RSC honours Fine Arts professors

More than 400 of Canada’s brightest academic minds will be converging on Victoria this weekend as the Royal Society of Canada—Canada’s national academy—comes to town. The RSC’s annual general meeting runs November 26-28 at the Fairmont Empress and will feature scientists, scholars and artists from across the country. But while such a grand gathering of vibrant minds is notable in itself, it’s triply important for Fine Arts as three of our own are being honoured.

UVic's new RSC honorands featuring Hodgins (third from left), Biro and MacLeod (far right). (UVic Photo Services)

UVic’s new RSC honorands featuring Hodgins (third from left), Biro and MacLeod (far right). (UVic Photo Services)

Celebrated playwright, Department of Writing professor and UVic alumna Joan MacLeod is one of three UVic professors elected as new fellows—the country’s highest academic honour—while noted composer and School of Music professor Dániel Péter Biró has been elected as one of three new members of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists (colloquially known as the RSC’s “rising stars”). Finally, acclaimed author and retired Writing professor Jack Hodgins will be presented with the RSC’s 2014 Pierce Medal for outstanding achievement in imaginative literature, alongside two other UVic medal winners.

“The Faculty of Fine Arts is fortunate to have colleagues of the calibre of professor Joan MacLeod and Dr. Biró, both of whom bring their research and creative practice to bear on their teaching and mentorship of our students,” says Susan Lewis, Acting Dean of Fine Arts. “We congratulate our two colleagues on their appointments to the RSC.”

Joan MacLeod

Joan MacLeod

Lewis is quick to praise MacLeod’s creative output. “One of Canada’s foremost playwrights, MacLeod’s works explore contemporary social justice issues with characters who are often on the margins of Canadian society,” she says. “She has received numerous awards including the Governor General’s Award for Drama, two Chalmers’ Canadian Play Awards, a Dora Award and the Siminovitch Prize.”

For her part, MacLeod seems equally happy and surprised by the honour. “I’m pleased about the Royal nod because my research is my stage plays, of course—my artistic practice,” she says. “I have always had a sense of community in theatre and writing, but academic community is something else. To be included in a group of eminent scholars, scientists . . . it’s astounding.” MacLeod joins existing Faculty of Fine Arts Royal Society Fellows Tim Lilburn, Mary Kerr and Lorna Crozier.

Lewis, also the Director of the School of Music, well knows the work of her colleague Biró, noting his position at the forefront of music composition and research. “In 2011, Dániel was Visiting Professor at Utrecht University and in 2014-2015, Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University. His compositions are performed around the world and he is internationally active as a composer, researcher, performer, lecturer and teacher,” she says.

Dániel Péter Biró (photo: Linda Sheldon)

Dániel Péter Biró (photo: Linda Sheldon)

“I am happy to be elected a member of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists,” Biró says. “Composing music is not only creating something new, but also discovering the past. It’s almost like we’re conservationists of culture.”

Biró notes that the Aventa Ensemble’s Mark McGregor will be performing one of his pieces—Kivrot Hata’avah (Graves of Craving), for solo bass flute—during the RSC Gala. “This composition was selected to represent Canada in the International Society of Contemporary Music 2013 World New Music Days in Vienna,” he says. “McGregor commissioned the piece and will premiere this new version.”

Be sure to check out this new UVic video featuring Biró discussing his work.

For those not familiar with his many books, the Comox Valley-born Jack Hodgins is an influential writer dedicated to chronicling the people and stories of Vancouver Island. Winner of the Governor General’s Award in 1979 for The Resurrection of Joseph Bourne, he was also presented with the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence in 2006, was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2009, and won the 2011 City of Victoria Book Prize for his recent novel The Master of Happy Endings. He taught with the Department of Writing from 1983 to 2002 and, in the process, became a mentor to a whole new generation of authors.

 Jack Hodgins (photo: Don Denton)

Jack Hodgins (photo: Don Denton)

Yet Hodgins’ creative efforts are not limited to the page. In 2014, he wrote “Cadillac Cathedral” which he performed live on stage with the Vancouver men’s choir Chor Leoni, composer Christopher Donnison created an opera based on several short stories from Hodgins’ book The Barclay Family Theatre, and his life has been commemorated in the NFB documentary Jack Hodgins’ Island.

The Royal Society AGM kicks off with a public event—a special day-long symposium on Canadian marine biodiversity on Thursday, Nov. 26—followed by the welcoming of new fellows and college members into its fold and awarding medals for outstanding achievement. UVic is undeniably proud to have eight researchers among those being honoured. “This incredible breadth of expertise and impact really speaks to this university’s research strength as a whole,” says David Castle, UVic’s vice-president research.

UVic President Jamie Cassels is equally excited by the event. “We’re very pleased to be the presenting sponsor for this event,” he says. “This gathering is an opportunity for all of us to welcome Canada’s eminent scholars and celebrate their impacts in areas vital to Canada and the world.”

UVic’s other new Fellows include chemist Frank van Veggel and philosopher James Young, while exercise psychologist Ryan Rhodes and astronomer Sara Ellison become members of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists. Ellison also joins Hodgins as a medal winner, receiving the RSC’s Rutherford Medal for outstanding achievement in a branch of physics, as does cosmologist Julio Navarro, who wins the 2015 Tory Medal for outstanding achievement in astronomy.

For those who want to stay up on our honorands’ creative practice, Joan MacLeod’s latest play, The Valley, will appear at the Belfry Theatre from Feb. 2-28, 2016. A stage version of Jack Hodgins’ Spit Delaney’s Island—based on the short story, which earned him his first Governor General’s Award nomination for the book of the same name—is being adapted for the stage by Victoria’s Theatre Inconnu from December 1-19.

Finally, Dániel Péter Biró was recently commissioned by the Klangforum Heidelberg to write a new work for voices and ensemble. The Schola Heidelberg and Ensemble Aisthesison at the University of Heidelberg premiered Biró’s Messiaen, Couleurs de la Cité Celeste in October 2015, with additional performances in Mannheim and Ludwigshafen that same month—but you can hear it right here.

A Force to be reckoned with

The force is definitely with Fine Arts PhD candidate David Christopher. One might even say it is his destiny. And when Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens hits theatres next month, you can count on Christopher, a cinema and cultural theory instructor with the Department of Art History & Visual Studies, to be in line for the new movie.

Art History & Visual Studies PhD candidate David Christopher (photo: Suzanne Ahearne)

Art History & Visual Studies PhD candidate David Christopher (photo: Suzanne Ahearne)

Not only is he developing a course on Star Wars, but he also played the role of Darth Vader at his own Star Wars-themed wedding. And, when he was just seven, Christopher took in the very first movie from the back of his best friend’s family’s wood-paneled station wagon at an Ottawa drive-in in 1977.

Christopher points out that “Star Wars resonates on so many pop culture, individual and theoretical levels. We see it as a historical pivot point where the balance between spectacle and narrative in Hollywood begins to shift. This is the time where the privileging of spectacle really began and narrative took a secondary back seat.”

Star Wars gives you a wide berth of highly popular, highly populist films with which to measure the ideological temperature of American popular culture over the 40 years surrounding 9/11,” he continues. “Star Wars is certainly a significant artifact in the evolution from modernism to post-modernism. It hit so many of the right points at the right moment.”

David Christopher's Star Wars-themed wedding

David Christopher’s Star Wars-themed wedding

Whether it’s the mythological, sociological, psychological, theoretical or economical impact of the original trilogy, Christopher is well-versed in all things Star Wars. “It not only changed how movies were made but it changed how people talked about movies. People had a field day with this series for decades.”

“I don’t think anyone—certainly not George Lucas—expected it to be what it became,” he adds. “It changed Lucas from an incidentally brilliant filmmaker into a corporation. When he later made the prequel trilogy, a lot of critics recognized he had exhausted his creative energy in 20 years of corporate leadership.”

star-wars-force-awakens-official-posterChristopher has a paper in peer review for publication, on the allegorical function of the prequel trilogy; has spoken about the cultural significance of Star Wars for the UVic Speaker’s Bureau; and his new Star Wars course will “look at the tectonic shift in cinematic practices it instigated and the discursive zeitgeist around its iconic status within popular culture.”

In addition to master degrees in cinema & cultural theory and theatre history from UVic, Christopher holds degrees in English and economics from Carleton University and was recently published in the Canadian cinema journal CineAction, the Online Journal of Arts and Humanities and in the Theatre Notebook (UK).

Christopher also recently composed a formal analysis of the three-minute teaser trailer for Episode VII. It was substantially longer than the trailer itself.

CUHCKziUYAAI563And he has what he describes as “a Star Wars commodity collection,” carefully encased behind glass.

Just like Yoda said: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” For Christopher, he’s done it all for the iconic classic.


Free performance of Mary’s Wedding

It’s an eternal story: boy meets girl, they fall in love—but, since the year is 1914, the boy must go off to war and their love must face an uncertain future.

The School of Music is pleased to welcome Pacific Opera Victoria for a special free production of Mary’s Wedding, a notable new Canadian opera about the impact of the First World War on the homefront. Described as “a love letter to the power of memory and innocence, and to a generation of Canadians who were caught in the crucible of the First World War,” Mary’s Wedding is an apt way to mark Remembrance Day on campus.

Kaden Forsberg & Caitlin Wood in a scene from Mary's Wedding

Kaden Forsberg & Caitlin Wood in a scene from Mary’s Wedding

Originally written for the stage by Stephen Massicotte and later developed into a full-scale English-language opera featuring music by Andrew P. MacDonald and Massicotte’s own libretto, POV has now created a re-imagined one-hour version of Mary’s Wedding that they will be presenting at 7:30pm Friday, November, 13, in the Phillip T Young Auditorium.

Set in Western Canada in the aftermath of World War I, Mary’s Wedding was originally commissioned by Pacific Opera Victoria and had its world premiere in November 2011. This production—directed by Art History & Visual Studies alumna Glynis Leyshon—features a strong School of Music presence, with first-year Masters candidate Kaden Forsberg in the lead role as Charlie, as well as third-year undergrad soprano Margaret Lingas in the chorus; joining her in the chorus is also Music tenor alumnus Cedric Spry. “The chorus is only a quartet, so it’s nice that two of our students are there,” notes proud Opera and Voice professor Benjamin Butterfield.

Mary’s Wedding explores the fleeting nature of time and the lasting power of love, evoking prairie thunderstorms and ladies’ teas, and, as innocence rides off to war, the horror of the battles of Ypres and Moreuil Wood, in which Canada came of age as a nation. Much of the production’s power comes from its sense of the fluidity of time, the shifting of past and present, here and there, reality and dream. The emotional impact is stunning: everything becomes present for us here and now . . . we are the children of Mary’s Wedding.

Seating is limited, so do arrive early.

Mackie’s back in town

For a song written only days before the premiere, “Mack the Knife” has not only become the most recognized number from The Threepenny Opera, but also a musical standard performed by some of world’s greatest artists. The history of the song also represents a fascinating journey for how we view one of theatre’s most notorious villains, the character MacHeath—better known as Mack the Knife.

The beggars, prostitutes and down-and-out sing  in Phoenix Theatre's production of The Threepenny Opera (photo: David Lowes)

The beggars, prostitutes and down-and-out sing in Phoenix Theatre’s production of The Threepenny Opera (photo: David Lowes)

Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera is a landmark of modern theatre. After opening in 1928 in Berlin, it became one of the biggest hits of the 1920s. Here was a satire so irreverent and cutting in its humour, so gritty in its reflection of the down-and-out, and so uncompromising in its criticisms of post-WWI German society that it would influence all theatre thereafter. Kurt Weill’s precedent-setting, jazz-influenced music would create a resurgence in the musical worldwide.

Opening November 5 at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre, this mainstage production of The Threepenny Opera is directed by Department of Theatre professor Brian Richmond who has set it in an absurd, near-future dystopia. Part biting satire and part sheer theatrical innovation, this famed musical is a landmark of modern theatre. “This is quite possibly the most important piece of musical theatre in the 20th century,” says Richmond, who worked with Applied Theatre professor Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta to bring a strong sense of realism to this production.

To learn more about the vision behind this production, director Richmond will be giving a pre-show lecture at 7pm on Friday, November 6. The Threepenny Opera then runs 8pm Tuesday to Saturday to Nov 21 at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre, with a 2pm matinee on Saturday, November 21. Tickets range from $15 to $25 and can be charged by phone at 250-721-8000. 

The ensemble cast of Phoenix Theatre's The Threepenny Opera (photo: David Lowes)

The ensemble cast of Phoenix Theatre’s The Threepenny Opera (photo: David Lowes)

The Threepenny Opera borrows from the 18th-century The Beggar’s Opera and offers an edgy mix of biting satire and sheer theatrical innovation as it takes aim at the traditional bourgeoisie and reveals a society where law is fickle, money corrupts and crime absolutely pays. Richmond is well-known for breathing fresh life into classic works, as evidenced by past Phoenix productions like Guys & Dolls, Dark of the Moon, The Wind in the Willows and Romeo & Juliet.

“Mack the Knife,” the song that has since become an iconic symbol of the play, was only added at the last minute at the behest of Harald Paulsen—the actor playing MacHeath in the premiere—as he wanted a number that would better introduce his character. A number of translations and versions of the play were produced following the original, but it wasn’t until Marc Blitzstein’s 1954 New York City version that Threepenny became a hit in America, ensconcing the play and its music in popular culture. Conducted by the preeminent Leonard Bernstein (a friend of Blitzstein) and featuring Lotte Lenya (Kurt Weil’s widow, who had been part of the original Berlin cast), it ran Off-Broadway for over six years and broke records set by Oklahoma.

Mack the Knife (Lindsay Robinson) flees from Polly (Pascal Lamothe-Kipnes) in Phoenix's The Threepenny Opera (photo: David Lowes)

Mack the Knife (Lindsay Robinson) flees from Polly (Pascal Lamothe-Kipnes) in Phoenix’s The Threepenny Opera (photo: David Lowes)

It was Blitzstein’s translation of “Mack the Knife” that was famously recorded by some of the biggest stars in the 1950s and ’60s, including Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Frank Sinatra. While based on the Blitzstein version, each artist made the song his or her own, accentuating or repeating different lyrics to highlight Mackie’s exploitive playboy nature. Musically, some interpreted the song with more swing, more jazz, more up-tempo, more lounge, as best fit the artist’s style. Armstrong spontaneously added Lotte Lenya’s name into the lyrics as she watched his recording session. Sinatra added references to many previous singers in his lyrics.

In 1976, a new version of Threepenny opened on Broadway (later made into a movie), featuring a version of “Mack the Knife” that returned to Brecht and Weill’s original idea of a murder song that accentuated MacHeath’s trail of victims more than his womanizing ways. This version was recorded in the ’80s and ’90s by the likes of Lyle Lovett, Sting and Nick Cave. Then, in 1994, Robert David MacDonald and Jeremy Sams hoped to recapture some of the original edginess of Brecht’s irreverent cutting humour and mounted a version of Threepenny with an emphasis on Mackie’s more gruesome villainous ways.

Director Brian Richmond

Director Brian Richmond

It is this most recent translation that director Richmond chose for the Phoenix production. “Directors often ask not only how, but why an audience responded to a particular work at the time of its premiere,” he says. “[We] then try to build an interpretive bridge between this central nerve, or zeitgeist, of the culture from which the work arose and the times in which we live now.”

Still reeling in the aftermath of the war, the 1920s German Weimar government was plagued with hyperinflation, political extremists, severe poverty and famine. At the same time, there was false sense of affluence and indulgence among the elite, leaving Germany teetering on the brink of inevitable disaster. As young artists and political activists, no doubt Brecht, Weill and friends could see that this house of cards was about to fall.

The 1994 translation restores the grittiness and angst of the original for today’s audiences. “Looking at the present day conditions—economic, political and social—it’s not difficult for current audiences to relate to this fear of an impending collapse of society,” says Richmond. “Thankfully this has not happened yet . . . which is why we decided to set this production in the future, where we can take for granted that society has already collapsed. We felt that an absurd dystopian future would further highlight the absurdity of how man’s appetite for greed, lust and gluttony, keeps contributing to our downfall.”

—Adrienne Holierhoek

The Threepenny Opera runs 8pm Tuesday to Saturday to Nov 21 at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre, with a 2pm matinee on Saturday, November 21. Tickets range from $15 to $25 and can be charged by phone at 250-721-8000

Suppressed Music & the Third Reich

During the Third Reich, two generations of composers and performers of Classical music were silenced, and with them, an important musical heritage. Many works by these composers are of truly exceptional quality but are rarely performed to this day.

Suzanne Snizek

Suzanne Snizek

But School of Music professor and flutist Dr. Suzanne Snizek has dedicated much of her research and performance practice to music suppressed by Nazi Germany and will bring a program of works by Czech composers to the UVic stage on Thursday, November 5.

“Suppressed music is a term that could mean many things,” Snizek explains in an interview with the University of Alberta’s Curious Arts blog. “The usual ‘classical’ meaning of this term within musicological circles concerns music that was suppressed by the Third Reich. Often this music was suppressed simply because it was written by Jewish composers. Sometimes music might be suppressed for other ideological reasons—for example, the music was written by someone involved in leftist politics—or for aesthetic reasons—the regime was not fond of the avant grade generally.”

Snizek’s November 5 concert, accompanied by pianist Alexandria Le, will include works by suppressed composers Bohuslav Martinu, E. F. Burian, Jindrich Feld and Petr Eben.
Eben was a child survivor of the Holocaust; as an adult, he was further persecuted by the Communist regime of his native Czechoslovakia because he was a life long devout Catholic. Snizek will perform Eben’s Miniatures, which she describes as “a set of extraordinarily succinct and colourful character pieces.” Bohuslav Martinu, whose works are regarded as part of the Suppressed Music repertoire as well, fled the Nazi invasion of France by immigrating to the US in the 1940’s. His music has a strong folk quality to it and, in Snizek’s opinion, is always rhythmically satisfying to perform.

“Of course when we talk about suppression, we are also referring to more violent and sinister approaches, including deportation to concentration camps and murder,” notes Snizek. “A wide variety of incredibly talented composers from many countries were killed, including Erwin Schulhoff, Leo Smit, Pavel Haas, Gideon Klein, Victor Uhlmann and Hans Krasa. The loss to musical life on an international scale was enormous. The extent and depth of cultural damage is still striking to me after many years of studying this era.”

Suppressed composer EF Burian

Suppressed composer EF Burian

On the other end of the political spectrum is composer E. F. Burian, a political insider who was very active as an artist during the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia. His music has often been avoided as a result of his political engagement during that era.

“I have never seen his work here in North America,” says Snizek, who picked up his Lost Serenade while she was in Prague in 1993, shortly after the fall of Communism. She describes the Burian as a “very sparse and technically simple” piece, making it a nice counterpart to the intricate Jindrich Feld Sonata on the program “which has all the notes—and more—that the Burian does not use!”

Music by Czech Composers is at 8pm Thursday, November 5, in UVic’s Phillip T. Young Recital Hall. Tickets are $14-$18.

—Kristy Farkas

Sandra Meigs wins $50,000 prize

It’s shaping up to be quite the year for Department of Visual Arts professor Sandra Meigs. Hot on the heels of being named one of eight recipients of the Governor General’s Awards for Visual and Media Arts in March 2015—an honour that saw her work featured in a special curated exhibit at the National Gallery of Canada this past summer—she has also just closed All to All, her most recent solo exhibit of new work, at Toronto’s acclaimed Susan Hobbs Gallery. And now, Sandra Meigs has been announced as the winner of the $50,000 Gershon Iskowitz Prize at the AGO for 2015.

Meigs (photo: Michelle Alger)

Meigs (photo: Michelle Alger)

“When I got the call about the prize I was at a rest stop on the 401 on my way to London, where I was going to do grad visits at Western,” Meigs explains from Ontario. “I’m told I said ‘I can’t believe it’ four times. The news just seemed to have dropped out of the sky as some sort of magical gift and settle into my GPS as the next stop on my way.”

In addition to the cash award, the Gershon Iskowitz Prize comes with a solo show at the Art Gallery of Ontario and a further $10,000 towards a publication on Meigs’ work.

“The Gershon Iskowitz Prize recognizes artists who have made a significant contribution to the field of visual arts in Canada,” notes Dr. Susan Lewis, Acting Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts. “The Faculty congratulates renowned painter Sandra Meigs on this latest career achievement. Her creative body of work has a tremendous impact and influence on the contemporary visual arts scene. Her art informs her teaching and mentorship of students in our Faculty. The Fine Arts student experience is distinguished by the expertise and commitment that she brings to fostering a dynamic learning environment here at UVic.”

Describing winning the award as “a career highlight,” Meigs says the timing for it is ideal. “It couldn’t come at a better time for me since All to All took me two years to complete. And I am now ready and fresh to start something anew.”

"All to All", the latest solo exhibit by Sandra Meigs

“All to All”, the latest solo exhibit by Sandra Meigs

News of Meigs’ prize win was picked up by the Globe and Mail, CBC News, Canadian Art magazine, the Times Colonist and CBC Radio’s All Points West.

Meigs—currently on a semester of study leave—joins the celebrated ranks of past Gershon Iskowitz Prize winners like Jack Shadbolt, Gathie Calk, Shary Boyle, Michael Snow and Kim Adams.

Adding to the surprise of the announcement is the fact that artists do not apply for this prize. “I was blown away,” she admits with a laugh. “There was no nomination process—the decision was made by a curator, two Iskowitz Foundation trustees, and an artist from the Canadian arts community who agreed unanimously on their choice. The prize is given in recognition of, but also to further, an artist’s career—particularly an artist who is at a crucial turning point in advancing his or her work.”

The jury consisted of curator Lesley Johnstone, art collector Jay Smith, curator/critic Sarah Milroy and former Visual Arts student and 2014 Governor General’s Award winner Kim Adams. In a statement, Johnstone described Meigs’ work as “comical and sad, materially rich and socially engaged, psychologically intense but also somehow playful, her work continues to surprise us with each new project. Hers is a unique voice and her influence within the Canadian art milieu is strongly felt.”

For her part, Meigs is relieved the solo AGO exhibit won’t be mounted until 2017, given her recent focus on All to All, which she describes as “a very intense and joyful work.”

Watch this video of Sandra Meigs' latest solo exhibit, All to All

Watch this video of Sandra Meigs’ latest solo exhibit, All to All

“I’ll have two years to develop the new work for the AGO exhibition and I’m not sure right now what I will make,” she admits. “I know I’ll be keen to start as soon as I get back home. And having the AGO as a venue will also give the work a huge boost, not only because it will afford it a large space to show in—for which I have been yearning for some time—but also because my ‘fan base’ is in Toronto so I can not only show to them, but also reach out to a huge audience of AGO gallery viewers who might otherwise not get to know my work.”

Sandra Meigs’ work has been described as expressive, eclectic and interdisciplinary; her paintings are known for their unique approach in combining complex narratives with comic elements in large scale works such as The Basement Panoramas and Strange Loop. She is dedicated to painting and refers to the possibilities of enchantment that painting presents through colour and form. For Meigs, the very authenticity of one’s experience offers proof that what is imagined when looking at a painting is as real as anything else that one experiences in the world. In addition to painting, she has also woven sculpture, film, sound, and other media in her works.

As for the prize money, Meigs says she’ll use it to fund the pieces for the AGO exhibit. “New work always ends up costing a lot to produce, whether it’s research travel, studio costs, production materials, or for services one needs at various stages of the production.”

Prize creator & Canadian painter Gershon Iskowitz

Prize creator & Canadian painter Gershon Iskowitz

Meigs also has high praise for the prize originator himself. “Canadian painter Gershon Iskowitz had the foresight to create this prize and the AGO to oversee its mandate,” she says. “Perhaps I will someday be able to leave such a legacy. I follow in the footsteps of so many great artists who have received this prize and I am extremely grateful.”

The Gershon Iskowitz Foundation joined with the AGO in 2007 to raise awareness of the visual arts in Canada. Canadian painter Gershon Iskowitz (1921-1988) recognized the importance of grants to the development of artists and acknowledged that a grant from the Canada Council in 1967 enabled him to formalize his distinctive style. The AGO is home to the artist’s archives, which include early works on paper, sketchbooks and ephemera, and holds 29 paintings by Iskowitz, spanning from 1948 to 1987, in its permanent collection.

Behind the mask

You might think that wearing a mask is a way to hide from others, but Department of Theatre alumna Kate Braidwood discovered while she was studying here at UVic that masks are a fun and engaging way to express herself on stage.

Phoenix alumna Kate Braidwood

Phoenix alumna Kate Braidwood

Now, as the co-founder of the multi-award winning WONDERHEADS physical theatre company, Braidwood works with her husband Andrew Phoenix to create playful characters through full-face masks. They then integrate these “wonderheads” into performances fraught with exquisite visual storytelling.

LOON, which opened the Phoenix Theatre’s 2015/16 season on October 14, is just one of the acclaimed productions for which this international touring theatre company is known. LOON tells the story of Francis, a lonely janitor with a child-like imagination and a wild fascination with the moon. Unfortunately, Francis hits an emotional rock bottom and he feels like there’s nowhere to go but up . . . and up! It’s a surprising mix of physical theatre, comedy and pathos, all wrapped up in a peculiar, but beautiful, love story.

With their creative use of full-face masks, expressive physical movement and inventive lighting and sound cues in place of words, WONDERHEADS’ shows have been compared by CBC Radio to watching “a living cartoon for lovers and dreamers.” (Watch this online trailer.) With “Critics Choice” and “Best Show” awards ranging from Vancouver to Orlando, they have been successfully changing audience’s perspectives on the nature of theatre and storytelling across North America.


Watch this 2-minute time-lapse video of the full 50-hour process

Braidwood and Phoenix create all of their full-faced, oversized masks from scratch. First they sculpt the head and facial expression out of modeling clay. The head is then covered with liquid rubber to capture expressions into a casting mould, and strips of plaster-soaked cloth are laid around this rubber to construct a hard exterior shell. When it’s dry, the rubber mould is filled with strips of papier-mâché to create the actual mask. The final mask is given eye and air holes, painted lovingly with rosy cheeks, or freckles or whatever is needed for the character, and then topped with a hairdo.

Braidwood attributes much of her direction in life to her studies in the Department of Theatre’s Acting Specialization program. “My time at UVic played no small part in my journey that led to founding WONDERHEADS,” she says. “It was at UVic that I first performed with masks. I was lucky to have Peter Balkwill [of Old Trout Puppet Workshop fame] as a movement teacher at the time, and creating vocal masques in Jan Wood’s class shed light on the path to devising and creating my own original work.”

Love is in the air at LOON (Second Glance Photography)

Love is in the air at LOON (Second Glance Photography)

After graduating in 2003, Braidwood trained at Dell’Arte International, a physical theatre school in California, where she met Andrew  Phoenix. “During the process of creating our first show together, we happened to fall in love,” she recalls. “We got married, and when it came time to create our next show we thought ‘love’ would be a fitting theme. But LOON isn’t just about love; it’s also about loneliness, loss, and letting go. It’s about remembering how a person or experience helped shape who we are, and how we keep them in our hearts as we move on.”

Now based out of Portland, Oregon, and as Co-Artistic Director of her own theatre company, Braidwood is also appreciating other aspects of her education. “The program at the Phoenix trained us to have a wide range of skills in the theatre, and the importance of being multi-faceted is integral for me today now that I run my own company,” she says. “When I moved on from the Phoenix, I kept the experience in my heart, and it is an honour to return to share my work with current students.”

LOON runs at 8pm daily to October 24 (except Sunday, Oct 18), plus a 2pm matinee on Sunday, October 24, at Phoenix Theatre. Tickets range from $15 – $45 and can be purchased here.

Visual Arts student fuses bikes & art

Cycling is much more than a hobby for fourth-year UVic Visual Arts student Kyra McLeod. The former Team Canada BMX racer has been commissioned to turn a concrete wall into a cycling-themed public art piece for UVic’s Sustainability Week (running October 13 to 16). “It sounded really unique and totally appealed to me, so I was all for it,“ says McLeod.

Kyra McLeod (right) with Susan Kerr (photo: Paul Marck)

Kyra McLeod (right) with Susan Kerr (photo: Paul Marck)

The 2.5 by 20-metre wall space is part of the Campus Bike Centre in the lower level of University Centre—a reclaimed car parking lot now devoted to bike racks, storage lockers and a bike loan centre. McLeod is designing the mural to reimagine space and objects, incorporating structural elements of the wall—such as pipes and heating radiators—into her artwork.

“I want to create a series of movements and relate it to cycling and the progression of the city towards sustainability,” she says. “I take a lot of inspiration from architecture. When I saw the wall, I really wanted to create a sustainable environment that would build from what already existed there. I wanted the mural to speak back to the actual surface of the environment it relies on.”

Members of the campus community, the media and the general public have been watching McLeod create the project throughout the week in the Campus Bike Centre, where she feels right at home. Explaining that she has “pretty much always been on a bike,” McLeod says she started racing when she was eight years old and is now among more than 2,000 UVic students, faculty and staff who cycle to campus.

McLeod being interviewed by Shaw TV during Sustainability Week

McLeod being interviewed by Shaw TV during Sustainability Week

In fact, it was her love of bikes that first brought her to Victoria. “I was actually racing in the equivalent of the world cup for BMX in Victoria when I was about 14, and I knew then that I was going to live here. Even at that age, I liked the campus and just knew I would be coming here.”

But it wasn’t just the campus environment that attracted her; she also felt the Department of Visual Arts was the right fit for her own creative practice. “I’ve always drawn and painted,” says McLeod, who has studied with professor and famed Canadian painter Sandra Meigs. “Art has always been a part of my life. I wanted to go to a school that was less technically focused and more idea-based, which UVic is known for.”

While McLeod’s mural is a first of its kind for both her and the campus, it’s a great example of the kind of dynamic learning that happens here on a regular basis. “It’s my first piece of public art and I’m really excited it’s at UVic,” she says. “I love my school and I want to give something back. I really hope it paves the way for future student work on campus and serves as an example to future Visual Arts students to make a contribution to campus and show their skills.”

—with files from Paul Marck

Study of Syrian artifacts offer different viewpoints

When news broke in August that Syrian archaeologist Khaleed al-Asaad had been killed by ISIS for trying to protect his country’s cultural legacy from destruction and looting, it sent a chill through the heart of Art History and Visual Studies professor Marcus Milwright. An archaeologist and professor of Islamic art and architecture, Milwright has worked extensively in Syria—including the ancient city of Palmyra, the UNESCO World Heritage Site for which Khaleed al-Asaad was the head of antiquities.

Dr. Marcus Milwright with some of the important  Middle Eastern artifacts in Special Collections

Dr. Marcus Milwright with some of the important Middle Eastern artifacts in Special Collections

“I have a feeling of revulsion and horror at the murder of an 82-year-old man, whose only desire was to protect the antiquities of a site he loved,” says Milwright of al-Asaad’s beheading on the steps of his own museum. “From news reports, I gather he was killed for not divulging the whereabouts of the material that were taken out of the Palymyra museum before ISIS arrived in the city.”

Fortunately for both Milwright and his students, UVic’s Special Collections has a small but important collection of Middle Eastern antiquities that will forever be protected. “Syria is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of great sites from every single period of human history. It’s important for people to realize that these sites are vitally important for world history, not just the history of Syria,” he stresses. “Archaeology is very much about context—once things have been blown out of the ground or illegally put onto the art market, much of the information they can give us about the past is gone.”

12th-14th century glazed ceramic shards from Syria (Balis and Damascus), most from the collection of Erica Dodd.

12th-14th century glazed ceramic shards from Syria (Balis and Damascus), most from the collection of Erica Dodd.

Milwright hopes his focus on Islamic art and architecture here on campus will offer some positive dimensions to our understanding of current events in the region. “These objects are vitally important for teaching,” he explains. “Students gain first-hand experience of the material and visual qualities of manufactured objects—glazed ceramics, metalwork, glass, paintings—from different periods and geographical regions. This allows for discussions of techniques of manufacture, raw materials, craft practices and the evolution of style, as well as economic aspects revealed through distribution from site of manufacture to places of use.”

Facsimile of Maqamat manuscript produced in Iraq in 1237

Facsimile of Maqamat manuscript produced in Iraq in 1237

Milwright has spent time researching in numerous sites in the region, ranging from Damascus and Aleppo to Palmyra, Hama, Busra, Krak des Chevaliers, Qasr al-Hayr East and Rusafa. His most extensive archaeological work has been in the ancient city of Raqqa, now the centre of ISIS operations. “Raqqa’s museums and archaeological sites have most probably been extensively looted,” he says. “It’s very difficult to get reliable information, but there is evidence of systematic destruction of archaeological sites.” Milwright is also quick to point out the difference between the kind of collateral damage that happens in any conflict and the ISIS destruction of ancient Islamic and Muslim sites for propagandistic purposes.“It’s only after the conflict is finished that we’ll have any sense of what we’ve really lost.”

Cuneiform clay tablet from Iraq, late third millennium BCE, from the Brown Collection.

Cuneiform clay tablet from Iraq, late third millennium BCE, from the Brown Collection.

As such, he stresses the importance of student “handling sessions” with the kind of objects that are currently being destroyed or sold on the black market. “When one is able to handle an object made in medieval or ancient times, it really helps bring that period of history alive. The analytical skills used in such sessions are ones that could build toward careers in art history, museums, the art market and heritage sectors.”

But until it is deemed safe to return to Syria, Milwright is content to work here. “I am continuing to research the cultural heritage of the country through the publication of archaeological finds from Raqqa and the translation of Arabic texts about crafts in the country,” he says.

And while it’s easy to reel in horror at headlines, Milwright also takes it as a reminder of the essential nature of university research. “The only thing we can do is make this material as available as possible through teaching and research, both in classes and public venues.”

Remembering artist & scholar Don Harvey

The Department of Visual Arts is saddened to announce the passing of Professor Emeritus Donald Harvey on August 21, 2015.

Don Harvey at work in his early UVic days (UVic Archives, HPC 042.2012)

Don Harvey at work in his early UVic days (UVic Archives, HPC 042.2012)

Don Harvey joined the Education department of UVic precursor Victoria College in 1961 and, alongside colleague John Dobereiner, was one of the founding members of the Visual Arts department when it was established in 1966. He was appointed as full professor in 1975 and not only served several terms as chair but also maintained a rigorous schedule of teaching and professional artistic practice throughout his 30-year career at UVic.

While was never directly one of his students, Visual Arts alumnus and current professor Robert Youds clearly recalls Harvey’s popularity among students. “He had a formidably quick wit and a razor sharp eye for anything to do with colour, mark-making, and the pictorial in art,” says Youds, who eventually shared an office with Harvey back when Visual Arts was housed in one of the old army huts on campus. “He played an enormous role in the early development of the Visual Arts department at UVic—for which we current members owe a real debt of thanks.”
Harvey's "Interference" (1964, acrylic on canvas), Legacy Galleries

Harvey’s “Interference” (1964, acrylic on canvas), Legacy Galleries

A member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, his paintings, prints, and drawings received significant international recognition, and his work has been exhibited in the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, the Seattle Art Museum and the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. Harvey’s work remains part of UVic’s permanent art collection.

“Don was at the forefront of abstract painting experimentation in the 1960s and ‘70s in Victoria,” notes Legacy Gallery director Mary Jo Hughes. “Coming out of the English modernist landscape tradition, Don moved into abstraction and developed his unique diamond-shaped canvas that rejected the horizontal landscape tradition while still very much being about the natural environment and its intersection with architecture. Younger artists such as Carl Beam, Rick Rivet and Eric Metcalfe proclaim he was a major influence on their careers.”

Harvey's "Black Diamond #3" (1979, oil on canvas), courtesy Legacy Galleries

Harvey’s “Black Diamond #3” (1979, oil on canvas), courtesy Legacy Galleries

Before moving to Victoria, Harvey completed a National Diploma of Painting and Design at West Sussex College of Art in 1950, and an Art Teacher’s Diploma at Brighton College of Art the following year. He was an art instructor in Wales for four years and traveled to Sicily and Spain, where he painted for a year before coming to Canada.

As Legacy Curator of Collections Caroline Riedel noted in the catalogue for the 2013 exhibit Core Samples: University of Victoria Visual Arts Faculty 1966-1986, “His early work is chiefly non-representational, while his later work draws more directly from nature, both flora and fauna, gardens and landscapes in general. He once described his vocation as an abstract painter to be a lonely one, as ‘no one really understands what you do. Everything’s an abstraction, except the real thing.’ “

Visual Arts alumna and local artist Avis Rasmussen recalls being interviewed by Harvey prior to her acceptance into the department as a mature student in 1975. “He generously gave me the opportunity to develop as an artist—if I obtained a B+ in a summer course,” she says. “My life drawing skills thrived in his classes . . . I learned so much following him around . . . he was so articulate and his consummate artist and art history knowledge was invaluable.” She notes that Harvey even wrote her a letter of recommendation, which helped Rasmussen secure a three-week residency at the International Drawing, Painting and Sculpture School in Italy. “I was certainly privileged to be a UVic Visual Art student with such amazingly creative professors all professional artists working on their own art works.”

One of Harvey's Carmannah Valley panels in UVic's ASB

One of Harvey’s Carmannah Valley panels in UVic’s ASB

Harvey’s work took an environmental angle in the late 1980s, when he joined a host of artists who painted the Stein and Carmanah Valleys and donated the proceeds of their work to the Western Canada Wilderness Committee. Harvey also painted a large-scale mural The Carmanah Valley Experience—an installation of 31 abstract expressionist painted panels that are five feet high and up to six feet wide—which was exhibited at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.

“To me, his most poignant pieces are those that he did as part of the protest to save the old growth forest,” says Hughes. Now part of UVic’s permanent collection, panels from The Carmanah Valley Experience currently grace the lobby of the Administration Services Building.

The public memorial for Don Harvey begins at 2:30pm on Saturday, Nov 14 at UVic’s Interfaith Chapel, with a reception to follow at the University Club.