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The must-see season: A guide to summer's hottest cultural events Add to ...


By J. Kelly Nestruck

Edmonton Fringe Festival, Edmonton

Aug. 16-26

“What is your No. 1 theatre event in Canada this summer?” I asked Twitter. The most frequent response: the Edmonton Fringe. The grand-pappy of the Canadian circuit of off-the-wall urban theatre festivals officially enters its fourth decade of existence in August. And yet, at 31, the Fringe still doesn’t show any signs of being ready to settle down. Expect 180 unjuried and uncensored plays to take over Old Strathcona for this year’s “Village of the Fringed.” No specific recommendations here – as with all Fringe festival happening from Charlottetown to Victoria this summer, you've got to keep your ear to the ground ( fringetheatre.ca).

Festival TransAmériques, Montreal

May 24 to June 9

Lovers of the avant-garde (or what one colleague less charitably calls “Eurotrash theatre”) flock each year to the city that stays up until the wee hours or this three-week long festival of theatre and dance. The big name this year: Italian provocateur Romeo Castellucci, who brings On the Concept of the Face, Regarding the Son of God to the Place Des Arts – a show about a son and his incontinent father (one clean-up occurs in front of a large image of Christ). During a performance in Paris last fall, the show was disrupted by egg-throwing Christian protesters. Canadian artists with must-see, less scatalogical shows this year include Olivier Choinière ( Chante avec moi) and Emmanuel Schwartz ( Nathan) ( www.fta.qc.ca).

The Canadian Badlands Passion Play, Drumheller, Alta.

July 13 to 22

This Drumheller-based theatre company has been performing works based on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the past 19 years, but they only appeared on my radar when an actor recently forwarded me an audition notice looking for an understudy for Jesus. (Most surprising part: “Stage combat experience essential.”) A mixed professional/volunteer cast of about 200 stages the greatest story ever told in a 2,700-seat outdoor amphitheatre. Apparently the “remarkable similarity of the site to the Holy Land” adds to the experience. Certainly, it’s an original event ( canadianpassionplay.com).

Much Ado About Nothing

Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Stratford, Ont.

April 26 to Oct. 27 (official opening May 28)

What would happen if the Shaw Festival did Shakespeare? We'll get an idea when former Shaw artistic director Christopher Newton directs two ex-Shaw stars in Much Ado on the Festival stage. Real-life couple Ben Carlson ( Hamlet) and Deborah Hay (Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady) engage in a “merry war” as Benedick and Beatrice, the original will-they, won't-they couple. Elsewhere, two one-man shows promise to be highlights this season: Hirsch, created by Alon Nashman and Paul Thompson, tells the story of mercurial former artistic director John Hirsch; and newly minted Oscar winner Christopher Plummer takes us through a few of his favourite writings in A Word or Two ( stratfordfestival.ca).

La Belle et la Bête: A Contemporary Retelling

Luminato Festival, Toronto

June 8-12

Yes, international superstars Robert Wilson and Robert Lepage are coming to Luminato, but the below-the-radar buzz is all about this high-tech Beauty and the Beast created by Montreal-based artists Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon. After Toronto, this homegrown hit heads to Boston and Paris. In its French-language debut last year, critics were mesmerized by the interplay of live actors with virtual sets and characters – and that a year before Hologram Tupac rocked Coachella. Stratford vet Diane D’Aquila stars as The Lady, a mysterious character who narrates from the sidelines – let’s just hope her lines are translated with a little more oomph than the title was ( luminato.com).

Hedda Gabler

Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

July 25-Sept. 29

The highway between Southern Ontario’s two big theatre festivals goes both ways: Long-time Stratford star Martha Henry shows up at Shaw this year to direct Ibsen’s great play about a passionate woman who is described as a heroine, a victim and a villain from different angles. The always alluring Moya O’Connell (from last year’s sizzling Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) takes on the title role, while Shaw standbys Jim Mezon and Gray Powell support her. The festival’s mainstage this year is Bernard Shaw-free, the namesake having been forsaken for the musical Ragtime, movie-turned play His Girl Friday, and Noel Coward’s Present Laughter ( shawfest.com).

SummerWorks Festival, Toronto

Aug. 9-19

Toronto’s indie theatre festival hit a few funding bumps, but has come out the other side of high-profile controversy with its reputation intact. It’s still a one-stop shopping spot for artistic directors across the country, the place to catch next season’s hits. This year’s lineup features more heavy hitters among the unknowns than ever before with new works by playwrights Waawaate Fobister, Rosa Laborde, Anton Piatigorsky – and even Siminovitch Prize winner Daniel MacIvor. It hasn’t been announced yet, but SummerWorks will also offer an opportunity to see (and hear) a sneak peek of Juno-winning singer-songwriter Hawksley Workman’s new musical that is set to premiere in Calgary in the winter, The God That Comes ( summerworks.ca).

The Taming of the Shrew

Bard on the Beach, Vancouver

May 31 to Sept. 22

Acclaimed actress Meg Roe ( The Penelopiad) directs Shakespeare’s notoriously sexist comedy in the expanded theatre tent in Vanier Park. Lois Anderson plays Kate, while John Murphy is the shrew tamer, Petruchio. Also on the Bard on the Beach bill: Macbeth, The Merry Wives of Windsor and the rarely performed King John (the latter directed by Dean Paul Gibson). Indeed, the growing Vancouver summer theatre is actually showing more Shakespeare than the Stratford Shakespeare Festival this year for the first time ( bardonthebeach.org).

Caravan Farm Theatre

Armstrong, B.C.

July 26 to Aug. 26

Caravan Farm Theatre’s been around for 25 years now, offering professional theatre staged all over an 80-acre farm (where you can also purchase local produce on certain Sundays) – from the barn to the fields to the riding ring. This year’s summer musical offering sounds like a B.C. twist on Bonny and Clyde. Sean Dixon’s The Notorious Right Robert and His Robber Bride concerns a would-be newspaperwoman who escapes a one-horse town with a handsome bank robber. Music is written and performed by Vancouver alt-country veteran Herald Nix. Outdoors – rain or shine, just the way they like it on the West Coast ( caravanfarmtheatre.com).

Die Roten Punkte: Eurosmash!

The Cultch, Vancouver

Aug. 28 to Sept. 2

What better way to wind up the summer than to rock it out with ersatz Berlin band Die Roten Punkte? If you’re a fan of Spinal Tap and Flight of the Conchords, then this brother-sister band that started as a parody of the White Stripes and has outlived them may float your das boot. Otto and Astrid Rot are actually Australian comics Daniel Tobias and Clare Bartholomew, but the following that their alter-egos has amassed, with songs like Ich Bin Nicht Ein Roboter (I Am a Lion), is real. On their last stint at the Cultch, The Vancouver Sun called the duo a “minor masterpiece of performance art.” Well, they’re a fun time, anyway ( thecultch.com).


By Paula Citron

Canada Dance Festival, Ottawa

June 8-16

This is the Big Kahuna of Canadian dance, and is truly a gathering of the clan, not to mention presenters and producers. The festival is a chance for companies to show their work in a national forum, and a great performance can lead to touring. In truth, producer Jeanne Holmes has to do the well-known Canadian juggling act of regional balance, but the invitees include top-drawer icons such as Kidd Pivot Frankfurt RM, Toronto Dance Theatre and Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers. CDF is also the home of world premieres that include new works from Aszure Barton & Artists, Fortier Danse Création, Le fils d’Adrien danse and 605 Collective ( canadadance.ca).

The Tornado Project: Spiraling Forces Festival, Regina

New Dance Horizons

June 27-30

On June 30, 1912, an F4 tornado hit Regina leaving 28 dead, hundreds injured, 500 buildings damaged and 2,500 people homeless. This freebie festival commemorates that tragedy. The Red Shoes Project is the opening event, and volunteers have been rehearsing for three months. Created by Robin Poitras, Jeanne Pelletier and Yvonne Chartrand, the procession will dance down a yellow brick road designed by visual artist Gary Varro. Breath of the Universe premieres on June 29. This homage to the prairie wind, choreographed by Poitras, Margie Gillis and Susan McKenzie, to an original score by Gordon Monahan, uses the metaphor of flowing silk dresses that billow and twist ( newdancehorizons.ca).

Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur, St-Sauveur, Que.

July 26-Aug. 4

This festival has been around since 1992, but it’s only in the latter years that it has become a go-to event in terms of top-of-the-line talent, particularly companies that aren’t appearing anywhere else in Canada. Its make-up is a lot of dance and a little music. This year boasts performances by Hong Kong Ballet, Momix and the Trey McIntyre Project. Dance doesn’t get any bigger than that. Home-grown talent includes Montreal’s Hélène Blackburn/Cas Public and Toronto’s Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company. Music is represented by internationally acclaimed Canadian baritone Gino Quilico, and popular Montreal songwriter Lewis Furey ( fass.ca).


National Ballet of Canada, Toronto

June 1-10

Karen Kain is taking a chance in programming the North American premiere of Kevin O’Day’s ballet. Created for Stuttgart Ballet in 2008, Hamlet is beloved of audiences, but has garnered mixed reviews. As is his wont, O’Day, the American-born artistic director of Ballet Mannheim, has chosen three contrasting Hamlets. Guillaume Côté is the handsome, brooding prince. Piotr Stanczyk is the exuberant personality kid, and joining these two principal dancers is second soloist Naoya Ebe. Ebe has displayed technique galore, which has made him a favourite of choreographers, but this plum will give him a chance to define himself as a dancing actor ( national.ballet.ca).

Black Corps: War of 1812

Afro-Caribbean Dance Group, Toronto

June 14-16, Fleck Dance Theatre

Each performance begins with choreographer Anthony Guerra’s 11-year-old son, Christian, reading his class project on Richard Pierpoint. In answer to Pierpoint who? – he was the leader of the Coloured Corps – 35 men who signed on to help the British/Canadian cause, and became heroes during several key battles. Like Pierpoint, many had been African-born slaves in the newly formed United States. Guerra is using a range of dance styles (West African to modern dance and hip hop), and music (Chevalier de Saint-George, to Bob Marley and Howling Wolf), to tell their story. This little-known, black contribution is not being forgotten during the war’s bicentennial celebrations ( harbourfrontcentre.com).

Dancing on the Edge Festival, Vancouver

July 5-14

This is the 24th year for this important festival of pan-Canadian dance. Producer Donna Spencer ensures that there is a judicious mix of the home team plus choreography from the other side of the mountains, a balance between emerging and senior artists, plus a variety of dance styles. Vancouverites include the 605 Collective, Co. Erasga, Peter Bingham, Contingency Plan, Karissa Barry and MACHiNENOiSY. And from away are Fortier Danse (Montreal), Adelheid (Toronto), Nicole Mion (Calgary), Robin Poitras (Regina), Constance Cooke (Victoria) and Brian Webb Dance Company (Edmonton). There are always site-specific creations such as composer Brad Muirhead’s sound-dance installation at Victory Square ( dancingontheedge.org).

The 5th Annual Toronto Burlesque Festival, Toronto

July 19-22, Gladstone Hotel/Virgin Mobile Mod Club

Each of the four nights features a different performance: the Headliners and Producers Showcase, National and International Strip Search Competitions, the Burlesque Ball with an all-star lineup, and Legends of Burlesque plus specialty acts. Along with Toronto’s own Burlesque divas, visitors include Michelle L'amour (Chicago), Burgundy Brixx (Vancouver), Kristina Nekyia (San Francisco) and Armitage Shanks (Seattle). Celebrations include a performance by the first Canadian legend, Judith Stein (a.k.a. The Canadian Beaver), originally from Woodbridge, Ont., who had a successful 17-year-career that spanned the globe. There are also master classes at the Burlesque University, and the Tease ’n’ Twirl Marketplace for strip shopaholics ( torontoburlesquefestival.com).

Porch View Dances, Toronto

Kaeja d’Dance

July 19-22, Seaton Village

Seaton Village is bounded by Bathurst, Bloor, Christie and Dupont in downtown Toronto. It is also where Karen and Allen Kaeja live. Karen conceived PVD when she looked out her window and had a vision of people dancing on their porches. A call went out and five families volunteered. Each is working under a choreographer (Nova Bhattacharya, Michael Caldwell, Maxine Heppner, Karen and Allen) who is creating dances based on family stories, or as Karen says, bringing the inside out. Rehearsals take place in the home. On performance days, a processional will move from house to house, ending up in Vermont Square Park for a community dance ( kaeja.org).

Wreck Beach Butoh

Kokora Dance

July 1 and 2

Wreck Beach, Vancouver

Wreck Beach is clothing optional, which is why the 17th annual Wreck Beach Butoh is performed in the nude. The beach is in a wilderness setting, so the nakedness of the dancers fits in well with the primal call of nature. The butoh dance style, which rose out of the ashes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is slow, controlled, deep and nihilistic in its breaking of rules. First-time participants pay $400 (plus HST) for the privilege of undertaking the physically gruelling two-week workshop/rehearsal process. After that, it’s a $32 annual fee. The performances take place in the morning, rain or shine ( kokoro.ca).

Dancing on the Edge Festival, Vancouver

July 5-14

This is the 24th year for this important festival of pan-Canadian dance. Producer Donna Spencer ensures that there is a judicious mix of the home team plus choreography from the other side of the mountains, a balance between emerging and senior artists, plus a variety of dance styles. Vancouverites include the 605 Collective, Co. Erasga, Peter Bingham, Contingency Plan, Karissa Barry and MACHiNENOiSY. And from away are Fortier Danse (Montreal), Adelheid (Toronto), Nicole Mion (Calgary), Robin Poitras (Regina), Constance Cooke (Victoria) and Brian Webb Dance Company (Edmonton). There are always site-specific creations such as composer Brad Muirhead’s sound-dance installation at Victory Square ( dancingontheedge.org).

All Over the Map

New Works, Granville Island, Vancouver

July 8, 15 and 22

This popular freebie, Sunday-afternoon series is back for its eighth year. The concert mandate is the presentation of culturally diverse dance. First up is Vancouver Cantonese Opera, which presents the art form in the traditional style of the every day Guangdong dialect. It differs from Peking Opera in both language and its accessibility to the common man. Next is Kokoma African Heritage Ensemble anchored in the dance and drumming of the Efik and Ibibio tribes of southeast Nigeria. And finally, Dancers of Damelahamid is a professional aboriginal company from the northwest coast of British Columbia. Their rich history is performed by masked dancers ( newworks.ca).


By Brad Wheeler

Bluesfest, Ottawa

July 4-15

A freak storm and an unfortunate stage collapse marred last summer’s blues-plus blowout. Undaunted, the massive annual event has a new title sponsor (RBC Royal Bank) and a whopper schedule featuring Norah Jones, Iron Maiden, Metric, Alice Cooper, Seal, Snoop Dogg, John Mellencamp and Charles Bradley. Did we forget anything? Ah, yes – blues. Try Shemekia Copeland, Downchild Blues Band and Monkey Junk ( ottawabluesfest.ca).

Interstellar Rodeo, Edmonton

July 27-29

The first-year event lost its first-night headliner when Sinead O'Connor scuttled her tour, citing bipolar disorder and a gruelling schedule. Nothing, of course, compares to the enigmatic Irish singer-songwriter, but the dustbowl-folk siren Gillian Welch is a nice substitute for an event organized by the Toronto-based roots-music label Six Shooter Records. The other stars aligned for Hawrelak Park are Hawksley Workman, Blue Rodeo, Jenn Grant, Randy Newman, Whitehorse, Cadence Weapon and the cosmic alt-country troupe from Australia, Wagons ( interstellarrodeo.com).

Osheaga Festival Musique et Arts, Montreal

Aug. 3-5

Simply, Osheaga has joined the ranks of the elite North American festivals, to be mentioned in the same hipsters’ breath as Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Lollapalooza. Critical darlings this year include the Black Keys, Feist, the Shins, the Weeknd, Gary Clark Jr., Austra and the new acoustic soulster Michael Kiwanuka ( osheaga.com).

Full Flex Express Tour, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver

July 13 to July 22

Possibly inspired by the great hippie railway adventure across Canada in 1970 (involving Buddy Guy, the Band, Janis Joplin and others), the dubstep wunderkind Skrillex has gone plumb locomotive. Starting at Historic Fort York, he’ll join fellow free-spirits and coach-riders Grimes, Diplo and Pretty Lights for an all-aboard ride (with stops for concerts and refills of Jägermeister) that finishes at Vancouver’s PNE Coliseum. ( fullflexexpress.com).

The Tragically Hip

June 30, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.; July 1, Oro, Ont.

Gord Downie and the Kingston-based rockers tour selectively by today’s standards, picking and choosing the best possible occasions to suit up and take stages. Lyrical and still muscular, the band celebrates Canada Day at the Burls Creek Family Event Park, where camping and flag-waving is encouraged and plastic cups will hold foamy, golden beverages efficiently. One day earlier, the Hip assembles itself at the Commons at the historical Butler's Barracks to mark the bicentennial of the War of 1812. Both concerts also feature Death Cab for Cutie, the New Pornographers and the Rural Alberta Advantage ( thehip.com).

Hillside Festival, Guelph, Ont.

July 27-29; Guelph Lake Island

Well-run, well-curated, well-sold. Tickets go fast for the highly rated indie-music get-together that happens a little more than an hour’s drive away from Toronto. Going to the country this July are Joel Plaskett Emergency, Great Lake Swimmers, Sandro Perri, Imaginary Cities, Chad VanGaalen, Deep Dark Woods, Rich Aucoin and Adam Cohen – a pan-Canadian roster unrivalled ( hillsidefestival.ca).

Greenbelt Harvest Picnic, Dundas, Ont.

Sept. 1; Dundas, Ont.

An absolute success with its inaugural concert a year ago, Daniel Lanois’s Hamilton-area picnic of posies, music and locally grown organic produce among the trees of the Christie Lake Conservation Area is back. Sarah Harmer and Gord Downie return, with Feist added to the list of 2012 talent. Clearly, the sound guru Lanois picks his performers with as much care as he takes with the heirloom tomatoes. ( harvestpicnic.ca).

Vancouver Island Musicfest, Courtenay, B.C.

July 6 to 8

River-swimmers come, as do forest-retreaters and sunset-viewers. The Comox Valley on Vancouver Island is an attraction in itself – not to diminish the drawing power of Richard Thompson, k.d. lang and the ageless silver-voiced siren Emmylou Harris. Someone less known is C.R. Avery, a marvel of beat-box blues, poetic spoken word and spirit-lifting enthusiasm. He is to be checked out ( islandmusicfest.com).

Roots and Blues Festival, Salmon Arm, B.C.

Aug. 17 to 19

The mysterious young lady who call herself Cold Specks will cause waves on Shuswap Lake, where her deep-blues and doomed aura are sure to rivet. Detroit soul shouter Bettye LaVette and the wild-voiced Serena Ryder are not shy at all, and Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, the roots-rocking crowd-pleasers whose latest album features all-star female singers, won’t have to look far for their guest vocalists ( rootsandblues.ca).

Live at Squamish, Squamish, B.C.

Aug. 24 to 26

Charles Bradley, the late-career sensation who zoomed onto all sorts of radars a year ago, keeps with his profound testifying. Last summer the American soul singer was the talk of Osheaga and Sappyfest (where he drew as much attention as the surprise guests Arcade Fire), and at Squamish he’ll not shrivel on a weekend bill with the Tragically Hip, Kathleen Edwards, City and Colour and the southern-styled wheat-field rock of the Sheepdogs ( liveatsquamish.com).


By Robert Everett-Green

Einstein on the Beach

Luminato festival, Toronto

June 8-10

This celebrated 1976 music drama by Robert Wilson and Philip Glass is more known about than known. These performances, part of a three-continent tour of the revived original production, are the first in North America outside New York. Wilson’s imagistic scenarios, Glass’s pattern-shifting music, Christopher Knowles’s allusive poems and Lucinda Child’s lean choreography offer an impressionistic take on the life and theories of the world’s most famous physicist and amateur violinist. The show runs for 260 minutes without intermission, but wandering is permitted ( luminato.com).

Sound Symposium, St. John’s

July 9-15

The 16th edition of the innovative triennial festival focuses on percussion – an apt choice, given the Newfoundland fest’s historically strong connection with drumming and drummers (including its late founder, Don Wherry). This year’s draws include the poetic Swiss drum-set virtuoso Fritz Hauser, Scruncheons percussion ensemble, the folkloric Cuban-Canadian drumming and dance group Ilédè, exploratory singer Laurel MacDonald, saxophonist-composer Paul Cram and the improvising Black Auks. There are also workshops, lectures and sound-art installations, including an open-air 3-D “audio augmented reality” piece accessible via iPhone ( soundsymposium.com).

Chamberfest Ottawa, Ottawa

July 26-Aug. 9

This daunting explosion of chamber music seems to get bigger every summer. The 2012 offerings (most of them in churches) feature recitals by pianist Janina Fialkowska, baritone Gerald Finley and lutenist Paul Odette, as well as a complete tag-team tour of the Beethoven string quartets by the Shanghai, Linden, Afiara, Cecilia and Penderecki String Quartets. There are also recitals by the Quatuor Ébène, the Nash Ensemble of London and the Bozzini Quartet with pianist Eve Egoyan, as well as six programs devoted to new and recent music ( ottawachamberfest.com).

La Virée classique, l’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Montreal

Aug. 11

The OSM usually plays two or three times a week. During the 11 hours of La Virée classique (“the classical journey,” though the OSM’s official English title is A Cool Classical Journey) the orchestra offers 20 low-cost concerts, 45 minutes each, in three venues around Place des Arts. The orchestra plays four of those shows, with soloists Christian Tetzlaff (violin) and Lars Vogt (piano). The remaining chamber concerts feature a strong list of mainly Quebec musicians, including pianist Marc-André Hamelin, soprano Marianne Fiset and violinist Timothy Chooi (winner of the 2010 OSM Standard Life Competition), as well as the New Orford String Quartet and Canadian Brass ( osm.ca).

Vancouver Early Music Festival, Vancouver

July 29-Aug. 17

This six-concert series cuts a large swath through early-modern and baroque music, with a program of madrigals by Gesualdo and Sweelinck (featuring the Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam), a Gabrieli Vespers (performed by Les Voix Baroque and La Rose des Vents), and a complete concert performance of Handel’s opera Orlando (Pacific Baroque Orchestra, with countertenor Tim Mead in the title role). There’s also a concert of rare 17th-century Italian solo cantatas (featuring bass Harry van der Kamp) and the Canadian debut of U.S. ensemble Quicksilver ( earlymusic.bc.ca).


By J.D. Considine

The Bad Plus with Joshua Redman

Toronto Jazz Festival, Toronto

June 24

Last summer, the Bad Plus offered one of the most invigorating sets of the Toronto Jazz Festival, neatly balancing the classically schooled precision of Ethan Iverson’s piano against the sometimes funky, always driving rhythm work of bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King. That they’re returning should be no surprise; the big news is that they’ll be doing so in the company of tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman. No word on what the quartet will play, but Redman’s recent work with James Farm suggests spectacular results. Special added bonus: Opening will be keyboard whiz Hiromi’s chop-heavy Trio Project, with bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Simon Phillips ( torontojazz.com).

Phil Dwyer: A Canadian Songbook featuring Laila Biali

June 21, Confederation Park, Ottawa; June 24, Georgia Stage, Robson Square, Vancouver; June 25, Yardbird Suite, Edmonton; June 26, Alix Goolden Performance Hall, Victoria; June 27, Church of the Holy Trinity, Toronto.

Songwriting has always been the strength of Canadian popular music, and great songs have provided fuel for improvisation since the beginning of jazz, so why shouldn’t Undun or The Tower of Song work as jazz standards? That was the idea behind saxophonist, pianist and arranger Phil Dwyer’s Canadian Songbook, which debuted at last year’s Vancouver Jazz Festival. This year, he’s reassembled the band, expanded the repertoire, and will not only be reprising the show for free at this year’s Vancouver Jazz fest, but will be touring it across Canada. No word if Life Is a Highway will be added to the set list, though ( ottawajazzfestival.com; coastaljazz.ca; edmontonjazz.com; jazzvictoria.ca; torontojazz.com).

Prism with Dave Holland

Ottawa Jazz Festival, Ottawa

June 24

Having bassist Dave Holland as their first artist-in-residence is quite a coup for the Ottawa Jazz Festival, and seeing him perform with three different lineups will be quite the treat for jazz fans. But landing the only North American performance by Prism – the electric band he’s formed with guitarist Kevin Eubanks, pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Eric Harland – is the neatest trick of all. As an alumnus of Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew band, Holland played electric jazz at the very beginning, and it should be thrilling to hear where he takes it these days, particularly with the brilliantly inventive Taborn aboard ( ottawajazzfestival.com).

Wayne Shorter Quartet

June 23, Broadway Theatre, Saskatoon; June 24, Francis Winspear Centre, Edmonton; June 26, Vogue Theatre, Vancouver; June 27, Royal Theatre, Victoria; June 29, Théâtre Maisonneuve, Montreal.

A dozen years have passed since Wayne Shorter pulled pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade together to form his current quartet, and somehow the music these four make remains just as startlingly fresh as when they started out. Shorter has been considered one of the most original thinkers in jazz since the mid-sixties, when he played with Miles Davis, but what makes this band hum is the way he has fostered a sense of mutual exploration, allowing his younger band-mates to express their own personalities (and not-inconsiderable virtuosity) to the fullest ( saskjazz.com; edmontonjazz.com; coastaljazz.ca; jazzvictoria.ca; montrealjazzfest.com).

Spectrum Road

June 25, Vogue Theatre, Vancouver; June 27, Sound Academy, Toronto; June 28, Théâtre Maisonneuve, Montreal.

Tony Williams Lifetime may or may not have been the very first jazz rock group, but it certainly was the most influential, if only for bringing guitarist John McLaughlin to the attention of Miles Davis. Cindy Blackman, a Williams acolyte whom rock fans remember as the afro’ed drummer in Lenny Kravitz’s band, conceived of Spectrum Road as a tribute to the Lifetime legacy, and manages to recruit an actual original member of the group, bassist and vocalist Jack Bruce. Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid and Medeski/Martin/Wood keyboardist John Medeski, round out the lineup, ensuring that Spectrum Road will be a fusion fan’s dream ( coastaljazz.ca; torontojazz.com; montrealjazzfest.com).


By James Adams

Van Gogh: Up Close

National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

May 25-Sept. 3

Hard to believe but this exhibition of more than 40 works by the prolific, tormented Dutch artist (1853-1890) is the first significant showcase of van Goghs in Canada in 25 years. Years in the preparation, the show features paintings lent from many private and public collections, including six from Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum. Ottawa is its only Canadian stop, having had its premiere earlier this year at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. As the title intimates, the exhibition concentrates on the intensity van Gogh brought to representing the natural world and is complemented by a presentation of works (Japanese woodblock prints and photographs, among them) that influenced his practice ( gallery.ca).

Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris

Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto

Until Aug. 26

A genuine blockbuster, this exhibition of close to 150 paintings, sculpture, drawings and prints spans the Spaniard’s entire career, from the late 19th century to his death in 1973, and requires nine rooms to do so. These are Picasso’s Picassos, the stuff he kept from the marketplace for his own inspiration and delectation, so it’s a heady mix of the familiar (including the van Gogh-influenced Self-Portrait with Straw Hat and Two Women Running on the Beach) and the little-seen. With Matisse and Duchamp, Picasso is regarded as the pre-eminent artist of the 20th century; this survey shows you why ( ago.net).


Canadian War Museum, Ottawa

June 13-Jan. 6, 2013

Perhaps you’ve noticed that this year is the bicentennial of the start of the War of 1812. Certainly the federal government is hoping you’ve noticed: It has allocated almost $30-million toward 1812-themed promotions and programs. A key player in the commemoration is the CWM, which will be exhibiting more than 160 artifacts from Canadian sources as well as from the Smithsonian Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the British Museum in London. Among the treasures: the Treaty of Ghent, which officially ended the conflict in December, 1814, and the red tunic Sir Isaac Brock was wearing at the fateful Battle of Queenston Heights in October, 1812 ( warmuseum.ca).

Charlie Russell and the First Calgary Stampede

The Glenbow Museum, Calgary

June 2-July 29

Hey, buckaroos and buckarettes! It’s the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede this summer and as a first, the Glenbow is reuniting 17 of the famous 20 canvases that legendary Western artist Charlie Russell (1864-1926) exhibited, to much oohing and ahhing, at the inaugural Stampede. After Frederic Remington, Russell today is regarded as the greatest illustrator of the Old West, his paintings of cowboys, Indians and sagebrush as much a linchpin of the ethos of the Stampede as the white, wide-brimmed Stetson. They’re also much sought-after by collectors: Last year a Russell watercolour of two cowboys wrangling a mountain lion sold for $1.5-million (U.S.) at auction ( glenbow.org).

Beyond Pop: Tom Wesselmann

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal

May 19-Oct. 7

Ohio-born Tom Wesselmann was among that first generation of American Pop artists that included Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist and Claes Oldenburg. But it’s fair to say his protean output – paintings, sculpture and prints, drawings, collages and mixed-media pieces – has not received the attention or appreciation his peers have enjoyed. The MMFA is setting matters to right with this ambitious retrospective it plans to tour worldwide after its Montreal premiere. Among the highlights is a generous sample of works from the epic “Great American Nudes” series Wesselmann started in 1961 ( mbam.qc.ca).

Skin: The Seduction of Surface

Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax

May 19-Sept. 8

Jana Sterbak won a Governor-General’s Award for lifetime excellence in the visual and media arts earlier this year for, among other achievements, the famous meat dress she first made and exhibited in the late 1980s. With the help of six assistants and 12 kilograms of flank steak, Sterbak, 57, reconstructs the meat dress for this themed group show about notions of identity, race, religion and sexuality and how they’re manifested epidermally. Among the other artists joining the fray are Eric Fischl, Vito Acconci, Shary Boyle, Evergon and Attila Richard Lukacs ( artgalleryofnovascotia.ca).

Ultimate Dinosaurs: Giants from Gondwana

Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto

June 23-March 17, 2013

Gondwana is the name paleontologists coined for the super-continent that occupied Earth’s southern hemisphere hundreds of millions of years ago. Dinosaurs ruled then, of course, and the ROM is devoting major real estate to celebrating their reign in an ambitious exhibition conceived, curated and executed by the museum itself. The show marks the ROM’s first use of Augmented Reality technology, “layering virtual experiences over real environments.” Among the highlights: 17 full-scale skeletal casts, including one of a sauropod herbivore called the Futalognkosaurus that will stretch to almost 34 metres ( rom.on.ca).

The Last Harvest: The Paintings of Radindranath Tagore

McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, Ont.

May 19-July 15

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) is best known outside South Asia as the first non-European ever to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. This was in 1913 and it was for his voluminous output of poems and stories, novels, novellas, plays and essays. Turns out the Bengali also had a dab hand with the paint brush, turning to making works on paper when he was 63. The McMichael, best known for its collection of Group of Seven paintings, is the sole Canadian venue for this showcase of Tagore art, organized by India’s ministry of culture and the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, to mark Tagore’s 150th birthday ( mcmichael.com) .

Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters

Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver

May 26-Sept. 30

Fifty works culled from the thousands in the fabled Cone sisters collection of early modern art at the Baltimore Museum of Art, the collection’s home since 1949. The indisputable highlight of the show – Vancouver is its only Canadian berth – is its presentation of 27 Matisse paintings, drawings and sculpture, including such masterful canvases as Large Reclining Nude (1935) and Interior, Flowers and Parakeets (1924). The Cones – Claribel (1864-1929) and Etta (1870-1949), wealthy spinsters both and pals of Gertrude Stein – also had a fondness for Picasso, Cézanne, van Gogh and Gauguin, examples of which are included here ( vancouverartgallery.bc.ca).

William Kurelek: The Messenger

Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Victoria

May 25-Sept. 3

Having previously shown in Winnipeg and Hamilton, this is the final stop for this acclaimed, hefty retrospective, the first of its kind in at least three decades for the legendary Alberta-born, Manitoba-raised artist who died 35 years ago. More than 80 paintings and sketches are featured, including many fine examples of the prairie and childhood scenes that have made Kurelek so beloved to the Canadian auction market. At the same time, Kurelek was a tortured soul, suicidal even, who, following a conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1957, took his art in a decidedly prophetic, didactic, occasionally apocalyptic direction ( aggv.ca).

Charlie Russell and the First Calgary Stampede

The Glenbow Museum, Calgary

June 2-July 29

Hey, buckaroos and buckarettes! It’s the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede this summer and as a first, the Glenbow is reuniting 17 of the famous 20 canvases that legendary Western artist Charlie Russell (1864-1926) exhibited, to much oohing and ahhing, at the inaugural Stampede. After Frederic Remington, Russell today is regarded as the greatest illustrator of the Old West, his paintings of cowboys, Indians and sagebrush as much a linchpin of the ethos of the Stampede as the white, wide-brimmed Stetson. They’re also much sought-after by collectors: Last year a Russell watercolour of two cowboys wrangling a mountain lion sold for $1.5-million (U.S.) at auction ( glenbow.org).

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