Welcome to YFile’s New Faces Feature Issue, part one

classroom-FEATURED

Welcome to YFile’s New Faces Feature Issue 2021, part one. In this special issue, YFile introduces new faculty members joining the York University community and highlights those with new appointments.

The New Faces Feature Issue 2021 will run in two parts: part one on Friday, Sept. 3 and part two on Friday, Sept. 10.

In this issue, YFile welcomes new faculty members in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design; the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change; Glendon Campus; the Faculty of Health; and the Lassonde School of Engineering.

The School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design brings six new faculty into its ranks

Two new faculty members join the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change

Glendon introduces three new faculty members this fall

Faculty of Health welcomes seven new faculty members

Five new faculty members join the Lassonde School of Engineering

The Sept. 10 issue will include the Faculty of Education; the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies; Osgoode Hall Law School; the Schulich School of Business; and the Faculty of Science.

New Faces was conceived and edited by Ashley Goodfellow Craig, YFile deputy editor; Jenny Pitt-Clark, YFile editor; and Lindsay MacAdam, communications officer

The Art Gallery of York University to present Jess Dobkin’s ‘Wetrospective’ exhibition

AGYU rendering

The Art Gallery of York University (AGYU) will reopen its doors this next month with the first-ever retrospective exhibition of Toronto’s performance art matriarch Jess Dobkin, curated by former AGYU director/curator Emelie Chhangur (now at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston, Ont.). The exhibition, titled Wetrospective, will run from Sept. 2 to 26, with an opening party on Friday, Sept. 10 from 7 to 10 p.m. A signed and numbered artist multiple will be given to the first 200 visitors to the gallery.

Jess Dobkin’s Mirror Ball performance, 2008

“I’ve been thinking a lot about how to undo, redo, reimagine, represent, activate, upcycle the archive,” says Dobkin. “For my purposes I’m not interested in the archive as presentation of historical documents. I am interested in how it can be performed. How it can be in conversation with the living present and also speak to the future.”

Dobkin has been a working artist, curator, community activist, mentor and teacher for more than 25 years, creating and producing intimate solo theatre performances, large-scale public happenings, socially engaged interventions, and performance art workshops and lectures. With Wetrospective, Dobkin welcomes the public into 25 years of her playful and provocative practice with animated “litrine vitrines” (portable toilets) and a custom-designed augmented reality app.

“Dobkin upcycles her own archive of past performances in ways that constitute her concept of ‘bendy-time,’” says Chhangur. “This exhibition demands of archives what we expect from performance: the live encounter of experience in a ritual of transformation.”

The exhibition’s Collective Effervescence Opening Party will feature an outdoor celebration with DJ Cozmic Cat, Nik Red, Sasha Van Bon Bon and John Caffery spinning archives of Toronto’s favourite parties, plus Jewish Performance Food Truck with Guillermina Buzio and Bar Bacan.

Ancillary events and activations

Jess Dobkin’s Wetrospective includes the following constellation of talks, tours and engagements featuring seminal cultural critic Ann Cvetkovich; artist and scholar Jehan L. Roberson; artist and archivist Joyce LeeAnn; and York University Professor Laura Levin, associate dean of research in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD):

  • You’re Welcome Wetro Tour with Emelie Chhangur and Jess Dobkin: Thursday, Sept. 9 at 3 p.m. at the AGYU.
  • Portals, Potions and Archives with Jehan Roberson: Saturday, Sept. 18 at 3 p.m. at the AGYU (and livestream).
  • The Live Encounter Performative Gallery Tour with Laura Levin: Monday, Sept. 20 at 3 p.m. at the AGYU.
  • Archival Alchemy with Joyce LeeAnn (in collaboration with the FADO Performance Art Centre): Tuesday, Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. at 401 Richmond Street West, Toronto (and livestream).
  • Hemispheric Encounters with Performance Art Archivists – Roundtable Discussion: Thursday, Sept. 23, 3 to 4 p.m. via livestream.
  • All the Feels with Ann Cvetkovich: Friday, Sept. 24 at 3 p.m. at the AGYU (and livestream).

Wetrospective was produced by the AGYU with the support of Sensorium: Centre for Digital Arts and Technology at York University and the AMPD Makerspace, along with the collaborative help of affiliated computational arts students who assisted in the conceptualization and development of the Wetrospective app.

For this exhibition, the AGYU will be open seven days a week from 12 to 5 p.m., with extended hours until 7 p.m. on Wednesdays. Pre-registration will be required to attend the exhibition and related events, and AGYU visitors will need to pre-screen before coming to York’s Keele Campus. For more information and to register, visit agyu.art/project/wetrospective. For accessibility and accommodation assistance, email agyu@yorku.ca.

Note: This exhibition and related events contain mature content.

World DanceSport Federation appoints dance professor as welfare advisor

Featured image for the York Dances story
York dance artists

York University Professor Mary Fogarty has been appointed by the World DanceSport Federation (WDSF) to its breaking division as the new welfare advisor.

Fogarty is a dance professor in the School of Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD), and is a practicing b-girl (breakdancer) and breaking scholar.

Mary Fogarty
Mary Fogarty (image: World DanceSport Federation)

The WDSF says the appointment underlines the federation’s commitment to increasing gender equality on its Breaking Committee, the body responsible for the development of Olympic Breaking in the lead up to and including Paris 2024.

Fogarty will play a pivotal role by ensuring breakdancing athletes are protected when attending WDSF events, and help to shepherd new athletes through the experience.

“I am here to listen to the concerns of dancers as they emerge throughout this novel process,” said Fogarty. “I intend to be a first point of contact for dancers at events and to provide them with support and guidance for any critical incidents.”  

Breakdancing first graced the Olympic stage at the Los Angeles 1984 opening ceremony, but wasn’t competitive until the Brazil 2018 Youth Olympics. After a successful test run in Brazil, supported by the advocacy of Fogarty and others, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced breakdancing would make its debut in Paris 2024.  

Fogarty will work alongside the IOC to ensure dancers’ experience is kept paramount at the games, noting the importance of advocating for gender and racial equity in the competition.  

“My personal goal is to advocate for the rights of dancers, to support the development of talent, and to contribute perspectives that reflect the diversity, activism, artistic expression and fire that have made this dance form thrive in adverse conditions,” said Fogarty.  

CFI awards more than $1.5M in research infrastructure funding to York University

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Researchers at York University will receive more than $1.5 million in funding from the Government of Canada as part of a $77-million investment to support 332 research infrastructure projects at 50 universities across the country.

Announced on Aug. 11 by Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne, the contribution comes from the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF) program, a tool designed to invest in state-of-the-art labs and equipment researchers need to turn their visions into reality.

At York, Professors Ali Asgary, Marcus Brubaker, Solomon Boakye-Yiadom, Liam Butler, Taylor Cleworth, Claire David, Shital Desai, Matthew Keough, Christine Le, Ozzy Mermut, Arturo Orellana, Enamul Prince, Jennifer Pybus and Emilie Roudier will receive funding totalling more than $1.5 million for their infrastructure projects.

“York is delighted to have 14 academics receive the John R. Evans Leaders Fund,” said Vice-President Research and Innovation Amir Asif. “This vital funding helps ensure we attract and retain the very best researchers who are undertaking truly innovative work. From addiction vulnerability to critical data-literacy research, from age-related impairments to advancements in particle physics – these projects will make positive change for our students, our campuses and our local and global communities.”

The funded projects at York are:

Ali Asgary, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies
DEXR LAB
CFI JELF award: $100,000

Ali Asgary
Ali Asgary

Asgary and DEXR Lab will conduct research and develop extended reality (XR) applications for public safety, public health and disaster-and-emergency management training, education and operations. DEXR Lab will be equipped with the latest XR hardware and software for developing XR applications for areas including structural firefighting, wildfire management, hospital-emergency-and-intensive-care units, first-responders’ collision simulation, virus transmission and spread, train derailment and volcano eruption, among others. DEXR Lab will be supported by York’s Advanced Disaster, Emergency and Rapid Response Simulation (ADERSIM) and will enhance Canada’s share in the XR research and market – putting the country at the forefront of XR applications in the aforementioned areas.

Marcus Brubaker, Lassonde School of Engineering
Generative Modeling for CryoEM, Hyperspectral Imagery and Video
CFI JELF award: $140,000

Marcus Brubaker
Marcus Brubaker

Brubaker will develop novel artificial intelligence (AI) methods focused on applications where labelled-training data is limited or unavailable. The goal of this research is to enable learning from minimal amounts of data – dramatically reducing the amount of labelled data required and democratizing access to the technology. The methods developed could allow small companies, not-for-profit organizations or even individuals to effectively apply state-of-the-art AI methods, rather than only being available to large companies (which have either vast amounts of data already available or the resources to collect it). To reach this goal, Brubaker’s research will explore probabilistic-generative methods with specific applications in hyperspectral image analysis, video analysis and the processing of electron cryomicroscopy data.

Solomon Boakye-Yiadom, Lassonde School of Engineering
Machine Learning and Additive Manufacturing for the Development of Next Generation Materials
CFI JELF award: $140,000

Solomon Boakye-Yiadom
Solomon Boakye-Yiadom

For thousands of years since the advent of bronze, alloy development has involved diluting a single base element with small amounts of other elements. This approach is slow, expensive and requires a lot of effort with minimal increments in required material properties. A new idea where alloys have no single dominant element is gaining traction. These multi-principal element alloys, specifically, High Entropy Alloys (HEA), possess superior properties. Research lead by Boakye-Yiadom, along with Professors Marina Freire-Gormaly and Ruth Urner, will guide in the accelerated discovery and development of advanced HEAs and enhance our ability to detect and minimize defects during metal additive manufacturing. This includes innovative discoveries for advanced materials and process monitoring during manufacturing.

Liam Butler, Lassonde School of Engineering
The Climate-Data-Driven Design (CD3) Facility for Built Infrastructure
CFI JELF award: $140,000

Liam Butler
Liam Butler

The influence of climatic variations on Canada’s vast infrastructure stock, valued at more than $850 billion, is largely ignored in infrastructure design. Variations in temperature, humidity and precipitation, along with increased frequency of extreme events will lead to cyclic factors that influence the behaviour of infrastructure materials. Mitigating these adverse effects starts with being able to reliably measure and to better understand the impact that climate variability has on infrastructure. Butler, along with Professors Usman Khan and Matthew Perras, will establish a unique field laboratory, where robust sensing, advanced AI-based data analytics and innovative infrastructure materials will be developed and validated. The vision is for the CD3 Facility to become Canada’s leading research laboratory in climate-data-driven infrastructure design – providing immediate impact to regulators, asset managers and suppliers, and long-term benefits for all Canadians.

Taylor Cleworth, Faculty of Health
Neuro-mechanics of Balance Deficits During Dynamic Stance
CFI JELF award: $125,000

Taylor Cleworth
Taylor Cleworth

Falls and resulting injuries are a major health and economic concern for older adults, care providers and Canadians at large. Reducing fall rates can be challenging due to the multi-faceted nature of controlling upright stance. Cleworth will study the sensorimotor mechanisms underlying balance control and investigate possible avenues of treatment for balance deficits. The new infrastructure will provide the foundation for an innovative research program aimed at understanding the complex interaction of biomechanical and cortical mechanisms that contribute to human balance and mobility deficits, and to assess and improve the efficacy of balance-related interventions and fall prevention programs.

Claire David, Faculty of Science
Next generation of neutrino detectors for the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE)
CFI JELF award: $125,000

Claire David
Claire David

David, along with Professor Deborah Harris, will build a versatile cryogenic test bench to develop a prototype for the next generation of neutrino detectors. This modular system will have the ability to test two modules of the current state-of-the-art technology in the same cryostat – allowing direct comparison of different alternative readout systems. The modules will be paired with revolutionary electronics for light detection that other Canadian universities are developing. Ultimately, the optimized prototype will serve DUNE, the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment, an international effort hosted by Fermilab in the United States. This will enable David and Harris, also research scientists at Fermilab and part of the DUNE collaboration, to be at the forefront of detector development in experimental particle physics.

Shital Desai, School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design
Social and Technological Systems lab
CFI JELF award: $50,000

Shital Desai

Efforts to develop technologies for older adults is challenged by changing physical and cognitive abilities of older adults. Assistive technologies should adapt to the needs of older adults without them having to adjust settings, change versions or use hacks. Desai’s research will investigate a generation of prompts in emerging technologies for people with dementia. Machine-learning techniques will be employed to learn about the user and make inferences regarding their state while using the technology. The research outcomes will be used to develop adaptive-assistive technology and drive pivotal advancements in the area of interactive design and adaptive technology for older adults. It will lead to development of deployable technologies in non-clinical settings, driving independence and social inclusion in older adults – advancing Canada’s position as a leader in interactive-adaptive technology.

Matthew Keough, Faculty of Health
Center for Research on Addiction Vulnerability in Early Life
CFI JELF award: $50,000

Matthew Keough
Matthew Keough

Millions of Canadians struggle with co-occurring alcohol use and emotional disorders (e.g. anxiety) but very little is known about why alcohol use and emotional disorders co-occur so frequently, resulting in a lack of understanding of how to treat them effectively. Keough’s innovative experimental research aims to uncover the biopsychosocial risk factors for alcohol use-emotional disorder comorbidity in emerging adulthood (ages 18 to 25). Keough will acquire state-of-the-art equipment for his Center for Research on Addiction Vulnerability in Early Life (CRAVE Lab). Using a simulated-bar-lab environment and innovative technology, his research will have the potential to improve treatments for alcohol use-emotional disorder comorbidity and improve the lives of many Canadians and their families.

Christine Le, Faculty of Science
Infrastructure for the Catalytic Synthesis of Medicinally Relevant Organofluorine Compounds
CFI JELF award: $160,000

Christine Le
Christine Le

Le’s research seeks to develop more efficient, cost-effective and greener methods for the synthesis of medicinally relevant fluorine-containing compounds. On average it takes 10 years for a newly discovered drug to reach the market due to the complexity of clinical trials, production and approval by government agencies. The synthetic methods targeted in this research will improve the efficiency of drug discovery and synthesis, allowing critical medicines to reach the market sooner. The research objectives and methodologies align with Canada’s commitment to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which include the efficient use of natural resources, the reduction of chemical waste and the development of essential medicines.

Ozzy Mermut, Faculty of Science
Biophotonics Diagnosis, Treatment and Dosimetry in Age-related Disorders and Human Diseases
CFI JELF award: $160,000

Ozzy Mermut
Ozzy Mermut

Personalized medicine will improve patient outcomes and limit health-care costs facing aging populations and consequent diseases. Globally, one billion people face vision impairment, with age-related macular degeneration affecting 245 million. Mermut’s research aims to identify tissue-specific biomarkers for early-stage diagnosis of vision disorders and other diseases, advancing the understanding of molecular pathogenesis. Photonic techniques will then be developed for targeted, minimally invasive phototherapy. A tissue model will be engineered, recapitulating natural, diseased tissues to study laser treatments and develop dosimetry that provides molecular information on initiated-cell responses. The ultimate goal is complete eradication of pathogenic cells that lead to debilitating diseases through absolute, precise laser therapy.

Arturo Orellana, Faculty of Science
Organic Synthesis for Development of Therapeutics
CFI JELF award: $107,000

Arturo Orellana

Orellana’s research program will focus on developing enabling technologies for new therapeutics to address the healthcare needs of a large portion of the Canadian population. This program brings together multidisciplinary teams of experts from industry and academia to target difficult challenges in health care including diseases such as Alzheimer’s, ovarian cancer and diabetes. The fundamental-science focus on design, synthesis and characterization of drug-like organic molecules will provide critical know-how to deliver cures for diseases affecting large patient populations, while establishing Canada as a leader in health and science research.

Enamul Prince, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies
Establishment of the Intelligent Visualization Laboratory
CFI JELF award: $114,726

Enamul Prince
Enamul Prince

Prince will establish the Intelligent Visualization Lab with an aim to make analytics more accessible by changing the way we interact with data. A diverse range of people with different levels of skills and backgrounds will perform analysis on large data-sets faster and more effectively through natural and fluid interactions. The lab will significantly improve the ability of professionals – ranging from data scientists to business analysts, to health-care analysts – to analyze data and make complex decisions, with the potential to unlock new markets and direct financial benefits for Canadian industry. The lab will also allow students to train for the high-demand fields of AI, data science and analytics.

Jennifer Pybus, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies
The Centre for Public AI (CPAI)
CFI JELF award: $69,385

Jennifer Pybus
Jennifer Pybus

Pybus will establish the Centre for Public AI (CPAI) – Canada’s preeminent centre for the interdisciplinary application of a more grounded, civically driven explainable approach to AI. It aims to foster an understanding of the diverse infrastructures that gather personal data on applications and platforms through the development of tools and participatory workshops. The research conducted will fill an important gap by contributing to a growing field of critical data-literacy studies to examine algorithmic practices impacting the lives of Canadians. New tools will facilitate academic and policy interventions related to algorithmic accountability from the perspective of non-expert users who experience the outcomes of machine-learning technologies.

Emilie Roudier, Faculty of Health
Microvascular Epigenetics of Physical Activity
CFI JELF award: $80,000 

Emilie Roudier
Emilie Roudier

Roudier’s research aims to address how physical activity induces beneficial changes in the vascular epigenome. She will establish a specialized lab to study the interaction between physical activity and the vascular epigenome. Canadians are at high risk of vascular diseases due to unhealthy behaviours. Most researchers focus on finding and averting adverse epigenetic marks correlated with vascular diseases. This lab will take a counterpoint approach – aiming to define what a healthy vascular epigenome is. The discovery of beneficial epigenetic marks generated by this research will support the discovery of new biomarkers to assess environmental risk to vascular health and test the efficiency of lifestyle or preventive interventions aiming to boost vascular health.

About the Canada Foundation for Innovation

For more than 20 years, the CFI has been giving researchers the tools they need to think big and innovate. Fostering a robust innovation system in Canada translates into jobs and new enterprises, better health, cleaner environments and, ultimately, vibrant communities. By investing in state-of-the-art facilities and equipment in Canada’s universities, colleges, research hospitals and non-profit research institutions, the CFI also helps to attract and retain the world’s top talent, to train the next generation of researchers and to support world-class research that strengthens the economy and improves the quality of life for all Canadians.

The show must go on: How York theatre students helped adapt a local high-school musical for pandemic times

Out of Sync poster

A year-end musical theatre production can be as important to the heart and soul of a high school as its season-opening football game or senior prom. So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year and began robbing students of some of their most formative experiences, drama educators scrambled to keep the curtains from closing.

Marlis Schweitzer
Marlis Schweitzer

Karen O’Meara, department head of dramatic arts at Richmond Green Secondary School in Richmond Hill, Ont., was one such teacher. Determined to forge ahead with her combined Grade 11 and 12 musical theatre production, she reached out to Marlis Schweitzer, professor and Chair of the Department of Theatre in York University’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design, whom she had been collaborating with on workshops for drama teachers. They both decided that this was the perfect opportunity to combine forces in a new way.

“At the time,” explains O’Meara, “I was putting on a production, which I then had to translate into an online production. What ended up resulting from that conversation was a number of York theatre students saying, ‘Hey, we don’t have anything to do. It’s the pandemic and everything is locked down; we would love to help with your show.’ So those were the initial seeds of this project.”

Karen O'Meara
Karen O’Meara

With the help of those enthusiastic student volunteers, Richmond Green presented its first online production in spring 2020 – and it was a huge success. Heading into the next pandemic-impacted school year, Schweitzer decided to take the project one step further by officially incorporating it into York’s theatre curriculum as a for-credit experiential education offering called the Independent Production Practicum.

The course kicked off in January of this year and the seven enrolled students – Isabella Liscio, Megan Keatings, Hannah Smith, Rachel D’Arpino, Dave Harack, Laura Nigro and Joshua Kilimnik – jumped right into planning mode, joining O’Meara for a two-hour meeting on Zoom every Monday night. When the high-school semester began the following month, the York students took the high schoolers through a series of theatre workshops, which O’Meara says “set the bar high for the students and gave them a fantastic foundation to continue with creative exploration.”

Through breakout rooms on their weekly Zoom calls, the York students went on to provide mentorship in areas where they had passion and interest. There were rooms for choreography, vocals, directing, producing and script-writing, to name a few. They attended the high-school classes whenever they could, and provided leadership within the classroom setting – running scenes and coaching students on various aspects of the show. Their contributions did not go unnoticed.

Isabella Liscio
Isabella Liscio

“The York students were outstanding,” says O’Meara. “They had so much genuine enthusiasm for what our students were doing. They were always willing to offer their expertise, make suggestions and provide great feedback.”

One of the York theatre students, Liscio, who just finished her third year specializing in performance creation and research, started working with O’Meara in May 2020 as a volunteer to get classroom hours for her teachers college application. She has now helped Richmond Green put on three productions. “This experience has meant so much,” she says. “I want to be a drama teacher and I didn’t have much experience working with high-school students before. I got to learn and explore with them what this genre of online theatre is and work with them in the areas of acting, directing, marketing and production.”

Rachel D'Arpino
Rachel D’Arpino

Another third-year student, D’Arpino, who is majoring in performing arts and concurrent education, originally applied for the course thinking it was a volunteer opportunity that would serve her well as she pursues a future as a high-school drama teacher. She was thrilled to discover that it had become a for-credit course and she hopes to continue her involvement with the school. “Karen wants our opinion, asks us to help and gets everyone involved,” she says. “The kids are so immersed in everything, learning it all and putting it together from scratch. It has been such an amazing opportunity to give input and watch the whole experience come to life.”

Like the others, Harack, who will be heading into his third year of York’s theatre production program in the fall, plans to attend teachers college post-graduation. He knows this experience with Richmond Green will help him thrive in that setting and in the industry at large. “Seeing the students take the lead has been really awesome,” he says. “To see them progress from an idea to filming scenes and then editing, it was a really rewarding experience.”

Putting on a large-scale production during pandemic times certainly had its challenges, though, requiring the students to adapt on the fly to the ever-changing restrictions. “We knew we were only going to get a very short time together in person and we had to take advantage of every minute,” says O’Meara. “Our biggest learning was that if you want to produce work virtually, you have to be very organized, have a solid plan and be flexible to change.”

And change they did. The 28-person high-school class was expecting to have two in-person blocks for filming, but when everything was shut down after the first block, they had to go back to the drawing board and rewrite the script accordingly. “But because we had such a good plan at the start and a very good scene-by-scene vision, that really helped guide us when we had to make a change,” says O’Meara.

Out of Sync poster
Student-designed promotional poster for the “Out of Sync” production

The end result was “Out of Sync,” a completely student-written musical that went live on the evening of June 23 via Zoom, of course. The show was about four high schools – one private, one public, one arts-focused and one sports-focused – competing against each other in a lip-sync battle. As the rival schools went from cut-throat saboteurs to considerate allies, the show left its audience with the feel-good takeaway that music has the power to unite people from all walks of life.

Understandably, signs of the pandemic were everywhere in the production – students in masks, physical distancing, scenes filmed in students’ homes, in parks, on Zoom and some spliced together to make it appear that the cast was in the same place when in reality they were not. And perhaps that was part of the show’s charm, serving as a sort of time capsule for the strange and surreal year that was.

No one yet knows what the next school year has in store, but one thing is certain: the educational experience gained from putting on this production in such turbulent times will have a lasting impact for all involved.

“I’m delighted that our students have had such an exciting opportunity to work closely with Ms. O’Meara and the students at Richmond Green on the development of a new musical,” says Schweitzer. “Through this collaboration, they’ve developed leadership and teaching skills that will enhance their careers, whether they decide to go on to become high-school drama teachers themselves or pursue other creative avenues. I look forward to seeing this kind of partnership grow in the future.”

By Lindsay MacAdam, communications officer, YFile

Dance prof’s documentary wins at Cannes Indies Cinema Awards

FEATURED image Patrick Alcedo_new_AMPD

A film by York University Associate Professor Patrick Alcedo earned the Best Short Documentary award at the Cannes Indies Cinema Awards on July 10. The film, titled They Call Me Dax, tells the story of 15-year-old Dorothy Echipare who struggles to survive as a high-school student and ballet dancer while living alone in a poor urban district in Quezon City, Philippines.

Movie poster for the film They Call Me Dax“I was elated and surprised when I learned that my new short docu won, as it was an international online competition,” said Alcedo.

Chair of the Department of Dance in York’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD), Alcedo has directed, written and produced three documentary films in the past year. Two of his other documentary films – A Will To Dream and Am I Being Selfish? – also won, respectively, Best Dance Feature Documentary and Best Inspirational Short Documentary at the Silk Road Film Awards Cannes in May. This same competition singled out They Call Me Dax as Best Dance Short Documentary.

The three films put a spotlight on issues of teenage pregnancy, illegal drugs, precarity of labour and inconsistent governmental support in poverty alleviation in the Philippines. They illustrate how dance, when partnered with grit and altruistic teaching, has the potential to navigate and even overcome these social, economic and political issues.

Patrick Alcedo
Patrick Alcedo

“As a dance ethnographer, I am passionate about putting an emphasis on dance’s ability to empower the marginalized. I want to illustrate that dance, as lived in the lives of its practitioners, is an incredible embodied form in understanding the complexities of race, class, ethnicity, gender, religious practices and diasporic/transnational identities,” said Alcedo. “As a Philippine studies scholar and a Filipino, I devote my energies and resources to fleshing out who Filipinos are, whether in the Philippines or in transnational elsewhere – from the point of view of dance, from their own dancing and choreographed bodies.

Along the same vein of marginality as Dorothy’s story, Am I Being Selfish? focuses on the life of her fellow dancer, Jon-Jon Bides. Despite the resulting financial hardship, Jon-Jon insists on supporting his wife and two young sons by teaching ballet to poor children and at-risk youth, like Dorothy.

The feature-length documentary, A Will To Dream, anchors its narrative in the life of Luther Perez, a former ballet star in the Philippines and Dorothy and Jon-Jon’s mentor and adoptive father. To give underprivileged children and youth from squatters’ areas in Quezon City and Manila a shot in life, he surrendered his U.S. green card – and with it the promise of a better life abroad – to teach them dance.

To date, these films have garnered six official selections from film festivals and award-giving bodies such as the New York Independent Cinema Awards, International Shorts, Lift-Off Online Sessions and the Chicago Indie Film Awards.

Alcedo’s latest win at the Cannes Indies has caught the attention of three television stations – DZRH News of the Manila Broadcasting Corporation, Net25 and Omni Filipino News – that together have thus far garnered more than 28,000 views.

The three films build on Alcedo’s 20-minute documentary Dancing Manilenyos, which was an official selection at the 2019 Diversity in Cannes Short Film Showcase and received an Award of Merit from the 2019 Global Shorts Competition and an Award of Recognition from the 2018 Hollywood International Independent Documentary Awards.

These three recent films would not have been possible if not for the team that Alcedo has put together. Behind these works are cinematographer Alex Felipe, editor and colourist Alec Bell, and transcriber Paulo Alcedo – all York University alumni. Additional cinematography is from John Marie Soberano and archival footage is from both Mark Gary and Denisa Reyes. Peter Alcedo Jr. did the musical scoring.

The pre-production, production and post-production of Alcedo’s films have received support from AMPD, the York Centre for Asian Research, the government of Ontario’s Early Researcher Awards program, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s Research-Creation Grant.

My Secret Life: AMPD facilities co-ordinator finds balance on his family farm

My Secret Life FEATURED
My Secret Life FEATURED

Joey Vander Kooi
Joey Vander Kooi

Joey Vander Kooi has worked as the facilities co-ordinator in York University’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design since completing his undergraduate degree at McMaster University four years ago. But his workday is far from over when he clocks out of his nine-to-five.

When he’s not spending his evening hours taking courses in York’s Bachelor of Disaster and Emergency Management program, this tireless 29-year-old who describes himself as a “lifelong student” is slipping on his gardening gloves and taking care of business on his family farm in Kettleby, Ont., just north of Toronto.

Growing up in the nearby Holland Marsh, a wetland known for its agricultural riches, farming has been a part of Vander Kooi’s life for as long as he can remember. “But never with animals,” he explains. “It was more like vegetables and gardens and whatnot. I have always helped my parents with that and I used to have a summer job doing groundskeeping, so gardening has always been a hobby of mine.”

And there is plenty of gardening to be done at his farm. While lettuce, tomatoes and squash are the family’s primary crops of choice, they’re also trying a bit of corn this year despite past disappointments. “Raccoons tend to eat those right before they’re ready, so they never turn out too well,” says Vander Kooi. They also grow flowers for the family business, Country Lane Floral Design, run by his mother and sister.

The family dialled its hobby farming up a notch seven years ago when they moved to their current property, an old farm house with a barn perfect for raising animals. “After we moved here,” says Vander Kooi, “some friends of ours who moved out west had sheep they were trying to get rid of, so we adopted them and that’s how we started our little hobby farm. We also now have chickens and rabbits.”

Sheep on the Vander Kooi family farm
Sheep on the Vander Kooi family farm

Animals ended up being a very welcome addition to Vander Kooi’s life on the farm. He loves getting to see their individual personalities come out – especially the sheep, who he says all have different temperaments, from cuddly to skittish. “The guy who sheers them said he’s always amazed at how comfortable our sheep are around people, so I guess they’re spoiled and get lots of attention,” Vander Kooi says with a laugh.

But as fun as farming can be, it’s also a lot of responsibility. Vander Kooi estimates that around 20 hours a week are dedicated to keeping the farm going, but not from him alone. “It’s a big family effort,” he says, explaining that his parents, his sister and brother-in-law, and even his niece and nephew all contribute to the daily duties. And perhaps the key to it all? He doesn’t consider it work.

“It doesn’t really feel like a chore,” he insists. “It’s more of just something to do to get my mind off of things by focusing on the specific task of either gardening or taking care of the animals…. It’s nice to be in the country and to be outside spending time with the animals on the farm. It’s really good for your mental and physical health.”

And isn’t that exactly the kind of healthy outlet we have all been needing over the past year and a half, since the COVID-19 pandemic turned life as we know it upside down?

Vander Kooi certainly thinks so. But pandemic or not, farming is something he envisions as part of his life forever. And although property size limits how many more animals his family can bring into their little farm community, he does hope to add some smaller animals – maybe a dog, or some ducks – down the road.

By Lindsay MacAdam, communications officer, Communications & Public Affairs, York University

Do you have a “secret life” or know someone else at York who does? Drop us a line at yfile@yorku.ca with a brief summary of what makes you shine, or nominate someone you know at York. Use the subject line “My Secret Life.”

Rare artifacts find their way home to the Philippines thanks to a York professor

FEATURED image Patrick Alcedo_new_AMPD

A museum in the northern Philippines has received a treasure trove of local artifacts, all thanks to a connection made during the Sustainable and Inclusive Internationalization Virtual Conference organized by York University and partners in January 2021.

Patrick Alcedo
Patrick Alcedo

Patrick Alcedo, associate professor of dance in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD), was one of the conference speakers. He gave a presentation about using dance as a pedagogical tool. Alcedo is a dancer, dance ethnographer and documentary filmmaker who specializes in the folk dances of the Philippines.

In the audience for Alcedo’s talk was Faye Snodgress, an American education consultant and granddaughter of a man who taught English in the northern Philippines in the late 1800s.

Following the conference, Snodgress wrote to Alcedo to explain her family connection to the Philippines. She sent along photos of some cultural artifacts that her grandfather had brought home as mementos of his stay in the rural Philippines. Snodgress expressed a desire to donate them to a museum or an appreciative audience. She asked Alcedo if he had any ideas about a good home or any connections to someone who could assist her with the donation.

A rare bag from the Philippines
This embroidered bag is among the artifacts sent to the Museo Kordilyera. Photograph courtesy of Patrick Alcedo

Alcedo, who hails from the central Philippines, immediately thought of a colleague at OCAD University, Lynne B. Milgram, who conducts research in the northern part of the Philippines. He got in touch with Milgram and she told him that a new museum, the Museo Kordilyera, had opened in 2019 at the University of the Philippines. Milgram contacted the director of Museo Kordilyera and received an enthusiastic response: the museum would be delighted to add the artifacts to its collection.

“The artifacts are amazing,” said Alcedo. “There are wooden spoons with carvings of humans on the handle, for example, and a very rare bag that is used in a particular Philippine dance. Material objects are inextricably linked with Philippine dance; they are used as props. I used a similar bag when I was a dancer. These traditions still exist. The dance movements are specific, but they alone can’t signify the culture; the dances are so object-driven.”

Carved spoons
Included in the artifacts are two rare carved spoons and a vessel. Photograph courtesy of Patrick Alcedo

The artifacts are now in Baguio, the city that houses the Museo Kordilyera.

Alcedo, who often travels to the area to conduct research on regional dances, is planning a visit to the collection once it is safe to travel again.

“Imagine, these artifacts came to North America 120 years ago,” he said. “It is such a generous thing to do to return them to a place where they will be treasured.

“In addition, it is fitting that these artifacts are being returned home during the Philippines’ quincentennial year so that the entire country can enjoy them,” added Alcedo, who was named by the Philippine Consulate as a recipient of a 2021 Quincentennial Award.

By Elaine Smith, special contributor

Music Professor Ron Westray to release autobiography this fall

FEATURED image Book Launch

Ron Westray
Ron Westray

York University Associate Professor Ron Westray, in the Department of Music, School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design, is releasing an autobiography this September titled Life in Reverse: Tales of a Very Stable Narcissist (Anthem Press).

“It is possible that we exist in a predominantly narcissistic society in which people want you to love them; and then they don’t want you anymore,” says Westray, the inaugural Oscar Peterson Chair in Jazz Performance at York, about the book’s key message.

Starting from present and going back 30 years to 1990, the story of African-American jazz musician Westray’s life journey – striving for knowledge, opportunity, acceptance and understanding – is written in reverse.

An embedded road itinerary guides the progression of the book. Years are rarely mentioned in the text; and, in most cases, only initials are used for all characters. People, places and things are all real in relation to the timeline. The work involves the insertion of common conversations – from sources such as texting and emails – to shed light on the fallibility of human relations. To a large degree, and within reason, the length of conversations are meant to be overbearing, countered by other aspects of the writing. Stories from Westray’s father and grandfather are featured in the book and his mother’s free-verse poetry is the soul that binds it together like a second narrator.

Westray’s book will be available for preorder on July 19 on Google Books, Barnes & Noble.com, Waterstones.com and other places books are sold. For more information about Life in Reverse: Tales of a Very Stable Narcissist, visit the publisher’s website.

PhD candidate’s original composition to premiere with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra

Luis Ramirez featured

Luis Ramirez
Luis Ramirez

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra has announced that Luis Ramirez, a York University PhD candidate in music, School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design, has received a commission for an original composition in their 2022 season. His “Celebration Prelude” will be making its world premiere, and will be conducted by Gustavo Gimeno, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s music director, as part of their Gimeno + Dvořák’s “New World” concert, running April 27 to 30, 2022.

This opportunity is a testament to Ramirez’s accomplishments as a music scholar, as he was previously named the inaugural recipient of York University’s Jacques Israelievitch Scholarship in Interdisciplinary Arts. He earned the award as an advocate for music and as a dedicated educator, qualities that also animated Israelievitch’s life.

“It is fitting that Luis Ramirez has been asked to compose a new work for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra,” says Assistant Professor Randolph Peters, Ramirez’s PhD supervisor. “Among his many artistic achievements, Mr. Israelievitch was Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s longest tenured concertmaster (1988-2008).”

The Jacques Israelievitch Scholarship in Interdisciplinary Arts is granted to full-time graduate students enrolled in the School of Arts, Media, Performance & Design. Recipients of the award demonstrate outstanding academic merit, artistic excellence, and artistic practice of interdisciplinary and cross-departmental nature. The award was designed to recognize students who are gifted musicians or have a musical component to their interdisciplinary artistic vision.

For more information about Gimeno + Dvořák’s “New World” concert, visit the Toronto Symphony Orchestra website.