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Teiya Kasahara in The Queen In Me. The National Arts Centre's 2023-24 program includes the epic opera by Teiya Kasahara.DAHLIA KATZ/NAC

The National Arts Centre’s just-announced 2023-24 season includes two visits by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, a presentation of Beethoven’s masterpiece Symphony No. 9, the appearance of sitarist Anoushka Shankar and a danced reimagination of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book.

But while the NAC offers its typical wide spectrum of performance arts, the spotlight is on Nina Lee Aquino and her inaugural season as English Theatre artistic director.

“What it means to be a national theatre company in a post-national world really intrigues me,” Aquino told The Globe and Mail upon her appointment. “I’d love to explore what that means through the work.”

Aquino comes to Ottawa after completing a decade-long reign at Toronto’s Factory Theatre. The 45-year-old director and dramaturge, who calls the capital city company “the mothership of Canadian theatre,” is clearly at the helm.

A vibrant, diverse schedule boasts such productions as The Queen In Me (a one-handed epic takedown of the opera industry from Teiya Kasahara), The Last Epistle of Tightrope Time (an autobiographical solo performance from Walter Borden that explores homosexuality from a Black perspective) and the NAC Hip Hop Theatre Festival.

Prison Dancer, a jailhouse musical from Filipino-Canadian creators Romeo Candido and Carmen De Jesus, premieres this week at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, directed there by Aquino. It arrives at the NAC’s Babs Asper Theatre in November.

The English Theatre season closes with a new production of the blockbuster Newfoundland-set musical Come From Away. After its NAC run (Aug. 14 to Sept. 1, 2024), the all-Canadian production moves to Toronto.

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Dancers perform in Akram Khan's Jungle Book Reimagined.AMBRA VERNUCCIO/NAC

On the French Theatre side, the must-see spectacle is Le projet Riopelle, new from the auteur Robert Lepage. Using 30 “living canvases,” the life and art of painter Jean Paul Riopelle is investigated. Le projet Riopelle is currently up and running at Montreal’s Théâtre Jean-Duceppe.

Earlier this week, the NAC announced that Kevin Loring’s tenure as its Indigenous Theatre artistic director had been renewed for four more years. Loring’s 2023-24 offerings include Papakanje (a musical take on the social media movement #ReconcileThis!) and The Spirit Horse Returns, presented with the NAC Orchestra.

Led by Alexander Shelley, the NAC Orchestra performs Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s dazzling Scheherazade and Beethoven’s mighty Symphony No. 9. Guest pianists for the season include Angela Hewitt, Louis Lortie, and Seong-Jin Cho. Violinists Ray Chen and Blake Pouliot are also welcomed.

The Pops series caters to the popcorn crowd with screenings of Home Alone and Jurassic Park at Southam Hall accompanied by the house orchestra.

An eclectic popular music program brings sitarist Shankar, the beloved children’s music entertainer Raffi, the chanteuse Dominique Fils-Aimé and 2018 Polaris Music Prize winner Jeremy Dutcher.

If the season marks the beginning of Aquino’s English Theatre directorship, it also represents the final efforts of Cathy Levy, who steps down after more than two decades as executive producer for NAC Dance. She has handed over a program to her successor, Caroline Ohrt, who will oversee 16 shows, including Akram Khan’s new Jungle Book reimagined and the NAC debut of Cassa Pancho’s Ballet Black, a London-based company that celebrates dancers of Black and Asian descent.

Levy chose not to program Swan Lake for her swan song season. Instead, fans of fairy tales and pirouettes will see Cinderella (danced by Les Grands Ballets Canadiens) and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Nutcracker and Snow White.

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