Feel the breeze: Chinook blows through with cutting-edge live theatre

Femme Fatales, Expanse Movement Arts Festival at Chinook Series. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Chinook: finally, the moment in the deep midwinter when “cutting edge” doesn’t refer to the wind chill factor. 

Edmonton’s international multidisciplinary performance series blows through the winter theatre season again starting tonight. For this third annual edition, three adventurous Edmonton performing arts companies pool their creative connections in a warming two-week showcase of innovative contemporary boundary-busting work from here, across the country, and beyond.

Chinook breezes into town at the intersection of Workshop West Playwrights Theatre’s Canoe Festival, Azimuth Theatre’s Expanse Movement Arts Festival, and Fringe Theatre Adventures … well, if you don’t know which go-big-or-go-home summer festival belongs to the latter, you must be a career hermit. Sound Off: A Deaf Theatre Festival (the nation’s first and only) and Black Arts Matter (BAM!, devoted to nurturing and showcasing the talents of black artists) are Chinook partners, too, each with a performance roster of their own.

The result of this talent convention is five distinct performance “streams,” each curated by a different company, each with its own line-up of offerings. And they happen under one roof, the Fringe’s TransAlta Arts Barns, “in all our theatres and everything in between,” as the Fringe’s Murray Utas puts it.

When you show up in the Arts Barns lobby any night through Feb. 18, “you’re walking into an animated space,” Utas says. Between shows, “there’s a surprise around every corner..… The idea is to excite, engage the audience. You can never predict what you’ll see, but hang around for the evening, and we’ll talk to you about it!” Naturally, there’s a bar.

Niuboi (Julie Ferguson) in Antiquation. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux Photography 2017

There are 5:30 p.m. lobby “salons,” where you can meet up with  artists talking about their work and the culture. There are workshops and play readings. Before and between shows (Thursday through Saturday, both weekends), you’ll run into Antiquation, an installation created by and starring Niuboi. Or The Lobbyists, a roving group of four emerging theatre/dance artists assembled by Expanse’s outreach co-ordinatorAmber Borotsik.

“What they do is part-performance part-installation,” explains Azimuth’s new co-artistic director Kristi Hansen. “They’ve been working with muralist/ graffiti artist AJA Louden. Some of this dance/art melange is scripted, some improvised. 

In addition to the venue, the infrastructure, and the festival know-how, Fringe Theatre Adventures brings the show that promises to be Chinook’s weirdest (note from Utas: “I’ve always liked weird! It’s me!”).

The Unrepentant Necrophile, The Coldharts. Photo by Dan Norman.

The Unrepentant Necrophile, “a punk rock musical based on true events!” as Utas says, is the work of The Coldharts, the inventive Brooklyn company who brought Fringe audiences such strange and inspired pieces as Edgar Allan and The Legend of White Woman Creek. In their latest, inspired by a bizarre 1970s California court case, a mortician fall in love with a corpse. This time The Coldharts’ Katie Hartman and Nick Ryan are joined by a third performer, drummer Nathan Gebhard.

Workshop West’s Canoe Festival goes Latinx this year at Chinook. There will be no resisting the Spanish flavour: in Broken Tailbone, playwright/ activist/ performer Carmen Aguirre arrives from Vancouver with DJ Don Pedro with a show that’s a salsa dance lesson, interspersed with her pungent, funny, sometimes touching personal stories about the Latin American dance halls in this country. Yes, my friends, you will not be in the usual theatre-watching position, i.e. on your butt. You’ll be up on your feet.

Carmen Aguirre in Broken Tailbone, Nightswimming Theatre. Photo supplied

And on Saturday night, Canoe is throwing a Latinx dance party, Fiesta Y Resistencia, “with Spanish food and a lot of local dance acts,” says Workshop West’s Vern Thiessen. More about Broken Tailbone in another 12thnight.ca posting. 

“I really wanted to appeal to the Spanish-speaking part of the city,” he says. “And besides,” Thiessen laughs, “I was going for Fun and Entertaining, avoiding the super-deep and emotionally harrowing” that’s his more usual theatrical playground. 

The New York theatre artist Jody Christopherson, whom Thiessen had met, off and on, during his six years in the Big Apple, is bringing her solo show AMP

Jody Christopherson in AMP. Photo supplied.

Christopherson, who’s never before been to Canada, did a run of the show in December at the Here Arts Center, a hip downtown off-off-Broadway New York venue. “She has a lot of cred…. I loved the idea of the birth of animal magnetism and electro-shock therapy on stage. And doing a show about monsters…. There aren’t enough monsters onstage!” he says of a multi-media show that embraces Frankenstein, Prometheus, the Shelleys.”

Additionally, Workshop West’s Canoe Festival is partnering with Sound Off to bring Maximime: To Clown Or Not To Clown! to the Chinook Series. This solo physical comedy is the creation of Maxim Fomitchev, a deaf Cirque du Soleil performer who arrives from Las Vegas.

Azimuth’s Expanse premieres a new boundary-crossing piece of physical theatre by a star Canadian dancer/choreographer/creator who’s world-renowned for his originality in “fusing traditional Indigenous dance to contemporary forms, including hip hop, Latin, Pow-wow, hoop dancing,” as Hansen explains. He’s Arik Pipestem, a Calgary-based member of the Tsu’Tina First Nation who has the Cirque du Soleil and So You Think You Can Dance Canada on his resumé.

Hole in the Sky. Photo supplied

His new piece Hole in the Sky, produced by Hunter Cardinal and Naheyawin (a communications strategy company), physicalizes a Cree narrative about Star Woman, a creature of light who emerges from the sky into our reality spreading enlightenment.

Expanse also includes Paradise, a collaboration between Whitehorse’s Gwaandak Theatre (the Yukon’s only “Indigenous-centred theatre) and physically inventive MT Space (from Kitchener-Waterloo). It launches the Chinook Series Thursday.

The four-actor play is a marriage of high-contrast styles, the verbal and the physical. It’s by veteran playwright Patti Flather, Gwaandak’s artistic director and co-founder, and directed by Majdi Bou-Matar of the multi-cultural MT Space. And, as billed, it’s a collision between “an unemployed logger, a young man accused of terrorism, a family doctor and his daughter.” More about Paradise in another 12thnight.ca posting.

“Our own entry point has been theatre,” says Hansen, alluding to the fact that she and Sabourin, newly arrived at Azimuth and Expanse, are co-founders of the Edmonton indie company The Maggie Tree. “The entry point of Expanse is the body, the exploration of the body in motion.”

Coast to Coast, curated by Edmonton’s Good Women Dance, showcases a trio of pieces from artists across the country. It includes the premiere of I Can’t Sit Still, an exploration of our fractured-focus lives by Edmonton’s Katherine Semchuk, recipient of the 2017 Good Women Dance New Work Award.

Coast to Coast also includes Femme Fatales, the first full-length piece by award-winning Vancouver choreographer/ dancer Meredith Kalaman, and heart-work, a solo piece by Toronto-based Sahara Morimoto created during a residency in Berlin.

Many of the shows, salon discussions, and workshops have ASL signing. Says Thiessen, “I think now we’re the most inclusive festival in the country for the hard of hearing.”

The festivities are book-ended by Indigenous and black creativity. After invocations by Indigenous Elders, Black Arts Matter (BAM!) is devising the multi-disciplinary opening performance tonight, to the Afro-fusion sounds of MelAfrique. After that, you must explore as the Chinook wind carries you.  


Chinook Series

Theatres: Fringe Theatre Adventures, Azimuth Theatre, Workshop West Playwrights Theatre, Black Arts Matter, Sound Off: A Deaf Theatre Festival

Where: TransAlta Arts Barns, 10330 84 Ave.

Running: Thursday through Feb. 18

Tickets and full schedule: chinookseries.ca, 780-409-1910, tickets.fringetheatre.ca


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