If I only had $100…I would buy these wines at Vintages…

January 30, 2015 2:50 pm

The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain. This jumped into my mind when I read that the wines in this release focussed on Spain and South America. I’m not certain that the rain falls anywhere other than the hilly vineyards, but certainly the right amount gives these grapes a big powerful kick and what a selection.

LCBO Vintages magazine Jan 24This release proved difficult to choose and narrow down the wines since there were so many delicious choices. Some tastings are just problematic.

I did not consciously go to find four red wines with my $100. but since we’re in the middle of winter many of us eat more stews, pasta and possibly more red meat. Nothing warms the soul or appetite more than a hearty red wine on a winter’s night, hunkered in front of the fireplace. I’m focussing on the positive since I’m really not a winter kind of girl.  But this release definitely improved my morale and I hope you try at least one wine from sunny Spain or South America to warm your day. 



If I only had $100…
I would buy LCBO Vintages Release for Saturday January 24, 2015


Middle Earth Sauvignon BlancMiddle-Earth Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Nelson, South Island, New Zealand
$17.95 (Vintages # 391987) 14% alcohol

The massive success of the Lord of the Rings series clearly put New Zealand, not to mention “Middle-Earth”, on the map. Memories of lush green hills and valleys come to mind. New Zealand really does make the cleanest-tasting, freshest Sauvignon Blanc. This new-to-Vintages product, very pale in colour, is an aromatic and fresh white wine with aromas of citrus and minerality, I practically started to salivate before tasting this wine and it opens into a fruity citrus bowl on the palate.  Tantalizing with acidity but light to medium bodied with a lingering crisp finish. It would make a great summer wine, but one of these in my refrigerator would not last long especially with creamed salmon on a pastry shell for ladies who lunch.


Invisible Man TempranilloThe Invisible Man Tempranillo 2011

MaRioja Alta, DOCa Rioja
Case Rojo, Spain
$18.95 (Vintages #392985) 13.5% alcohol

There is nothing invisible about the tastes in this new to Vintages product. The label states “unmask and interpret” which I did not find too difficult, except for the fact I wanted to savour and swirl. Lots of ripe berry flavours, plums and a little floral note in this red wine. On the palate and behind the ripe fruit were layers of toast and sweet spices. It is bone dry with soft tannins and a long finish of ripe fruit. With nice meaty pork chops and some roast potatoes to help the savoury elements would certainly make me happy. (skip the salad)


Casas Del Bosque Gran Reserva Syrah 2012Casas del Bosque Gran Reserva Shiraz

Casablanca Valley, Chile
$22.95 (Vintages #995092) 14.5% alcohol

Dark, inky and sexy with aromas of black currants and leather. On the palate a luscious blackberry jam coated with dark plums flavours but the red wine is bone dry. It has good structure with an excellent balance between slight acidity and grippy tannins that don’t take away anything from the ripe berry flavours. A fabulously long finish that just sends you back for one more sip. It would make a handsome companion with beef tenderloin or a lamb stew.


Chakan Maipe Old Vine Reserve Bonarda

Chakana Maipe Old Vie Reserve Bonarda 2012

Mendoza, Argentina
$15.95 (Vintages #361212) 14.5% alcohol

Many winemakers use the Bonarda grape with the Malbec grape to create blends but this is a wonderful example of how it can shine on its own. Floral and ripe fruit permeates the aroma. This deep purple wine was barrel aged for 12 months so there’s a bit of  pencil shaving or woodsiness that adds to the concentrated dried plum flavours. Medium to full bodied with grippy tannins, bone dry at an unbelievable price point. It is wonderful on its own or with some oven baked ribs.


Fitou Domaine GalamanDomaine Galaman Fitou 2013

AP Claude Gros,  Midi, France
$16.95  (Vintages# 395467) 14% alcohol

Fitou is a large red wine appellation in the Langedoc region of France. This 2013 Fitou is a blend of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah and has a bowl of fruit flavours. On the nose it initially reminded me almost of a Pinot Noir since it was slightly woodsy and dusty but one sip later, the rich red fruit flavours just burst on the palate. With soft tannins it makes for an easy sipper and it would be out of this world with a dish heavily laden with mushrooms.


 Grand Total: $92.75

Featured image courtesy of: vintages.com

Shen Yun Returns to Ottawa for Ninth Season

December 26, 2014 2:39 pm

In Chinese, Shen Yun means “the beauty of divine beings dancing.” Indeed that is exactly what audiences can expect from the 2015 performance of Shen Yun at the National Arts Centre.

“The show will be a lasting memory and the profundity of the Chinese culture will uplift their life,” says Shawn Li, sales manager for the Shen Yun Organizing Committee in Ottawa.

Viewers will be entranced for nearly two and a half hours with dancers effortlessly sweeping across the stage, cultural instruments ringing out from the orchestra and Chinese text being belted out by opera singers. The detailed costumes and digital background help add to the magic.

Returning with an entirely new program this year, Shen Yun will be in the nation’s capital from Friday, January 2, until Sunday, January 4. There will be two matinee and two evening shows, all expected to sell out fast.

2015_CCDance“When we launch the campaign in November, tickets will go very quickly,” says Li.

When Shen Yun first performed in Ottawa in 2007, the show sold out five weeks in advance. In years following, attendance levels stayed strong prompting the NAC to sell standing-room tickets to help keep up with the demand.

Shen Yun Performing Arts was established in 2006 by a group of Chinese artists living in New York. Together, they had a dream of sharing China’s ancient culture with the world—a culture they argue, “that was once almost lost.”

The company claims over the past 60 years China’s communist government has attempted to destroy 5,000 years worth of the nation’s civil heritage. Shen Yun hopes to revive this divine traditional Chinese culture through the means of dance and music.

“People are inspired not only by the spectacular entertainment but the profanity of the culture,” Li comments.

Since 2007 the entertainment company has grown into four performance groups, each featuring 90 internationally renowned artists. For half the year, the groups travel sharing their passion with some 20 countries and 100 cities throughout Europe, North America and Asia.

There is no communication barrier in this performance, according to Li. “Everyone can appreciate Shen Yun because the show is so expressive shown through the universal language of dance and music, so everyone can enjoy.”

Shen Yun will be performing at eight Canadian venues in the new year, including the NAC. Other locations include Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver, Sony Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto and Place Des Arts-Salle Maisonneuve in Montreal.

“People shouldn’t miss this lifetime experience,” says Li. “It will touch them on different levels.”

For more information about Shen Yun or to order tickets, visit their website.

They can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Photos: Courtesy Shen Yun Performing Arts

Ottawa Performance: Dancers Give Back

February 25, 2014 2:03 am

Does dance have the power to heal? Many argue its fluid movements, graceful approach and interpretive quality has the ability to not only tell a story but also evoke emotion. That’s why the annual performance, Dancers Give Back came to fruition. It’s about using the power of dance to both entertain and help others facing medical challenges. On Friday February 28, a special performance is taking place at the Algonquin College Commons theatre. Mark your calendars because this moving performance will give you goose bumps and when you purchase a ticket, the proceeds will be supporting The Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Support Program.

 dance dance

       Dancers Give Back is an organization that was founded in 2008 by Ali and Mary Alice Dietz in Buffalo, NY. Their very first performance was held to ease medical costs for Ali’s best friend, Jacquie Hirsch. She was battling Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, which took the best of her just weeks before the first event at the age of 23. Since then, Hirsch’s fight became the fight of the Dancers Give Back organization. The events held over the past six years have raised $180,000 and 100% of the proceeds were gladly donated to the A.L.L. (Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia) Foundation in honor of Hirsch’s battle and to the Rosewell Park Cancer Institute.


Now, Dancers Give Back has made its way to Canada’s Capital city. Twelve Ottawa dance studios have come together and found one thing in common: each “studio family” has all been touched by someone who has, or is suffering with the death threatening disease: cancer. They are uniting on February 28th to raise money for The Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Support Program, which is close to each performer’s heart. The dancers are hoping to inspire social change through their movement and they believe together, that they dance louder.



“It has nothing to do with competition which is usually what different studios coming together means. In this case it’s a beautiful thing to collaborate and while supporting such an amazing cause.” Said Camryn Forrester, a dancer from Denise Smith dance studio in Manotick.


Candlelighters was established in 1988 and is a not-for-profit volunteer organization. Their mission is to enrich the lives of children and their families coping with childhood cancer and to raise awareness and understanding of the incredible impact that cancer can have on a children and their families. They believe that each child affected with childhood cancer and their families should be free to live and enjoy the best quality of life possible, from the time of diagnosis, through to the completion of treatment and beyond.


Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at the Algonquin College box office, located at E104 in the Student Commons building. The performance starts at 7: 30 p.m. To read more information and watch a Dancers Give Back inspirational video collaboration, please visit: www.dancersgivebackottawa.com.

Breaks That Saved Northern Dreams and Healed Pains: One of the Oldest Hip-hop Dance Crews in Canada Celebrates its 30th Anniversary

January 20, 2014 9:48 am

Images courtesy of www.canadianbreaking.com

By Damira Davletyarova

Spectators pressed in, trying to see the dancers on the floor. Hip-hop stars circled. Cameras blinked. One dancer spun, dropping the body on the floor; he extended his legs. Half-lifting his body, he paused in mid-air.

At the Saint Brigid’s Centre for the Arts, hip-hop crews from Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa were celebrating the 30th birthday of Canadian Floor Masters (CFM), one of the oldest hip-hop dance crews in Canada. Over the years, CFM became an umbrella for the most marginalized groups of kids, saving many lives and many souls.2

Once, as a third-grader, Wayne Lacasse was asked: “Whom do you want to be in life?” He responded: “I want to be alive.” Back then, the boy was raised by a single mother who struggled with alcoholism. Physically abused, neglected and having little to eat, Lacasse says he thought he would never reach adulthood.

Lacasse was 13 when he saw how roller-skaters were doing different tricks: popping and locking. At home, Lacasse tried to mimic the waves and robotic moves. He started to spend his nights roller-skating to escape his family nightmare. Then, the movie came. Flashdance dropped a bomb on the culture.

“I remember being in a theater, looking at it and yelling out ‘This is what I want to do!’ Ottawa just blew up. Everybody wanted to do it – age was not even a factor.”

Across Canada, dance crews were formed. With no YouTube, Facebook or classes to attend, the first generation of hip-hoppers learned from each other and from TV shows recorded on VCRs. In 1982, Lacasse and his mentor-friend Stephen Leafloor co-founded CFM in Ottawa.

Today, CFM is a shelter where young people with different backgrounds can find mentors, friends and most importantly – a voice.

Hip-hop as a social and mental outreach program

Leafloor, who has a Masters degree in Social Work, extended the CFM movement and founded BluePrintForLife (Social Work Through Hip Hop). The social enterprise provides an outreach and healing program through a one-week hip-hop training course. Tailored to each audience, the program is in great demand in communities as a way to help youth tackle different issues from alcoholism, to drug addiction and mental illness.

photoLeafloor, who has an Inuit family connection, has been successfully working for the past seven years with First Nations communities in Nunavut and northern Quebec.

The team designed special programs that combine hip-hop dance and First Nations traditions. They combined Inuit throat singing with drum beats made by mouth. They blended traditional dance with modern hip-hop moves to help aboriginal youth find their cultural voice.

“It’s a challenge for them figuring out where they fit in the modern world, where they can be a part of modern youth culture, but still hold on to their identity, their own culture,” Leafloor says.

Success story

The BluePrintForLife hip-hop program had a positive social and psychological impact on Inuit youth in Kugaruuk, says Dianne Cameron, one of the few casual mental health consultants working in the Kitikmeot Region, Nunavut.

Cameron says Leafloor’s program reached many young people in her community, a community with high suicide rates, substance abuse, addictions and violence among youth. The hip-hop program allowed young people to express their struggles and issues, becoming a safe haven for vulnerable youth disengaged from society.

“BluePrint workshops are structured around themes such as bullying, abuse, suicide, drugs and alcohol – these subjects are openly discussed between participants and group leaders in a way that is invitational and non-threatening,” says Cameron.

The mental health professional says hip-hop dancing builds confidence, raises self-esteem and pushes for personal development. Cameron says as a crew the dancers learn how to work together, teaching and encouraging each other to excel. She says such a model helps Aboriginal youth navigate their lives to a more positive path.3

“It has been said that many Inuit youth have lost their sense of identity – not knowing where they fit between the world of their historical traditions and the new realities they face with exposure to today’s world. We believe that hip-hop can be an adaptable cultural voice to help them define this,” Cameron says.

In Kugaruuk, the results of Leafloor’s program speak for themselves. The kids kept dancing, and formed their own hip-hop club in Kugaardjuq School.

Lindi Andrews is a supervisor of the Kugaardjuq School’s hip-hop club. The BluePrint crew came with their one-week program to her school in October 2012. She says it was a wonderful experience for the junior and senior students.

“There were students that never came to school, coming to the workshop every day at 9:00 a.m. It was really great to see the students get passionate about something,” Andrews says.

The club meets once or twice a week in the school’s gym. They practice old and new routines, socialize and have fun.

“The club gives the students something constructive to do outside of school time. I try to get the students to take ownership of the club, so it gives the young members a sense of responsibility,” the supervisor says.

Andrews says hip-hop program helped some of her students find their voices and speak up.

“The hip hop program seemed to really help one of last year’s graduates come out of his shell. He took the “social work” part of the BluePrint workshop to heart. He started voicing his opinion more in the school, standing up for himself, and speaking out about injustices that he saw,” Andrews says.

Positive feedback

Many other positive stories inspire Leafloor to keep working. The elders of the Clyde River community told Leafloor that with hip-hop clubs, there has been a reduction in gas sniffing and youth crime.

One of the hip-hop clubs was invited to Ottawa to perform in front of the former Governor General of Canada, says Leafloor. When the club was on its way to the capital, the elders insisted on sewing their traditional outfits for them. And the elders did that because the hip-hop club helped them shovel snow.

4Leafloor said: “This sense of pride – many of these kids have never been out of the Arctic and they had a chance to perform for Michaëlle Jean at Rideau Hall. They designed their own show that told a cultural story.”

In many places, hip-hop clubs become more than just dance clubs. They become outreach clubs, where the young help the community.

“Can you imagine the pride of the elders in a remote community, where a hip-hop club bakes cakes on Valentine’s Day and comes to visit them?” Leafloor asks.

Other stories made Leafloor cry. One day, he received a phone call from a schoolteacher from Pond Inlet, Nunavut, where his team worked with more than 100 students. The teacher told him that kids from a hip-hop club made a frost graffiti to honor their friend – a young girl who had just died.

“Up there, it’s so cold that in certain weather conditions, all sides of buildings have a thick frost on them,” Leafloor says. “But then, those 50 kids went around all night: they took off their sealskin mitts and used the warmth of their fingers as they melted and traced words and drew pictures about missing and loving their friend, and celebrating a life worth living.”

The next day when the sun came up, many people didn’t go to work. The community gathered around reading the messages on the walls, crying and hugging each other.

Leafloor says the kids also went to their homes and brought cans of food, because the family of the girl was poor. They lined up in front of the door presenting the food and expressing their condolences.

“If hip-hop is about building communities, that’s exactly what they did,” Leafloor says. “I think that’s hip-hop. It’s not just about dancing. It’s about learning to care for each other.”

Today, the BluePrintForLife team has reached over 5,000 young people through 72 programs in 45 communities.

INTERTWINED: A New Kind of Dance Show

November 19, 2013 2:39 pm
Intertwined Poster Website 2

Intertwined – a dance show for the 21st century – will be presented at Centrepointe Studio Theatre on November 28 (showtime is 7:30pm). Intertwined will feature the choreographic works of Tressa Wilson and Claire Berry – local choreographers who are inspired by contemporary dance movement, while honouring the traditions of jazz and classical ballet. The evening will include multiple and very different dance styles, performed by Connect Dance and Exordium Dance Collective. The dancers take to the stage in several interpretations of contemporary movement: some classically inspired, others more primal and pedestrian.

Wilson and Berry trained as dancers in Ottawa before continuing their training abroad.  They now work as dance teachers and choreographers and share the common goal of growing the professional dance community in Ottawa. Their shared vision inspired them to collaborate on a performance that would showcase their choreographic material, as well as feature Ottawa-based dancers.

An open rehearsal will be held at The Nectar Centre, 255 Mackay Street from 4:00-4:30pm on November 23. To find out more, visit www.ccdo.org and www.exordiumcollective.com

Tickets for Intertwined may be purchased online at centrepointetheatre.ca or by calling 613-580-2700.

Two artists explore “singular narratives” at Arts Court’s ODD Box Studio Theatre November 21-23 (Showtime at 7:30pm)

November 14, 2013 4:00 pm

Series Dance 10 – the curated presentation series of the Ottawa Dance Directive – presents two women artists revered for multidisciplinary and interactive works of dance, theatricality, and art and sound installation.

Still Here – choreographed by Toronto performer Heidi Strauss – and The Goodbye by Ottawa’s own Laura Taler explore singular narratives which fuse human perception, memory, physical presence and history.

Still Here is an intimate living portrait of a woman in a place where things are not always what they seem. Alone in a constructed room, she gains and loses control. Part installation, part fantastical solo drifting between realities, Still Here is a recurrent coming to terms with appearances and eventualities.

The Goodbye is a sound piece that uses an experimental, narrative structure inspired by the World War II experiences of Laura Taler’s grandmother, to propel a small transformation in the participant. The audience is given an MP3 player and asked to follow a series of instructions, including a request to listen to a story and walk through some simple movements. The work explores how memory and history are linked to movement and questions the body’s ability to carry the past without being oppressed by it.

Reservations: https://www.eventbrite.ca/event/8436703407

Info: 613-233-6266 or info@odd-cdc.org or www.odd-cdc.org

Facebook: www.facebook.com/odd.cdc

Tickets: $25 Adults / $20 Students

Hungarian State Folk Ensemble to stage tour-de-force performance at Ottawa’s Algonquin Commons Theatre

October 29, 2013 10:04 am

The Hungarian State Folk Ensemble’s dance and musical extravaganza Hungarian Rhapsody will be performed at Algonquin’s Commons Theatre on November 27. The amazing production takes inspiration from a thousand years of Hungarian folk music and folk dance traditions to create its own unique dance rhapsody. As a musical genre, the rhapsody is characterized by its tumultuous rhythms and passionate emotions.

The dynamic performance includes images of the peasant traditions of the Hungarians and other national groups of the region, offering a compelling look into this singular, kaleidoscopic, yet oddly unified culture as expressed in the acrobatics of the men’s dances, the lyricism of the girls’ dances, and the virtuosity of couples’ dances.

Hungarian Rhapsody is a journey through time: from the present to the past and back again.  Though the world whose music and dance have been collected here has long since passed, the message it bears – that even today, in the midst of homogenized, superficial “global culture,” we still have a culture that is uniquely our own – is eternal.


The choreographies are all based on authentic dances. From Transylvania to the borders of Western Hungary emerge regional dances such as the woman’s bottle dance and the swineherd man’s dance. The men from the region of Rábaköz perform a jumping dance called the “dus” in addition to the “verbunk”, a stately military recruiting dance. In “Girls From Moldova,” women perform the oldest genre of folk music and dance—dating back to the Middle Ages—which survived only in the most remote geographic areas. From Eastern Transylvania originate couples dances, highlighted by traditional Hungarian vestments that flutter across the stage in orange and red hues.

These dances also depict Hungarian daily life: men dance with tools to demonstrate their sturdiness and women twirl about the stage in a dance called “Gossip,” set in a Hungarian village square.

The virtuosity of individual musicians is spotlighted and the traditional Hungarian instrument, the Cimbalon, has over 100 open strings, all hammered with sticks.

Tickets to this once-in-a-lifetime event may be purchased at https://www.songkick.com/venues/2078594-algonquin-college-commons-theatre

New Shen Yun Performing Arts Show – with a Live Orchestra!

October 15, 2013 2:30 pm

Presented by Falun Dafa Association of Ottawa – January 2-4, 2014 National Arts Centre Southam Hall

Every year, Shen Yun Performing Arts unveils an entirely new lineup of dances, songs and musical scores that offer an exhilarating production on a grand scale. These exquisite performances celebrate the grandeur of classical Chinese dance and music inspired by the myths, legends, and divine beauty of 5,000 years of traditional Chinese culture.

Since 2007, Shen Yun has dazzled millions of showgoers in more than 100 cities—including 13 in Canada. In January 2010, the NAC drew sellout crowds and had to offer standing room tickets for every show! The New York-based Shen Yun features three touring companies, each with some 100 exceptional artists, including winners of top international competitions in dance and music.


For thousands of years, Chinese artists cultivated virtue, believing that to create true art worthy of the heavens, there must first be inner purity. Today, Shen Yun’s artists follow this noble tradition. The result is a performance of consummate beauty, purity and goodness. It is a show that nourishes the soul.

Weaving wondrous stories of heavenly realms, enchanting dreams, and the classic battle between good and evil, the breathtaking pageantry evokes themes of virtue, compassion and courage at the heart of China’s divinely inspired culture—from ancient tales of valor to modern-day epics such as those of Falun Dafa.


(Falun Dafa is a spiritual discipline that combines the practice of meditation and slow-moving qigong exercises with a moral philosophy. Falun Dafa emphasizes morality and the cultivation of virtue in its central tenets of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance. Through moral rectitude and the practice of meditation, practitioners of Falun Dafa aspire to better health and, ultimately, spiritual enlightenment.)

Hear soaring songs by master vocalists that will move and inspire you. Enjoy a unique orchestra that embraces Chinese and Western instruments in a startling fusion. Be spellbound by stunning costumes, brilliant choreography, and state-of-the-art dynamic backdrops.

Experience the extraordinary! Shen Yun is truly a can’t-miss.

For ticket informaiton, visit http://nac-cna.ca/en/variety/event/6797


COME AND JOIN THE PARTY! Help Sunshine Kids Realize Their Dreams

August 14, 2013 11:30 am
Sunshine Logo-Banner-English

The Masquerade Ball,  Saturday 26th October, 6.30pm. Tickets  on Sale now!!

We Are “Dream-Makers”

Since 1987, Sunshine has been trusted by families and healthcare providers to make dreams come true for 7,000 kids across Canada .

The Sunshine Foundation is the only national Canadian charity to provide individual dreams to children with severe physical disabilities (such as spina bifida or cerebral palsy) as well as life-threatening illnesses. In fact, 80% of Sunshine Kids are challenged by a severe physical disability.


Sunshine is the legacy of a father’s love for his son. After losing his teenage son to muscular dystrophy, a London, Ontario, police officer created The Sunshine Foundation of Canada to brighten the lives of other children and families by fulfilling their most cherished dreams – from meeting a sports hero to seeing a foreign country, or having a special gift like an adaptive bicycle.

Sunshine was the first organization to bring DreamLifts to Canadian children. Sunshine’s one-day, whirlwind DreamLift adventures transport 80 children by plane to an exciting destination such as a Disney theme park.

As a national charitable organization, Sunshine is powered by volunteer chapters across the country and governed by a volunteer Board of Directors. The small staff team of Dream-Makers operates out of London , Ont. – where Sunshine was founded in 1987.

This year’s Ball is being held at Ashbury College on Saturday, October 26th, 6.30 ‘til late. ZOLAS  is back this year catering the event and offering a sumptuous dinner selection. http://www.zolas.ca/.   Also returning are the Showtime Party Band, considered the best dancing band in Ottawa with 10 singers/musicians making up this great group. You will never forget the exceptional music and energy  from this party. http://www.showtimepartyband.com/. There will also be great silent and live auction prizes.

 We hope you can join us and help us make DREAMS come true for severely disabled “Sunshine Kids” !!

 Rita Benefield

The President, National Capital Chapter, The Sunshine Foundation


Tickets are also available at www.sunshine.ca/events


A Secret Jewel of Canadian Ballet

May 7, 2013 11:45 am
Canada's National Ballet School

Canada’s National Ballet School students perform in Spring Showcase 2012.

It was all ballet in Toronto.

Excitement at Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS) spread beyond Toronto and Canada to other continents.

Canada’s NBS hosted the Assemblée Internationale 2013 (AI 13), a festival of dance, a forum of ideas, a celebration of creativity and beauty of ballet art that brought together 200 dancers and their artistic directors from 18 professional ballet schools and 11 countries.

Ballet communities arrived from Australia, The Netherlands, Spain, Germany, the United States, Cuba, New Zealand, France, the United Kingdom, Denmark and from across Canada to exchange their knowledge and experience, while balletomanes got to view dancers on the cusp of their professional careers.

The Assemblée Internationale is a unique festival for the ballet community. Talented dancers from different countries worked together, rehearsed and performed for the public, while their creative directors shared their experience and teaching techniques.

It took four years to organize this festival. The staff and students at NBS worked hard to put everything together to host the event. It required dedication and commitment. But with Mavis Staines as artistic director, NBS students, faculty and staff were able to bring their vision to fruition.

Staines was an initiator, a unifying and driving force of the Assemblée Internationale 2013. When she was appointed as NBS artistic director in 1989, there was no better candidate for the job. Her life was intertwined with NBS: she was a student, a dancer and a teacher at the school. Over the years, she proved herself a visionary, a reformer and an innovator who allowed Canadian ballet traditions to keep step with world-class ballet.

“It’s such a gift my older sisters didn’t wear out the shoes.”


Artistic Director Mavis Staines teaches in the studio.

Ballet entered Staines’ world with ballet shoes. Her mother always dreamed of dancing ballet but was unable to due to the Great Depression and the Second World War. She bought the shoes in the hope that one of her three daughters would be inspired to become a ballerina. Mavis Staines, unlike her sisters, loved the shoes and everything they brought with them. “It’s such a gift my older sisters didn’t wear out the shoes,” Staines says.

Everything was aligning for the dance career that suited Staines’ passion and temperament. When she was five years old, she attended Mary Martin’s production of Peter Pan in Ottawa; it charmed and inspired her so much that Staines knew she wanted to lead a life in the theater.

Staines still remembers the feelings the dance studio brought out in her. She says: “It’s moving to the music, working hard to create the movement with a kind of dynamism and accuracy. I just felt complete on every level.”

After convincing her parents that dance meant everything in her life, 13-year-old Staines applied to Canada’s NBS. That year, NBS accepted only 45 students, and Staines was one of them. At school she excelled, graduating with honours and joining the National Ballet of Canada as a First Soloist. Later, she moved to dance at The Dutch National Ballet.

The ballet world is much tougher than it looks. Dancing ballet requires a physical and emotional balance. It is not only a precision of technique, but keeping solid postures and jumping lightly. Staines says it’s also connecting with an audience, a teacher and an artistic inner self. It’s the ability to make a body speak beautifully with the universe. And damage to the body mutes the dancer.

Staines had just recovered from a leg injury and was dancing again. One day she was closing the door at the top of a steep flight of stairs and the door knob came out. Staines fell backwards, shattering her arm. The ballerina had to undergo surgery and physiotherapy. This time, the doors to the stage remained shut.

It was a tough period, Staines says. At that time, there were no resources to help dancers make a transition at the end of their careers. Later, Staines would advocate for changes to make a career in ballet more secure.

“It was very important for me to support this initiative [Dancer Transition Resource Centre] so that future generations of dancers had more support through the process,” Staines says. “It’s one of the things that makes me more comfortable about drawing young children and their families into the school, knowing that at the end of their careers, there is a transition support.”

Over the years, Mavis Staines guided and nurtured future generations of talented dancers, who would later become professional dancers, teachers and artistic directors.

Assemblée Internationale 2013


The first Assemblée Internationale took place in Toronto in 2009. NBS was celebrating its 50th anniversary. International partner schools were invited to attend. Staines suggested sending DVDs of student choreographic works to the dancers and artistic directors in advance, so that upon their arrival in Toronto, they could rehearse and perform in a blended cast. This practice was not done anywhere else. The dancers spoke different languages, had different teachers and dancing techniques – yet it was a success.

Assemblée Internationale 2009 performance

Assemblée Internationale 2009 performance

“They lived together in a unifying experience of taking a dance from studio to stage,” Staines recalls. “It was only afterwards… one of my colleagues told me that they thought I was completely crazy, and this would never work. But in fact it proved to be a powerful exercise, creating a higher quality of art than even I dared to hope.”

At the end of the Assemblée Internationale 2009, the ballet community raised questions of the challenges the art faced. How to stay relevant? How to be more accessible? Ultimately, how to bring ballet to the public and not the public to the ballet?

After the celebration, NBS was flooded with requests from the ballet community to repeat the Assemblée Internationale. There was no better school than NBS to host such a festival.

“NBS is an organization that has human resources, and the internal talent and physical facilities to do this,” Staines says.

A marriage of classical ballet with virtual reality

For this year’s AI 13, an NBS faculty member suggested a marriage of classical ballet with virtual reality.

Shaun Amyot, NBS artistic faculty member and choreographer, presented a new, co-choreographed innovative work titled STREAM – a 22-minute ballet performance, with 32 dancers from around the world performing in Toronto and joined virtually through live-streaming by 12 dancers from the Dutch National Ballet Academy in Amsterdam. Amyot worked on this project in collaboration with Amsterdam-based choreographer Michael Schumacher.

This project, Amyot says, drew a bigger audience worldwide. It represented a true work of an internationally blended cast with the use of live-streaming technology. Amyot believes STREAM broke barriers, enhanced classical ballet and reinvented the art to fit modern tastes.

Yet, if not for Staines, Amyot says, such work would not have happened. She was an inspiration, urging him to think outside the box. Staines is always forward–thinking, coming up with ways to stay connected and relevant with the Canadian public.

Amyot says: “At first, I thought this idea of an internationally blended cast looked good on paper, but I was not sure if it’s possible in real life. And we managed. Actually it was much better than any of us anticipated.”

Opening the windows at NBS

Everybody was alive with energy at Canada’s NBS, and excited to welcome AI’s 13 guests, says Laurel Toto, NBS junior school manager and co-manager of community engagement.

“One of my colleagues said something beautiful this morning: ‘It’s like we are opening the window and all of this wonderful spring air is coming in. And what the spring does: it regenerates, rejuvenates – it’s like a new birth.’ And I think all of us love when it happens,” Toto says.

Toto joined NBS 30 years ago. Like most NBS staff, Toto wears many hats. Besides teaching, Toto manages the junior school program, oversees community engagement, and directs the children in the National Ballet of Canada’s production of The Nutcracker.

All those years, Toto says, she was lucky to work under the leadership of Mavis Staines. When Toto met Staines for the first time, she was impressed. She thought Staines was a kind, compassionate and generous person. The creative class they both took in Utah showed her that Staines was a magnificent dancer. The longer Toto worked with Staines, the more she admired her.


Canada’s National Ballet School students perform in Spring Showcase 2010.

Staines reformed and reshaped NBS, Toto says. And the first thing Staines did as artistic director was review the school’s curriculum. She worked with NBS artistic faculty to create a ballet curriculum that would fit Canadian tastes and represent the best of Canadian ballet traditions. The other change Staines brought was to invite neuromuscular facilitator Irene Dowde to create a comprehensive conditioning program to educate students about their bodies and inform them of the care required to sustain the rigors of a professional dance career, Toto says.

Staines is always interested in innovation in ballet, vividly following new developments and creative edges in the world dance community. She sent Toto and other teaching staff to attend various creative classes around the world.

But one of the important changes Staines introduced at NBS – she reshaped the school’s ideology. Toto says the artistic director always wanted to empower young dancers to add their voice to Canadian ballet traditions.

“Staines would always say: ‘You want to keep the fire of tradition burning and not just tend to the ashes. It’s like a mythological fire: it’s an immortal fire that each generation should add to, and keep it alive with their understanding of the art.’”

Staines is an energetic artistic director and an active participant in the international ballet community that keeps NBS on the world map, Toto says. For several years, Staines served as a juror for the Prix de Lausanne – the world’s premier ballet competition. Now, NBS has exchange programs with more than 22 international schools.

As a colleague, Toto liked the fact that Staines always encouraged teachers and students to look for projects that enhanced collaboration and sharing. The Assemblée Internationale 2013 was another such opportunity to learn and evolve.

Both NBS faculty members Amyot and Toto are happy to be a part of the school, and proud of the achievements of their leader who redefined, reformed and reshaped a Canadian ballet school so it wouldn’t fall short of the high standards of European schools that have existed for centuries.

“The work that has been done at Canada’s National Ballet School is tremendous, and it was done under the leadership of Mavis Staines,” Toto says. “I feel so fortunate to be here at this time.”

Generations of achievers

On the other side of the country at Ballet BC in Vancouver, the stage is ready, the lights are tested, and the performance is well-rehearsed.

A former student of Staines, now Artistic Director of Ballet BC, Emily Molnar has been busy with preparations for her own world premiere of Giselle. Molnar, like many other achievers in the ballet community, was raised and nurtured by Mavis Staines.

Molnar remembers how as an 11-year-old girl, she was eager to continue her studies at the National Ballet School. Mavis Staines was her first teacher at the NBS, a teacher who influenced her as an artist and person.

Now, Molnar takes example of how to lead a ballet company from Staines: “Mavis is a hero of mine. She is incredibly passionate about what she does. Her intelligence and enormous vision engage people towards their potential through their art. She is a true leader.”

But first of all, Molnar says, Staines puts trust in her students to follow their artistic voice.

“Mavis encouraged me to follow my artistic path, to have courage, to trust my creativity, and to be a full human being. Through that I was able to be the best artist that I could be,” Molnar sums up.

Celebrating the power of collaboration

The Assemblée Internationale 2013 is a ballet festival uniting the world. And it’s a gift of Canada’s National Ballet School’s artistic director Mavis Staines to the world.

“This project I want to be the National Ballet School’s gift to the international ballet community. I think one of the main strengths of being in Canada and being Canadian, is an understanding and celebration of the power of collaborating. And I wanted there to be a festival which brought a large number of schools together. I wanted people to spend time together in the studio, in blended groups, speaking a universal language.”

Mavis Staines’ achievements haven’t gone unnoticed. In 1998, Staines won the Toronto Arts Award for the Performing Arts. In 2006, she was named by the Women’s Executive Network as one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women. In December 2010, Mavis Staines became a Member of the Order of Canada, in recognition of her commitment to the education and well-being of ballet dancers. In February 2013, she was presented with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for her commitment to education in the field of dance.

From the Horses’ Mouths: The Mystery of Choreography Revealed

June 5, 2012 3:10 pm
Su Feh

If you read my last article for Ottawa Life here you are now familiar with the Kafkaesque life many choreographers lead in the game of grantsmanship. However, there is so much more to this art and therefore this article is dedicated to how choreographers create a dance.

Recently I had the chance to find out what five Canadian choreographers have to say about the process of making the idea of dance come to life.

In order to provide some background information, here is a short list of some commonplace processes:

Some choreographers create on their own bodies then transfer their movement ideas and phrases onto other dancers.

Some choreographers create on their own bodies then transfer their movement ideas and phrases onto other dancers. Others rely heavily on improvisation, a process whereby the dancers are given basic rules and guidelines to follow (or not) to help them create physical ideas. There are those who ask the dancers to develop movement phrases similar to those the choreographer is creating, phrases which are then manipulated and altered in a variety of ways. Some choreographers reuse material from former work but rearrange and adapt it so that the movement matches ideas in the new dance. I’ve met creators who work off unusual formulas, mathematical, musical, rhythmic, or they draw patterns on paper and then transfer these patterns onto the dancers in space. Some will take one movement phrase and see how many ways they can alter that one phrase throughout the dance. Alternatively, some become fixated on a body part, say the elbow, and explore movement that isolates, highlights and articulates that particular body part. Finally, there are those who arrive at the studio and quite simply stand there until hit by the movement muse.

When it comes to content, thematic material, conceptual direction, the world is a choreographer’s canvas. Choreographers are influenced by art, history, literature, music, politics, public events, private events, patterns in nature, pedestrian gesture, complex gesture, psychological and theatrical archetypes, to name just a few. Some see an image on a postcard or in a film that becomes the seminal idea for a new dance. Some read literature or write poetry as their primary source material. Some go skiing and while shushing down the hills, the big idea slaps them in the face.

Choreographers have physical habits and movement predispositions developed through years of training in a variety of forms and styles, including hiphop, ballet, yoga, martial arts, Pilates, and mind/body techniques. However, since most choreographers were dancers before becoming choreographers, they can also be affected by the movement vocabularies, processes and interests of their choreographic mentors or swayed by a standout teacher whose principals become a guiding light throughout their careers.

One factor that most choreographers have in common is the degree to which they are influenced by the personalities, sensitivities and physical abilities of the dancers with whom they are working.

One factor that most choreographers have in common is the degree to which they are influenced by the personalities, sensitivities and physical abilities of the dancers with whom they are working.

The following is what five choreographers had to say about the process of creation. Each choreographer was asked to write a three-sentence reply to the question: “How do you create a dance?” These choreographers have been creating for a long time, are well respected and their work has been shown on stages across Canada and internationally.

Tedd Robinson, www.tengatesdancing.ca Ottawa/The Pontiac

“Simply Put: I improvise in front of the dancers. They remember what I did. I manipulate these movements to become phrases that turn into meaningful physical statements that eventually become a dance that hopefully says something that cannot be told in any other way than what one sees before them. I imagine it to be a little like abstract painting, constantly checking on what you have before you add more.

Deborah Dunne, Artistic Director, Trial and Eros, Montreal

1. “I start dancing; when something happens which feels poignant, beautiful or strange… I repeat it until it develops into a journey.”

2. “I create the body/posture of an imaginary or real character and let them make the movement.”

3. “I work certain techniques in the body (eg. weight and flow or shape and elevation) and let the exploration of those techniques create the choreography.”

Gail Lotenberg, Artistic Director LINK Dance, Vancouver

“The first working period in any creative process for me is generative, meaning I begin to generate the choreographic building blocks for the dance in tandem with the dancers. I always have an idea before entering the studio of what I want the piece to be about and then the dancers and I go into a process of creating some initial physical outpourings from the idea. When the next stage of creation comes along and it is time to start composing a dance, these building blocks are like fragments of melody that pull together to form a whole, one that was not so much imagined at the start but rather willed to take flight.”

Sylvie Desrosiers, Director of Contemporary Dance Studies, School of Dance, Ottawa

“I often tend to be inspired by nature as a metaphor for humanity; humans are tenacious as is our environment. I see and feel images that inspire my own movement, then I get the dancers to play with some of the ideas and concepts. I love to use contrasting energies; from soft to bold. I love carving the space, designing pathways and a sense of destination.”

For those of you learning to acquire a taste for new dance, patience is key.

Lee Su-Feh resident genius a.k.a. Artistic Director, battery opera performance

“I go into the studio with my materials –my body and/or the bodies of other dancers, and whatever I am obsessed with at the moment – music, objects, clothes, political manifestos. I roll around on the floor, moan, sing and try to feel my way around what gives me pleasure and what causes me pain or irritation. Out of this series of adjustments around sensation inside and outside my body, I harvest movement, images, text, problems. I add these to my palate of materials. I repeat.”

A final word: For those of you learning to acquire a taste for new dance, patience is key. Dance requires some dedication on the part of the novice audience member, but once hooked, you will see things that can take your breath away, make you think/feel new thoughts and sensations, give you a moment of respite and alter your perceptions of the world around you.


Kafka Choreographers

May 15, 2012 4:30 pm

I was chatting with two women over dinner a few weeks ago when one asked me; “How do you go about choreographing a dance?”

It’s a tricky question to answer without sounding like an alien or an arts snob.

I hesitated then replied. “I see ideas, do lots of mulling, visualize an image or movement idea, go for funding, then enter the studio to choreograph.”

Over the years I have had numerous discussions with my dance-making colleagues, sometimes in hallways at rehearsal studios, sometimes during intermissions at shows or over beers after our version of a long day at the office.  Tellingly, we tend to share stories about the commerce of running a company and/or getting a dance project off the ground as often as sharing enlightened revelations about the mysteries and challenges of the artistic process.

Choreographers (independents or artistic directors of companies) inhabit a nightmarish world of funders and festivals and producers and presenters and scheduling conflicts and grant writing and meetings and small time politics. Even Kafka would be dismayed by the trials and tribulations we endure in order to move ahead with our mission, which is to make good, if not great, dance.

"I have never met a creator who takes for granted the fact that we receive some of our support from taxpayers’ dollars."

“I have never met a creator who takes for granted the fact that we receive some of our support from taxpayers’ dollars. However, we represent a miniscule percentage of the overall money pot. Even conservative governments acknowledge that the arts are a huge employment sector. Some even admit that the arts are important to the advancement and spirit of a nation, and volunteerism is the backbone to dance-making in this country, especially by the choreographers themselves.

One of the Herculean tasks all creators must embrace is that of writing grants in order to be able to go into the studio to create a piece. We have to write intelligently, descriptively, artistically, in excruciating detail about a notion, a feeling, a concept.

Choreographers begin by sitting week after week in front of the computer composing a minor tome about our “amazing new dance creation”. This masterful bit of writing will then be judged by dance officers and juries who rifle through pages and pages filled with wordy descriptions and budgets and cast lists and mission statements and performance commitments. (Remember it’s one of hundreds they have to plow through.)

Then we wait for months to be told whether we received the funding. Meanwhile we are to be informing all of the future project’s collaborators about the whens, wheres, hows of the rehearsals and designs and performance dates – essentially all the little details that everyone needs to plan for and think about for financial and artistic and scheduling reasons.

Then, finally, we receive the money required to create the work. However we only get 60% what is needed so it’s back to the drawing board; i.e. reducing the number of dancers, cutting out costume design, letting go of the composer, forgoing that all-important set piece, it could be one or all of the above.

"We have to write intelligently, descriptively, artistically, in excruciating detail about a notion, a feeling, a concept."

Furthermore, one cannot create a dance without a space to rehearse in. There are numerous stories out there about not finding available rehearsal space 6 weeks before the upcoming performance or losing a dancer because she/he has had to commit to another project. (This is because we cannot sign contracts with anyone until we have all the funding in place).

Finally, if you pro-rated the hours and days and months before we even step foot into the studio to begin the fun part of the work, being paid minimum wage would feel like a windfall.

However, having detailed the above dirty laundry list, very few choreographers experience regret or choose to give up. We tend to forgive and forget the pervious months of craziness, or at least until the next new project comes knocking at our door. Because once we get into the studio, we are working with quality artists who help us transform bureaucratic drudgery into the magic and craft of artistic creation.

It seems that Kafka is alive and well in the castle of choreographers working across this country. Little did he know he was writing about dance creators everywhere, past, present and well into the future.

Recipe for a Dancer

May 2, 2012 3:52 pm

By: Chick Snipper

With the arrival of shows like So You Think You Can Dance (important enough to have its own acronym — SYTYCD) and Dancing with the Stars, to name the two biggies, dance has become the new American Dream. Fame, fortune, partners with pecs — they can be yours for the taking. All you have to do is become a dancer who is talented (and cute) enough to fox trot, hip hop, jazzercise and barrel roll your way into the dazed eyes of loud-mouthed judges and screaming fans who have the power to dial you to stardom. I mean, how hard can that be?

I would be lying if I didn’t admit to watching a full season of SYTYCD when it first aired. It was at my daughter’s insistence otherwise I’d have boycotted – just me few other stalwart Canadians whom I haven’t yet met but I know are out there somewhere.

After ignoring the initial cheesiness I am now marveling at the technique and endurance this show demands from its dancers. I am particularly taken with the range displayed by hip-hoppers, some of whom had little or no formal training previous to joining the other SYTYCD initiates. This show proves to the world that dancers are more fit than most professional athletes, can shift from style to style quicker than Picasso, have unending humility as well as high spirits and dogged determination. It’s also expanded the critical mass of dance aficionados amongst the general public – a very good thing.

So You Think You Can Dance Canada

I know that these reality shows are more about theatre than truth, but I couldn’t help feeling chilled by the quantity of demands heaped on the participants during the behind-the-scenes rehearsals. Participants must adhere to a ‘boot camp is for sissies, injuries be damned, shoot ‘em up’ kind of mentality. And that doesn’t include the verbal assault aimed at them by the judges after the ‘the routine’, as each 1-2 minute piece is quaintly labeled. (Outside the world of TV, in contemporary, ballet and other forms of dance, this kind of abusive culture still exists here and there, although things have improved thanks to dancers’ unions propelled by the recognition that “things must change.”)

So what are the ingredients that go into making a terrific dancer? Who are these dancers slogging it out in the trenches of Canada’s cultural milieu, the women and men who train and rehearse and teach 7 days a week in an under funded, poorly paid, marginalized, esoteric world?

This real world of dance is distinctly different from the one reflected in SYTYCD and it’s not because these other dancers work less hard or are less talented or wear a lot less makeup. It’s because they do it behind closed doors, are barely recognized by anyone for their contributions to making this country a better place to inhabit, (except by their bemused parents) and rarely receive public accolades or awards, although that is changing slowly.

Many dancers operate like Have Gun Will Travel, roving artists for hire. They often work for independent choreographers or Artistic Directors of small companies funded by city, provincial and federal programs. They might finish one project with one choreographer, then if lucky, move onto another project with another creator whose style of work demands quite different things from them. There are more lean times than flush, even for the best out there. Few dancers are employed on lengthy contracts other than those who work with large, well established organizations like The National Ballet or LaLaLa Human Steps. And rarely do their contracts cover 52 weeks.

Hip-hop dancer

How do most dancers spend their days? Well, they train at least 5 days per week, in the morning (this training is rarely subsidized unless they are employed by a company that holds morning classes), have lunch then rush to rehearsals in the afternoons, hopefully finishing by 6. They also teach classes in the evening and on weekends, write arts grants, sew costumes, stage manage someone else’s show. On their small wages they are trying to cover the fees of chiropractors and acupuncturists while paying down student loans and forking out most of their earnings on a small apartment somewhere close to public transportation. Some have kids to care for and support.

Dancers have to be good at several things at once in order to supplement their incomes. And they are not one dimensional, one of the biggest myths out there. They have university degrees, are certified as yoga and Pilates instructors, wait tables, take night courses, work retail, clean houses, teach kayaking. They are tree planters, bike couriers, early childhood caregivers, arts administrators, videographers or poets.

So why do they dance?

They do it because they are called to it, just like writers or mathematicians or chefs. Some might call it an addiction. Either way, it’s a path that is easy to fall into but Herculean to fulfill; one that brings minimum financial remuneration, punishing body issues, fleeting highs and daily discouragement.

However, unlike so many out there in the work a day world, they look forward to the daily grind and although full of complaints and pain and disappointment and poverty and fatigue, they usually don’t abandon it until their bodies force them to let go. Mind you, some leave dance forever because they too live in the 21st century where living costs are high and having serial careers is the name of the game.

Those who are in dance and those who leave it often talk about wanting to contribute something positive to the world around them. Maybe that’s as much their addiction as the dance itself. And as modern addictions go, it’s one we should celebrate.

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