York alumni shortlisted for Toronto Mayor’s Arts Awards

York alumni are in the spotlight on the 2009 short list for the high-profile Mayor’s Arts Awards, coordinated by the Toronto Arts Foundation. These annual awards celebrate artists, cultural professionals and arts patrons in every artistic discipline who significantly impact Toronto’s artistic and cultural landscape.

Expect Theatre, led by founding artistic directors and York theatre alumni Laura Mullin (BFA Spec. Hons. ’94) and Chris Tolley (BFA Spec. Hons. ’95), is nominated for the Arts for Youth Award. This $15,000 prize celebrates an outstanding commitment to engaging Toronto youth in the arts.

Right: Laura Mullin (left) and Chris Tolley have made the short list for the Toronto Mayor’s Arts Awards

Expect Theatre has been combining social activism with urban arts to combat violence in high-risk neighbourhoods in Toronto for more than 13 years. The company’s innovative programs include urbanNOISE, an annual project which brings urban artists into Rexdale for after-school programs in everything from breakdancing to graffiti art. Now in its fourth year, the project culminates in a free festival that gets the students on stage, sharing the spotlight with talent like Divine Brown, Jelleestone and Jully Black.

Another theatre grad, Anusree Roy (BA Spec. Hons. ’06), is in the running for the RBC Emerging Artist Award, given to support the development or completion of new work. The RBC Foundation will also award $1,000 to all the runners-up. Last year, the award went to a York theatre graduate, stage director Weyni Mengesha (BFA Spec. Hons. ’05).

Left: Anusree Roy in a scene from Pyaasa

Roy’s credits as playwright and actor include two solo shows, Letters to my Grandma and Pyaasa. Both productions played at Theatre Passe Muraille, the latter winning Dora Mavor Moore Awards for Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Performance.

Roy was playwright-in-residence at The Canadian Stage Company last season, writing her latest play, Brothel #9. She is currently playwright-in-residence at Theatre Passe Muraille, working on a new play titled "Fire as the Witness".

Alumnus Christopher House (BFA Spec. Hons. ’79) and Adjunct Professor Menaka Thakkar (Hon. DLitt ’93), are both nominated for the Muriel Sherrin Award for International Achievement in Dance. The award, valued at $10,000, is presented to an artist or creator who has made a contribution to the cultural life of Toronto through outstanding achievement in dance. Previous winners include interdisciplinary artist and York visual arts grad Peter Chin (BA Spec. Hons. ’85) in 2006.

Right: Christopher House

One of Canada’s pre-eminent contemporary choreographers, House has been the artistic director of Toronto Dance Theatre (TDT) since 1994. During his tenure, TDT has earned an international reputation for fresh, intelligent and provocative dance. As resident choreographer at TDT since 1981, House has contributed more than 50 works to the company’s repertoire, including Timecode Break (presented in York’s Sandra Faire & Ivan Fecan Theatre last season), Dis/(sol/ve)r, In The Boneyard and Sly Verb.

Thakkar is a master dance artist in three classical Indian styles: bharatanatyam, odissi and kuchipudi. She settled in Canada almost four decades ago at the peak of her performance career and is credited with introducing Indian dance to Canadian audiences. Through her own company and collaborations with many leading contemporary Canadian dance artists, Thakkar has nurtured a generation of young artists and created an extensive choreographic repertoire that both reflects and extends classical Indian dance traditions while enriching and advancing the art form in Canada.

Multi-talented theatre director and innovator Ross Manson is nominated for the $10,000 Rita Davies and Margo Bindhardt Cultural Leadership Award, presented every two years to an individual who has demonstrated creative cultural leadership. Manson’s contributions include his work as an arts advocate and activist, and as founding artistic director of the internationally acclaimed theatre company Volcano, which tours globally, bringing pioneering theatre artists together for workshops in craft and performance. Volcano is partnering with Theatre @ York this season to present Co.ED, a provocative production featuring two plays devised by Deborah Pearson & Company. In addition to co-producing the show, Manson is directing Tabletalk, the first play in the double bill, which opens at York on Nov. 24. 

The 2009 Toronto Arts Foundation Awards jury is chaired by director/playwright Andrew Moodie and includes broadcaster Matt Galloway (BA Hons. ’94), arts education consultant Susan Habkirk, curator Michelle Jacques (MA ’95), dancer/choreographer Hari Krishnan (MA ’02), author Andrew Pyper, Royal Bank of Canada Senior Adviser of Corporate Affairs Gillian Hewitt Smith, and arts producer and former prima ballerina Veronica Tennant (Hon. DLitt ’87).

The awards will be presented tomorrow at the Mayor’s Arts Awards Lunch hosted by the Toronto Arts Foundation.