Arts + Music » Cultural Festivals

Fall arts preview: November 2006

Written by Sue Carter Flinn, Johnston Farrow, Sean Flinn, Carsten Knox, Lis van Berkel.

The Hidden Cameras at Stage Nine

The one thing that you can expect from a Hidden Cameras concert is to expect anything. There might be 30 musicians dancing with glockenspiels and Mexican wrestling masks, or there might be five souls, harmonizing in perfect pop pitch. Regardless, you know that the band’s mastermind Joel Gibb will be front and centre—or, like he was at St. Matthews Church two years ago during the Pop Explosion, hovering high above the altar in a way that would probably make the religiously devout scramble for their rosaries.

During an interview before that Pop Explosion concert, Gibb was more than eager to abandon the “gay church folk music” moniker that was running rampant during the release of the band’s first two albums, Mississauga Goddam and The Smell of Our Own, even cutting off conversation when approached on the subject. Well, Mr. Gibb, you’ve succeeded. Awoo, the band’s latest release, is, purely and simply (not in the Biblical sense), a pop masterpiece. Which is great, because Stage Nine doesn’t have any altars or pews to jump around on.

The Cameras’ signature twinkling xylophones and staccato verses are still there, but they’re matched with the sounds from the guitar pedal and an air of early REM. Unlike other Toronto so-called collective bands who seem to switch band names more than their Underoos, Gibb has maintained tight artistic control over the Cameras, even as other members such as Maggie MacDonald (Republic of Safety), who still plays with the band, Gentleman Reg (this year’s rainy-day Pride Festival headliner) and Owen Pallett (Polaris Prize-winning Final Fantasy) spread their musical wings.

What does this mean for you, oh music lover? It means a guaranteed fun night of sweet harmonies and dancing. Lots and lots of dancing. (SCF)

November 11. 10pm. $12 advance/$15 door. Stage Nine, 1567 Grafton.

Jimmy Cuddy Band w/Justin Rutledge at Rebecca Cohn

On the Junos’ red carpet last April, Jimmy Cuddy was a warm and recognizable sight from behind the chilly barricade of the media line, stopping to chat about his time in Halifax, singing duets with Ron Sexsmith, hockey and his new album, The Light That Guides You Home—see the CD review on page 37.

As one-half of the Blue Rodeo songwriting team, Cuddy’s easygoing voice is as familiar as his strong chin and floppy hair. Joining him on this album and on tour at the Rebecca Cohn are Colin Cripps (album producer and Kathleen Edwards’ other half, who also performs a duet with Cuddy on his album), Bazil Donovan on bass (Blue Rodeo), Bob Packwood on keyboards (Blue Rodeo, Oh Susanna), Joel Anderson on drums (Kathleen Edwards) and Anne Lindsay on violin.

Keeping the Canadian music “big happy family” vibe alive is the opening act, Toronto alt-country singer Justin Rutledge, whose fantastic new album The Devil on a Bench in Stanley Park features Cuddy vocals on one track, “I’m Gonna Die (One Sunny Day)”, plus bass and electric guitar from Donovan.

A favourite of the fickle British music press—Rutledge received positive reviews from The Independent, NME and MOJO for his first album No Never Alone, an emotional ride which included the haunting voice of Mary Margaret O’Hara—it seems like a perfect pairing for a chilly Canadian November night. (SCF)

November 18. 8pm. $37. Rebecca Cohn, 6101 University. 494-3820.

Music Nova Scotia Awards

Can you say road trip? Local music gets its moment in the spotlight when the Music Nova Scotia Awards weekend kicks off in Liverpool from November 10 to 12. Besides the awards ceremony itself, which will take place at the Astor Theatre on the final day of the proceedings, the weekend features a variety of spotlights on up-and-coming artists. A conference at White Point Resort makes the event worth the drive to the South Shore for anyone involved with the provincial scene.

“It’s as much a celebration as it is recognition,” says Music Nova Scotia executive director Gordon Lapp. “We’re really trying to make this a celebration of the fraternity that we call the industry in Nova Scotia. And that’s certainly one of the things we’ll strive for, is to put the music industry in one place, take a look around and say, ‘You know what, we have a pretty serious music industry all to itself, just within Nova Scotia.’”

Voted on by over 650 members of Music Nova Scotia, the awards go to both performers and industry professionals. Previous big winners include Jill Barber, Lennie Gallant, Crush and Meaghan Smith, but it’s the young performers who benefit most from the exposure.This year, Classified scored six nominations, In-Flight Safety nabbed five, and Jenn Grant, Tanya Davis and JP Cormier each took four.

“They are important to the grassroots performers,” Lapp says. “They’re certainly something to put on the resume. It perhaps means more to the younger, emerging artists than it does the more seasoned artists, however, last year our big winners were Joel Plaskett and Matt Mays, so it’s not exclusively for those artists.”

Part of the conference caters to Atlantic Presenters Association, responsible for booking many shows across the Maritimes. Members come to the awards weekend in search of new talent and business opportunities. Fans, artists and industry folk should go to musicnovascotia.ca for more details.

“Obviously it’s to drive some commerce when you end up bringing the presenters to the same conference that we’re at, hopefully we’ll drive some bookings,” Lapp says. “They get together a few times a year and block book, so they’ll create a tour with a number of artists. We obviously hope they’ll give consideration to artists from here.” (JF)

November 10-12. Various events around Liverpool. 423-6271. www.musicnovascotia.ca

House of Sand, Monday Night Movies, AFCOOP

This year, the Atlantic Film Cooperative is trying a new approach with their Monday Night Movies series, which, in an effort to fill a hole in the film community traditionally taken by a repertory cinema, screens films that don’t find a home in the mainstream multiplexes. “We’re really hoping to expand the program,” says membership and programming coordinator Erin Oakes. “We want to bring in more foreign films.” Oakes notes that many more North American-made limited release pictures are being screened in cinemas in Halifax these days, so AFCOOP is putting its efforts elsewhere.

In October, Monday Night Movies will screen Live and Become, a film that examines the lives of Ethiopian Jews in Israel—originally set for October 2, it’ll be moved to later in the month since Yom Kippur falls on the same day this year—and on November 20, they’ll show House of Sand, a Brazilian film that has done very well on the festival circuit, winning an award at Sundance. It stars mother/daughter acting team Fernanda Montenegro and Fernanda Torres, major stars in their native Brazil, who play three generations of mother and daughter. Also starring is the David Bowie-covering, The Life Aquatic-performing singer/actor Seu Jorge.

In predicting future Monday Night Movies, Oakes says the programming wheels are in motion. “We are looking at a couple of documentaries. There will definitely be some more foreign films and a few North American films that won’t find their way to the local cinemas.” She also mentions the possibility of a program of short films. “Basically we are looking for innovative and interesting films, and we are hoping to increase the diversity of programming in the city, but as anyone who has been involved in film presentation in Halifax can tell you, it can be a real uphill battle to get people interested in seeing a film that they may not know too much about beforehand.” (CK)

November 20. 7pm. $7-$9. Park Lane. www.afcoop.ca

NSCAD: the ’80s exhibition at Anna Leonowens Gallery

“Here are a few keywords to jog your memories,” reads Bruce Barber’s invitation to his colleagues to participate in NSCAD: the ’80s exhibition. “Junk bonds, hostile takeovers, leveraged buyouts, mega-mergers, double digit inflation. Binge buying and credit became a way of life; corporate labels were everywhere and promised everything.”

At first blush, the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University film studies professor, who’s also director of the MFA program, is more of a ’70s guy: he received one of his MFAs from NSCAD in 1978—the year that NSCAD completed its restoration of its buildings on the Halifax waterfront. (His other is from University of Auckland in Barber’s hometown.)

But his witty appeal for submissions to the show, which runs October 31 to November 11 at the Anna Leonowens Gallery, nails the ’80s. “The decade witnessed the entrenchment of computers, video games, aerobics, minivans, camcorders, MTV and talk shows in our everyday lives. Michael Jackson’s glove, Madonna’s fishnet stockings, leather and chains became the fetishistic symbols of the period as did Cabbage Patch Dolls™, Pet Rocks©, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Barbies™ (now Black, Hispanic and Asian). Welcome to globalization!”

NSCAD: the ’80s is timed to coincide with the University Art Association of Canada meeting taking place in Halifax, which is expected to draw over 100 art historians and artists from across Canada to NSCAD U for the first week of November. Participants will discuss papers like Where do things come from? Stories, images, objects, and the making of worlds, and Barber’s own Peter Greenaway’s Enigmatic Anagrams.

Not all the invited artists have signed on for NSCAD: the ’80s. So far, Robin Muller, on faculty since 1979 and currently head of the textiles department, is submitting a textile work entitled “W” from 1982, sewn from cotton industrial webbing. Michael Fernandes is exhibiting “I am a terrorist,” from the exhibition Art Against Militarism, held at Anna Leonowens in 1986. (LVB)

October 30-November 11, opening reception at 5pm. Free. Anna Leonowens Gallery, 1891 Granville. 494-8223. www.nscad.ca

Helen Gregory at Gallery Page and Strange

Helen Gregory’s prints remind me of a friend who collects unusual objects—birds’ wings, turtle shells, unusually shaped sticks. Combined with a penchant for tea-stained mugs, perpetually half-closed blinds and leftovers, those things create the aura of an eccentric old woman—except the friend is just 53.

I have no idea how old Gregory is. But the acrylic paintings slated for Gallery Page and Strange’s November show, entitled Dessicate, are a record of macabre and antique pastimes: the collecting of small animal skeletons and honeycombs, lepidoptery, flower-drying. The objects, all relics of another time, are painted in exquisite, anatomical detail against a velvet wallpaper backdrop—or are those coffin linings?

But Gregory is no 19th century artist. No, she has been exhibiting her paintings and prints since 1991, and although she has lived in Halifax, she’s currently based in St John’s, Newfoundland, where she’s received numerous awards and grants, like the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council “Emerging Artist of the Year” in 1996 and first prize in the Senior Painting Division in 2000.

“I just really like her work a lot,” says Victoria Strange, who actually met Gregory at Studio 21 Gallery. “She never had a show , but they had some of her print work for sale.”

Gregory is exhibited widely in Atlantic Canada and been included in many major group exhibitions, including Fredericton, Charlottetown and St. John’s. Her works are held in numerous public and private collections, most significantly the National Gallery in Ottawa and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

“It is an exploration of life and death, and the beauty which occurs within that decay,” according to Strange. “An image of a bird carcass can be challenging subject matter and even seen as repulsive, but when it is painted in such a pristine and accurate way, with lush textile backgrounds, I can’t help my attraction. The work is slightly unsettling, but also beautiful and seductive.” (LVB)

November 3-24. Gallery Page and Strange. 1869 Granville. 422-8995. www.pageandstrange.com

Yang Hong at Studio 21

In 2005, NSCAD MFA graduate Yang Hong’s paintings attracted the jury of the RBC Canadian Painting competition, where he was selected as a regional semi-finalist, along with Mathew Reichertz, who received a honourable mention (Reichertz is also representing the east in this year’s $50,000 Sobey Award, to be announced on November 7, at Montreal’s Musée des Beaux-arts).

It’s easy to understand why the RBC jury was attracted to Hong’s deceivingly simple oil, enamel and polyurethane paintings. Set against rich colour fields, small spheres fall like gumballs from a candy encaustic sky. Painted in contrasting colours, each ball contains its own light source, playing with movement and spatial relationships. Some hover in gravity-defying space, others tumble and fall towards the earth. There’s a wonderful playfulness that is both childlike—you can immediately relate to his bouncing balls—and utterly sophisticated at the same time. It’s like going into Freak Lunchbox and purchasing $100 worth of candy with your own hard-earned money.

Since his RBC nomination, Hong has seen his work exhibited around the country, including Weather or Not at Lennox Contemporary in Toronto and as part of a group show of Chinese descent artists at Ross Creek Centre for the Arts. It’s no surprise that he is now represented by Studio 21—gallery director and owner Ineke Graham has a keen eye and history of attracting some of NSCAD’s finest graduates. (SCF)

October 20-November 8. Studio 21, 1223 Lower Water. 420-1852. www.studio21.ca

Marathon ’33

Plans for Marathon ’33 are still very “bare bones,” says set designer Katherine Jenkins, over the phone. It’s more than two months before the play will be staged through Dalhousie University’s theatre program—you can’t even buy tickets for it yet.

But as Jenkins explains, it’s supposed to be rough. A little like a reality TV show, but one that’s set in the Depression era. “Basically it takes place in the ’30s with the dance marathons, which were actually quite brutal —just sadistic really” she says. “People who don’t have money, or they have vaudeville careers. Some entrepreneurial people invite them to dance for—we figured this out—something like 40 days, with 15-minute breaks. It was just sort of a freak show.”

Jenkins can’t say yet how much director Heiner Pillar will make of the connection between reality television and these marathon dance contests, only that “it’s come up.” Another unresolved fact: although women outnumber men by about four to one at the theatre school, gender probably won’t be explored in this staging, says Jenkins.

Marathon ’33 seems to be undergoing something of a revival: It opened in mid-September at Chicago’s Strawdog Theatre, where it’s being hailed as the rarely seen semi-autobiographical work by the sister of famed burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee, June Havoc.

By the way, Jenkins is not a student. She’s a recent scenography grad of the technical theatre program who’s spent the past two summers doing set design at Ship’s Company in Parrsboro. She’ll be mentored on Marathon ’33, but she says, “They’re pretty much leaving me to do it.” (LVB)

November 28-December 2. Sir James Dunn Theatre, 6101 University. 494-3820.

MACRO/micro at Eyelevel Gallery

Eryn Foster at Eyelevel Gallery knows a thing or two about small art. Her Gottingen Street exhibition space is pretty confining: The former storefront space holds their “office”—a wrap-around counter, plus two small rooms. It also includes one of the tiniest rooms art’s ever been shown in—the bathroom.

So it’s somehow fitting that MACRO/micro is the theme Foster’s picked for the next show being planned for Eyelevel, featuring work by four or five artists—one of whom uses spitballs as her working material—including Leah Garnett and Clint Wilson.

Greater Than Smaller Than was the aptly named show Garnett, currently an assistant professor at Mount Allison University in Sackville, had last winter at Mercer Union in Toronto, where she explored her interest in questioning scale. It included “Glowdome,” a sheet-covered tent with phosphorescent dots painted on the interior and very low frequency radio waves emitted by electromagnetic disturbances in the atmosphere. If that sounds familiar, a similar piece, “Personal Planetarium,” is her contribution to Roots & Shoots, currently at Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery.

On the other end of the celestial scale, Edmonton artist Clint Wilson—who’s unsure what he’ll contribute to MACRO/micro—says of a project called “Particle Theory,” “It’s a recent body of large photographic work that constructs star maps from the high-res scanning and enlargement of household dust particles. I have imaged 10 constellations, over the last year that appear frequently over the northern skies and have included the imaging date, right ascension and declination data on the lower right corner of each print.” You might recall Wilson’s art showed in 2000 at the Khyber—the re-animation of a flock of dead birds.

What interests Foster about these disparate works? “Just how artists bring the really, really big or really, really small into more of a human scale.” (LVB)

November 2-December 10. Free. Eyelevel Gallery, 2128 Gottingen. 425-6412. www.eyelevelgallery.ca

This Is How It Goes at Neptune Studio Theatre

Every season, Neptune Theatre seems to book an edgy play designed to add a darker substance to the style some of the larger productions lack. This fall, it’s esteemed playwright Neil LaBute’s This Is How It Goes that will get the dramatic juices flowing.

Many might know LaBute from the sharply satirical films In the Company of Men and The Shape of Things, the latter of in which Rachel Weisz uses Paul Rudd as the unknowing subject of her Masters thesis, using betrayal as the context.

This Is How It Goes tackles the issues of race, love, betrayal (again) and social hierarchy, with bigotry also part of the theme. The main characters are an interracial couple that finds their partnership questioned when the wife becomes attracted to a former (white) classmate that comes to stay with them. The play recently made waves in an off-Broadway production starring Ben Stiller, Amanda Peet and Geoffrey Wright.

Fast-rising Torontonian director Daryl Cloran brings the play to the Neptune Studio stage, leaving his job as artistic director of the ensemble Theatrefront. Designer Lorenzo Savoini, who frequents with the Stratford Festival of Canada, lends his talents to the set after designing the 2005-2006 Neptune productions God of Hell and Trying. (JF)

November 7-26. Neptune Studio Theatre, 1593 Argyle. 429-7070. www.neptunetheatre.com

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