Monday, November 22, 2010
Saturday, May 8, 2010
The occasion was the world premiere of Love Lies Bleeding, an Alberta Ballet production, based on Sir Elton’s music, that bends the rules of genre and gender.
The over-the-top costumes, pop music — to which the performers often lip-synched — and the sometimes over-used multi-media staging may have snubbed the traditional tutu crowd, but it certainly justified the budget. Artistic director Jean Grand-Maître’s ballet was expensive — over $1-million, in fact. The song and subject choices also had people wondering.
And now the question is: Was it worth the risk?
The ensuing trend of modernizing old classics – Egoyan and fellow famous directors François Girard and Tim Albery mounted a stark, contemporary Ring Cycle in 2006, and in 2008 Hip Hopera (a blend of DJ turntables and memorable arias) was introduced – has provoked reaction both good and bad. Egoyan’s Die Walkure received both a standing ovation and loud, persistent boo-ing when it opened in Toronto.
“There are people who take tremendous pride in their ability to publicly disclaim something,” Egoyan said at the time, “I just couldn't help but boo back. It was just fun.”
The staging of Calgary Opera’s Don Giovanni then, which premiered last week as the final production in their 2009/2010 season, was not without precedent in this country or around the world. The minimalist, modern sets were inspired by CEO Bob McPhee’s recent viewing of European operas, which depicted costumes, context and sets as contemporary as the 1940s.
And while there wasn’t any boo-ing on opening night, there was no standing ovation either.
Monday, May 3, 2010
The featured guest was Niall Ferguson, Harvard historian and prolific author. He began his lecture with a fair warning.
“Some you may be thinking, with a certain dread that I am going to talk at tedious length about the global financial crises, and use words like leverage, credit default swaps, synthetic collateralized debt obligations squared,” he said, “But I’m not. It seems to me we hear all together too much about that. We’re so focused on the small print of this financial crisis. From a historian’s view, under the gaze of eternity, who really cares?”
Saturday, May 1, 2010
Yet another strip mall appears on the left hand side of the road, beyond four empty lanes of freeway and a massive parking lot, and I see it: the sports pub Kayne’s on 17th Avenue S.W.. This is where Michael Noble — celebrity chef, mentor, man-about-town, Iron Chef contestant in Japan and Bocuse d’Or competitor — has asked to be interviewed.
Published in National Post, May 1 2010
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Saturday, April 17, 2010
They drove fifteen hours to be there. Alana Clauson and Sophie Jourborne of Unik Print Shop made the trek from Northern British Columbia to Calgary for a mere two day stint at the new Portobello West Market. The fashion and art show took place last weekend on the Stampede Grounds, inside the Big Four Building. It is the second time the market has come to Calgary, and the first for Unik.
Although the market is a small one, with about thirty vendors, the selection is unique and diverse. Olga Cuttell, whose prints, pendants, and knick knacks were on display on the show, says there is an appetite for her kind of work in Calgary. She has also been a part of the Portobello West Market in Vancouver.
“People in Vancouver are spoiled with so many markets,” says Olga, “Calgarians are hungry for something hand-made, which is nice. Customers here are very relaxed and excited by the work.”
Many local vendors at the market also sell online, like Natalie Gerber and Christine Norman of The Killer B’s. The Portobello Market West will make another appearance in Calgary next fall, and happens in Vancouver on the last Sunday of every month in the Rocky Mountaineer Station.
Later in the week, Lesley Scorgie released her new book, Rich by 40. Her book launch was held at Pages Bookstore in Kensington, and attracted a healthy number of fans. Scorgie first came into the public eye when she was just seventeen years old. At that time, she was was featured on The Oprah Winfrey show as an ordinary person with extraordinary wealth. Scorgie started investing her meager income before she started high school. After university, she wrote her first book, Rich by 30.
The new book is written for young couples, who are making “more sophisticated choices,” she says.
Scorgie says young couples often make the mistake of thinking they are in total agreement in money matters, when that is rarely the case. “Financial compatibility is just as important as choosing someone who is aligned with your personality,” she said.
The book outlines the steps young couples, and singles, under forty years of age should take to increase their “net worth” and reduce their debt. In her book, Scorgie admits she did not come from money but rather began at an early age to take control of her financial future.
“I don’t believe in get rich quick schemes,” says Scorgie, “That kind of thinking brought the market to its knees over the past two years. But people who were in it for the long term, they are now seeing some returns ... they’re okay now. It doesn’t matter what age you are, if you plan to be rich you can get there.”
Published in National Post, April 17 2010
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Jean Grand-Maitre presents a complex, toe-tapping portrayal
of the legendary Sir Elton John
The room is hushed as rollicking gin-house piano music fills the air. There is a clap, and a sharp voice begins to count, yelling: “One! Two! Three!” in time with the music’s beat. With each shout and clap, the dancers move swiftly into a tightly controlled pose of classical ballet: one woman is lifted high above her partner, another’s leg is resting above a shoulder, and another is angled away from her mate, tango-esque. The process is repeated; every clap of hands and shout reveals a new pose.
It is, purposefully, a tableau reminiscent of the opening scene in Bob Fosse’s Cabaret: mechanical and slightly disjointed, yet performed with the stunning agility and grace of highly trained dancers. There is something both beautiful and tragic in this sequence, like watching over and over the moment a carefree child is struck frozen by fear. And then, bizarrely, there is a man on roller-skates weaving his way between the partners. The music is almost deafening; familiar but new as well. Behind him struts a sinister, bowler-capped fellow, clicking his heels like a hedonistic jazzman. It is a captivating scene.
on Avenue Magazine's website
Saturday, April 10, 2010
The Calgary Flames have lost their chance to play for the Stanley Cup this year. A final game against the San Jose Sharks earlier this week clinched it. A few days earlier, though, the team’s hometown of Calgary had kept the dream alive with a Saddledome jam-packed with red jerseys. The Flames played the Phoenix Coyotes and won.
Spirits were still high here after an impressive performance by Flames captain Jerome Iginla at the Vancouver Olympics. Goalie Miikka Kiprusoff is another fan favourite, widely cited by analysts as having the best season of any player on the team.
The Flames had played erratically, however, loosing nine games in a row, and the expectations were low. Despite all this, the mood at the Phoenix – Calgary was upbeat. The Warner family travelled from Manitoba to see the game, and even Habs fan Tracey Kendrick donned The Flames jersey.
“We didn’t really even expect them to win,” said Mrs. Warner, “But maybe we brought them some good luck.”
Though they came on the ice a bit slow, by the third period The Flames were organized and aggressive, leading to a 2-1 victory over The Coyotes. Since their defeat by The San Jose Sharks, talk of why and how the team is playing has escalated. Calls for Coach Darryl Sutter’s exit and a batch of fresh players have been loud and strong.
Flames fan and hockey blogger Derrick Newman says the Sharks-Flames game was a “microcosm of the entire season. They had 39 shots on net yet failed to score more than one goal. Flames fans now will watch as other teams charge towards the cup. They will be able to watch what good hockey should look like. Fast paced and skillful players is the game now; the game has changed and Sutter has failed to adjust.”
The expectations from and critical analysts alike can be tough. Craig Cripps, president of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, says it’s something that emerging sports talent understands well.
“The pressure is enormous. We try to prepare our players and their parents for that,” he says, noting the rising pressure around his own league’s tournament this month, “The fact is that The Flames and The Oilers have had a lot of success ... and they are professionals who are paid to perform. This is a fast-paced industry. Players at the junior level understand that when you get there, if you don’t perform, you can find yourself out of a job or on another team pretty quickly.”
Published in National Post, April 10 2010
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Her talk focused on risk and the global economy. She praised Canada’s cautious regulatory regime (prompting some guests to leave the restaurant in a huff), and spoke at length about the psyche of Americans.
“Ottawa sees itself as a policeman,” she said, “Rather than a farmer of the free market.”
“Canada is not top of mind in the U.S. but it could or should be more so in the near future,” she said, pointing to ‘economic stabilizers’ that are under-valued south of the border.
An Albertan herself, Freeland brought a folksy, pragmatic tone to the dinner. She opened with a story about her grand-mother. Before departing to Harvard University to study Russian history, Freeland asked her grand-mother for advice. Having lived through two world wars and the great depression, her grand-mother was less than enthusiastic about her choice to study history. You need a practical skill, she advised, that will always be in need ... the world is unpredictable.
Unpredictable, indeed. Freeland began by assessing U.S. resistance to extended health care services. It was baffling, she said, that for thousands of people who would not even be affected by this change, it would become such a divisive issue. It is the end of the American era, she said, despite the fervent belief of most Americans that they have a God-given right to rule the planet. She pointed to the necessity of international experience in the workforce, and the lack thereof in the previous generation of executives.
Freeland also spent a great deal of time talking about Europe. The EU is wholly preoccupied with worry over Greece, she said. At a recent meeting in the Arctic, she said, Canadian Minister Jim Flaherty, along with the American and Japanese delegate, took a tour of igloos while the EU
representatives huddled together in a corner talking about Greece. But the idea that this most recent crises is the fault of Goldman Sachs, she says, is ludicrous. “It’s the Greek government’s fault.”
Turning back to the United States, she said, “Even for a Canadian Tory, Obama is not what you’d call big government.’
Although there were a few people in the crowd re-thinking their subscription to FT, the response overall was positive. The speech came after a three-course meal of gnocchi l’amatriciana, arctic char with caramelized endive, and a selection of small pastries.
Among the guests were Geoff Pradella, vice president of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, Tony Luppino, former executive director of the Art Gallery of Alberta, Randy Pettipas, president of Global Public Affairs, attorney and patron of the arts Greg Forrest, McCarthy
Tétrault's Director of clients and markets Lindsay Fikowski, former bureau chief for the Financial Post Claudia Cattaneo, John Cordeau Q.C. of Bennet Jones and his sister Elizabeth Cordeau-Chatelain of Total.
Published in National Post, March 27 2010
Photo by Adrian Shellard
Saturday, March 20, 2010
At the city’s third PechaKucha night, themed “rebuild”, guests gathered at the Glenbow Museum to share ideas and inspirations. The event raised over $3,000 (donated to Architecture for Humanity) and connected via live satellite technology a group in Tokyo hosting a similar event. PechaKucha is a style of event invented in Japan by architects who wanted to share their ideas and portfolios in a timely fashion. At any given gathering, a speaker will present twenty slides, or photographs, and talk about each one for twenty seconds. That gives each presenter exactly 6.6 minutes to get their ideas across.
PechaKucha Rebuild attracted a diverse group of speakers. Catherine Hamel, a professor of architecture in the environmental design faculty at the University of Calgary, delivered a moving and poetic narrative which slide gracefully over the heart wrenching photos of her partner, Lawrence Eisler.
Jim Avery, vice-president of Sprung Structures, talked about his company’s innovative response to emergency shelter needs. His family-run business opened in 1887 as a manufacturer of chuck wagon covers, tepees and other Western-style coverings. Today, Sprung Structures provides unique and easy engineered structures which can be erected within hours and withstand the elements. Avery showed pictures of the structures at work in Cuba, New Orleans, and right here in Calgary.
Anila Umar, a youth counsellor and diversity trainer, talked about refugees who rebuild their lives in Canada; Olivier Mills of CAWST – the Centre for Affordable Water Sanitation and Technology – spoke about the relationship between organizations like his own and local, indigenous associations on the ground. He also pointed to women in any given community as the breadwinners and leaders.
Johann Kyser, a masters student in the faculty of environmental design at U of C, spoke about the power of sustainable design to transform and rebuild communities, beyond the physical infrastructure, and pointed to the parallels between the resiliency of a design and that a community. His focus was on socio-economic change, and creative, holistic approaches to it. His was the final presentation of the night. His last words were, “As we’ve seen by tonight’s presenters, even in the most dire of circumstances, human creativity and passion prevail”
Published in National Post on March 20, 2010
Thursday, March 18, 2010
In a year of economic uncertainty, charity might seem like a hard sell. Not so in Calgary. The latest example of philanthropy in this town was at the Telus Convention Centre, where “celebrities” mingled with the common folk to raise money for Alberta Theatre Projects.
This was the seventeenth year for the Lawson Lundell Celebrity Hors d’Oeuvres cocktail party. It featured a silent auction, where money was raised for the Enbridge Playwrights Festival. The festival sponsors emerging theatre talent and produces new plays which are workshopped and premiered in Calgary. This year’s line-up included How Do I Love Thee by Florence Gibson Mac Donald of Toronto’s Nightwood Theatre and Abraham Lincoln Goes to the Theatre by Montreal’s Larry Tremblay, who is in residence at Lark Play Development Centre in New York.
The 2010 winners of the Emerging Playwright Award were Toronto’s Erin Shields and Maev Beaty for their show Montparnasse, an intriguing look at Parisian literary circles in the 1920’s. The award was granted at a separate cocktail function earlier in the month, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
At the Celebrity Hors D’Oeuvres function, several of Calgary’s upscale restaurants created mouth-watering morsels which were then sold for $2.00 each. The hook was in the serving. Well-known Calgarians wandered around the oddly shaped room (it was held in a rectangular foyer-type space outside the main conference hall). In their hands were trays of perfectly assembled, bite-sized appetizers and deserts. The celebrities included a Don Cherry look-alike, City Alderman Brian Pincott, charismatic CBC Radio hosts David Gray and Danielle Nerman along with charming side-kick Jenny Howe, also of CBC’s The Homestretch, Michael Bigattini, sommelier of Willow Park Wines & Spirits, designer Alykhan Velji, and City TV's Jill Belland.
Calgary’s Apheresis Clinic at the Foothills Medical Centre also got a boost this season, thanks to a gala fundraiser hosted by Calgary Health Trust and Vendemmia Wines. This clinic provides highly specialized procedures for blood cell separation and bone marrow testing, particularly important to cancer patients, as well as research, staff education, and out-patient services.
The Great Italian Wine Encounter brought first class wine-makers to the Fairmont Palliser Hotel. An incredible spread of food, including fine cheeses, chocolate, lobster risotto and rack of lamb, were paired with extraordinary – and rare – wine tastings. Among some of the more impressive were Trinoro di Trinoro, a perfectly balanced, full mix of cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. It was represented in person by Elena Capobiano of Tuscany.
Published in National Post on March 6, 2010
Friday, March 12, 2010
Amidst the legions of patriotic groups wandering around downtownVancouver last week, there was one province cheering as loud as therest of them. That was Alberta.
The province of Alberta, along with their creative agency brand.LIVEand arms-length organization Travel Alberta, hosted a series oftargeted events around the city of Vancouver and in Whistler. The efforts cost the province over $6 million dollars this year alone, in addition to $14 million which has been spent over the past three years.
The ‘Alberta Station’ was once a rarely-used train station in arun-down part of town, but it has good bones. The marketing team transformed it into an open, loft-like space where enormous windows afforded cocktail party views of the entire downtown and the high ceiling allowed spotlights to fall upon a dance floor. A giant glowing sign with Alberta’s brand on it was visible from the streets aroundand the skytrain above, where thousands of visitors and locals weretravelling every day.
It was there, in Alberta Station, that a reception for “Sports Heroes” and Jean-Grande Maitre took place last Sunday night. Grand-Maitre, artistic director of Alberta Ballet, wasin town as the official choreographer for the opening and closingceremonies, as well as the nightly victory ceremonies where medalswere awarded daily.
Inside Alberta Station hung larger-than-life paintings of Canadian athletes, commissioned by the Canadian Sport Centre in Calgary. At the‘sport hero’ reception were Lindsay Blackett, provincial Minister of Culture and Community Spirit, Maelle Ricker, the first Canadian womanto win a gold medal in the 2010 Olympics, fashion designer Paul Hardy and supermodel Heather Marks, president of Calgary Arts Development Dr. Terry Rock and his family, former chair of the Calgary Chamber ofCommerce Lois Mitchell and her husband - who is the former commissioner of the CFL - Doug Mitchell, Patrick Jarvic of VANOC and many others.
Alberta didn’t stop at the station; another outreach vehicle was thetrain itself. The Rocky Mountaineer luxury train has four passengercars, several dining cars, and two bar cars. On it, at 5:00 am everyday, were members of the Alberta government, representatives from Travel Alberta and The Calgary Stampede, assorted industry partnerslike Karo Group, the creative branding company taking over TravelAlberta outreach activities this Spring, and other members of the media and various industries. That included everyone from United Kingdom tour groups, who bring visitors to Alberta each year, to Tokyo television producers, to the president of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
The Alberta train took a three hour journey, parallel to the highway and the coast, from Vancouver to Whistler. On board, guests were treated to Alberta cuisine, local music and white cowboy hats. Once at Whistler, ski events were not far away. The Whistler Golf Club was also transformed into the ‘Alberta Hospitality Centre’ where guests were treated to Edmonton popcorn, Banff sponge toffee, Calgary chocolate and Calgary Stampede – branded trail mix. On the return journey, guests enjoyed a host bar, champagne toast to the athletes, samples of Alberta cuisine including beef skewers and lamb burger sliders.
There are approximately 70 seats available on each car; general tickets were sold to industry leaders for $500 per person.
Back in Vancouver, Alberta had some prime real estate for its outreach activity. Each province and each country had a ‘house’ at the Olympics. Soci House, for example, which hosts the Russian athletes, government and industry officials, is normally the Vancouver ScienceWorld. Today, there are five to six hour line-ups to enter the domed structure. Alberta House is on the corner of Robson and Beatty, acrossthe street from BC Place where thousands of spectators pour out every evening. The street front of Alberta House is an outdoor heated patio where Alberta artists from jazz to hip-hop performed.
According to Blackett, this is not the Alberta most people would expect to see represented on the world’s stage. Indeed, while Alberta band RezOfficial played on Monday night – following a big win by Team Canada against Germany, and cheers for Calgary Flame Iginla – one spectator asked, “They have hip hop in Alberta? I thought it was going to be all twang guitar.” Another reveller on the plaza seemed unsure of which house he was actually in.
So is all this marketing activity working? Perhaps the best answer is from that of a Swedish man on Alberta’s plaza. When asked what he thought or knew of Alberta, the man replied ‘Spirit to achieve. Freedom to create' - Alberta's official tagline.
Published in National Post, February 27 2010
Monday, March 1, 2010
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Calgary’s Salute to Excellence
At the gates to Stampede Park, guests were asked, “Who sent ‘ya?” Upon replying, “Al Capone” they were shown a parking space and guided to the entrance of BMO Centre. A Calgary Flames hockey game was in full force in the Saddledome next door, and guests passed through the
twisting hallways of BMO Centre, past an adjacent RV Show on their way. Though unintentional, the scene did feel reminiscent of a hidden speakeasy. Who would suspect a swinging black-tie function would be right around that motor home?
At the entrance to the main hall, actors dressed as Al Capone, his cronies, and a picketing temperance society mingled. Faux cops with billy clubs and moustaches roamed through the hall. Guests arrived in flapper outfits: headbands, layered, straight-line dresses, and top
hats. It was all part of the Chamber of Commerce’s annual theme gala. This year, it was called Prohibit This! Last year’s theme was disco.
Despite the levity of the evening, it was an emotional affair. The annual ‘Salute to Excellence’ is also a time for the chair of the Chamber to pass the gavel to a successor. In this case, the vivacious and popular Lois Mitchell stepped aside to welcome Simon Vincent. It was also the final gala for Lt. Gov. Normal Kwong, who is retiring this year. Heather Douglas, the president of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, also spoke.
Noting the 1930's theme, all three made mention of the past year's accomplishments. For Kwong, 1929 holds a special significant because it was his birth year. For Douglas, this has been a year to overcome the challenges of a serious spinal surgery and a rocky financial foundation for small business. She also mentioned sponsoring George W. Bush's trip to the city as one of the Chamber's highlights - love him or hate him. For Mitchell, it was an emotional event because she was stepping down as chair, and received special congratulations from her husband, Doug Mitchell, who is also a past Chair of the Chamber.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Everyone loves Western wear ... at least in Calgary. That’s according to Debra McAdam, a communications consultant originally from Vancouver, and Elizabeth Aquin, the senior vice-president of the Petroleum Services Association of Canada (PSAC). And they should know. The two women were driving forces behind the sixteenth annual STARS & Spurs gala.
The gala evening took place at the BMO Centre on the Stampede grounds. Guests were invited to wear their best Western attire, and they did. There was a hat-shaping station next to the giant milk can where raffle tickets were dropped. A lone fiddle player welcomed guests into the massive room.
Once inside, attendees meandered through a silent auction. Prizes included: a romantic weekend for two at the Fairmont Banff Springs or the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, a sightseeing tour in a Cassna 182 airplane, ballet tickets, priceless works of art, and frozen semen for thoroughbred stallion breeding. There was a live auction, too, where a Team Canada Hockey Jersey (signed by Sidney Crosby), and a golf trip for two to Fox Harbour Resort in Nova Scotia were the first to go.
Over the past sixteen years, PSAC has raised $4.1 million dollars for the charity, STARS. Founded in 1985, the Alberta Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society has a base of operations in Calgary, Edmonton, and Grand Prairie. It is a non-profit charity. STARS provides emergency air lift and medical procedures, employing a team of high trained and specialized doctors, nurses, pilots and others. They also provide emergency fire dispatch, and are available twenty-four hours a day to labourers in remote areas – a facet of their work of particular interest to PSAC.
Elizabeth Aquin explains that many PSAC employees work in remote and dangerous territory, where traditional forms of emergency support are unable to reach them.
At the gala also was one of the STARS helicopters, and a virtual training machine. It is a tricky business, landing a helicopter in a heavy fog or woods or on a mountain top, and then treating a patient in the cramped space while the machine rolls and pitches toward a hospital.
A three course meal was served. The entree was Alberta prime rib beef with Burgundy wine and shallots. For desert, a large chocolate ganache cake was brought to every table with sparklers on top. The occasion was also celebrating the 25th anniversary of STARS. In keeping with the theme, each guest was given either a bolo tie or a red lace garter belt with mini-pistol with their place setting. Aquin and McAdam said they tried skipping the Western theme one year and it just didn’t work. People like it and feel comfortable in their boots, they said. Canadian country music singer Jessie Farrell provided the entertainment.
Other guests included The Honourable Ron Liepert, formerly the Minister of Health before a shuffle landed him as Minister of Energy just one week before the gala, Dr. Gregory Powell, a founder of STARS who was recently appointed a member to the Order of Canada, Al Buchignani, the former executive vice president of ENMAX and current chair of the STARS board, and Roger Soucy, president of PSAC.
Published in National Post, February 13, 2010
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
The Bill Brooks Gala has been called the hottest ticket in town for years. This year, though, it surpassed all expectations.
A fundraiser for prostate cancer, the party overtook the chic Hotel Arts. A live band got people on their feet early, and kept them swinging late into the night. Hor’s d’oeuvres were plentiful and included mini duck confit sandwiches, sushi, and lamb chops. The theme – “love the glove” – inspired some colourful fashion accessories. Otherwise decked out in black tie, guests were seen in boxing gloves, Olympic mittens, and even an “Edward Scissor hands” type costume.
What really had people talking, though, was the amount of money Bill Brooks raised for his cause. Despite the recession, the gala received its highest levels of corporate sponsorship and its largest number of ticket sales this year. In sum, the evening raised $570 000, all of it to be donated to the Southern Alberta Institute of Urology.
The institute is expected to open next month in Calgary. It will have been built entirely on community fundraising projects, like this gala, which together have totalled close to $30 million. Other donors include the University of Calgary, the Calgary Health Region, Betty and Sam Switzer Foundation, the Flames Foundation for Life, and the Rotary Clubs of Calgary.
The Southern Alberta Institute of Urology will research, treat and diagnose illness related to the urinary tract. That includes kidney stones, sexual health, and all kinds of cancer, particularly prostate and kidney cancers.
Bill Brooks, a notorious socialite and popular media personality in Calgary, began this event after losing an uncle to prostate cancer twenty years ago. According to many guests at his party, he has a knack for drawing people into his crusade.
Irene Price, president of West Canadian Direct Marketing Services, says her company receives thousands of requests for sponsorship. The cause is a personal one for executives at her firm, who were happy to support it. But she says it was Brooks himself who earned the sponsorship.
“He called me up and was so nice, and so sincere, I just wanted to help him!” she explained.
Other sponsors of the event included Safeway, who provided a re-useable grocery bag full of prostate-friendly food to each of the six hundred and seventy-five guests.
Spotted at the soiree were Rob Mabee, owner of Axis Art Gallery, and pal Eileen Stan, radio talk show host Dave Rutherford, designer and host of City TV’s My Rona Home Aly Velji with partner Jason Krell, a public relations guru, the vice-president of Hotel Arts Mark Wilson, and gala co-chair Larry Clausen, who is also the vice-president of Cohn & Wolfe for Western Canada.
Published in National Post, February 6 2010
Saturday, January 30, 2010
A flurry of holiday proposals means big plans – and big business – right across Canada.
Here in Alberta, retailers in the wedding industry were out in full force last week at two separate wedding shows. The first, ‘Bridal Fantasy’, was held at the Telus Convention Centre in downtown Calgary on January 17 and then at the Northlands Edmonton Expo Centre on January 24. The ‘Bridal Fantasy’ brand extends to a popular magazine of the same name, found on newsstands across the province, an online blog, and a jewellery line.
Also on January 24, the Roundup Centre at Stampede Park was the scene of Calgary’s ‘Wedding Fair,’ where over two hundred “wedding experts” doled out free advice.
Attending Bridal Fantasy was an especially fruitful trip for engaged couple Omar Macalam and Margarita Chua. At Calgary’s Bridal Fantasy show, they not only found the perfect bridal gown – off the rack and on sale – but also won a raffle prize in the form of a large gift basket from Ideal Protein.
On display were retailers and their wares from every aspect of the wedding industry: cakes, music, clothing, jewellery, table settings, and even two giant Hummer-limousines for a wedding or stagette party. A fashion show, complete with a Disney-esque castle in the background, displayed gowns and formal suits from Jennifer Scott Bridal, Beautiful Bride, and Derks Tuxedoes. A group of children in little white dresses and mini suits stole the show with their choreographed dance down the catwalk.
The Bridal Fantasy show attracted approximately three thousand shoppers in Calgary but broke records in Edmonton with a jaw-dropping nine thousand patrons; a third of whom were brides-to-be.
Gay Derk, president of Bridal Fantasy, says her show is part of a typical engaged couple’s full experience. Having been a part of thousands of weddings in this way, she has some time-tested advice for those planning a wedding.
“Have fun with it and have open, honest communication,” she says, “So many people get freaked out over what their mother wants, or his father wants, or their sister wants. Just forget it. Enjoy each other, have fun with your friends. Pick three things that are ‘hard and fast’ must-haves and let the rest go. Pick three things, talk about them honestly, and write down your budget. That’s what I tell people.”
Naturally, Derk married into the wedding industry. Her husband, Darryl, and his family have run Derks Formal Wear for almost thirty years. As a young couple, Gay and Darryl were burglarized. With a new baby in the home, she watched in horror as her new husband was pushed out a window. For three years he required intense physio-therapy every day. Meanwhile, Gay (who has a background and degree in pharmacology) ran the family’s tuxedo and bridal gown shop. She doubled its profits each year. When Darryl recovered, she had found her passion. Bridal Fantasy was born.
For those who missed it, a third wedding show, Calgary’s Bridal Expo, will take place in September at Stampede Park.
Published in National Post, January 30 2010
Why were all these people so excited for me to get married? Had they lost hope? How did they all know I was engaged? Did my parents tell the media? Who told my new fiancé he was getting a canoe as a dowry? What was I thinking, flying straight out of vacation and into one of my father’s giant holiday parties?
It began in Jamaica with a rush, post-proposal, of my future life as a future wife flashing before me. When I had calmed down, having examined the ethical diamond ring and my boyfriend’s super-hero posture carefully, I suddenly saw our future first home filled with our future freckled kids, our future careers, conflicts, Christmases, retirement, and travels around the world like a super quick slide show. This was our life. Then just as suddenly my vision narrowed and I saw a frantic work-out scheme, a desperate bid to quit smoking, a stunning couture wedding gown (ok, my imagination was running), a huge celebration, and an exotic but affordable honeymoon. This will be our wedding.
What I did not see, what I could not imagine, was anyone outside of my beau and I. But there they were, waiting. And that, it seems, is our engagement.
When you announce your intention to get married, it does funny things to people. Some are overjoyed, inappropriately thrilled by your decision to be locked in, while others are blasé. Everyone has advice, and the wedding is prime topic for dissection. “When is the wedding?” I was asked repeatedly the day after I became engaged; as if the event had been all planned out except for the leading man. Someone told me to order wedding cake “by the pound,” which I’m sure isn’t the way you do it. One person suggested, since we’re getting married in Toronto but hail from different parts of the country, that we have multiple weddings. Yes! A wedding tour! Let’s take this show on the road! Anything seems possible when you agree to get married.
Then there are the friends and family members you love, and who love you beyond reason. They have championed you as a couple, and supported your individual efforts. They are a warm cocoon between the couple and the world outside. And you need those people, because outside that cocoon is the real world, just waiting to freak you out with divorce statistics, mortgage rates, and speech requests. And orbiting around all of you are a flurry of trade shows, magazines, planners, cake-makers, banquet halls, DJs, and other honest retailers who simply want to share in your joy by selling you stuff – expensive stuff that must be colour coordinated.
Becoming engaged had a strange effect on us as well. Emotionally, I was on a roller-coaster ride for a solid month. A missing ingredient in my favourite salad was enough to bring tears. I quit smoking, joined a gym, and began scrapbooking favourite pictures from the wedding magazines I now buy at the grocery store every week. Scrapbooking! For my partner, babies have become an obsession. He watches National Geographic documentaries about baby muscox and baby panthers, and wonders what will happen to Brad and Angelina’s kids if they split. None of this is normal.
My soon-to-be mister proposed on a balmy night in Jamaica. In the darkness we could see thousands of stars above us, and the white fringe of waves as they lapped at our feet. A very brief, tiny moment before he uttered the words, I knew what was coming. My breath caught in my throat, and after saying “Yes!” my mind rushed into a stunned, wordless state of surreal euphoria. Nothing existed in that moment except for us, and this massive – perhaps insane – commitment we had just made.
It felt like skydiving: when you can’t remember the parachute, or the months of preparation, or the other people who have done this so many times before you, because the sheer fact that you jumped has stolen all other senses.
So, you’re engaged. Things will happen quickly, and it will feel like getting married is the most important, sensitive, and expensive duty you’ll ever have.
My advice to you, dear engaged one, is to remember that breathless moment when you first proposed or accepted; hold on to it, feel it, and put it somewhere very safe. There will be times when you need silence, calm, joy, or reminding of why you ever entered this world of hurt willingly. That’s when you can go back to that moment. Let your mind circle around how you felt, what you said (if anything), and remember what it was like to have nothing in your head except the sound of your heart. That moment is the first thing you’ve created for your future wedded selves. Marriage is a hopeful step, but engagement is the big leap.
Published in The National Post, January 30 2010
Up next: Eeeek! Wedding dress week! Do they fit and flatter? Will it look tacky in photos ten years from now? Is it really worth the price of a down-payment or a trip to Europe? Was inviting three people to watch me self-consciously try on expensive clothes a bad idea? Does the new Holt Renfrew store in Calgary have a magnetic force around it?
Friday, January 29, 2010
Two of Vancouver's most innovative theatre companies: Electric Company Theatre and The Virtual Stage are set to wow another four audiences in Calgary before returning home.
It is a four person, one-act play featuring enormous talent in all its players, particularly Laara Sadiq as the sexually charged Ines Serrano, who has died of gas.
Set in Hell (represented by an anonymous hotel room), we watch as the three strangers struggle with corporeal desire in all its forms, from wanting a toothbrush or sex to needing the attention of others.
This last thing; the thing the characters covet the most - to be seen, heard, admired - and its opposite - the power to witness, observe, provoke - is where this production really crackles.
Here are three good reasons to see this play, while you can:
1) Seamless production: From the fascinating blend of live film projection and on-stage acting, to the clever lighting, score, and set design (we see, at one point, our guide the Bellhop at a desk with large piles of folders marked "said" and "unsaid") this is a captivating, 90 minute performance.
2) It's uncomfortably comfortable: Don't get too cozy. As Sartre reminds us, the more we see ourselves in the characters, the more necessary their hell becomes. This show draws you in, and then gently pokes at you .... I should say no more.
3) It's entertaining: Good art should always be entertaining, even if it's uncomfortable. This show is marked by outstanding performances from all four lead players. It is dark, funny, and most of all intriguing. Plus, the audience is always entitled to a behind-the-scenes tour after the performance, and believe me, you'll want it.
The four remaining shows in Calgary take place at the Max Bell Theatre:
Friday, January 29 at 8:00 pm
Saturday, January 30 at 2:00 pm
Saturday, January 30 at 8:00 pm
Sunday, January 31 at 2:00 pm
Tickets can be purchased through the Epcor Centre or on The High Performance Rodeo website.
Published on TheAmpersand.ca January 29, 2010
Saturday, January 23, 2010
To them, her accomplishment was no less heroic than a gold-medal winner. That night, she and younger brother Frankie Chan prepared and plated a six course meal for almost 50 people; the full capacity of her small, upscale restaurant in Kensington.
Her partner, Mike Berg, is the restaurant’s manager and one of its few servers. He and co-workers were also given big praise, having slid deftly between tables, dropping gorgeous food with polished flare.
It was a ‘Vine and Dine’ event, meaning Linda Garson, an expert in wines, paired each course with a little known wine. She explained the history of each vineyard and grape, and why the choice was perfect for each dish.
A lobster bisque was first on the menu, complete with generous portions of lobster claws and a dash of Pernod. The matching wine came from Australia: Xanadu Next of Kin Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon.
The fresh crispness of it set the salty, cream soup in perfect balance. The following courses included a Dungeness crab cake with scallops and shrimp and exquisite hand-rolled sweet potato gnocchi drizzled with a sage brown butter and balsamic reduction; its sweet earthiness was paired perfectly with smoky bits of wild boar bacon, sweet candied almonds, and sharp gorgonzola cheese.
In a rare display of bias, Garson, who is set to visit winemakers in Italy, Chile and Argentina this season, announced her favorite wine that night: Chanson Pouilly Fuisse.
“This is delicate wine making,” she said of the Burgundy-region wine, “Chardonnay doesn’t have to be bright yellow, wheaty and steeped in oak … it can be like this, the perfect blend of acidity and sweetness. There is a subtle taste of oak, but not over-powering or artificial. This is how Chardonnay was meant to be.”
The same might be said of Vero Bistro. Confident, bold and complex flavours are matched by a comfortable, unpretentious setting. There are capable servers, a more-than-full bar, some of the freshest oysters in town, and a lively neighbourhood into which guests tumble after a long night of good food. Some Vine and Dine regulars said it was the best setting they’d experienced. It was, commented one patron, as if you had gone home for a special occasion dinner and your mother had been trained at Le Cordon Bleu.
Among the guests were Don Campbell, band leader for Estelle dance orchestra, Andy MacDonald, the new manager for Rouge Restaurant, and Johann Kyser, project manager for Alberta’s 2011 Solar Decathlon project.
Published in National Post on January 23, 2010
Friday, January 22, 2010
Audiences in Calgary have been lining up to date this clown: Mimi, French from France, funny.
Rebecca Northan, a classically trained actress and comedienne, created Mimi (and became Mimi) for a short, naughty piece in the Luminato Festival's Spiegeltent'ntavern last year. Now, what started as a ten-minute cabaret show, has become a wildly popular, fully improvised 90-minute work of art called "Blind Date." Sold out during its first run at Toronto Harbourfront Centre, the show is now on stage in Calgary as part of the High Performance Rodeo.
With only four shows left, tickets in Calgary are hard to come by. Previous shows during this month's festival have been sold-out. Blind Date returns to Toronto on March 3, 2010 for a five-day run at The Harbourfront Centre.
The premise is simple: Mimi, a Parisian clown, is stood up by a blind date. She waits, then becomes impatient and hauls someone on stage from the audience.
How does she choose them? "The same way you pick someone you're going to date," she says, "It's just a feeling, a chemistry."
What follows is a true blind date, with all its inherent absurdities, sexual tension, and akward attempts to impress, on display for a full audience to see. Northan, who has done everything from Shakespeare to street performing, says she never takes a paid, seated audience for granted. Neither does she ignore the uncomfortable feelings of her guest.
"Wearing a clown nose reminds everyone that it's just for fun," she says, "The guys [from the audience] are usually pretty nervous, and I just gently remind them to relax. After all, that's the most interesting thing in the world; just watching someone be themselves."
Blind Date shows in Calgary January 22 and 23, at 7:30 pm and 10:00 pm in Lunchbox Theatre.Harbourfront Theatre in Toronto will produce the show March 3 - 7, at 7:00 pm in The Brigatine Room.
Published on The Ampersand January 22, 2010
Monday, January 18, 2010
This is My City began last year, as a municipal-led program engaging homeless citizens in art-making. Theatre, photography, music, and visual art instruction was introduced at local drop-in centres and shelters by artist-mentors. Now, those creative expressions and more will be on display as a part of High Performance Rodeo, a month-long festival of the performing arts.
"Theatre is a self-esteem builder and a communication builder," explains Aviva Zimmerman, an artist-mentor and the project coordinator for This is My City, "Those are skills anyone should have; to look someone in the eye and speak clearly, to be confident in their ideas. It also feeds the soul. Art provides meaning for our lives and creates a sense of community."
Good art has long been a powerful ally to Calgary. While cowboy hats and oil rigs have become iconic symbols of this boomtown, a thriving - and expanding - cultural sector has provided space for dialogue and diversity. Giving voice to those who are most often silenced, or simply silent, is a driving force behind this project too.
"It was never meant to be a solution to the problem," Zimmerman explains, noting the disparity between Calgary's "paved with gold" image and the "overwhelming number" of people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
It will, though, draw some much needed attention and validation to a growing population in crisis. "It's overwhelming to see hundreds and hundreds of people who are in misery," adds Zimmerman, "Especially in one of the richest cities in a country with such a high standard of living. It is a crises in evey major urban centre in Canada."
This is My City includes the interactive "Power Play," whereby members of the audience may step into a role and attempt to change the show's conclusion. There is also a free art exhibit at the Epcor Centre and Glenbow Museum, a musical performance of the Land's End Chamber Ensemble and The Drop-in Singers at the Grace Presbyterian Church, and a showcase cabaret of various performers tomorrow, January 20 at the WR Castell Library. The week ends with a free symposium on art as a form of social justice, led by the Right Honourable Michaelle Jean and her husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond.
Published on The Ampersand, January 19 2010
Saturday, January 16, 2010
The festival opened with a celebration of the highly unusual. Calgary’s Epcor Centre became the scene of a musical-circus-burlesque midway. Indie bands played while artists and art-lovers alike mingled. Cocktails were served in a velvet-draped lounge. While an “H1N1 Kissing Booth”, pornographic puppet show, and glass-walker kept the masses entertained on the midway, multiple shows were taking place around the city.
The most highly anticipated was Tubular Bells, a collaboration between Alberta Ballet, Honens Piano Competition, and the Bergmann Piano Duo. Choreographed by acclaimed local dancer Yukichi Hattori, the piece is set to an adaptation of a 1970’s rock-instrumental album. It was performed live by four internationally renowned pianists, on stage with the ballet company. It has been over a year since the show was performed here.
According to Michael Green, the festival’s curator, the mix of emerging and expected performances continues to grow the audience. “There is a demographic that will rush out and see anything that’s new,” he says, “And then there are those who look for something that’s established; that audience, in Calgary, is ripe, ready, and raring to go.”
“The High Performance Rodeo audience is the most sophisticated in Canada,” Green says, “There hasn’t been another festival - like this one, running for so long - anywhere else in the world. This audience is used to seeing very inter-disciplinary, challenging work. The kind of stuff you don’t see everyday is the mainstay of this festival.”
The hot tickets for next week include performances from Vancouver, Mongolia, and Calgary’s urban under-belly.
Electric Company Theatre from Vancouver is bringing Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit to stage beginning January 27. The show blends live theatre with live film, shot behind-the-scenes and shown on giant screens on-stage. An interactive tour of this mysterious set is included with a ticket.
Tono, a cross-cultural dance show which features live throat-singing, will start January 28. The show features performers from Canada, Mongolia and China. It will be a part of the Cultural Olympiad in Vancouver this winter.
Perhaps most important and unusual is This is My City, a sub-festival of performances based on a year-long project by the City of Calgary to engage homeless citizens in artistic expression. There are short plays based on the personal stories of homeless Calgarians; there is a concert by The Drop-In-Centre Singers and the Found Sound Orchestra; there is a unique exhibition of artwork by the homeless; there is a musical performance by the Land’s End Chamber Ensemble of Marcel Bergmann’s latest composition, written specifically for this event; and finally, there is an open, free symposium led by The Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, and her husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, on the power of art to promote social justice. The ‘Art Matters’ and ‘This is My City’ Symposiums take place all day at the Glenbow Museum on January 24, 2010.
Published in National Post, January 16 2010
Saturday, January 9, 2010
There are only two places in Canada that make their own chocolate, according to Brad Churchill, and one of them is in Calgary. It’s called Choklat, and every Monday the public is invited behind the counter of Churchill’s shop to see just how the magic happens.
Last week, a small crowd gathered at 7:00 pm for the ‘Choklat snobbery tour’ in Inglewood. They were greeted by a warm cup of rich drinking chocolate, piled with whipped cream, and sweet smells wafting through the room. In less than thirty minutes Churchill gave a run-down of chocolate’s history; from cocoa as currency in the 15th century to the thick, spicy hot chocolate made by Spanish explorers in the next, to the innovations by a British Quaker named Mr. Cadbury, an Italian traveler named Mr. Ghirardelli, and two Swiss men called Henri Nestlé and Rudolphe Lindt which slowly formed what we now know as common, edible chocolate.
“For hundreds of years the art of making chocolate has been surrounded by this mystique, this air of mystery,” Churchill told his little group, “I’m breaking that wide open.”
A self-proclaimed “red-neck from Alberta,” Churchill has tried to purge his practice of the pretention often found in other confection stores. There is no elaborate packaging here, just the simple foil wrapping with smart turquoise lettering. Even the shop’s name - Choklat - is to this end; “I figured I would spell it phonetically and just be clear about what people are getting,” he explains, “It’s just that - real and simple.”
The tour includes an education on cocoa beans and their suppliers, and then a walk-through of how the chocolate is made. Churchill has managed to nurture relationships with small growers in Venezuela and has the distinct advantage of a family member in the freight business. This means his shop has access to rare, hand-sorted, good quality beans. He roasts them, separates the shell from interior (called “nibs”) and refines them with sticky fresh vanilla beans, cocoa butter
and sugar. The result is five pure and distinct chocolates from five unique cocoa bean types.
They are sampled alone, relative to a Lindt bar, and finally paired with desert wines, champagne, and sherry. One combination, a particularly well-aged sherry with the slight dried-fruit notes in the dark Cayuga cocoa, has been known to make some guests weep.
While Choklat and its decadent behind-the-scenes tour have gained in popularity, Churchill is already looking at the next step. He wants a larger space to begin with, one with a seating area where patrons can relax while indulging in a brownie or cup of hot chocolate. A Willie Wonka style chocolate waterfall and river has also crossed his mind.
A good introduction to the New Year, Choklat’s ‘snobbery tour’ followed on the heels of several holiday parties in Calgary. The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA) had its fête at Centini’s Restaurant, where several Alderman were spotted including Druh Farrell who was asked by the M.C. if she wanted to start her bid for the mayor’s seat immediately. Lorraine Royer of Global Public Affairs, US Consul-General Laura Lochman, and Enbridge executive Art Meyer were also present. The Lougheed House hosted its annual design and décor
event. This year featured rooms decorated by Janet Farnham, Kevin Gray, and Charlene Threatful. Among the guests was Joe Lougheed, a lawyer with Fraser Milner Casgrain and son of former premier Peter Lougheed. He was taking guests through his great-grandmother’s old bedroom and explaining how she might have lived.
Published in National Post on January 9 2010