Quebec playwright Michel Marc Bouchard and Alberta singer k.d. lang are among the major Canadian artists being recognized for a lifetime of creative achievement at this year’s Governor-General’s Performing Arts Awards.
Singers Molly Johnson and Rosemarie Landry as well as choreographer James Kudelka are also set to be honoured by Governor-General Mary Simon at Rideau Hall in the spring, ahead of a ticketed gala to be held at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on May 27.
“It’s always bizarre to receive an award for something you’ve always loved doing,” Bouchard said in French, in a video statement. “All that applause, all those bravos, and now this accolade that enfolds this career.”
Bouchard, born in Saint-Coeur-de-Marie in 1958, has been one of North America’s most produced playwrights for decades – particularly since the 1987 debut of Les Feluettes, known as Lilies in its English translation, later turned into a film by John Greyson in 1991.
Themes of sexuality, religion and performance in life as in art – intertwined in that acclaimed prison drama – have since recurred in Bouchard’s work of more than 25 plays and operas. Though often anchored in Quebec society of the past or present, they have been seen on stages around the world.
His plays, produced at both the Stratford and Shaw festivals in Ontario, have a particularly ardent following in Mexico. In recent years, he has connected to a younger generation through his regular collaboration with filmmaker Xavier Dolan on stage-to-screen adaptations such as Tom à la ferme (Tom at the Farm), a 2013 movie, and La nuit où Laurier Gaudreault s’est réveillé (The Night Logan Woke Up), a 2022 television series still being rolled out on different platforms.
In his statement, Bouchard spoke about how lucky he has been to work in the French language and explore its “musicality” in his poetic scripts.
Three of the other GGPAA honourees are known for their literal musicality.
Born in 1961 in Edmonton, k.d. lang’s mezzo-soprano has been one of the world’s most recognizable since her solo album Ingénue spawned such hits as Constant Craving and Miss Chatelaine.
Over 13 studio albums, one soundtrack, two live albums, four compilation albums and 41 singles, she has explored diverse genres, including country, pop, punk and torch songs. Her coming out as a lesbian in the early 1990s was a huge moment for queer visibility in international pop culture.
“Canada has such an embarrassment of riches really, so many tremendous artists, and to be bestowed with this honour is unthinkable really,” the singer said in her video statement. “You just go through your life with blinders on doing the work and it just feels like being rained on after a long drought.”
Fellow singer Johnson, born in 1959 in Toronto, is a top jazz vocalist and founder of the Kensington Market Jazz Festival. Her audiences have included the likes of Nelson Mandela, Quincy Jones and King Charles, back when he was still the Prince of Wales.
While both Bouchard and k.d. lang certainly would classify as Canadian queer icons, Johnson is also held in high admiration by the LGBTQ community as the co-founder of the Kumbaya Foundation, which has raised awareness of and funds for people living with HIV/AIDS. Her GGPAA citation recognizes her work both as singer and humanitarian.
The final chanteuse being recognized at the 2023 awards is Landry, a classical soprano and a leading authority on music in the French language. Originally from Caraquet, N.B., the proud Acadian artist passes on her musical knowledge as a professor and head of the classical singing program at Université de Montréal.
Last but not least of the GGPAA honourees is James Kudelka, a choreographer who has given his own distinctive spin to large-scale works such as Swan Lake and The Nutcracker at the National Ballet of Canada, where he was artistic director from 1996 to 2005. He has also created acclaimed smaller, more intimate and interdisciplinary work with independent companies and soloists.
Born in Newmarket, Ont., in 1955, Kudelka has had important affiliations with companies such as Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and Citadel + Cie. He continues to work as a teacher and choreographer after recently relocating to St. John’s.
In addition to the five lifetime achievement awards, the GGPAAs – a national celebration originally created in 1992 by Peter Herrndorf with Brian Robertson, under the patronage of then governor-general John Hnatyshyn – also recognize volunteerism and a performing artist in mid-career.
The 2023 Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for Voluntarism in the Performing Arts goes to John Kim Bell, who founded the Indspire Awards in celebration of Indigenous achievement.
Bell, born on the Kahnawake Mohawk Reserve to a Mohawk father and an American mother, began his career as a conductor on Broadway and with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra before paying it forward by establishing the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation in 1984 and creating the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards, which evolved into Indspire, in 1993.
Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, meanwhile, is the recipient of the 2023 National Arts Centre Award. Best known for playing patriarch Appa in Kim’s Convenience on stage and screen, he’s recently been popping up in the Star Wars universe as Captain Carson Teva in The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. He has also been cast as Uncle Iroh in the upcoming fantasy series Avatar: The Last Airbender, coming soon on Netflix.
Tickets for the Governor-General’s Performing Arts Awards Gala go on sale to the public on Feb. 23 at nac-cna.ca/ggawards.