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The Romantic Freedom of Beethoven and Schumann

October 21, 2016 7:01 pm
The Romantic Freedom of Beethoven and Schumann

All photos by Myka Burkle.

NAC Orchestra Music Director Alexander Shelley concluded the week-long Beethoven and Schumann Festival Thursday with an Ottawa debut for legendary Austrian pianist Rudolf Buchbinder and two masterpieces of classical music: Beethoven’s Piano Concerto Number 4 and Schumann’s Fourth Symphony.

Alexander Shelley, the NAC Orchestra, and a roster of world-renowned pianists interpreted Beethoven and Schumann over the course of a week, including a rave-like hip hop disco party with members of the NAC Orchestra performing alongside aristocrat-DJ Skratch Bastid – while House of PainT graffiti artists interpreted the fraternal kiss, a symbol of the Beethoven-Schumann connection from a specially-commissioned-for-this-occasion work of art by Anita Kunz entitled “The Kiss”. The idea to have several artists interpret the painting is not unlike the idea to have the music of Beethoven and Schumann interpreted, night after night, by these stellar soloists.

romantic-freedom-image-2The festival’s culmination with Buchbinder, who has been performing music longer than legendary rock bands like the Rolling Stones, was a stroke of brilliance. He embodies a soul that was created to bring the romance and fire of these compositions to life. In an interview with The Guardian’s Kate Molleson, Buchbinder recalled walking home (in Vienna) one night where he looked up while waiting for the walk signal and saw a plaque that read: “In this building Beethoven composed the Hammerklavier Sonata”.

“I played it that same evening. It’s a kind of atmosphere I can’t explain, and maybe I shouldn’t try. But there is no question that this music is in my blood.” Growing up in Vienna, the city and culture became part of him and then he became part of the city.

His renown in Europe is unquestionable and after Thursday’s performance in Ottawa, it is undeniable here too. The music was performed with elegance, clarity and the full spectrum of human emotion. The pronunciation of each note by Buchbinder was breathtaking. It was exhilarating to experience the powerful intensity of the orchestra, conducted by Shelley, contrast and interact with the poetry of the piano. If the audience had any issues during the performance, it could only have been some odd noises, possibly due to the rain and ongoing construction that made their way into sensational Southam Hall. The pre- and post-concert talks added valuable dimensions to the experience and, where possible, should be offered more often – the same applies to events like the classical music dance party that was The Kiss.

Unpacking Mental Health with Rosanna Saracino’s Suitcases

6:48 pm
Unpacking Mental Health with Rosanna Saracino’s Suitcases

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

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

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: fopla@biblioottawalibrary.ca 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 http://www.ottawalittletheatre.com/ 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: dianegroulxartiste@videotron.ca 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: http://www.ticketmaster.ca/event/1000507FB7723192?lang=en-ca&brand=nac or visit https://nac-cna.ca/en/event/13832 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
Swan Lake: Ballet Jörgen Puts New Spin on Timeless Classic

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.

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