At the NAC: history, hockey and Hamlet await
The curtain has officially lifted on the next season of dance, theatre and music
The season features six works co-produced by the National Arts Centre and among them are some of the most exciting names in international choreography.
The North American premiere of British choreographer's Akram Khan's Xenos, with text by Ottawa-born playwright Jordan Tannahill, will be Khan's last full-length work as a dancer. Khan is a mesmerizing performer who takes the musicality and precision of traditional Indian kathak and infuses it with contemporary ideas. This solo, which opened in Athens in February, examines the experience of a colonial soldier in the First World War.
We'll also get the much-anticipated new collaboration from Crystal Pite (Kidd Pivot) and Jonathon Young (The Electric Company), the choreographer/playwright team who riveted audiences around the world with their unforgettable Betroffenheit. Their new piece, Revisor, is a contemporary adaptation of Nikolai Gogol's The Inspector General and will see the duo tackle comedy instead of tragedy with their signature melding of text, rich visual effects and expressive dance.
NAC Dance director Cathy Levy says balance is her mantra when it comes to programming, and the season is rich with both Canadian and international offerings. On the home front, the NAC has also co-produced new works by Ojibwa choreographer Lara Kramer, veteran choreographer Paul-André Fortier and Peggy Baker in collaboration with Arcade Fire musicians Jeremy Gara and Sarah Neufeld.
International offerings include Wang Ramirez (France/Germany), Malpaso Dance Company (Cuba), Alonzo King LINES Ballet (USA) and Grupo Corpo (Brazil). Canada's three major ballet companies will each present a program in the NAC's Southam Hall. For Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, under new artistic director Ivan Cavallari, a new version of Giselle will be the company's first full-length classical piece in nearly two decades. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet will present Vespers, James Kudelka's 2017 work featuring Evelyn Hart, and the National Ballet will bring a mixed program of Balanchine/Ashton/Justin Peck to Ottawa.
In 2018-19, the National Arts Centre's English Theatre is giving second lives to acclaimed productions from across the country.
The Hockey Sweater: A Musical, playwright Emil Sher and composer Jonathan Monro's adaptation of the famous Roch Carrier hockey story, will be the centrepiece of the season.
Artistic director Jillian Keiley saw the musical with her six-year-old daughter when it premiered at Montreal's Segal Centre, directed by Stratford Festival hitmaker Donna Feore – and decided to bring it to Ottawa. "It's like Matilda on Ice in a way – the kids are so skilled," Keiley says. "Donna, there's nobody better at choreography – and the choreography is extreme and they're doing it all on rollerblades."
Director Ravi Jain's Prince Hamlet is another acclaimed production that will be resurrected at the NAC – a remixed version of the Shakespeare tragedy that not only features Christine Horne in the title role, but centres on a Horatio played by Dawn Jani Birley, a deaf actor originally from Saskatchewan, who narrates throughout the show.
"There's nobody better than Christine Horne in Canada as an actor of that generation," Keiley says.
"But Dawn – I've never seen anyone like Dawn in my life."
Rounding out the season on the main stage, the Grand Theatre in London, Ont., will bring Silence, Trina Davies's play about Mabel Hubbard Bell, the deaf wife of inventor Alexander Graham Bell (in a production directed by former NAC English Theatre artistic director Peter Hinton).
Crow's Theatre of Toronto will swoop in with its hit production of Kristen Thomson's comedy The Wedding Party, starring Stratford favourite Tom Rooney.
And the Blyth Festival will bring its newest acclaimed collective creation, The Pigeon King, which tells the strange but true story of a pyramid scheme involving pigeons that scammed investors in Canada and the United States out of $70-million.
Over at the French Theatre of the NAC, artistic director Brigitte Haentjens has also programmed an unusual version of Shakespeare's most famous tragedy: Actor Marc Beaupré will play all the roles in Hamlet_director's cut, which he adapted and directed with François Blouin.
It's one of two Shakespeare plays presented in the language of Molière at the NAC in 2018-19 – the other being Le songe d'une nuit d'été (A Midsummer Night's Dream), staged with a group of acrobats from Quebec City's Flip FabriQue.
A trio of French Canada's most celebrated directors will also be showcased in the season. Robert Lepage will return to the theatre he once ran with Doug Wright's play Quills, inspired by the life of the Marquis de Sade. Lepage's production, which recently wrapped a run in Paris, is co-directed with Jean-Pierre Cloutier, who also penned the translation.
Denis Marleau, another former artistic director at the NAC, will stage French playwright Laurent Gaudé's play Le tigre bleu de l'Euphrate, about Alexander the Great – set to star Emmanuel Schwartz, the much-lauded Montreal actor.
And Christian Lapointe, often described as an "enfant terrible" of Québécois theatre, will direct Leçon mythologique – his own translation of British playwright Martin Crimp's take on Euripides's The Phoenician Women.
J. Kelly Nestruck
The National Arts Centre celebrates 50 seasons with a bang: all nine of Beethoven's symphonies, performed during a 10-day Beethoven Festival, Sept. 13 to 22.
"If you were to write a cultural bucket list, there are few musical canons that would come higher on a list than Beethoven's nine symphonies," says Alexander Shelley, NAC music director and conductor of the festival.
Shelley calls it "one of those givens" that Beethoven is a household name on an international scale; yet with its marathon of symphonies, the NAC poses the question, "Why?"
Some answers will come in the form of Jan Swafford, author and Beethoven biographer, whom Shelley has invited to speak about the symphonies, and more are offered through complementary performances of Beethoven's string quartets, works which are "key to his development as a composer."
With the NAC's resources, and its newly renovated Southam Hall, Shelley says, "Why not extend also this helpful hand to people, and say, 'Yes, there's the music, but there's all this around it we can show you that might help to enrich the experience even further?' "
The Beethoven Festival – culminating in the famous Ninth Symphony and its statement of brotherhood and empowerment of the individual – is one of four choral-orchestral items on the NAC's 2018-19 lineup that anchor the season's message.
The other three all have impact of their own: Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, Bach's St. Matthew Passion and a concert performance of Mozart's opera Le nozze di Figaro.
The War Requiem comes in the week of the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War (presented Nov. 9, 2018), and in congruence with Britten's vision for the piece – that it be performed by Russian, German and English artists together – Shelley welcomes a meaningful roster of guest artists.
Russian soprano Albina Shagimuratova, Canadian baritone James Westman and Irish-Canadian tenor Michael Colvin take on the solo roles, and the NAC Orchestra will be joined by the National Youth Orchestra of Germany (BJO).
Britten's War Requiem – a "powerful, pacifist statement" – is meant to perpetuate the idea that the barbarity of war must not be repeated; it is a message about our future that is undoubtedly for society's young people. "It's obvious," Shelley explains, "the fact that this was a war in so many ways between the West and Germany.
If we can have the youth of Germany involved, a few hundred feet away from the Cenotaph, in concert side by side with our national orchestra here – what more powerful statement of solidarity can there be?"
Music-director emeritus Trevor Pinnock returns to the NAC to conduct Bach's St. Matthew Passion, Jan. 16 to 17, 2019. The "deeply religious work by a deeply religious man" features rising Canadian star Andrew Haji and Swiss tenor Mauro Peter as The Evangelist (the latter of whom made his Canadian debut last month as Belmonte in the Canadian Opera Company's production of The Abduction from the Seraglio in Toronto).
For more information on the coming National Arts Centre season, see nac.ca.