “spooky season”, make sure you also include this one on your bucket of stories. Dial ‘M’ for Murder, one of Hitchcock’s hits of all times has finally arrived on the Ottawa Little Theatre stage! This incredible Drama/Thriller unfolds the story of a man who has married a woman for her money, and wants to kill her for the exact same reason; although, things don’t really happen as planned… If you want to find out what happens next, come see this incredible production this weekend, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. located on 400 King Edward Avenue. For any questions or information on ticket prices, please access or call (613) 233-8948. Boo!

fall2016Nepean fine Arts League Fall Art Sale, 1000 Byron Avenue, October 21, 22 and 23
Interested in art? Consider yourself an artist or is already one? Nepean’s fine Arts League is the perfect place for you to be this weekend! Come see the work of over 40 artists and join this activity of observing techniques and inspire yourself for your own art. Located at the Ukrainian Banquet Hall on 1000 Byron Avenue, Friday from 6:00 pm to 9 pm, Saturday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, and Sunday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to see fine art! For more information, please email: or call (819) 568-1160.

NAC Gala, 1000 Byron Avenue, October 228_package2_print_140608_dianakrall_i_0054_d_color_cmyk__large
The 2016 NAC Gala is here! This year, this great event will be featuring the five-time Grammy winning jazz pianist and vocalist Diana Krall. The glamorous fundraising annual event will be taking place this Saturday, October 22nd at the National Arts Centre’s Southam Hall, located on 53 Elgin Street. Starting at 5:30 pm, enjoy the elegant reception in the NAC foyer, followed by a concert at 6:30 pm. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to enjoy a lovely evening with champagne and good music. You are still in time! Purchase now your ticket online at: or visit for more information.

crest_2016_newCineplex Free MoviesOctober 22
Wait, did you say FREE movies? Yes, that’s right! This Saturday, Cineplex presents FREE movies. Gather all your friends and family and join in on this amazing opportunity of watching 5 incredible productions, including: The Jungle Book, Inside Out, The Finest Hours, The Good Dinosaur and Zootopia. Popcorn/drinks/candy for only $2 each! Plus, get 100 bonus scene points if you spend $10 or more. Don’t miss out!

Swan Lake: Ballet Jörgen Puts New Spin on Timeless Classic

11:27 am

Images supplied by Ballet Jörgen.

Inspiration, excitement, pleasure, happiness, and fatigue are all words ballet dancer Saniya Abilmajineva uses to describe what moves through her mind and body as her feet flow like windblown silk across the stage. Adrenalin still coursing inside but exhausted, she admits to feeling devastation in her soul when the show ends and, back in her dressing room, she looks up and realizes the music is gone.

“I’ve loved classical music since childhood,” Abilmajineva tells Ottawa Life as she prepares to take the stage in one of the great works of ballet, Swan Lake. “My mother was a professional piano player and I grew up hearing her play music from many different operas and ballets. I am very lucky that I can dance to these masterpieces of classical music.”

This production –put on by the prestigious Ballet Jörgen company– dances into the Centrepointe Theatre on October 28. For show choreographer, director and company founder Bengt Jörgen, this production of Swan Lake just continues a dream he had over 25 years ago, one of a young man transfixed by the power of movement wanting to bring quality productions to a wider Canadian audience. Since then it’s like he’s never woken up and he explains that it was going through the motions of being a dancer first that has allowed him to bring a unique take on this timeless Tchaikovsky masterpiece.

“What drew me into choreography was the sense of restlessness in being a dancer,” says the Stockholm, Sweden-born Jörgen who’s now brought acclaimed productions of The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet, and Cinderella to stages across the country. He prides himself on performing in cities that normally would not showcase such shows. Places like Medicine Hat, Chilliwack, Swift Current and Summerside join the usual Toronto, Ottawa, and Halifax stops on the company’s coming tour.

“I loved dancing and I still love dancing, but I was restless and there was something really unique about going into an empty space and creating a work that lives and breathes from nothing. There’s something really magical when it comes to blankness – you can create all this life, wipe the slate clean and then bring it back again. I always get immense satisfaction from building and completing something when it’s done right.”

Despite putting his own spin on the work as well as injecting the personalities of the company dancers, Jörgen realizes there are elements that shouldn’t be trifled with.

“Swan Lake is a work that lives in the collective memory of a lot of people. Even people who have never seen Swan Lake have a sense of the form of the work and what it is. Some parts of Swan Lake are virtually unchanged since it was recrafted and revived in 1895. And I’m not changing those parts because those are parts that people identify with this work.”

Composed by Tchaikovsky in 1875-76, Swan Lake draws from the tradition of  as it tells the story of Odette, the beautiful princess transformed into a swan by the curse of a sorcerer. Few records exist of the first production of the work and the work’s origins are steeped in wonder and speculation. However, at least since the turn of the 19th century, most do not question the famed Russian composer’s influences on the subject matter, how the melody is tied to the movement, something not unnoticed by the Jörgen company dancers.

“The motion is very closely related to the music,” explains Abilmajineva. “I feel sadness in second act. Delight in third act. Despair, struggle and the victory at the end. The choreography of this ballet further emphasizes the accents in the music.”


Ottawa Life had a chance to talk more with Abilmajineva and Jörgen to explore more of what went into the production as well as the feelings and emotions dancing induces in both the ballerina and choreographer.

Ottawa Life: What do you believe drew you into the world of ballet?

Bengt Jörgen: What drew me into ballet was an excitement about movement and the clarity that ballet dancers can bring to movement. As a young person, I was mesmerized by the extraordinary power of that movement and the range of qualities that can be expressed through the body.

saniya_aSaniya Abilmajineva: Until I was ten years old I had never seen a ballet performance and I had no idea what they were about. My grandmother loved ballet so much. She didn’t have the chance to become a dancer, but she was a theatre actress. So my dear grandmother advised my mother to send me to ballet school. I passed the competition for training at the National Uzbek ballet school in 1996. That is the story how I started my dance career when I was 10 years old.

To be honest it wasn’t my choice, but, at the same time, I wasn’t complaining either.

Both of you trained outside of Canada. Can you tell me what you feel are some of the most important lessons you learned during these first steps in school?

Saniya Abilmajineva: I trained at the Choreography College in Moscow for 3 years after I graduated from the National Uzbek Ballet School. I received a lot of training and exposure during my years there. The college sent me to many international ballet competitions and I had an amazing experience on those stages.

Bengt Jörgen: (At the Royal Swedish Ballet School) I learned respect for tradition. I learned that I was part of a field of dance that has long roots before me and a long future after me. That I was a part of something beyond myself. I also learned discipline – I had some very tough teachers. And it’s always after the fact that you realize it was the toughest teachers who actually taught you the most, even though at times you hated them because they were so tough. The work ethic and discipline was so important, and I was able to draw upon these skills as an independent artist when I did not necessarily have a support structure in place.

You bring a unique slant to your productions as a way of keeping them fresh. What is your process as it relates to this?

Bengt Jörgen: You need to make sure that when somebody watches the work, it means something to them. Ballet is a language. If you can’t communicate to the people you’re speaking to, there’s a problem. And if they have to spend the whole show trying to learn your language, it doesn’t really work because ballet exists right here and now. So first of all, I think you have to assess if the work is actually communicating something to your audiences if it actually means anything.

Bengt, you have said that you believe ballet is a powerful language to engage contemporary audiences with. Can you elaborate on that?

Bengt Jörgen: I think that when it’s done right, ballet is one of the most effective mediums to reach younger people. It’s physical, it’s immediate, it’s dramatic, it can be evocative and spellbinding, and it works on an imaginative level because we don’t use words. It is a tricky balance – if you don’t bring all the pieces together it can get boring. But that’s the risk you take. The art form is our bodies, and for two hours these dancers become their characters and the story comes to life in front of your eyes… it’s an amazing thing.

What do you feel are some of the elements needed to keep the art form relevant or to attract new audiences to the pieces?

Bengt Jörgen: Well, I think you need to do quality work – that goes without saying. You need to create great work that people can understand. It needs to have an emotional impact. Sometimes we get so involved with the technique and the tricks of the art form, and then all of a sudden the work feels rather empty. So I think we have to remember that ballet is a language, and we need to use the strength of all of that range and control of movement to tell a story in a way that no other art form can.

12-03_jorgen_sl9347How would you describe the current production’s approach to Swan Lake?

Saniya Abilmajineva: I really like our production. It’s not very long, but we’ve preserved much of the original choreography by Marius Petipa in the lead roles such as Odette, Odile and Siegfried. Bengt created his own choreography for the character dances in third act and for several minor roles. I also like our costumes and lights program in this ballet. An amazing fact about our ballet is that our director is still performing on stage with us in a general character role. He’s still really enjoying dancing with the company which is great to see.

Bengt Jörgen: What we bring is a context that pulls the work together more dramatically than usual. We bring a dramatic cohesiveness to this great story, and our dancers bring a lot of vitality to the work because they love what they do. We want to make sure the dancing reflects that. We want the choreography to capture not only the technical texture of the dancers but their personalities as well. And we want people to feel touched by the work at the end of the production.


What goes into the training / rehearsals for this piece?

Saniya Abilmajineva: Every working day we are in ballet class for an hour and a half. Afterward, we have rehearsals for 6 hours with one hour for lunch. I keep up with my stretching every day. Years of dance experience have really taught me how to stay in shape for the work. I try to listen carefully and remember the corrections from my teachers. We also work on the roles from an acting perspective. The more often we perform the better we become!

Bengt Jörgen: The training really begins when the dancers start ballet school. This is a difficult classical work and a lot of the training depends on the teachers that our dancers have had in the past. Most companies are now composed of dancers from many different schools so you have to find a way to bring that together as well as all the different levels of training. Over the last couple of decades, we have been driving ballet in a much more contemporary direction where form and details aren’t as important. This can sometimes make it harder for dancers to get back in the routine of classical dance. Programming Swan Lake back to back with last year’s Sleeping Beauty allows us to stay more rigorous with our dancers. It’s a brutally difficult work to do and the dancers need a lot of work, a lot of support and a lot of coaching. But through that work comes a simplicity and a beauty that can’t be faked.

Darren Aronofsky’s film Black Swan provided a pretty harsh portrayal of those trying to climb up the ladder in the world of ballet. Do you feel it was accurate?

Saniya Abilmajineva: To be honest, I don’t think Black Swan sets a good example of how to climb up the ranks of the ballet world. In the ballet world, it is never possible to attain true success by deceiving other people and especially yourself.  Only those who work hard every day and work honestly without cheating become professionals in their field. My path as a ballet dancer was difficult and not always successful. There were sometimes failures, both physically and mentally, but I was very lucky with my teachers. During my years of training in Tashkent and Moscow, I had wonderful professional teachers who taught, loved and supported me.

If you were able to have a conversation with Tchaikovsky what might be some of the things you’d want to discuss?

Bengt Jörgen: I would discuss the fact that he has created two ballets within one, and I would like him to try to bring them together! Because that’s the biggest challenge as a choreographer when you restage this work – how do you bring together two sections that have very little in common? The 1895 revival was actually choreographed by two different choreographers – the showman Petipa and his assistant Ivanov, who did all the beautiful white swan scenes. So I would ask Tchaikovsky to find a way of musically linking these two parts.

Is there a specific moment in the ballet Swan Lake that sticks out for you as being one you particular enjoy and why that moment?

Saniya Abilmajineva: There are two moments in Swan Lake that I particularly enjoy dancing. One of them is the finale of the second act. I think that the music in this scene really contributes to building up Odette’s strength of character. The second moment is when the Prince pledges his love to Odile and she runs away laughing at him. I like this moment because it’s very dramatically strong and memorable.

Ballet Jörgen’s Swan Lake
Presented by: Canada’s Ballet Jörgen
Centrepointe Theatre
Friday, October 28, 2016 at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased online.

OLM Pet of the Week- Meet Toby

October 20, 2016 12:00 pm

For this week’s OLM Pet of the Week, we’ve got another beautiful feline we want to introduce! Meet Toby, a big four-year-old boy who is currently up for adoption with Cat Rescue Network.

Toby is a big guy who weighs just under 15 pounds, and there’s more to this handsome fellow that meets the eye. First of all, he’s got more toes than your average cat. He likes to use his large paws to play with ping pong balls, or to chase that mysterious red laser light! Toby is a sensitive dude who certainly has a presence. He loves to be around his people and loves getting snuggles even more. Head scratches and neck rubs are his favourite, and you can hear him purring loudly as a result.

Toby has made a huge transformation thanks to the love and care from Cat Rescue Network!

Toby would thrive in a home with another playful cat, or even a cat-friendly dog, as he enjoys the company of the dog in his foster home. He does have the habit of giving gentle love bites when playing with people, but his foster family is working on getting him out of that habit. Due to this habit, he would do better in an adult-only home, or one without small children. Toby is neutered, and has had surgery to correct entropion in one eye, a dental cleaning, and two ingrown nails removed.

Toby can be found on Petfinder for more details. If you have room in your heart and home for Toby, you can download an adoption contract here, and email it to

About the Rescue:

Established in 1999, Cat Rescue Network is an Ottawa-based non-profit run solely with the help of volunteers. They are dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating, and adopting-out homeless kittens and cats in the Ottawa area. You can find them on Facebook and Twitter.

OLM Pet of the Week is a weekly segment on our site which showcases adoptable pets in our Capital. Each week a new pet will be featured in order to help them find a loving forever home. Any Ottawa-based animal rescue interested in having an adoptable pet featured can email

Tara Shannon Wants to Break the Barrier Between Listening and Experiencing

October 18, 2016 10:12 am

Images used courtesy of Tara Shannon. Recording session images by Ali Matthews.

Have you ever experienced Inuit throat singing? I don’t mean that you have heard it somewhere or saw it performed on the stage or in film, but that you have actually experienced it?

My first experience took place as I walked through the doors of Raven Street Studios this past weekend.

I was greeted by Tara Shannon, an award-winning Ottawa-based singer/songwriter, who was taking a quick break from recording a making of video for her new song “Someone Who Understands.”

Her energy and warmth could be felt in every corner of the studio as she graciously hosted her recording crew, the film crew for her video, a documentary film crew from Algonquin College, and an entire choir. She may be in the middle of releasing an album soon, but you would never know from her laid-back attitude and enthusiasm.

1e0a4393From our first interaction, it was easy to see that Tara is an individual with a big heart and her heart is at the center of all her music.

Despite writing for other artists on both sides of the border for years, it was the heartbreaking story of Jonathan Pitre, better known as that ‘Butterfly Child’, that motivated her to create her first album.

“I am a believer in music being a powerful force to affect change as it is a healing energy that transcends spoken language,” Tara Shannon explained, “So for any of my projects, I like to explore the possibilities of who might benefit from that music and ask myself who could this help?”

Earlier this year, Tara’s single “Butterfly Child” was recorded in support of Jonathan, as he continues to battle a vicious and life-threatening disease. Her latest single follows the same theme of giving.

“We have been hearing a lot about young people and mental health issues which are close to my heart as I have struggled with depression and anxiety since I was a child and a few of my children do as well,” Tara continued. “And in particular we have been hearing more and more about the state of crisis within the aboriginal youth and their struggle with mental health.”

“Someone Who Understands” was recorded in support of the Ottawa Aboriginal Coalition to help fund programming that provides support for aboriginal youth and includes the uplifting voices from a figurative and literal choir of supporters.


The song, written by her part Metis producer Hayley McLean, is an emotional declaration of support for people struggling.

“[Hayley] was hesitant to suggest the song as she didn’t want to impose any of her own songs onto the project but she had a nagging feeling that she should play this one for me,” Tara reflected. “I am so glad she did because the message of the song resonated with me profoundly. It has a haunting melody with a deep sense of reaching out to those who feel alone and particularly young people.”

Judging by the bodies in the room, the song indeed resonated. The choir that I met included a number of the aboriginal youth and their joy was contagious.

During a break in recording, two of the women in the choir shared some of the history of Inuit throat singing and treated everyone in the studio, including Tara, to an impromptu performance. Watching and listening to them, essentially battle, arm-in-arm and eyes locked was spellbinding. Each throat singing session ends in giggles as one of the women ‘wins’, immediately breaking the spell. Truly, you don’t listen, you experience.

img_6981It is this connection between the artist and listener that Tara hopes to achieve in her new album.

“As an indie singer/songwriter, I had a certain approach to writing songs in the past. It was about processing my experiences and my emotions and channeling that into the song regardless of the effectiveness in communicating with the listener.”

“I learned the art of active listening and craftsmanship from those who have been doing it for decades and by virtue of that training, writing for myself this time around was very, very different. They are still my stories but I have widened the scope and have a fuller understanding of how a lyric can communicate,” Tara continued.

img_6999There is no doubt that Tara will continue to create a connection throughout the rest of her album, set for release this fall. Self-described as a piano-driven country soul record, we can also expect not only her favorite songs but also one written by her songwriting inspiration, Lori McKenna.

“She is the reason I started to believe I could become a professional songwriter,” explained Tara. “She has 5 kids and lives in Boston. She only travels to Nashville a few days a month and has built this amazing career. Once I heard her story, I knew I could give it a try too!”

At the end of the last throat singing session, Tara doesn’t lose this opportunity to broaden her musical horizons. Together with a friend, she attempted her own throat singing with some brief instruction from the women. This time for Tara, along with the giggles came goosebumps, the sign that something special was happening here today.


But First, Coffee

October 17, 2016 9:35 am

Photos by Ali Matthews & Andaz Hotel.

Top coffee connoisseurs gathered at Feast + Revel in the recently opened Andaz Hotel for a Barista Invitational showcasing some of the top talent in Ottawa. Baristas from La Bottega, Origin Trade, Planet Coffee, Bar Robo and Feast + Revel faced off to win the title of top barista for their signature hot coffee drinks, signature cold coffee beverages, and best latte art creations.

img_7069The three judges sat front row to oversee all of the creative beverages. Sarah Jennings from the ByWard Market BIA was looking for a flavourful espresso, Chris Petrie from Equator Coffee gave the advice to try and “keep it simple” and Julia Weber from Bank Street BIA was keen to see how creative the latte creations could be.

Guests in attendance we treated to a wide array of sweets, including pumpkin spice squares, scones and even cookies that were shaped like coffee cups. It was a full house as event registration was booked up days in advance of the weekend event.

Local fashion bloggers Chantal Sarkisian, who is always on the hunt for creative and unique events to feature on her blog, saw the event as an ideal opportunity to see what the Feast + Revel pastry shop had to offer.

“I love Andaz’s local outreach and their efforts to feature the best Ottawa has to offer. They are creating an inviting space with delicious food that will help build a community and showcase local talent. But the main reason why I couldn’t miss out on this opportunity was to taste the delicious new sweets by Feast + Revel, and get a free cup of my favourite Ottawa roaster: Equator Coffee. That’s a no brainer!”


Food and beverage offerings at Andaz are handled by Executive Chef and Ottawa local Stephen La Salle, who was on site to oversee the friendly competition spoke with Ottawa Life.

Ottawa Life: Thanks for inviting Ottawa Life Magazine to your event! How did the idea of a friendly competition of baristas come about?

Stephen La Salle:  We we’re pretty stoked about having a team of baristas in Andaz Ottawa’s signature restaurant, Feast + Revel, our baristas have an amazing energy and were trying out new drinks for our menu so we wanted to give them a creative outlet. We reached out to our coffee roaster, Equator and got the ball rolling.  We just wanted to have some fun and promote coffee shops that we love and create a fun neighbourhood event that could also showcase our new restaurant.

img_7023Tell me why the judges chose Zachary Pantalone from La Bottega was the winner.

Zack had the most cumulative points in our 3 rounds! Equator Coffee came up with the scoring system for all three rounds, we wanted to see what kind of coffee drinks the baristas could come up with that showed off great coffee and great latte art so we had three rounds, a hot beverage, a cold beverage and latte art. Scores were tallied for all three rounds and Zach came out on top! Great latte art, a beautiful Turkish iced coffee for his cold beverage and pistachio infused latte for his hot.

The event registration was booked up days in advance of the event – Congrats! How is Andaz redefining the so-called ‘foodie culture’ and bringing it to forefront in Ottawa?

We’re not so much redefining it but celebrating it! Partnering with our local producers, artisans, suppliers, growers, artists and more is at the core of our ethos, it just made sense to us to celebrate Ottawa coffee culture and our neighbours! The ByWard Market boutique hotel is well known for its design-forward interiors reflecting Ottawa’s heritage, art pieces curated by the Canada Council Art Bank and locally sourced amenities.


Escape, Could You?

October 16, 2016 4:27 pm


All photos by Andre Gagne.

“We’re definitely locked in,” Mahigan Giroux to the group of five others.

Though he was smiling the security cameras above weren’t needed to pick up what all of them felt after the door had slammed shut. You may tell yourself it’s only a game, but once locked inside what remains of the Bytown Asylum the chill of nervousness creeps up the spine and the insecurity of what comes next clutches your insides. Or maybe that’s just fear.


Suffice to say, this was not how the typical Ottawa Life staff member filled their lunch hour.

We had just been told that the room we were now sealed up in once belonged to the infamous Dr. Johnson, rediscovered by a construction crew still preserved in its eerie glory from where it was left condemned in the early 1900s. Strange experiments, it is said, once took place there.

escape-manor-10-of-16wConfirmation of this only takes one glance at the rusty instruments, left over x-rays and dried blood on the walls that surround you. Something wanted out of here once, it appears, and now we all felt the same desire to do nothing more but get the hell out of this place. The clock on the door ticked down the first minute reminding us that if we were to get out we only had 44 more left to do it in.


Welcome to Escape Manor, Ottawa’s first escape room attraction. It was created by a group of friends in the late summer of 2014 building off the puzzle and problem-solving room experiences that have only grown in popularity in North America  –and probably owe a little to the Saw film franchise. Founder and co-owner Steve Wilson says people’s enjoyment of being locked away, mystified and frightened is easier to figure out than one of the puzzle rooms.

“We are all gamers by nature. Having a physical environment within which to play out these exciting interactions and then an online forum within which to share the resulting excitement, is a perfect recipe for creating fun while satisfying a restless desire to competitively and creatively interact with like-minded folks,” Wilson tells Ottawa Life before our staff were locked away.


Standing there in the first minute, with a room full of potential puzzles, the thought that instantly crosses your mind is: Now what? You are armed with very little to work with at the outset and need to rely on what everybody can bring to the group, each other’s individual strengths, to your advantage as a form of strategy.

Or you can just do what we did and tear the place apart like a cyclonic collective of Dervishes until everything that wasn’t nailed down was placed helter-skelter on an operating table you wish you never actually really need to lay back on.

Ok, but what did it all mean?


Outside the room, the Escape Manor staff had all the answers we were seeking. Creating the rooms and puzzles, Wilson says, is a riot. His team of game masters gather together and try to think up new and fun ways to isolate people and drive them mad while playfully creeping them out. However, he assures, it’s all done fairly. Once themes are decided upon and the rooms are built they are tested thoroughly by staff. Each clue does lead to something and each room can be fully escaped in the allotted time and while the room is designed to lead players down one particular path, some people have chosen to go down it in pretty bizarre ways.

“We used to have a room called Prison Break where you were physically locked into a cell. You needed to actually reach something from inside the cell that was outside the bars. One time we were monitoring the room and we saw someone holding something, reaching out of the bars, that we didn’t know what it was,” says Escape Manor’s General Manager Miranda Jones, still perplexed by what she had seen that night.

Oddly, and with a bit of genius, this player had achieved the extra reach by removing his prosthetic arm. Both Jones and Wilson agree that this was the strangest of things to occur in one of the rooms. To date, they have had nine wedding proposals take place inside an escape room, have locked up The Mayor’s Special Police Forces, had a couple of the Sens try an escape before hitting the ice and at least two filmed rock videos.


“The entire experience is an emotional roller-coaster,” says Wilson. “From the anticipation of booking and arrival, to the fear of the unknown, to the frustration of a puzzle, excitement of a solve, frustration again when another lock appears and the adulation of solving a mystery. Win, lose, or draw, our guests leave exhilarated. We are often the water-cooler chat for weeks to come after a daring escape!”

escape-manor-11-of-16wMeanwhile, for us Ottawa Life staff, our time was ticking down and if we didn’t hurry we’d find our water-cooler talk –if we had a water-cooler– would peak with wondering what the strange array of items were for on a cold, steel operating table. Our daring escape needed a push in the right direction. We decided to split up –as much as being locked in a small room can allow– to cover more ground. Hey, it worked on Scooby-Doo!

escape-manor-15-of-16wStaff writer Danika Leminski tried one lock while our interns Mahigan and Melanye searched through the paperwork and tapped on walls. Could there be some kind of passageway here leading elsewhere? Surely, we thought, there must be more. Our Director of Operations, Isabel Payne, expressed what we all felt: whatever we needed had to be looking us right in the face. We just needed to put it together and we now only had 20 minutes left to connect a whole lot of dots.

Staff relish at least a little bit in watching people try to figure it all out but they are always at the ready with a clue or to rush in case things get a little out of hand. Sometimes a guest finds themselves a bit to freaked out to continue. Outside of a few unwanted scares, generally things for the staff on the other side of the doors are just as fun as it is for those locked behind them.

“There’s a lot of monitoring. We want to make sure everything is running smoothly in the group, see if anything is not working the way it’s supposed to be, if any other issues come up along the way,” Jones says adding that the second most important aspect of the staff’s job is giving out clues to help players along once they get stuck. “That’s a fun part for us!”


It had come to the point where our group needed a little helpful prodding. We had15 minutes to go and, after our clue, things started to click. We started working in tandem now to move to the next objective. Hearts were racing and a few elated cheers burst out when a lock opened or something new was discovered.

“Oh my God! What is that?” gasped Melayne, pointing towards something in the shadows.

Outside the door, surprised screams could be heard from the other rooms where other players were facing their own shadowy mysteries. Escape Manor has quickly grown since their first two rooms a few years ago. Now they have three locations and eight different theme rooms to choose from.  Along with the Asylum, there’s The Darkness where a pact with the devil may await, The Tomb in which players try to avoid the Pharaoh’s curse and the new Outlaw Saloon where you just might run into one of the most feared outlaws in the old West. Escape Manor has also joined up with the Diefenbunker for a Cold War themed espionage escape.

“We never thought we would be where we are today this rapidly. We are very thankful for the support of our friends, family, and communities and for the loving embrace they have given Escape Manor,” says Wilson, proud of the 5-Star ratings they’ve achieved and to be ranked among one of the top activities in the city.

“We receive dozens of letters from corporations having loved their team-building sessions, tourists having had an escape make their stay, and locals thrilled with a fun day or night out with friends. Giving folks a great experience and putting smiles on as many faces as humanly possible is why we all got into this business and we are thrilled with the results so far!”

escape-manor-6-of-16wOur own thrills continued for us right down to the final minute where, one clue away from a hopeful escape, we frantically tried to figure out the last puzzle as our seconds ticked away to an eventual still locked door.

“It’s pretty intense,” said Mahigan afterward. “You have to think a lot but, at the same time, there’s a lot of teamwork involved. You really have to pay attention to details.”

“I really like the atmosphere. They did such a great job with props and everything there. You really had to keep your eyes open,” said Danika.

Despite our group not escaping, the experience of Escape Manor is really all about that creepy, brain teasing journey and not the unlocked destination. When it’s over you really feel you haven’t seen 45 minutes fly by, your adrenalin is flowing and your brain is working in overdrive. It’s all a very intense, exciting rush no matter what the result.

Wilson and his team only hope to offer that excitement to others as the company grows. Along with a new location in Regina, they have a working partnership in The Cayman Islands, look to expand more into the United States as well as open a new location in Australia this winter.

“We love what we do and have a great recipe with our partnership,” says Wilson. “We intended to continue creating fun and amazing experiences for anyone willing to play with us!”

Weekend What’s Up

October 14, 2016 3:07 pm

Here at Ottawa Life, we are on the lookout for great events to do over the weekend. Here is what the Ottawa has in store for you this weekend from October 14-16. See you there!

kiss-white__largeA Night of Classical Collisions, NAC Main Lobby, October 14

Watch Ottawa’s best graffiti artists create colourful works inspired by an internationally renowned artist Anita Kunz while listening to Canadian DJ legend Skratch Bastid perform a turntable/classical tribute to Beethoven a
nd Schumann. $10 at the door of the NAC Main Lobby (Foyer) starting at 9:30pm.

Fall Rhapsody,
Gatineau Park, October 15-16

This is the last weekend to officially feast your eyes on the beautiful autumn colours of Gatineau Park while participating in an assortment of family activities. Experience a weekend of demonstrations of birds of prey, guided hikes, and Lusk Cave exploration. Free admission, demonstrations take place by Philippe Lake.gatineau-park-fall-1600x500-985x500

Donuts for Dogs
, Hampton Park Dog Park, October 15

Join Cherry Park Homes with your doggies for a day of healthy & tasty doggy donuts made by the Flying Hound – known for their popular Pooch Pops! Have photos taken by Hotte Dogs, snack on people donuts, win prizes! Free entry on October 15, from 2pm-4pm. Rain date is Sunday October 16 from 10am to 12pm.


Third World Bazaar, 6110 Mitch Owens Road, October 7 – November 20

The Third World Bazaar continues this weekend for its annual seven-weekend sale, featuring eclectic items direct from artisans in Ecuador, Nepal, Indonesia, Turkey and more. Hosted in a barn, from 10 am to 5 pm, Friday through Sunday, it is the perfect spot to find decorations for your home or gifts for the holidays.

Annual Open House: Research & Collections Facility, 1740 Pink Road, Gatineau (Aylmer sector), October 15

Don’t miss this once-a-year opportunity to explore the Museum of Nature’s research and collections facility in Gatineau, their Natural Heritage Campus. Go behind the science to discover an impression collection of plants, animals, fossils, and minerals – housed in an area as big as five hockey rinks! Tours are self-guided and photos are permitted. Admission is free.



Weekend What’s Up- Events for Animal Lovers

1:35 pm

It’s a busy weekend for animal rescues across Ottawa! From Thanks for Giving events to pet photoshoots, we’ve compiled a list of fun events across Ottawa which you can attend with your pet, or go to meet your new furry BFF and the local rescues that work hard year-round to save them and other animals in need.

What is Thanks for Giving?

For the entire month of October, Pet Valu locations across Canada have been collecting food and monetary donations for local animal rescues. If you can’t make it out to an event near you, you can contribute online by simply sharing their #Share4Rescue posts on Facebook and Twitter or by donating directly to the rescues. Each share equates to one cup of pet food donated.

Who is participating in Thanks for Giving?

Saturday Oct 15th 2016

Thanks for Giving Event: Freedom Dog Rescue at Pet Valu Beechwood

Thanks for Giving Event: Freedom Dog Rescue at Pet Valu Casselman

Thanks for Giving Event: Freedom Dog Rescue at Pet Valu Kanata

Thanks for Giving Event: Sit With Me at Pet Valu Greenbank

Thanks for Giving Event: Ottawa Stray Cat Rescue at Pet Valu Hazeldean

Thanks for Giving Event: Ottawa Stray Cat Rescue at Pet Valu Manotick

Thanks for Giving Event: Ottawa Stray Cat Rescue at Pet Valu Glebe

Thanks for Giving Event: Ottawa Stray Cat Rescue at Pet Valu Gloucester


Sunday October 16th 2016

Thanks for Giving Event: Freedom Dog Rescue at Pet Valu Glebe

Thanks for Giving Event: Freedom Dog Rescue at Pet Valu South Gate

Thanks for Giving Event: Ottawa Stray Cat Rescue at Pet Valu Greenbank

Thanks for Giving Event: Ottawa Stray Cat Rescue at Pet Valu Alta Vista

Thanks for Giving Event: Ottawa Stray Cat Rescue at Pet Valu Beechwood


Other Events:

Saturday October 15th 2016:

Too Cute to Spook Halloween Photo Event at Masters ‘n Dogs in Westboro

Get your pet’s costume photo taken by the super talented Leslie Yeow! Photos cost only $10 and all proceeds go towards Ottawa Paw Pantry to help them fill furry bellies during challenging times.

Halloween Pet Photo Contest at Pet Valu Alta Vista

A fun photo contest for your pet to help raise funds for stray dogs and cats in Thailand! Bring your pet in costume or borrow some of the accessories provided by volunteers. With amazing prizes and $10 nail clippings, it’s bound to be an event both you and your pet will enjoy! The event runs from 10am-2pm on Saturday only.

Bonus! Starting October 17th, Sit With Me will be hosting a Howl-oween Photo Contest online! Simply submit a photo of your pet in costume for a chance to win one of three awesome prizes! Entry is a donation of $5 per picture and the contest runs until October 31st 2016.

Did we miss any events? Let us know in the comments below!

NAC Presents Unveils Complete Season Adding Over 30 Artists to Already Big Lineup

1:09 pm

Feature photo: LeE HARVeY OsMOND. Images supplied by the National Arts Centre.

It’s shaping up to be a big year over at the National Arts Centre. On the heels of unveiling the new Southam Hall to the public, the complete season of the popular NAC Presents series was announced today adding over 30 more acts to an already stellar lineup.

Now in its 6th season, this series was the final one programmed by Simone Deneau who retired in June after a 38 year career with the NAC. The baton was loving passed to Heather Gibson, former Executive Director of the Halifax Jazz Fest and Founder of In the Dead of Winter Musical Festival, who is elated to be stepping into one the of the NAC’s biggest seasons.

“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind these past three weeks of getting up to speed with how the NAC operates, meeting my colleagues, and planning for our first show on October 15 with Ria Mae.  I’ve been enjoying the job and Ottawa,” Gibson tells Ottawa Life, adding that Deneau’s vision to highlight multiple Canadian music talents has never been as prevalent with this over 60 show series.

“We are always looking to present a variety of styles, genres, and artists to not just appeal to our audience but to also expand our audience and expand our audience’s knowledge and experience with emerging music.  Diversity is key to meeting those goals.  People will see that this season we have a wide range of artists and we will continue to program with diversity in mind.”

With a list that already included shows by former Great Big Sea member Séan McCann, a Celtic Family Christmas performance by Natalie McMaster and Donnell Leahy, Canadian icon Gordon Lightfoot and a now sold out solo performance by Tragically Hip front man Gord Downie one has to wonder what the NAC could add to ice an already sweet treat for music lovers.


Blue Rodeo will play two shows in February inside the new NAC Southam Hall.

Stepping into the new Southam Hall for a two night stint in February will be Blue Rodeo. The local favourites and Canadian rock superstars will be performing songs for the newly released 1000 Arms as well as tunes that dig into their extensive back catalogue. Though they may be missed for their usual Valentine’s Day show over in the Canadian Tire Centre, the band is a welcome first time addition to the NAC lineup. Also looking to fill the new hall’s seats will be folk/soul singer Bobby Bazini (February 4) returning after a big show in the Theatre last year and Nova Scotia rocker Joel Plaskett (March 18) who delivered a powerful set at the 2015 TD Ottawa Jazz Festival.

Over in the NAC Theatre Basia Bulat will show why she’s a 2016 Polaris nominee on March 10. The East Coast is represented by Newfoundlanders The Once (February 25) and songstress Amelia Curran (May 13) sure to south the soul with tracks from her latest They Promised You Mercy. Other shows in the Theatre setting include Ron Sexsmith and the brother/sister duo of Matthew and Jill Barber.


Bobby Bazini

The Studio stage will welcome LeE HARVeY OsMOND (January 20), Rose Cousins (February 17) and two shows by country-folk singer/songwriter Fred Eaglesmith in March, to name a few. Also returning this year will be Petr Cancura’s jazz with a twist Crossroads series. The new Back Stage venue, added during the construction, will focus on French-Canadian musicians like Montreal pianist Jean-Michel Blais (February 24). The reggae fused blues rhythms of ILAM will get the crowd moving on April 28.

“I am personally looking forward to Alejandra Ribera, Andy Shauf, and Jenn Grant,” says Gibson. “I haven’t had the opportunity to see any of those artists perform a full concert in well over a year and I know that they have grown as artists in that time – it will be exciting to hear and see where their artistic growth has taken them.”

For full schedule and ticket information visit the Series website.

Romeo and Juliet Redux at the Gladstone

October 13, 2016 11:40 am

Photos and poster art supplied by production.

There is always something magical that happens when you hear the first words uttered in a Shakespeare play. You are transported into a whole other world, one that requires your thought, attention and full focus. The rhythm of his language, the cadence and the beauty of it is mesmerizing. So I always find it a shame when his plays are cut and reduced to save time in our busy world.


Romeo and Juliet Redux cast.

In his current production, director David Whitely says he borrowed inspiration from other sources to create a new Romeo and Juliet — hence the addition of Redux to the title. The set is minimalist (white draping around the theatre and haunting lighting) and definitely works. So does the “live soundscape” which is manipulation of electronic instruments that are not pre-recorded. It is a great great complement to the drama on stage.

There are only four actors to try and convey the complexities of the various characters in the play and the transitions were bumpy so it is not always clear which character is which all the time. It is distracting so beef up on the play before going in and don’t rely on your grade 10 English class memory.

But Romeo and Juliet is such classic theatrical wonder you will still get it all, of course, and feel the agony of the star-crossed lovers as they deal with family loyalty versus love. Death, as you may recall is the ultimate winner in this beautiful tragedy.


Photo by Andre Gagne.

roju-poster_no-bleed-3Mekdes Teshome makes her debut on the Gladstone stage and she pulls off a beautiful Juliet supported by the rest of the cast and there is a palpable tenderness between her and David daCosta who plays Romeo.

The duelling scenes were particularly fantastic to watch with the gymnastics involved to pull them off without props (with the exception of one dagger).

As a theatre junkie, it is always good and to feel the energy that is created in live theatre, to feel the passion of actors throwing themselves into their work. That is definitely the case in Romeo and Juliet Redux.

It plays at the Gladstone until October 15th.

The Haunted History of Ottawa is Just a Walk Away

11:35 am

Photos supplied by the Ottawa Haunted Walk.

There’s something scary on the streets of Ottawa this Haunting Season and it has nothing to do with construction. In fact, no car is needed to be spooked out of your walking shoes. Phantom steps behind you on the staircase in the ByTown Musuem, the distant sound of crying from something in the shadows, the final moments of a convicted killer before the noose slips around his neck, and the spirits that roam the long corridors of the city’s haunted high school are just some of the things you might run into on Ottawa’s Haunted Walk.

Beginning in Kingston back in 1995, the walk only took a few months to find guides in long, black cloaks giving tours here by lantern light. Ottawa has amassed a rich collection of ghostly tales over the decades. Underneath the Government Town gloss, it appears, there’s a lot of murder in our back pages.

“First and foremost, Ottawa is a beautiful city,” says Haunted Walk Creative Director, Jim Dean. “When you combine this natural beauty with striking architecture and surprisingly violent history it’s the perfect place to explore on foot. Even people who have lived here all their lives are often surprised by locations they’ve never noticed or visited, and stories they’ve never heard.”

Take, for example, the unexplained case of the “Lone Woman” in the cellblock hallway.

Unless you are a tourist or take a wrong turn trying to get into Arts Court, most of us who live here have never spent a night in the famed Ottawa Jail Hostel. Built in 1862, it was the main jail in the city for well over a century and was the site of some of the country’s most notorious executions including that of Patrick J. Whelan, hanged on February 11, 1869 for the assassination of Thomas D’Arcy McGee. Outdated by the 70’s and closed as a jail, Hosteling International eventually converted it into an eerie place to spend the night by keeping much of the place intact. Guests can stay in the cells that once made up death row and the gallows are still fully functional.

Over the years patrons have reported strange sounds, doors closing on their own and echoes leading up the long walk towards the hangman’s noose. None of this went unnoticed by the spectre seeking storytellers of the Haunted Walks. A year after the tours began in the city, the group approached the Hostel to begin what would become a two decade relationship entitled The Ghosts and Gallows Tour. While many strange occurrences have been reported on the tour over the years nobody had any actual photographic evidence to distinguish from possible overactive imaginations.

Then, in August of 2014, an email was sent to The Haunted Walk by a tour participant. It included a photograph of two people reflected in glass. One of them was the person who sent the message and the other is still unknown. The sender claims to have been alone when she took the photo. Is the “Lone Woman” next to her with that blank stare and possible old-fashioned clothing somebody else on the tour unnoticed by the photographer or is she just one of those trapped in the hallways and cells of one of spookiest spots in the country? Perhaps you can ask her yourself one night.


Even if you don’t spot the “Lone Woman”, catch a glimpse of the wandering spirit of Château Laurier founder Charles Melville Hays or feel what appears to be chilly hands on your back inside the Bytown Museum, there’s still a lot to experience on these tours with even the most staunch sceptic able to at least enjoy some local history. Customers, including the 25,000 students that visit throughout the year, are sure to be receiving an accurate history lesson even if parts are spiced with the paranormal.

“One of the things we take a great deal of pride in is that while we are entertaining with some great storytelling and ghost stories, we are also more subtly working in all sorts of local and national history,” explains Dean. “From Prime Ministers, Governor Generals, and Mayors to what early life was like in Bytown/Ottawa, the settings or details for the stories we often share add a lot historical information.”

Dean says the walks have an extremely high standard and much research goes into discovering new stories, routes and locations. It can take anywhere between two to six months before a new story makes it to a tour group and not every strange tale makes the cut.

“We also try to be respectful of the descendants of the people involved in our stories, particularly if tragic circumstances are involved. If a tragic event has occurred within the past 50 years, we generally do not use the story on tour,” says Dean.


Élise Gauthier, a self-professed Ottawa history nerd, has been a guide with the Haunted Walks for nearly 10 years and calls it one of the best jobs she could ask for. The stories, she says, are pretty well stuck in her head at this point and the ability to show off the city while providing patrons with a few jolts are things she still looks forward to.

“I take pleasure in dressing up in my ‘blacks’ – sometimes putting on a more elaborate costume – and donning the cloak. It’s important for me to create the right atmosphere for my group even before the tour begins,” she says.

Ever wanted to be a star of your own paranormal TV series like the X-Files or Stranger Things? This year the Haunted Walk makes you the guide with the new Stranger Tales: A Haunted Walk City Adventure. Mostly self-guided, guests try to unravel a mystery by interacting with various characters while looking up information online. It all leads to a thrilling climatic experience inside one of Ottawa’s most haunted buildings!

For the youngsters there’s also the family-friendly We Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts. Junior Ghostbusters will be trained by guides just in case they need to blast away any rogue spirits with their newly acquired abilities. It’s like Scooby Doo without the Mystery Machine or dog and a great way for families to get into the Halloween spirit.

Of course, there’s still the Original Haunted Walk Tour, the popular Ghost and Gallows and the Incident at the Bunker: A Zombie Adventure to choose from.

“Since I started giving tours of Ottawa, I’ve started seeing my city in a whole new light. When I see certain parts of the city, it’s like I can see through time, looking at once was there,” says Gauthier. “Old buildings, riots, former politicians, there is so much to learn about this relatively new city, and I just want everyone to see what I see!”

Learn more online and find tickets for all the Haunted Walk experiences. Just remember, keep your eyes peeled. You never know what’s lurking around the next corner.

Warm and Inviting: NAC’s Southam Hall Gets New Life

October 12, 2016 1:04 pm

The newly renovated National Arts Centre Southam Hall is a breath of fresh air. Gone is the sea of red upholstery and stuffy acoustics. Canada’s largest performing arts institution has finally moved on from 1969 to the 21st century.

Stepping into the hall, the first thing that patrons will notice is the new seats. Simple, modern, and elegant, the seats feature light wooden backs and bottoms. Dark oak floors can be seen between the rows of seats, the planks at an angle to follow the hexagonal shape of the hall. The NAC’s iconic red colour scheme still accents the room as cushions on the seats and carpeting in the aisles.

“Red is in the DNA of the National Arts Centre,” explained Jennifer Mallard, Project Architect for the NAC rejuvenation (Diamond Schmitt Architects). Upon pointing out the contemporary, yet subtle changes to the hall, she mentioned “We [Diamond Schmitt Architects] wanted to reinterpret original intentions.”

The changes are not only aesthetically pleasing – they are functional as well. The prominent use of wood around the room is acoustically reflective, providing better, crisper sound.

“We have been rehearsing for three days and we immediately noticed a big change in the sound. A positive change in the sound. It’s become more resonant and it’s become more responsive,” commented Alexander Shelley, music director of the National Arts Centre Orchestra.

“Imagine being in a very good car. On a straight road, with slow corners, you can’t really test the car. But if you make the track with more corners and with more places where you can speed up, the car, or in this case, the instrument, can really start to be as great as it is. This hall now is starting to take steps where the orchestra can show off  fully what it is capable of.”

Accessibility is another big addition in the rejuvenation project. New aisles, shorter rows, and brass rails have been added to the hall, allowing for easier mobility. The main floor of the hall is now divided into four areas: three seating areas in the old orchestra and a terrace at the back, starting at what used to be Row T.  Sixteen spots are available for patrons in wheelchairs – in prime locations.

What are the next steps for the hall? “Longer term, we are looking to build a new shell around the orchestra,” answered Shelley. He explained tweaks to the size and shape of the orchestra shell that seem small, but will drastically improve sound quality.

The $5-million Southam transformation is part of a $114 million two-year rejuvenation of the National Arts Centre that will mark the country’s 150th in 2017 and its own 50th birthday in 2018.

Ria Mae Remains Grounded Through An Unreal Year and a Half

October 11, 2016 1:07 pm

“It has been an unreal year and a half,” says Ria Mae looking back on a climb that has seen the Halifax singer-songwriter swept up in a whirlwind that often leaves her wondering what time zone she’s in.  The momentum isn’t slowing either.

For somebody who used to sit alone in her bedroom penning songs hardly anybody would hear, seeing her videos passing two million views on places like Spotify most seem pretty surreal. Though she admits to still being quite shy, Mae has begun to find a certain comfort in the growing fame and hasn’t let it change her. Mainly, she says, because she’s constantly changing herself.

“I get bored very easily,” says Mae adding that she’s often looking for new challenges. She’s currently teaching herself how to play piano, for example, just as she once self-taught herself on guitar. It was just time to try a new instrument.

Since being nominated for Songwriter of the Year at the 2015 East Coast Music Awards, being called the “Next Big Thing” by CBC Music and seeing her song “Clothes Off” become a Juno nominated hit, she’s dropped her second album and made a few life shifts. The tour for her self-titled release, produced by Nova Scotia hip hop musician Classified, has seen her sharing the stage with Buck 65, Elle King and Xavier Rudd and, in between it all, a move to another city. Though still keeping ties to Halifax, Mae has been finding inspiration in Montreal.

“For a long time I could only write in Halifax and lately all of my writing happens in Montreal so that’s why I’m in Montreal… following inspiration,” she tells Ottawa Life.

Earlier this year the video for her single “Gold” was cited as a rare example of a positive lesbian relationship, something that Mae is proud of being out in the . To her, she’s just happy to be able to represent gay people in some way while remaining true to herself.

Her life may be in a rapid state of acceleration but Mae remains exceptionally grounded despite it all. She’ll make a stop at the National Arts Centre on Saturday, October 15. We had a chance to chat with the musician about her move to Montreal, her thoughts on her rising popularity and what her collaboration with Classified has meant to her.

Ottawa Life: How do you find growing up in Halifax influenced your music career?

Ria Mae: Halifax is a small city but it has an established music industry, and live music is a big part of the culture in the Maritimes. It was definitely harder to find a label and manager there, but on the positive side, it gave me lots of opportunity to grow as a performer. I think some artists who come up in bigger cities can get lost in the scenes there, but I was able to grow a fan base in Halifax and really understand the progress I was making, which kept me motivated to keep going.

Your musical influences are pretty diverse, like you take snippets from multiple genres and musicians that flow into your own style. Would you say that is accurate?

I’d agree with this. I’ve always loved studying many different genres of music. I really love taking ideas and tricks from different genres and presenting them to people who listen to my type of music.

For somebody who started out locked away in your bedroom writing songs you thought people may never hear, what was it like actually recording your songs for your first album?

Even when I was alone making music in my bedroom, I always imagined I was doing better than I was. I imagined recording with bigger producers and playing for larger audiences. When the time came that these things came true, it already sort of seemed normal because of all the imagining I had done so often.

After that it really only seemed like an upward climb for your career. Were you surprised by how fast it all started to happen?

I was working hard for a long time and while I always felt things were going upward, it was at a very slow pace. It’s hard to say it all happened fast, but as soon as “Clothes Off” hit radio, everything sped up.

ria-mae-640x400“Clothes Off” really took off! Why do you think that particular tune resonated so much with the audience?

I have no idea. I don’t think you can ever predict when a song reacts like that. I’m just grateful for what it’s done for my career.

Do you find your writing process has changed now or do you still approach your songs the same way?

My writing process changes constantly.  I used to write just on acoustic guitar and then get a producer to hire musicians and make my recordings sound bigger. But for this album, I decided to start the ideas myself on programs like garage band and Logic. It was fun to me because I didn’t know how to produce, so a lot of the best ideas came from mistakes or limitations of my skill level. Currently I’m writing a new project on piano. I’ve always wanted to play piano but never put the time in but now I’m teaching myself and I guess I’m inspired by learning how to do something new.

You’ve cited Luke Boyd (Classified) as a huge influence and help to your career. Can you tell how that initial connection was made and what the collaboration has meant to you?

I’ve always been a fan of his. It was a huge deal to me that he was from where I’m from. When he said yes to working with me on one song, I was really proud. It was scary to ask him to do a whole album. I couldn’t get a vibe from him on whether or not he even liked me. It’s funny, I’ve heard him say that about me in interviews too. We are both shy sometimes, but I really respect him as a writer and arranger and I’m thankful for how much he has pushed me to become a better writer.

You’re now based out of Montreal. Did you find it difficult to maintain your career out of Halifax and how do both cities differ to you in terms of the industry?

I feel really lucky to be supported by both cities so much. Halifax is my family and my home. Montreal is so beautiful to me right now and so inspiring.

You’ve been an influence to many being out in the LGBT community. How have you found you’ve been accepted in the music industry being out?

I surround myself with people who really push me to be myself and to write the best music I can. I think those two things go hand in hand. I make efforts to be around people who make me feel good. I don’t really focus on the negative stuff or trying to be accepted in certain groups.

What message would you like to convey to others who may still be worried about being out in the LGBT community?

I can’t really speak to how other people choose to live or be out, etc. I think feeling worried about it is often a really valid response. Surrounding yourself with happy and confident people helps you to become one.  I’m just glad that I can represent gay people in some way. I’m hopeful it won’t be an issue soon.

Saunders Farms Celebrates 25 Years of Family Fun

10:02 am

All photos by Ali Matthews.

Saunders Farm is no stranger to Ottawa area families. Located on Bleeks Road, in Munster, Ontario (about 30 minutes from downtown Ottawa) the Farm has served the community for over 40 years. Locals first got to know Saunders Farm for its pick-your-strawberries in the 1970s and 80s, but it wasn’t until the first Haunting Season in 1992 that it began its transformation into the farm we know today.

The Haunting Season began with a simple haunted hayride and haunted house and has since grown to include enough attractions both during the day and night to keep visitors of every age entertained and enthralled for hours.

Open every Saturday and Sunday during the day and Fridays and Saturdays at night from September 24 – October 31 the Farm hosts over 60,000 guests a season. Despite these impressive numbers visitors never feel crowded. Their stroller, wagon and wheelchair friendly location allows for visitors to spread out and explore, with something new around every corner – not to mention plenty of room to picnic, warm up and enjoy refreshments.

During the day adults and children of all ages will enjoy the variety of activities including live music, puppet shows, play structures, hedge mazes, a pumpkin hayride, animals from Big Sky Ranch Animal Sanctuary, jumping pillows and the all-new vintage carnival. Bolder children will enjoy the Hallowe’en classics like the Barn of Terror and Haunted Hayride.

But beware, when the sun goes down, Fright Fest takes over. At night Saunders Farm completely transforms into a seriously scary ‘Experimental Farm’ where thrill-seekers get to meet some of these experiments gone wrong face-to-face in a series of attractions and experiences with charming names like The Shambles, Camp Slaughter and the Cemetery Scare Zone. This is definitely a scare-seekers paradise.

Regardless of when you attend, plan to stay for at least 2-3 hours. Even if you stay all day (or night) you will never run out of things to do.


With over 1 million guests since the first Haunting Season in 1992 and on track for another record-setting year, Ottawa Life caught up with Mark Saunders to learn his secret to success:

Ottawa Life: For 25 years Saunders Farm has become a tradition for many Ottawa area families. However, your nighttime Fright Fest sounds downright terrifying! To add to the creep-factor you have created an elaborate story of Dr. William Saunders, a disillusioned Experimental Farm scientist gone mad. Who came up with the storyline and what inspired it?

Mark Saunders: We are fundamentally a working farm and we have always used that heritage as the backdrop of our attractions. We’ve tried different themes over the years but ultimately always come back to our original idea. Mark Saunders parents, Bill and Anne Saunders, founded Haunting Season in 1992 so it was their inspiration that led to this.

pumpkinprincessThe Haunted Hayride and the Barn of Terror are Hallowe’en classics, but what makes Saunders Farm unique is not only the number of activities and attractions you have both during the day and night but the quality and detail. What new attractions have been the most popular with visitors for each time of day?

We are always adding new daytime activities for our younger guests and families; over the last few years we put in our Giant Jumping Pillows, created the Trike & Tractor Trail, added a Pumpkin Patch Hayride, and each year we create an all new Ghost Town Stage Show – always a big hit with our daytime crowd. This year the show is ‘Snack to the Future’, a Back to the Future-inspired show that takes the audience back in time to 1992 when we first started Haunting Season!

Over the last few years, we’ve really started to embrace the idea of creating major new night attractions on a fairly regular schedule, about one new attraction every two years. We now have 6 night Fright Sites; the Barn of Terror, Haunted Hayride, Camp Slaughter, Shambles, the Graveyard Scare Zone, and our BRAND NEW haunt for 2016 is the Big Top Fear House…a haunted carnival attraction with terrifying clowns!

pumpkinsThe Saunders family is always travelling and actively seeking new ideas for the Farm – what is an example of an attraction or idea that was inspired by these experiences?

Well, the original Haunted Hayride was first thought up while Bill Saunders was attending an agri-tourism event in the US so we have a long history of borrowing ideas from others! In 2007, we opened the Field of Screams (which would morph into Camp Slaughter) after visiting another haunted farm in the US where they had an outdoor, walking haunt and we really liked the concept! Our Giant Jumping Pillows are another great example of us seeing a really amazing attraction while visiting other farms across North America and then incorporating it back home in Ottawa.

You were not only instrumental in growing the Haunting business, but also an active participant in much of the scaring in the early days. Do any members of the Saunders family still moonlight as ghouls during fright night?

Yes, the youngest generation of Saunders, Aidan, Molly, and Julia, all work at the Farm in various roles. They are all teens / pre-teens now. In fact, Molly and Julia are our two puppeteers for our daytime Puppet Show this year!

Even after 25 years of the Haunting Season, the Saunders family is showing no signs of slowing down. What is next for the Farm?

Our big focus the past few years has been on improving the guest experience on site; we now manage almost 100% of our food services on site, we’ve created brand new buildings for events, dining, and other activities. We’re seeing growth in our summer season where we offer weddings, corporate events, Farm Camp for kids, and open our mazes and slash pad to the public. In 2017, you’ll see us expand our Flashlight Maze Nights in the summer, too! We have 100 acres of land at Saunders Farm and only about 20% of that is used day-to-day…let’s just say there is plenty of room to grow!



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