Lydia Perovic Finds Young Artists Buckling Down to Serious Business in a Picture-Postcard Environment Where You'd Think Hard Work Would Be the Last Thing on Their Minds

Opera Canada, Spring 2017 | Go to article overview

Lydia Perovic Finds Young Artists Buckling Down to Serious Business in a Picture-Postcard Environment Where You'd Think Hard Work Would Be the Last Thing on Their Minds


Banff and its environs can be beautiful to the point of distraction. I learned this on day one of a visit to the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity just before Canada Day this year: it only took a quick walk through the woods into town, toward the pedestrian bridge across the rushing Bow River. Hotels and houses in quaint mountain styles, a good number graced with a blue heritage plaque and accompanying story. Side streets named after animals--buffalo, beaver, otter, bear, wolf and elk all present--are quiet, while busyness gravitates toward the many biking and walking trails around town and the main drag, Banff Avenue, packed day and night with people of all backgrounds and accents. Through the pines, in the distance, snow-dusted massifs of the Rockies, and blue skies with cotton-candy clouds everywhere you turn. The Whyte Museum of the Rockies invites passersby to This Wild Spirit: Women in the Reeky Mountains of Canada. The Fudgery on main street tempts with 20 different varieties of chocolate, nuts and fudge combinations. There is a free Parks Canada shuttle to Lake Louise. There are canoes and bicycles to be rented. There's a cableway ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain. How is anybody getting any work done here in the summer, I wonder? Would the temptation not be to spend a Banff Centre artistic residence playing hooky?

The opposite happens, it turns out. Work intensifies at Banff: all the artists I speak to tell me that. Christopher Mokrzewski, Calgary Opera's Resident Conductor and Founding Artistic Director of Toronto's Against the Grain Theatre, describes it as the "Banff effect"--energy, collaboration and urgency increase here. Caroline Forde, telling me about the Wardrobe Practicum program she's been attending, describes Banff life as highly structured with enjoyably long hours. Amanda Smith, Artistic Director of Toronto's FAWN Chamber Creative but in Banff to stage two multi-disciplinary Chamber Werx shows built around thematically grouped arias and art songs, tells me that each of the Werx came out of intense 12- and 11-day periods respectively: "It would be much more difficult to do this anywhere other than Banff. The environment made true collaboration much easier, since we all lived and worked together all day, every day."

Banff has programs in all artistic disciplines and they take shape either as hands-on collaborative summer intensives for young professionals or as self-directed residencies (for the more solitary work of writers and visual artists, for example). They all offer good facilities and equipment and cost not a small amount of money to attend, though scholarships covering some or most of the cost of attendance are also on offer through individual programs. More established artists come to Banff as faculty members. It's useful to have Banff on one's artistic CV; it's a place of learning, yes, but also a place of making career-changing contacts.

Open Space: Opera in the 21st Century is the main opera program, co-presented by Banff, the Canadian Opera Company and Against the Grain. Participants were hard at work on the final two rehearsals of Claude Vivier's Kopernikus when I arrived. The returning Against the Grain Theatre faculty Joel Ivany (Program Director) and Mokrze wski (Music Director) were joined this year by a host of vocal coaches, lighting designer Jason Hand, dramaturge Leela Gilday and choreographer Matjash Mrozewski. The singing roles as well as the assisting positions (assistant repetiteur, assistant stage director, assistant conductor and an opera administrator) were assigned to applicants to the five-week residency program, which for Kopernikus included mezzo Danielle MacMillan, sopranos Danika Loren and Jennifer Taverner, baritones Micah Schroeder and Adam Harris and bass Michael Uloth.

It was Ivany who found the Canadian chamber opera for the summer of Canada's 150th year. He had first heard of Kopernikus when American director Peter Sellars mentioned it in an interview as a work he was eager to stage. …

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