In early 2020 the entire world underwent a major transformation. The planet was consumed by a pandemic that altered life as we knew it. The arts sector was impacted more than most, leaving the idea of live events as a potentially serious health hazard. The very thought if it seems contradictory. None of us know how long the pandemic will last, although we suspect it could be quite some time. Now, after nearly ten unprecedented months, as a community, we are finding our rhythm.
Here is our list of Canada’s most innovative arts leaders and groups who made the pivot against the odds (in no particular order).
Lighthouse Immersive for Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit (Toronto)
The timing could not have been better. When Svetlana Dvoretsky (Show One Productions) and Corey Ross (Starvox Entertainment) planned to bring the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit from Paris to Toronto, lockdown happened. Instead of giving up, they came up with a solution that would put them on the pages of our national media. If you could drive in to a Tim Horton’s, why not bring a drive-in to the exhibit? The event became a smash hit in Toronto, and one of the most talked-about events of the year. Read our interview here.
Against the Grain Theatre for Messiah/Complex (National)
Messiah/Complex was an unexpected pleasure, and it hit all the high notes in the right places. It was one of the best pandemic pivots we could think of because it wrapped so much of the potential of digital arts storytelling using both traditional and non-traditional elements extracted from a cherished institution. Best of all, Messiah/Complex assumed the potential to become everyone’s story and not just a story for its dedicated fans. It would not have happened without Reneltta Arluk and Joel Ivany. Read our review here.
Opera Atelier for Something Rich and Strange (Toronto)
In many ways, this was also one of our favourites at Ludwig Van and warrants not only high praise, but mention as a special category on its own. Under the direction of Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Zingg, Opera Atelier had to bring many diverse elements together, combining refreshingly new takes on Baroque aesthetics with their usual tried-and-true opera/dance performances. Best of all, Something Rich grew into Something Wonderful, a remarkable opera/dance ensemble effort about dreams and desires which seemed to evolve well from smart hat-tip to the dance-on-film tradition well into a bright and promising dance-on-digital future for this excellent company. Read our review here.
Concours de musique du Canada for their educational edition (Québec)
Open to youth aged 7 to 25, the Concours de musique du Canada normally welcomes contestants from all over the country, who gather in a different city each year for the finals. Instead of cancelling their 2020 edition, they made it 100% virtual, transforming the event into a new type of educative, non-competitive opportunity. A total of 173 young musicians prepared a home-made video, and received feedback from a panel of judges. From a logistic point of view, it was a huge challenge to organize everything over a very short time, and it was an inspiring success. More information here.
Toronto Symphony Orchestra for the viral video of Appalachian Spring (Toronto)
The musicians of the TSO (especially Principal Bass Jeremy Beecher for making it all happen), deserve a nod for their amazing viral video last March of Copland’s Appalachian Spring. The video went viral around the world and garnered tens of thousands of hits, 50,000 in one day. It sounds like an incredible sonic cocktail, and in a way very different from what we might experience from a conventional recording, a live performance or even a run-of-the-mill concert video. True, the performers know the piece deep in their bones, but TSO players adjusted supremely well to this format and produced an unexpected hit with this starkly original performance — and some much-need inspiration for performance artists everywhere at the beginning of very uncertain times. See the video here.
Cellist Elinor Frey for organising her own online concert and conference series (Montréal)
In 2020, Elinor Frey, a cellist who specializes in both early and new music, not only organized her own online concert and conference series and mastered the tools to do it, she developed complete online cello courses and coaching programs that gather students from all over the world. This shows you don’t need to have the support of major organisations to make a difference. More information here.
Royal Conservatory of Music/Koerner Hall for the Beethoven 250 Festival (Toronto)
We applaud impresario extraordinaire Mervon Metha and everyone at Koerner Hall for keeping a concert season going under egregiously difficult circumstances, not cancelling but rescheduling, and still bringing Adrianne Pieczonka, James Ehens, Stewart Goodyear and the TSO to our attention when they could have bailed out on Beethoven 250 festival. And the natural solution for a Beethoven year under lockdown was to extend many concerts well into next year, which he did. We are grateful — Congrats! Read our review here.
Ensemble Caprice for outdoor mini-concerts (Montréal)
4,900: that is the number of door to door mini-concerts that Ensemble Caprice and the musicians they gathered gave between June and September all over Montréal. Aiming to fight loneliness and mental health suffering, while providing work for musicians, the 10-minute performances reached 36,000 people sitting on their balconies and doorways. They also collected $510,000 in donations, of which 91% went to musicians. More information.
Quatuor Molinari and their video library (Montréal)
Montreal’s Quatuor Molinari decided to use the extra time provided by the pandemic to start creating a video library dedicated to string quartets by composers of Quebec. So far, works by Jacques Hétu, Ana Sokolovic, Otto Joachim and Maxime McKinley have been recorded during live performances, without cuts and editing. They want this digital archive to be a working tool, facilitating research and archiving. More information.
The Dance Centre for supporting artists through the pandemic (Vancouver)
The Dance Centre under executive director Mirna Zagar makes the list for continuing to create numerous small and medium-sized contemporary dance digital events with the greatest variety you will ever find under one roof in our country. They are to be praised for sustaining the careers of so many of their dance research/ development labs and of many dancers and choreographers through the pandemic. They have supported many artists with small booster grants which all translates well to diverse digital platforming. They are to be congratulated for their resilience and tremendous variety of repertoire to support their viewers in these times, not to mention tremendous community support connecting people in schools and seniors’ homes. Outstanding. Read more about them here.
Springboard Fluid Festival for being ahead of the curve (Calgary)
Springboard Fluid Festival in Calgary under the direction of Nicole Mion who is more a primal force than an AD. She has kept a difficult all-about-town festival afloat with many novel ideas to keep contemporary dance and performers working in pop-up situations little different than before the pandemic hit. And, their offerings did not decrease in number throughout the year. In a way, they made the pivot more effortlessly than most through a time that has been notoriously difficult for dancers. More information.
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