York gala celebrates grads in grand style

It was a full house on Saturday, March 28, as more than 300 guests joined members of the York community for the York in Concert Black Tie Gala. The evening concert featured a cast made up of a veritable Who’s Who of York alumni who acted as guest emcees and performers for the two-hour extravaganza celebrating York’s 50 years in postsecondary education.   

Above: The York in Concert stage featured a backdrop that flashed images from York’s 50-year history

Held in the 327-seat Tribute Communities Recital Hall on York’s Keele campus, the event was produced by Phillip Silver, dean emeritus of York’s Faculty of Fine Arts. For the better part of a year Silver planned the event which featured some of Canada’s top singers, dancers, actors and writers who got their start at York University. In fact, Silver was the only participant, both onstage and backstage, who wasn’t a York grad or current student.

Program highlights included appearances by CBC Radio personality Barbara Budd (BFA Spec. Hons. ‘74), who served as the concert’s witty lead emcee, celebrated Canadian author Nino Ricci (BA Spec. Hons.’81), who read from his new book The Origin of Species, and well-known vocalists Matt Dusk (BFA Spec. Hons.’02), Amanda Martinez (IMBA ’99), Suba Sankaran (BFA Spec. Hons. ’97, MA ’02)  and Vania Chan (BFA Spec. Hons.’08).

Left:  Barbara Budd

The concert opened with a York version of American musician Paul Simon’s 1975 hit "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover", adapted by York in Concert’s musical director Andrew Craig (BFA Spec. Hons. ’93). The song was given a York theme for the 50th anniversary with such lines as "50 ways to be a leader", "start with an At-kin-son" and "get off the bus Gus, York University is fiffftyyy". Twirling high above the concert stage to the music were two members of the York Dance Ensemble performing an aerial dance choreographed by dance alumna Debra Lynne Brown (BFA Spec. Hons. ’78), longtime choreographer for Cirque de Soleil.

As emcee, Budd relayed her own memories of studying theatre at York. She learned to walk on stilts along with classmates Sara Botsford and Rosemary Dunsmore (BA Spec. Hons. ’73), now critically acclaimed actresses. The trio tottered across the Keele campus as part of an assignment for a theatre class. "Those law students and business students looked at us and probably thought ‘What kind of higher education are they getting?’ Did I use that skill? Well yes I did. Three years after graduating I was cast in a Stratford performance of Richard III and the director had me walking on stilts."

"We learned from the best at York. We learned to tell stories from Irving Layton and Ravi Shankar," said Budd. "My education at York University prepped me for my life." Budd also informed the audience that to mark Earth Hour that night, the lights wouldn’t go out, but the carbon emissions for the concert had been calculated and, to offset them, 50 dogwood shrubs would be planted in the Arboretum along Pond Road on the Keele campus.

Right: John Lennox sings the York song

What followed was a rich abundance of talent. Each performer was introduced by a notable York alumnus, each of whom shared their own memories of York University. One of the funniest was presented by York English Professor John Lennox (BA ’67), who spoke about his early days at Glendon and then belted out his own version of the 1963 York song. "March, March, March down the road with me, shouting out York’s victories. Come along and join our throng as we sing our song. VICTOOORRRYYYYY, VICTORY!" sang Lennox to thunderous applause and cheers.              

Left: Nicole Rose Bond (left) with dance veteran Yvonne Ng

Lennox was followed by renowned Canadian dancer and choreographer Yvonne Ng (BFA Spec. Hons. ’87) who joined recent York dance grad Nicole Rose Bond (BFA Spec. Hons. ’05) on stage to perform the comic ballet The Bach Dual created by choreographer and York dance Professor Susan Cash (MA ’07). The dance told the story of a young dancer competing with her imaginary friend for the spotlight on centre stage. At three-and-a-half minutes, the composition, set to Bach’s Concerton No. 3, was performed flawlessly by the experienced Ng and newcomer Bond.

The performances offered a snapshot of the accomplishments of York’s alumni. Soprano Vania Chan enchanted those present with her performance as the wind-up doll in Offenbach’s opera The Tales of Hoffman. Andrew Craig together with Suba Sankaran and Dylan Bell (BFA Spec. Hons. ’95) sang an improvised musical number created onstage.

Right: Vania Chan enchanted the audience

The current members of the student group Wibi Jazzin joined former group members for an a cappella number. Choreographer Sashar Zarif (MA ’07) brought the exotic dance of Sufi whirling dervishes to the concert stage. Actress Diane Flacks (BFA Spec. Hons. ’88) performed an excerpt from Bear With Me, a comic monologue based on her 2005 book about her first pregnancy. Jazz vocalist Matt Dusk transported the audience to a Las Vegas nightclub with his versions of a number of jazz classics first performed by Frank Sinatra.

Following Dusk’s performance, Judith Cohen, chair of the 50th anniversary steering committee, and her husband Marshall Cohen, chair of the Board of Governors of York University, thanked all who attended. Then they brought the entire cast on stage for a final curtain call and the group received a standing ovation from the audience. It was a made-for-York moment.

Left: Matt Dusk crooned the concert to its close

The entire concert can be enjoyed online through an archive available on the York in Concert Web page.

As part of the celebrations, 50 members of the York community, including faculty, staff, students and alumni, won tickets to York in Concert in a lottery. Click here to view a full list of winners.


By Jenny Pitt-Clark, YFile editor