Arts + Music » Cultural Festivals

Fall arts preview: September 2006

There are plenty of places to show off your big sweaters and skinny jeans this season, with our ten arts picks for each autumn month.


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

FUN 100 at Gus’ Pub

There’s a good chance Vancouver indie-punk band FUN 100 will partake in just that when they hit Gus’ Pub stage on September 29 with The Maynards and Windom Earle. The quintet arrives in Halifax after being in the car several weeks into a cross-Canada tour to promote its latest split seven-inch, released with their west coast peers Paper Lanterns. “We’ll probably haven’t had showers in a few days, we’ll stink and we’ll be in a bad mood,” says drummer Bruce Dyck.

FUN 100 got their start two years ago when four of the five members moved to Vancouver after growing up in Abbotsford, British Columbia. Dyck and his brother, lead singer and keyboardist Ryan, came up with the name while working as teenagers.

“It comes from these stickers at a grocery store my brother and I both worked at before we moved to Vancouver,” Bruce Dyck says. “The stickers were for bottle returns that you would stick on the bags. It was just a code to identify the store, which was Funk Foods.”

Some critics have taken to calling the band teenage-new wave-pop-punk, although four of the five members are in their early 20s. The group draws influences from esteemed, old school Vancouver punk bands and the newer generation that relies more on synths to keep the party going.

“It’s been like that for a few years,” Dyck says. “When I started going to shows out here, Hot Hot Heat and the Red Lights were just starting to take off and I think those bands influenced a lot of other bands. But Vancouver has always had a lot of synth in their bands, like the ’70s punk bands Pointed Sticks and the Modernettes.”

When it comes to lyrical content, FUN 100 is much like its moniker, with spoofs on a variety of subjects such as monkeys, movie sequels, sitcoms, hockey and high school relationships. “Most of our lyrics are about things from the early ’90s,” Dyck says. “I don’t think we’ve ever decided that we would do that but everytime we write a song, it ends up being about the early ’90s.” (JF)

September 29, Gus’ Pub, 2605 Agricola. www.fun-100.com

Jill Barber at St. Matthew’s Church

Jill Barber speaks with a sense of sweet relief over a coffee, a couple days after completing her full-length debut For All Time, the follow-up to the acclaimed and beloved Oh Heart EP. She felt no end of pressure, though she says, “Most of it was self-imposed. I feel I went to great personal lengths to make the best record I could.”

The singer-songwriter dug deep for this one and came up with a collection of songs that shows true evolution. She sounds confident, even tougher, on several of the songs, including “Just For Now.” It comes right off the top and has a slow-burning soul-blues feel to it. Lyrically, the album distills the ups and downs experienced in a couple of years. “There’s some really optimistic love songs coupled with songs that deal with losing love,” Barber says. This is love and loss in broad terms, of course. The lyrical concerns and themes go beyond the romantic on tunes such as “Legacy,” an ode to someone close, now lost.

Barber’s a writer of intelligence, craft and economy. Her writing and music sync up perfectly. This shines through on “Hard Line,” where an uppity beat—complete with finger snaps and stomping feet—reinforces the sense of restlessness and impatience one committed lover has with an indecisive one. “With the current line-up of songs I really locked in with the players,” Barber says.

Her producer on all the sessions that went into the album, Les Cooper, plays guitar and more on the record. Her brother Matt, who will open her September 30 show at St. Matthew’s Church, duets on “Two Brown Eyes,” while Jim Cuddy sings on “Don’t Go Easy.” Blue Rodeo bassist Basil Donovan and Luke Doucet are on there too.

After the Halifax show, Barber leaves for Toronto to launch For All Time there. Then she tours England and Ireland, before coming back to Canada to open for Ron Sexsmith on a theatre tour in late November and December. (SF)

September 30. 8pm. $12 advance/$15 door. St. Matthew’s United Church, 1479 Barrington. 494-3820. www.jillbarber.com www.sonicconcerts.com

Cronenberg Cocktail at Dal Art Gallery

When he started out, David Cronenberg carved himself a niche as a visceral—in all senses of the word—horror director, but over time he’s earned props as a far more complex filmmaking entity, doing literary adaptations (M. Butterfly) as well as cultural critiques (A History of Violence). If you’re unfamiliar with the canon of the greatest Canadian filmmaker (if you disagree your head will explode and your belly will become a top-loading VCR), check out the Dalhousie Art Gallery’s Film and Video Program, Cronenberg Cocktail, starting September 27 and continuing on irregular Wednesdays October through December.

Though noticeably absent are a few gems such as Scanners, The Dead Zone and Crash, the series offers the rare opportunity to see early work such as Stereo and Crimes of the Future. “They are eerie and extraordinary,” says Ron Foley MacDonald, local film writer and curator of the series. “Cronenberg established himself as a genre filmmaker—a genre not terribly respected outside of Hitchcock, the horror thriller—and built this international reputation that transcended regional concerns.”

Also screening are Cronenberg essentials such as Videodrome, The Fly and, maybe his masterpiece, Dead Ringers. It is first and foremost a character study of twin gynecologists, played with cadaverous virtuosity by Jeremy Irons. The film gets to the core of a very particular anxiety—fear of the medical profession—especially acute for women in the audience, given the crawling madness that overcomes these experts in female anatomy. Also on the sked is Naked Lunch, inspired by, but barely recognizable as, the William H. Burroughs novel, as well as eXistenZ and last year’s A History of Violence.

MacDonald presents an illustrated lecture on Cronenberg called “Those Queasy Contours” on October 26 at 8pm at the Dalhousie Art Gallery. It’s bound to be juicy. (CK)

Wednesdays from September 27-December 13. 12:30pm, 8pm. Free. Dalhousie Art Gallery, 6101 University. 494-2403. www.artgallery.dal.ca

Manhattan Short Film Festival

You’d be forgiven for thinking the Atlantic Film Festival is the only game in town when it comes to movies through September, but you’d be wrong. The Manhattan Short Film Festival is happening concurrently, with two screenings on September 21 and 22 at NSCAD, 5163 Duke Street, in the Bell Auditorium. So, if the AFF shorts programs are sold out, or if you just enjoy the work of fresh new voices in international cinema, this will be something to see.

“Nick Mason, a guy from Australia who lives in New York, runs the whole thing,” says Cailin O’Neil, a NSCAD film student who is in charge of the Halifax end of the fest. “He started it showing films in Union Square off the back of a truck.”

The New York-based festival organizers received 437 entries from around the world and chose the 12 best to be screened across the US, Canada and Europe and to be voted upon by audiences in what the website calls “the largest short-film festival in the world.”

The short voted “most creative” will be announced on September 25 in New York, and the winning filmmaker will be given the opportunity to direct a feature. So, if you go—all 12 shorts will be screened both nights—be prepared to cast your vote.

O’Neil isn’t necessarily trying to compete with the AFF: The Trailer Park Boys crewmember and This Hour Has 22 Minutes intern has her own short film, Forgotten—“not to be confused with The Forgotten,” she says—screening at the Atlantic Film Festival on Wednesday, September 20, as part of the AFF’s Atlantic Shorts program.

And, just in case you feel you need more incentive to check out the Manhattan Film Festival, it’s reasonably priced ($6 at the door, cash only) and O’Neil says she’s considering donating some of the proceeds to “a film scholarship program starting up at NSCAD.” (CK)

September 21-22. 8pm. $6. NSCAD Bell Auditorium, 5163 Duke Street. www.msfilmfest.com

Carl Zimmerman at Art Gallery of Nova Scotia

It is said we live in a post-industrial age. This is the digital age, man. Technology and information rule. We’ve come a long way. Haven’t we?

Still, it’s hard to ignore the continuing presence and impact of the industrial on contemporary life, especially when it comes to architecture and its symbolism—the built forms stemming from industrial periods and the dreams of prosperity and advancement they embody.

Cape Breton artist Carl Zimmerman zeroed in on this presence by creating a series of his own small-scale architectural maquettes in Landmarks of Industrial Britain. He sets these models into an installation and photographs the entire thing. The effect is immediate. The buildings loom and have weight. Zimmerman creates the illusion of actual buildings standing somewhere in Britain.

The artist imagines public buildings and monuments. As societies prosper and industrial economies grow, they produce strong communities, great public projects, or so the thinking goes, going back to the 19th century when the Industrial Revolution began in western Europe.

Zimmerman’s fictional buildings also provide rich comment on how Western societies like to build, and build upon, wealth. Looking at these buildings you start to get the sense that it’s all so fleeting and futile—that it’s all empty symbolism.

The show, guest-curated by Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery director Robin Metcalfe, also brings ideas of architecture into the art gallery. This is a great thing because there are few opportunities for the public to consider architecture and its role in life today. The work reminds you that architecture amounts to more than the way something looks. The structures reflect thinking and ideas of the time. Sure, these buildings are made up, but walking out from Zimmerman’s show you’ll probably start looking at, and thinking about, the buildings in your midst. (SF)

September 30-January 7, 2007. $3-$12. Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, 1723 Hollis. www.agns.gov.ns.ca

Fire and Ice at Rebecca Cohn

Susanne Yi-Jia Hou knows Nicolo Paganini’s “Violin Concerto no. 1 in D major” a little too well. The acclaimed violinist, who started playing at age four, met her match when she started practising the piece as a nine-year-old with her father. As a way to teach his daughter discipline, he told her she had to play one passage of the piece 10 times flawlessly and if she messed up, she had to play it three more times in addition to the number left to play.

“He said, ‘You have to know how to play this 10 times out of 10 because when you’re on stage, and you need to play this, you have to be able to deliver at that moment and you also have to be able to respond to your musical notions,’” she recalls. “Soon it went up to 11, 14, 17, 20 and all the way until I had to play it 217 times. I remember crying, saying I couldn’t do it anymore, but slowly but surely, every one of those 217 times I got. We stopped around midnight.”

Now 28, the Mississauga-raised, New York-based musician will tackle the piece when she brings her dedication, talent and craft studied at Juilliard to the Rebecca Cohn stage for Fire and Ice in Symphony Nova Scotia’s season opener on September 26. The Symphony will also play Mussorgsky’s “Night on the Bare Mountain,” familiar to those who have seen Walt Disney’s Fantasia, and Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony no. 4.”

“Paganini is disputably one of the most technically challenging composer that wrote for the instrument,” she says. “It’s like the Bible of violin technique. The first concerto explores many of these technical elements. If you were a figure skater, this would be akin to a program with quadruple and triple axles all over the place.” (JF)

September 26. 8pm. $29-$45. Rebecca Cohn, 6101 University. 494-3820. www.symphonynovascotia.ca

Mocean Dance at Sir James Dunn Theatre

Mocean Dance is Carolle Crooks, Sarah Di Quinzio, Sara Harrigan and Alicia Orr MacDonald, but from September 28 to 30, it’s also another Halifax native, Melanie Ferro. Because Orr MacDonald is on maternity leave, Ferro has temporarily joined the five-year old company for the realization of Toronto choreographer Michael Trent’s Mappa Mundi.

Still keen to talk up this “map of the world,” Orr MacDonald is clearly invested in Mocean Dance pulling off this full-length dance piece.

“Michael always says he starts from a universe of nothing,” she explains. “So he and the girls have mapped out a world of movement, and within those sub-worlds, a lot of patterns and spatial interactions.”

What’s just as intriguing is that Mappa Mundi also represents their second collaboration— recalling About, So Far earlier this year—with multimedia artist Kenneth Doren, who contributes original music to the piece. Doren creates what he calls interdisciplinary “digital operas,” which incorporate video, dance, theatrical staging and music.

Mappa Mundi is “very different” from another recent collaboration that the members of Mocean Dance took on with Mary Ellen Maclean’s Velocipede, in which they portrayed some of the acrobatic bicyclists in the piece. “That’s definitely different than what we do,” says Orr MacDonald by way of clarification. “We’re a contemporary dance company, and that was primarily a theatre piece with movement.”

As they enthusiastically describe it on their website, Mocean Dance wants to “expose audiences to work that enhances their appreciation for dance.” Presumably, they achieve that by keeping as busy as they are, and by continually pushing the envelope with edgy interdisciplinary pieces like this. (LVB)

September 28-October 1. 8pm. $15-$20. Sir James Dunn Theatre, 6101 University. 494-3820. www.moceandance.com

FemFest & Atlantic Waves Conference

Krista Davis says she’s going to sell handmade pins that say, “Born Again Feminist,” at FemFest, between October 13 and 15, in honour of her own initiation into the tribe. That’s because, before becoming one of the organizers of FemFest, Davis says she wouldn’t have been drawn to something with a “feminist” handle.

“My friends, our moms, just talked about like it was just all about burning bras,” she said.

The programming coordinator at the Khyber Centre for the Arts is embracing her new religion: She’s a key player in two new components of the event which celebrated women artists for the first time at a performance event last fall.

First, Davis is curator for this year’s visual art show in the Khyber’s Turret—which will include work by people considered to be tried-and-true feminists, such as Emily Vey Duke, Glynis Humphries and the NSCAD Feminist Collective. And secondly, she’s coordinator for the Atlantic Waves Conference at Saint Mary’s University.

“The topics are so broad,” she says. “From creative things to political and social activism. Harlequin romances to the prisons system in Nova Scotia to Stephen Lewis’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers program.” Davis insists the workshops, papers and panel discussions are not just for academics: Students from throughout the Atlantic provinces will participate as well as their profs, women from women’s centres and “just interested people.”

Partners are the SMU Women’s Centre and Feminists for Just & Equitable Public Policy (FemJEPP), a Nova Scotia-wide alliance of equality seeking women’s groups, social activists and individual women wanting to improve public policy. FemJEPP was one of the main organizers last year, but they’re playing more of an advisory role this year, says Davis.

The weekend will also include a coffee house and open mic at SMU’s Gorsebrook Lounge on Friday night, a music/performance night celebrating Atlantic Canadian female talent at Reflections Cabaret on Saturday, and a boutique showcasing female artisans and other interested vendors that will be present throughout the conference. (LVB)

October 13-15. Various locations around town. digitalephemera@hotmail.com. www.atlanticwavesconference.ca

Wayne Johnston

For a long time now, something magical has been happening on Newfoundland’s contemporary literary scene. Perhaps most famously in lit circles, there’s Canada’s equivalent to the Algonquin Round Table—the St. John’s writing group Burning Rock, which includes among others, Giller nominee Lisa Moore (Alligator), punctuation-bender Michael Winter (The Big Why) and talented short-story writer Ramona Dearing (So Beautiful). The works of Edward Riche (The Nine Planets), Michael Crummey (The Wreckage) and Kenneth J. Harvey (Inside) have become synonymous with their home province. And then there are those who simply can’t keep their talents contained in one discipline: Just look at novelist and playwright Joel Hynes, who lends his writing and acting skills to the hilarious CBC series, Hatching, Matching and Dispatching.

CanLit favourite Wayne Johnston, who currently calls Toronto home, hasn’t lived in Newfoundland for more than a decade, but his muse still resides on the rock. He’s perhaps best known for the Giller-nominated The Navigator of New York, an epic story about Devlin Stead, a young man who leaves St. John’s for the dark, hellish Brooklyn of 1900.

His latest novel The Custodian of Unrequited Dreams picks up the story of Sheilagh Fielding, a character he introduced in another novel, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams—a fictional account based on the true-life events of Joey Smallwood, Newfoundland’s most controversial figure responsible for bringing the province into Confederation. Fielding, a journalist with a penchant for the Scotch bottle, was Smallwood’s lost love. Through letters, memories, diaries and news stories, Johnston deftly explores this independent and wilful character.

In a literary double-header, Johnston reads with former Coast cover star Ami McKay, whose lovely first novel The Birth House has hovered near the top of national best-sellers’ lists for the past six months. (SCF)

September 27. 7:30pm. $10/$40 w/book and reserved seat. Dalhousie McInnes Room, 6136 University. 429-3318.

Word on the Street

If you’re a Word on the Street newbie, you will find others like you at this year’s festival.

For the first time, graphic novelists and comics creators will participate in the event. “It’s in reaction to a growing trend among readers and publishers,” explains Heather Gibson, the festival’s executive director. “We’ve wanted to have a graphic novel area for a couple of years now.”

Getting the likes of Seth (Wimbledon Green and more), Hope Larson (Salamander Dream), Bryan Lee O’Malley (Scott Pilgrim) and Rebecca Kraatz (House of Sugar) to the festival, Gibson says, is due to having Calum Johnston, owner of Strange Adventures, on the festival board. “Graphic novelists, and often their publishers, are not in the same network of authors and publishers as, say, fiction and non-fiction. Calum has brought that network and knowledge to the festival,” Gibson says.

This will also be the first Word on the Street appearance for novelist Lesley Crewe. She reads from her second novel published by Vagrant Press, Shoot Me (her first was Relative Happiness). Crewe lives in Homeville, a tiny, out-of-the-way place near Glace Bay, Cape Breton.

The isolation works for Crewe, who grew up in Montreal, though she says she looks forward to heading down to Halifax to talk with other writers. “We’re kind of a lonely lot,” she laughs. “It’s exciting whenever I’m in Halifax, but I have to come home.”

Crewe’s father also wrote, including a guidebook to the Montreal Olympics of 1976. “I remember him spending a lot of time behind the closed study door,” she says.

In Shoot Me, Crewe brings readers behind the doors of the Brooks’ family’s south-end Halifax home. A disruptive aunt comes to town and—perhaps fulfilling the fantasies of many of us when it comes to relatives—someone kills her. “We used to go for walks in Halifax,” Crewe, who studied at Dalhousie, remembers. Looking at the old homes, she’d think, “I wonder what goes on in that house?” (SF)

September 24. 11am-5pm. Free. Cunard Event Centre at Pier 23. www.thewordonthestreet.ca

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