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)
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.”
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)
“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)
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.
Art History & Visual Studies PhD candidate David Christopher (photo: Suzanne Ahearne)
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.
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.”
David Christopher’s Star Wars-themed wedding
“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.”
Media interest in Christopher’s Star Wars passion has been high, resulting in interviews with the likes of The Province newspaper, Vancouver’s Metro News, and both CBC Radio and Television (not archived online). He also appeared on CHEK TV, Global TV, Vancouver radio stations Spice and CKNW, and UVic’s own student newspaper, Martlet.
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.”
Christopher 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).
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
Originally written for the stage by Stephen Massicotte and later developed into a full-scaleEnglish-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 Weddingthat 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 powercomes 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.
“Interacting with students and engaging with their research and creative practice has truly been the highlight of my two terms,” he says. “I have always aspired to encourage students to draw from their own life experiences as a source for exploring new creative possibilities.”
Two years in the position allowed 2Bears the space to develop both his teaching methodology and creative practice—a luxury not enjoyed by previous Audain professors Rebecca Belmore, Michael Nicol Yahgulanaas and Nicholas Galanin, who served one term each.
“Over the past years I have had time to really think about the importance of space, land and territory—as well as my place in the world as a Kanienkehaka [Mohawk] person, and the spaces I occupy as Onkwehonwe [an Indigenous person],” he says. “My meditations on ‘place’ have given me even more respect, and made me more appreciative of having been a visitor and a guest on Lekwungen territory during my Audain residency.”
Students engage with 2Bears’ “For This Land”
One concrete result was For this Land, the first of a series of installation/performance artworks focusing on place and community. A collaborative project with Mohawk poet Janet Rogers, For this Land debuted at UVic’s Audain Gallery in September 2015; it was jointly inspired by Sioux philosopher Vine Deloria Jr.’s 1998 book of the same name and Chiefswood, Mohawk poet Pauline Johnson’s childhood home on the Six Nations Reserve.
“Both my research and creative/artistic practice have led me back to Haudenosaunee territory, and back to Six Nations,” says 2Bears. “For several days Janet and I spent time on our home territory, exploring the heritage site and creatively engaging with the stories that Pauline left for us on the land. We documented elements of this—our actions, experiences and conversations—and created an aesthetic interpretation of our dialogues with this place, and in turn, the stories we wrote on the land.”
He also feels his creative focus has shifted due to his experience as Audain Professor. “I’ve come to realize that right now, the ‘work’ I need to do—not just as an artist, but as an individual—has everything to do with (re)connecting with my home, my community, my language, culture, people and land.”
Building on his time as UVic’s Audain Professor, 2Bears is now Professor of Native American Art Studio and Canada Research Chair at the University of Lethbridge. The Audain Professorship was instrumental in his being able to make the transition from PhD student to faculty member. “I look forward to sharing stories and times with all my new relations,” he concludes.
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)
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 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)
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.
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.
Director Brian Richmond
Director Brian RichmondThe 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.”
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.