Anne Carson: A literary hat trick
In books, at least in Canada, it was the year of Alice Munro. But not for me, though many previous years have been. No, 2013 belonged to poet Anne Carson, for three reasons. First, her new book, Red Doc>, a sequel of sorts to her essential novel-in-verse Autobiography of Red, challenged me as few books did: I’m still not sure what to make of it, but know I’ve much to learn from it. Second, I read for the first time her long poem The Glass Essay, originally published in 1995, and was devastated; it is the single best thing I read all year. Third, I saw Carson perform a hybrid lecture/reading at the International Festival of Authors in Toronto. It was anchored by her reading of a beautiful, melancholic poem-essay called Merry Christmas from Hegel, a work I’ve since been unable to forget, and it also featured Carson reading a script she’d written for an imaginary television talk show starring Samuel Beckett’s character Krapp. It was weird and unpredictable and one of the finest literary events I’ve ever attended. – Jared Bland
Emily Molnar: How to turn a dance company around
When Emily Molnar took over Ballet BC in 2009, the company seemed to be on its last legs, with its finances in tatters and audience numbers declining. There was a genuine fear in the Vancouver dance community that the company might fold.
Fast forward to 2013. Ballet BC had successful tours this year to Oregon, California and four cities in southern Ontario. More importantly, the company’s calendar included invitations to perform at two prestigious dance festivals – Quebec’s Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur, and the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Massachusetts.
In terms of media, since Molnar took over the company, New York-based Dance Magazine included Ballet BC in 25 to Watch, its annual roundup of the brightest and the best. The online magazine Broadway World named Ballet BC “International Dance Company of the Month,” while in Canada, Maclean’s Magazine cited Molnar herself as one of Canada’s “new generation of ballet sensations.”
Molnar’s vision for the 18-member company is to make Ballet BC a lean, mean, contemporary-ballet machine. She is doing this through repertoire, and by bringing in a host of choreographers who are well-known outside Canada but under the radar here. As a result, Molnar and Ballet BC have acquired a reputation for producing cutting-edge dance.
From 2009 through the current season, Molnar has programmed 36 works by international and Canadian choreographers. This number includes a staggering 27 world premieres.
The company’s list of contributors reads like an international who’s-who of red-hot choreographers: Gustavo Ramirez Sansano, Cayetano Soto, Kevin O’Day, Medhi Walerski, Jorma Elo, Nicolo Fonte, Jacopo Godani, Johan Inger, Walter Matteini, Itzik Galili, and, of course, William Forsythe.
Canadian bright lights include Gioconda Barbuto, José Navas, Aszure Barton, Robert Glumbek, Serge Bennathan, Wen Wei Wang, Donald Sales, Shawn Hounsell, Crystal Pite, Simone Orlando, Rob Kitsos, Joe Laughlin, and Molnar herself.
Ballet BC has benefited from Molnar’s connections. After training at the National Ballet School and a stint with the National Ballet of Canada, Regina-born Molnar went on to a glorious career with William Forsythe’s iconic and influential Ballet Frankfurt. Her dance network stems from those all-important Forsythe years, when she honed her own dance aesthetic, one that favours risk and excitement over the safe and comfortable. – Paula Citron
Ben Heppner: A glorious homecoming
At a time when the record business has stopped creating worldwide events, and touring is increasingly rare, the classical music scene is becoming increasingly local. So a worldwide artist of the year is harder and harder to identify in this elite world. In Toronto, however, the choice is clear. For 17 years, Ben Heppner circled the planet like a vocal comet, establishing himself as an international superstar. But not a note from his golden throat was heard during that time on his hometown operatic stage. Until 2013, that is, when we got to hear Ben not once, but twice, with two of his signature roles. In January, he presented a powerful, glorious Tristan. In October, he was back with an anguished, malevolent Peter Grimes. And for good measure, he snagged himself a gig with the CBC at the same time, as host of Radio 2’s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera, a lone ray of new sunshine for classical fans left bereft by the loss of their favourite station. Heppner is singing as well as ever, and making a transition into new musical and professional challenges. He is still in demand around the world, spending December in Vienna singing Grimes at the Vienna State Opera, for example. The rest of the world might not consider Ben artist of the year, but then, they have been enjoying his art for decades. – Robert Harris
Corktown Common: An oasis in an urban landscape
I generally write about buildings, and this year I saw some fine ones – a stunning public pool by MJM Architects, some sublime houses by Toronto’s Atelier Kastelic Buffey and Vancouver’s D’Arcy Jones. But it was a landscape that won me over. Corktown Common, a newly opened public park near Toronto’s waterfront, has both beauty and depth. It is an oasis, shimmed between a highway, a rail line and a thicket of skyscrapers. And it is also an icon for three of the most important ideas in city building: the movement of people to inner cities, the reclamation of industrial land, and thinking about how to withstand the impacts of climate change.
Located on the east side of the city’s downtown, it occupies seven hectares of what was, literally, a wasteland – a flood plain of the Don River that was home to dirty industries and then, for 20 years, almost nothing. A previous plan to build out the area as public housing failed, partly because the site was heavily polluted and, inconveniently, prone to filling up with water.
Every large North American city has dead spots like this one. Luckily Toronto, right now, has the ability to fix it: The governmental agency Waterfront Toronto cleaned up the site, removing 400,000 cubic metres of contaminated dirt, and hired the brilliant American firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates to design a new park. One half is a meadow facing the river, still unfinished; the other half is a “city park” including lawns, picturesque knolls, a naturalized pond, an excellent playground and a hilltop pavilion. MVVA designed the park’s elements with high-quality materials and a contemporary, but welcoming, design language.
In a sense, all this is just icing. The park covers an enormous berm, which protects the central downtown when the Don River delivers one of its floods. Many urbanists and architects are concerned with such “resilience” – how to build cities that can absorb blows from nature and then recover. And Calgarians have been thinking about these issues very hard this year.
But there’s more. The park is designed to serve an adjacent neighbourhood that is appearing here with incredible speed, as part of the 2015 Pan Am Games, and other nearby waterfront districts that are being redeveloped by Waterfront Toronto through a rigorous planning and design process. Thousands of people will live and work here, inhabiting ground that’s been fallow for far too long. The scope of the vision is breathtaking, in a city where development and planning has too often been pell-mell and mean-spirited.
And right now, you can feel the breadth of that vision. A few times this summer and fall I trekked through the construction sites, had a picnic in the pavilion, or watched my children play in the splash pad as I rested on the ipe benches and looked out on the cranes and spires of a city remaking itself. For those few moments, I felt like I was on top of the world. – Alex Bozikovic