Category Archives: Joel Ivany

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AtG Goes North

By | Joel Ivany, Opera Pub, Press, Uncategorized, Upcoming | No Comments

In a dynamic new partnership with the Yukon Arts Centre, AtG reaches further north than ever before in “Life, Love and Drinking Alone: the artist’s guide to smashing your phone”

This November, Against the Grain Theatre’s Founder and Artistic Director Joel Ivany, Music Director Topher Mokrzewski and baritone Andrew Love (who we last loved as Marcello in AtG’s La bohème) travel to Whitehorse and Dawson City, Yukon. “The Yukon Arts Centre is thrilled to announce a new partnership with Against The Grain Theatre to bring its fiery, irreverent approach to opera to Canada’s North.” says Yukon Arts Centre’s CEO Casey Prescott.

This exciting new program will feature a staged Kurt Weill song recital titled “Life, Love and Drinking Alone: the artist’s guide to smashing your phone”.

Join Sam as he both celebrates and grieves at the end of a relationship. From bar to bar, drink to drink, lounge to floor to gutter, he works through what went wrong, facebook stalks, falls down the infamous instagram rabbit hole, reminisces, and dismisses… all while maintaining his greatest relationship of all… with his true love… his smartphone.
This cabaret features music from Opera to Musical Theatre, Pop to Country, (to maybe even rap), with a special emphasis given to the brilliant music of Kurt Weill. Lead from the piano by Topher Mokrzewski (bartender), this cabaret has been conceived, staged and will be performed by baritone Andrew Love (Sam).

Produced by Against the Grain Theatre and the Yukon Arts Centre.

The tour will also include community workshops, talks and roundtables.

Events Listing
7:00 PM Thursday, November 29
At the Old Fire Hall, Whitehorse, Yukon
8:00 PM Friday, November 30
At KIAC Ballroom, Dawson City, Yukon

About the Yukon Arts Centre
The Yukon Arts Centre (YAC) is a not for profit charitable organization dedicated to the development of the arts as an important cultural, social and economic force in the Yukon. We intend to be a model for the development of the arts in the North and a stimulus for a vibrant and creative territory. YAC is the territory’s premier venue for performing and visual arts.

About the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture
The Klondike Institute of Art and Culture is of one of the many volunteer driven not-for-profit initiatives that are vital to the social, cultural and economic health of Dawson City. The Klondike Visitors Association plans activities and events that attract thousands of visitors to Dawson City each year. The Dawson City Music Festival is legendary for its ability to present Canada’s finest musical talent to the community both at the July festival, and at concerts during the year. Other organizations such as the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre, Dawson Museum Society, and CFYT Radio add to Dawson’s rich cultural milieu, which is somewhat unexpected in a small northern town that’s only a few hours drive from the Arctic Circle.

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What does opera in the age of Trumpism look like? #AtGBOUND

By | Bound, Joel Ivany, Press, Upcoming | No Comments

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 18 October, 2018

Kevin Lau’s newly commissioned opera BOUND v. 2 in concert performance with Toronto’s acclaimed indie opera company Against the Grain Theatre

TORONTO – Against the Grain Theatre (AtG) has matched one of opera’s most dramatic composers, George Frideric Handel, to a narrative inspired by the current, chilling refugee stories populating our newsfeeds — stories of migration and displacement due to war, discrimination, hate, and intolerance. AtG’s Artistic Director and librettist Joel Ivany alongside composer Kevin Lau begin the indie-company’s ninth season by digging deeper into the music and text of BOUND. This November, AtG presents their first commissioned opera written by Toronto composer Kevin Lau in a concert presentation called BOUND v. 2. November’s concert (part-two of a three-year concept-to-realization project) focuses on where Lau’s new composition intersects with the melodies of Handel’s music. A mash-up of centuries, styles, and stories.
 
“Bringing Handel’s music into the 21st century is a way for us to directly grapple with the big issues of tradition versus change that face our society today,” said Lau. The development of BOUND began as a mash up of Handel arias and ensembles used to highlight the current state of those dehumanized and mistreated across the globe. “Our opera does delve into darker themes—among them, the ethical consequences of trading individual freedoms for national security, an issue which grows more relevant every day—but ultimately our hope is to sow musical seeds of empathy, by finding truth among differences.” 
 
AtG Founder and Artistic Director Joel Ivany has created a new English libretto, minting another AtG transladaptation to express the plight of the characters—who are based on real people—in BOUND v. 2. The opera centres around four citizens who are detained by an omnipotent and oppressive government; the State.  We watch and hear about their struggles, hopes and fears.
 
The development of this opera began in 2017: a week of inspired round-table discussions with Ivany, Lau, creative team and artists where they invited guest speakers that included survivors, storytellers, and members of communities that are too often overlooked to share their stories. “We asked them very personal and important questions,” said Miriam Khalil who portrays Noor Haddad, a journalist detained for refusing to remove her hijab at a border crossing. In her role, for example, Khalil balances between baroque flourishes and maqamat embellishments, “with Kevin, we explored how these unique experiences would colour our music and shape our characters.” With teeming collaboration, the singers eventually chose the news stories that best suited them and from those stories Ivany formed the base of the new libretto, which was then to be meshed with Handel’s music while Lau worked on his score and developed a new musical language for each character.
 
Kevin Lau’s BOUND v. 2 is written for chamber orchestra, four singers, actor and digital sound artist. The ensemble will be led by AtG music director Topher Mokrzewksi and features AtG Founding Member and soprano Miriam Khalil, countertenor David Trudgen, tenor Andrew Haji and baritone Justin Welsh as the cast of detainees, Martha Burns as the voice of the state, and the electronic stylings of Acote.
 
This workshop concert will be presented in Longboat Hall at The Great Hall (1087 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario, M6J 1H3) on November 19, 20 and 21, 2018. Sung in English. All performances begin at 8pm with doors open at 7:30pm. Tickets ranging from $35 – $80 are now on sale at www.againstthegraintheatre.com

LISTING INFORMATION
Bound v. 2
Against the Grain Theatre  
November 19, 20, and 21
8 p.m.
The Great Hall — Longboat Hall, 1087 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario, M6J 1H3
Tickets: $35 – $80
More info: www.againstthegraintheatre.com/bound/

ABOUT AtG
Toronto’s Against the Grain Theatre (AtG) has invigorated opera audiences since its first sold-out production to an audience of fifty guests in December of 2010. AtG revitalizes the operatic art form by presenting an eclectic array of musical works in unconventional spaces and innovative ways. Since its first season, AtG has consistently performed to standing room-only crowds, to both critical and public acclaim, and continues to introduce hundreds of new opera-goers to the art form. Founded by an adventurous collective of friends and artists, the company endeavours to be serious in intent and execution, yet fun and irreverent in spirit. Current members include Joel IvanyTopher MokrzewskiJonathan MacArthurAmanda HadiDavid EliakisJason HandMiriam Khalil, and Michaela Dickey.

For more information, please visit AtG online at www.againstthegraintheatre.com, on Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram @AtGTheatre and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AtGTheatre

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Media Contact

Jonathan MacArthur
General Manager
Against the Grain Theatre
416-220-5376
gm@againstthegraintheatre.com

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Toi x 3 to Orphée⁺ in Banff!

By | Banff, Dora Awards, Joel Ivany, Orphee | No Comments

With the thrill of the 12 Dora Nominations, and the 5 wins (including Outstanding Production) still fresh in our minds, we’re sending out a huge TOI x 3 to the entire cast, creative team, crew, administrators, and volunteers at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity on OPENING NIGHT of the production that was the highlight of Toronto’s opera season, Orphée⁺.

But enough with the sentimental formalities! Let’s get the real-time, late-night, post-prosecco Facebook reactions from the administrators and creatives behind this Toronto project…

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 1.35.08 PMJoel actually flew in the night of the awards ceremony, arriving to our nervous pre-cocktail event in a Spiderman tee-shirt fresh off the flight from Calgary. He brought a button up *just-in-case*.
Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 1.34.35 PMWe’re not kidding about the late night Skype/Slack sessions… o_O
Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 1.35.24 PMCommunity! Exactly the people you are surrounded by, who celebrate and cheer with you at every success and failure.

[First photo in post was taken at the Dora Award Ceremony – From Left-Right: Jonathan MacArthur, General Manager (AtG), Amanda Hadi, Editorial & Digital Manaer (AtG), Joel Ivany, Founder and Artistic Director (AtG), Peggy Kriha-Dye, General and Artistic Director (Opera Columbus)]

 

Music Director Topher Mokrzewski in rehearsal with Miriam Khalil for AtG's BOUND, photo Darryl Block

Just announced: Against the Grain Summer Intensive

By | Canadian Opera Company, Joel Ivany, Media Release, Summer Intensive, Upcoming | No Comments

“A professional and educational summer training program for today’s musician.”

This exclusive professional summer training program (running over August 13–19, 2018 in downtown Toronto, Canada) is tailor-made to individual singers’ needs.

This program lets you bring your best, your worst, your tired, your polished, (and the ones you won’t do for many many years, but want to look at it) into a space to work on the development of your craft. This intensive is meant for you to prioritize your individual artistic needs, in the middle of August when audition season is just around the corner. Bring us your Mozart. Bring us your weird. Bring us that random piece you really want on your audition package but it’s “just not coached enough”. Or, work on your upcoming roles for the 18-19 Season. We’re here to make this program uniquely yours, and we want to make sure you get what you need to set you up for success.

Guided by some of the core members from the Against the Grain Theatre Creative Team (Joel Ivany, Topher Mokrzewski and Miriam Khalil), applicants will be offered individual coaching, voice lessons, scene study, masterclasses, professional organization skills and a new headshot (optional).

Deadline to apply: Friday, May 25, 2018 at midnight EST. (Candidates will hear back from AtG by June 1.)

Cost: $500, with 50% deposit due June 15. (Remainder due July 15.) Payment can be made by e-transfer to info@againstthegraintheatre.com or in cash.

Location: 227 Front Street East, Toronto, ON, Canada, M5A 1E8

Questions? Contact info@againstthegraintheatre.com with “[Your Full Name] + Against the Grain Summer Intensive” in the subjectline and a real human will reply ASAP.

How to Apply: See below.

Photo: Darryl Block

Complete our Online Submissions form by Friday, May 25, 2018 at midnight EST.

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A mash-up of Handel’s music with a new transladaptation

By | Behind the scenes, Bound, Joel Ivany, Media Release, Press | No Comments

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 31 October, 2017

BOUND uses baroque music to highlight stories of citizen displacement, fear, hope and reconciliation

TORONTO — This December, Against the Grain Theatre’s Artistic Director Joel Ivany matches one of opera’s most dramatic composers to a narrative inspired by the current, chilling refugee stories populating our newsfeeds: stories of migration and displacement due to war, discrimination, hate, and intolerance. The result is a newly created AtG “transladaptation” for the 21st century, BOUND, which will break down Handel arias and ensembles in form and text, and reconstruct them to highlight the current state of those displaced, dehumanized and mistreated across the globe.

“Handel was one of opera’s most dramatic composers,” says director Joel Ivany of the source inspiration for BOUND. “His music constantly explored stories of abandonment, neglect and betrayal. We aim to look at contemporary world events through his musical lens.”

To bring Handel’s music into the present, Ivany and AtG Founding Member and Music Director Topher Mokrzewski collaborate with recent Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Award winner, composer Kevin Lau, who will introduce new sound ideas and compositional devices. BOUND will be developed at the Canadian Opera Company’s Jackman Studio over multiple weeks of workshop sessions with finished presentations, featuring the piano accompaniment of Mokrzewski, that will showcase the intensive weeks of development. This is the first iteration of a three-year concept-to-realization production: each year, the workshop will focus on different aspects of operatic creation, from sets and costume design, to orchestral transcription. Over the next few seasons, BOUND will continue to develop, grow and return in new forms.

“We’re looking at how we as artists can express ourselves in a political capacity using our strengths, and our voice,” Ivany continued. “At a time where the world seems to be spinning away from hope and unity, BOUND will look to moments of beauty, acceptance and diversity. These are themes that are important now more than ever to iterate, proclaim and stand by.”

The premise: Seven citizens are detained by a government and held against their will in a waiting room; the audience will watch and hear about their struggles, hopes and fears. Drawing from the experiences of artists, and individuals the world over, BOUND will be a Handel mash-up for the ages.

The cast of BOUND features a roster of Canadian talent, including COC Ensemble member and soprano Danika Lorèn, recent DORA Award-winner and tenor Asitha Tennekoon, counter-tenor David Trudgen, baritoneJustin Welsh, bass Michael Uloth, mezzo-soprano Victoria Marshall and AtG Founding Member and soprano Miriam Khalil. This workshop will be lit by Resident Lighting Designer Jason Hand and presented in the COC’s Jackman Studio (227 Front Street East, Toronto) at 8 p.m. on December 14, 15, and at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. on December 16, 2017. With one night sold out, limited tickets ($35) are still available for the remaining three presentations: againstthegraintheatre.ticketleap.com/bound/

A special preview of BOUND will be offered on December 13, 2017 at 12 p.m. as part of the Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Details about the series may be found at coc.ca.

LISTING INFORMATION
Against the Grain Theatre’s BOUND
December 14, 15 at 8 p.m.
December 16 at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Doors open 30 minutes before curtain
COC’s Jackman Studio (227 Front Street East, Toronto)
Tickets: $35
More info: againstthegraintheatre.com/bound

ABOUT AtG
Toronto’s Against the Grain Theatre (AtG) has invigorated opera audiences since its first sold-out production to an audience of fifty guests in December of 2010. AtG revitalizes the operatic art form by presenting an eclectic array of musical works in unconventional spaces and innovative ways. Since its first season, AtG has consistently performed to standing room-only crowds, to both critical and public acclaim, and continues to introduce hundreds of new opera-goers to the art form. Founded by an adventurous collective of friends and artists, the company endeavours to be serious in intent and execution, yet fun and irreverent in spirit. Current members include Joel IvanyTopher MokrzewskiJonathan MacArthurAmanda Hadi,David EliakisJason HandMiriam Khalil, and Michaela Dickey.

For more information, please visit AtG online atwww.againstthegraintheatre.com, on Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram@AtGTheatre and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AtGTheatre

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Media contact:
Jonathan MacArthur
General Manager
Against the Grain Theatre
416-220-5376
media@againstthegraintheatre.com or gm@againstthegraintheatre.com

 

Design: Eitan Zohar | Illustration: Dmitry Bondarenko

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We need you to join our global virtual chorus!

By | Joel Ivany, Orphee, Uncategorized, Upcoming, Video, Volunteer | No Comments

Against the Grain Theatre, Opera Columbus in Columbus, Ohio, and Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in Banff, Alberta are co-producing a brand new production of Gluck/Berlioz’s groundbreaking opera Orphée et Eurydice. At the time it was written, Orphée et Eurydice changed the way opera was produced and experienced; we hope to do the same with this daring interpretation. This production features a new electronic orchestration, baroque burlesque dancers, sopranos singing from silks and (hopefully) you, part of our Global Virtual Chorus.

This is where you come in.

We need you to record your voice to three excerpts from the opera. Submitted videos will be stitched together with hundreds of other videos and projected onto our set, and your voice will be mixed to sync with our LIVE Opera orchestra (cool, right?)!

NEXT STEPS:

  1. Watch the videos and practice (for sheet music, click here)
  2. Record your video(s)
  3. Submit them via Dropbox or WeTransfer to virtualchorus@operacolumbus.org
  4. Be amazed!

Watch the introduction video here and click-through to YouTube and become a part of the Global Virtual Chorus!

Q: When is the deadline for submissions?
A: January 15, 2018

Q: Where do I submit my video(s)?
A: You can submit them here.

Q: Can I submit a video for just one chorus section?
A: Yes!

Q: Will I get credit for my piece?
A: Yes! The programs of each performance will have the names listed inside

Q: Do I have to sing in French?
A: Yes – the entire production will be performed in French. If French isn’t a language you speak, you can learn the pronunciation from the Diction videos.

*Thank you for donating your time and submitting your virtual-chorus videos! By submitting these materials, you have read the following and agree to: allow the designers and creative team the use your image, voice, and likeness in all productions of Orphée et Eurydice. You acknowledge that your voluntary submission may be used entirely at and in the discretion of the producing companies. As a voluntary submission, you will not seek any compensation from the producers. Your submission is greatly valued, however, we may not use all submissions in the final project. Any persons with an Equity affiliation must have notified the producers before submission.

 

 

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Against the Grain Theatre #GoForBaroque in 2017/2018 season

By | Bound, Canadian Opera Company, Joel Ivany, Kyrie Kristmanson, Media Release, Opera Pub, Orphee, Upcoming | No Comments

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 26 September, 2017

A Handel mash-up and an international co-production comprise AtG’s most expansive season to date

TORONTO – Against the Grain Theatre (AtG) returns in its eighth season with BOUND, a pastiche workshop of new interpretations of Handel’s music, and a groundbreaking new production of Berlioz’s arrangement of Gluck’s Orphée. AtG’s acclaimed #OperaPub nights return as a monthly fixture at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club, and the company collaborates with Canadian baroque-pop artist Kyrie Kristmanson at the Alliance Française in Toronto. In addition, AtG enters its second season as company-in-residence at the Canadian Opera Company (COC).

This December, Artistic Director Joel Ivany and Music Director Topher Mokrzewski collaborate with composer Kevin Lau, the recent Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Award winner, to bring Handel’s music into the present through a workshop titled BOUND. In the wake of the world’s refugee crisis, this workshop will explore the current state of those displaced, dehumanized and mistreated, with texts and stories drawn from real-life news articles and events. BOUND is the first workshop of a three-year concept-to-realization production. “Handel is one of opera’s most dramatic composers,” says director Joel Ivany of the source inspiration for BOUND. “His music constantly explored stories of abandonment, neglect and betrayal. We aim to look at contemporary world events through his musical lens.” Featuring a cast of young Canadian talent, BOUND will feature soprano Danika Lorèn, tenor Asitha Tennekoon, counter-tenor David Trudgen, baritone Justin Welsh, bass Michael Uloth, mezzo-soprano Victoria Marshall and AtG Founding Member and soprano Miriam Khalil. This workshop will be lit by AtG Resident Lighting Designer Jason Hand and presented in the COC’s Jackman Studio (227 Front Street East, Toronto) on December 14, 15, and 16, 2017. Tickets go on sale Thursday, October 5 at 12 p.m. at againstthegraintheatre.com.

A special preview of BOUND will be offered on December 13, 2017 at 12 p.m. as part of the Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Details about the series may be found at www.coc.ca.

In Spring 2018, AtG partners with Opera Columbus to introduce a new, fully realized version of Berlioz/Gluck’s Orphée⁺. A brainchild of AtG Founder and Artistic Director Joel Ivany, Orphée⁺ casts dancers from New York City’s Company XIV, an opulent and intimate baroque burlesque dance company, with choreography by Austin McCormick, Director and Choreographer of Company XIV, and multi-faceted aerialist, pole dancer and soprano Marcy Richardson in the role of Amour. Sung in French, Orphée⁺ blends Berlioz/Glück’s music with new electro-acoustic soundscapes designed by John Gzowski; incorporates a virtual chorus — made up of hundreds of singers — in a digital projection created by set and projection designer Katy Tucker; costume design by Company XIV‘s Zane Pihlstrom; and features lighting by JAX Messenger. Joel Ivany serves as Stage Director and Topher Mokrzewski conducts an 11-piece orchestra, which blends classical and electronic string instruments. Orphée⁺ opens first in Columbus before coming to Toronto’s Fleck Dance Dance Theatre in April 2018. Full cast details and ticket information will be announced later this season.

Back by popular demand, AtG’s standing-room-only #OperaPub nights return October 5 at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club (54 The Esplanade, Toronto). Hosted by new AtG Collective member David Eliakis, these free events will continue to feature opera arias and ensembles alongside witty banter, craft beers and an ever-faithful Craigslist piano. Beginning at 9 p.m., the festivities will continue the first Thursday of every month until May 2018.

Also new this season, AtG collaborates with Canadian baroque-pop artist Kyrie Kristmanson for the Canadian release of her album Modern Ruin, a repertoire for voice and string quartet inspired by the lost songs of the women troubadours of medieval France. Led by stage director Amanda Smith, an AtG ensemble including percussionist Nathan Pettipas, dancer Mary-Dora Bloch, and baritone Adam Harris perform original arrangements for marimba and voice, inspired by French song. This event takes place on October 13 at 8 p.m. at the Théâtre de l’Alliance Française (24 Spadina Road).

In its second year as company-in-residence at the Canadian Opera Company (COC), AtG continues its work in the COC’s pilot program designed for independent companies looking to gain administrative expertise within their organization. “The training and mentorship opportunities are incredible,” praises AtG General Manager Jonathan MacArthur. “As an emerging administrator, receiving mentorship from the COC’s many different departments is an invaluable, one-of-a-kind experience that fosters individual leadership skills and applicable management practices required to grow a sustainable arts organization.”

ABOUT AtG
Toronto’s Against the Grain Theatre (AtG) has invigorated opera audiences since its first sold-out production to an audience of fifty guests in December of 2010. AtG revitalizes the operatic art form by presenting an eclectic array of musical works in unconventional spaces and innovative ways. Since its first season, AtG has consistently performed to standing room-only crowds, to both critical and public acclaim, and continues to introduce hundreds of new opera-goers to the art form. Founded by an adventurous collective of friends and artists, the company endeavours to be serious in intent and execution, yet fun and irreverent in spirit. Current members include Joel Ivany, Topher Mokrzewski, Jonathan MacArthur, Amanda Hadi, David Eliakis, Jason Hand, Miriam Khalil, and Michaela Dickey.

For more information, please visit AtG online at www.againstthegraintheatre.com, on Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram @AtGTheatre and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AtGTheatre

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Media contact:
Jonathan MacArthur
General Manager
Against the Grain Theatre
416-220-5376
media@againstthegraintheatre.com or gm@againstthegraintheatre.com

 

Against the Grain Theatre Ayre, starring Miriam Khalil. Photo: Darryl Block

We turned 6 in 2016 🎉

By | A Little Too Cozy, Ayre, Banff, Joel Ivany, La Boheme, Opera Pub, The Rape of Lucretia | No Comments

I never would have thought, six years after our first production, that Against the Grain Theatre would have the presence it does in the city, province and throughout Canada.

What drives this little company is the people that come together to make indie opera — our casts, crew, and volunteer staff. Our fuel is their passion.  I’m sure you’ve felt it.

You felt this passion whether you saw Toronto’s first Mozart opera staged as a live TV show: A Little Too Cozy at the CBC’s Studio 42.

Or if you went out to Banff to experience the thrilling, Hitchcockian Mozart Mashup Murder Mystery (No One’s Safe).

Or if you watched Britten’s haunting chamber opera The Rape of Lucretia, which we presented with the Toronto Summer Music Festival at the stunning Winter Garden Theatre.

Or if you were transfixed by three different performances of Osvaldo Golijov’s Ayre. Performances that, after the U.S. Election, reminded us why we make music in a city as diverse and supportive as Toronto.

Our new favourite event is Opera Pub, a monthly series we launched last October. Wild, improvised opera performances that give emerging singers a chance to flex their chops, surrounded by classical fans (and new fans in the making) in a friendly environment. That’s what AtG is about.

For all we’ve been able to achieve in 2016, we say thank you and wish you and yours the happiest holidays.

Joel Ivany

Joel in the North

By | Joel Ivany | No Comments

I have always wondered about the North.  

We, of course, learned about the Northwest Territories in school and since, I’ve always wondered what was up there.  

In University, I was fortunate enough to cycle (yes, bicycle) across Canada from Vancouver to Halifax. We missed some parts that I’ve vowed to visit in the future and now, thankfully, one of those is crossed off the list.

This past Friday to Tuesday, I travelled to Yellowknife, NWT, and met many wonderful people who each asked me: “Why are you here?”

I came up North for a few reasons.  I wanted to see what the North was like.  I wanted to see what the art scene was like.  I wanted to meet Indigenous peoples and find out what they thought about Canada. I wanted to be more Canadian.

The past year, I’ve slowly become more and more intensely aware of the people that were here on this land, have always been on this land before others showed up and kind of messed it up. I heard and read about “cultural genocide” and couldn’t believe that residential schools were a real thing in Canada.  You see, they weren’t a part of my Canadian History lessons. Could Canada have been so intentionally evil and cruel?  I was shocked to read that the church was a part of this story. They wanted to“save the Indians,” convert the “savages.” One of the lessons I learned growing up was to spread the Gospel to all ends of the earth. I’m sure there was good intention, but at what cost?

So, I flew to Yellowknife with an open heart and mind.  

Facebook came through and I was immediately connected with several incredible people who made me feel at home. On the flight from Edmonton, I struck up conversation with the people beside me.  They, of course, knew Carmen Braden (a composer who was picking me up at the airport), they asked if I knew Leela Gilday (whom I was meeting up with later in the week) which caused the row in front of us to mention that they were neighbours with Carmen and one woman had heard about me through her daughter, my new Facebook friend Kyla. Small world.

Joel Ivany

Joel about to board a 1954 Cessna 170 B

Carmen Braden is a Yellowknifer, composer and gifted young musician who has had her music played by ensembles across Canada and is about to release her first album.  Over lunch she talked about the NWT, arts councils, composing for ensembles like the Gryphon Trio and why she loved living in Yellowknife. Above all, Carmen is a fantastic human.

I stayed with a wonderful family, a couple from Nova Scotia and Australia, who had met backpacking and of course ended up living in Yellowknife. We visited the local brew pub, where I met many new people.  Jean, fixes planes part-time and thought that Hal would be a good guy to reach out to. So of course I did, calling him the next morning.  Hal (never did learn his last name) had a small 2-seater plane and the following morning he was more than willing to take me up for a ride.  

Hal has been in Yellowknife for 40 years (not from Yellowknife, a common theme) and had tried to live elsewhere, but the North always called him back.  We went flying in a 1954 Cessna 170 B. Never done that before. The flight was smoother than I anticipated, and we flew for almost 2 hours all around Yellowknife.  NWT has a lot of lakes, a lot of rock, a lot of trees, hardly any billboards, and really not that many people.  Yellowknife, the largest city in NWT has a population of 20,000 (the average attendees at one hockey game in Toronto).  Hal rocked.  I shook his hand at the end, knowing most likely that I’d never meet him again and just said, “Thank you.”

Joel Ivany

Joel and Hal

With time still left in the day, I drove to Behchoko, which is about an hours drive from Yellowknife.  It is one of the largest Dene (aboriginal group) communities in Canada (population of around 2000).  It is a self-governed, dry community.  Driving through, I felt like I was prying into their lives but was so glad to have seen it.  There’s a school, children, lots of trucks and no restaurants or Starbucks.  This is one of the larger communities of at least 30 that are in the NWT.  

Sunday morning I met with Debbie DeLancey who is the Deputy Minister of Health and Social Services with the Government of the Northwest Territories.  Debbie was awesome (another common Yellowknife theme), and most likely because she had seen the Carmen I directed at the COC this past spring.  She made me feel like a superstar.  An avid opera fan, she has been up North for 40 years and of course, knew everyone I had met thus far and everyone I was going to meet.  We talked about why she was advocating for the North, what the challenges were for the government and indigenous communities and how we can get Against the Grain Theatre to come to Yellowknife.  I’m all for that.  Before long she had connected me two more people and promises that we’d meet again sometime in the future.

The afternoon was spent at The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, a lot more Canadian History that I didn’t know or remember and a heartbreaking exhibition by Robert Burke about his experience at a Residential School.  

Joel Ivany

Painting by Robert Burke from his exhibit My Residential School Experience

I was picked up by Kyla Kakfwi-Scott (my new FB friend) and her husband Amos Scott (a born and raised Tlicho northerner).  They took me for a driving tour of Yellowknife and answered every question I had about their community, life in Yellowknife and being indigenous in Canada.  A couple that was my age, I found their belief system and heritage beautiful.  Amos has worked for CBC in the past and is a filmmaker.  Here is the first episode in a series he made which illustrates life in Behchoko and the Dene people.  I was very thankful for my time with Kyla and Amos.

Dene A Journey Season 1, Episode 1- A Modern Tlicho Life from Dene A Journey on Vimeo.

The trip kept going with the Annual General Meeting for Music NWT, an advocacy group for Northern musicians.  A 13 years old entity, it was fascinating to hear their history, where they are now and who they aspire to be.  Their structure, Strat planning and governance was very similar to Against the Grain and it brought an awareness of our AtG team in Toronto and how much we’ve accomplished in so little time.  I was so happy to attend this small meeting of 15 people and so proud of our team back in Toronto.  

Post meeting was a pre-booked Northern Lights tour.  From 9pm–3am, I was out in a group of 40 led by our tour guide, Deneze (who was awesome).  Deneze, also Dene, spoke passionately about his people, had a wicked sense of humour and is someone I knew I’d be friends with if we lived in the same city.  Out of the 40-ish people on the tour, I was the only Canadian.  I asked Joe, another guide how many Canadians came on the Northern Lights tours, which have become extremely popular in the last few years.  He said about 1%, as the largest market is Japanese.  

Joel Ivany

Carmen Braden at the AGM for Music NWT

Following morning, Pat Braden was next on my artist tour.  Pat is a bass guitarist and one of the few musicians in the world to play the Chapman Stick (look it up).  He spent his youth honing his craft at local bars in Yellowknife, which had live music 6 nights a week.  What I took from my time with Pat, was an artist’s heart is an artist’s heart.  He can’t envision himself doing anything else and is committed to craft and skill. He’s been in Yellowknife for 40 years (theme here) and has lived in the same Shack (his words) for 30 years where he raised his two daughters with his wife.

Leela Gilday is Dene and born and raised in Yellowknife.  She is a talented singer/songwriter who has won a Juno award for Aboriginal Album of the Year.  She’s one of the leading aboriginal singers in Canada and was classically trained having spent one year in Toronto singing in the Toronto Children’s Chorus and has a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Alberta.  I spoke to Leela about opera, being indigenous and why she moved back home to Yellowknife (another common theme).  Family, advocating for youth in rural communities and strong ties to the North were big reasons.  We talked about Canada’s 150th celebration and some of the concerts she will and won’t necessarily be playing.  Celebrating Canada can come with mixed emotions.  It was a great chat and I take from it a better understanding of life as a current artist living in Yellowknife.  The rest of my day was spent driving to another community, Detah and reading more about the Truth and Reconciliation report that was filed just last year.

That evening…dinner at a hotel…served by Skye who recognized me from having ushered at the Four Season Centre and asked about Carmen.  CRAAAAAZY small world.

Joel Ivany

Northern Arts and Culture Centre

The last piece of my journey was spent with Marie Coderre at the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre.  Marie, originally from Quebec, has been at NACC since 2012.  A strong, passionate and kind woman in her early 30’s, we bonded immediately through our connection with Roman Borys and the Gryphon Trio.  The Gryphons have come up to Yellowknife three times touring to various rural communities.  For them to continue to travel up here and work with these communities speaks volumes about the nature of their hearts.  

Marie gave me a tour of NACC, a 300 seat theatre which has programming 10 months of the year.  They bring artists from around Canada and also present local shows.  Marie and I connected over grants, budgets, programming and the draw of the North.  I left with a strong understanding of the art scene which she is trying to present and change.  Yellowknife is the largest city of the NWT, but the NACC represents a Centre for all of the NWT and she has a strong desire to tour to the many communities in the NWT.  I can see her moving up the artistic admin ladder in this country very quickly.  

Before I knew it, my time in Yellowknife was over.  I return to Toronto feeling like this short intense trip will affect my work over the coming few years.  It has impacted my identity in a new way.  I feel like we are always wanting to know who we are, as individuals and as a collective.

I now feel like my identity as a Canadian is missing something.  As a group of people, we aren’t what I thought we were.  We were emerging as a very proud Nation.  Proud of our strengths (arts, sport, welcoming spirit).  We’ve invited refugees from Syria, embraced the many cultures to create an incredible multi-cultural scene, we’ve opened our homes and said “Welcome.”  We’re doing a much better job now, having learned from our mistakes, but we can’t excuse, ignore or forget the past.  We have a lot to unpack which I am just experiencing.  We were the ones that arrived on this land.  We were the visitors.  We were the ones that came with a new plan.  I find it very difficult to celebrate that, to celebrate our 150 years of being a country (the True North strong and free).

I strongly encourage anyone who is interested in the North (or Canada) to go.  Go with an open mind and an open heart.  I’m interested to see where this journey leads me and us as a country.  

Your evening links: The Globe and Mail on Cozy

By | A Little Too Cozy, AtG in the News, Joel Ivany, Press | No Comments

The Globe and Mail have written not one but two(!) previews of A Little Too Cozy which we recommend reading:

 

Enter Joel Ivany and Topher Mokrzewski, the brilliant duo at the creative heart of Toronto’s Against the Grain Theatre Company. On the one hand, what Ivany and Mokrzewski have done with Così fan tutte has a 220-year tradition behind it – because Ivany, too, has rewritten the story. But unlike all their previous adapter colleagues, the two have done something new – they have rewritten Così fan tutte to make it more itself, to make it both more relevant to our times and more relevant to its own times. Something of a minor miracle.

Continue reading Robert Harris’ “A Little Too Cozy updates Mozart for the reality-TV world”

 

It all makes perfect sense, this interpretation… All you have to do is look up a plot summary of Così fan tutte to see that it’s a hilarious farce no less ridiculous in its bones than The Bachelorette.

Continue reading TV critic John Doyle’s  “In defence of reality TV and so-called trash TV”