Passings: Graham Upcraft, accompanist with the Department of Dance

Graham Upcraft
Graham Upcraft

A talented pianist and accompanist, from 1979 to 2000, Graham Upcraft accompanied many aspiring dancers at York University during their practices and performances. Upcraft died Jan. 17 in Toronto. He was in his 80th year.

Upcraft was educated at the Royal Academy of Music in London, England. He was the musical director for the Laban Art of Movement Studio, the Royal Ballet School and Company, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Les Grands Ballets Canadians, the National Ballet of Canada of Canada School and company founder, as well a member of Dance Department York University. He worked at York University from September 1970 to June 2000.

Upcraft was co-owner, with his wife Pat, of the Thornhill School of Ballet, and continued to play for Cawthra Park School of the Arts, and All That Dance Studio, until this year.

He was predeceased by his wife Pat and leaves two children and two grandchildren. A memorial service has taken place. Memorial donations to the Canadian Liver Foundation or the Canadian Diabetes Association would be appreciated by the family.

Performing Indigeneity: Theatre @ York raises Brebeuf’s Ghost

Award-winning Algonquin/Métis director and playwright Yvette Nolan helms Theatre @York’s compelling new production of Brébeuf’s Ghost, “a tale of horror in three acts” by internationally renowned Aboriginal playwright Daniel David Moses. The show previews from Jan. 24, opens Jan. 26 and runs to Jan. 30 in the Joseph G. Green Studio Theatre at York University’s Keele campus.

Jean de Brébeuf
Jean de Brébeuf

Brébeuf’s Ghost is a poetic and powerful story of the survival of Indigenous culture in the face of colonial oppression and destruction. The play is set in 1649 at Lake Nipissing, where the First Nations communities are at war with Christian missionaries. Worlds are colliding. On top of everything, the ghost of the Jesuit missionary Jean de Brébeuf, killed earlier in the year in Huronia, has returned.

With Brébeuf’s Ghost, Moses depicts a dark but ultimately healing vision of early Canada. The audience is drawn in to witness an intensely theatrical epic that reveals the shattering consequences of the collision between native and non-native cultures, traditions and social structures.

Nolan hopes audiences will truly experience the world that Daniel David Moses has created in Brébeuf’s Ghost.

“I think it’s really important to understand that this story is our story – the story of all Canadians”, she said. “It’s about contact between the Indigenous people and the people who came over to these lands. What I want audiences to take away from the experience of the play is an understanding of how we got to 2016.”

Ben Siapas and Larissa Currie in rehearsal for Brébeuf’s Ghost. Credit: Ashley Elliott
Ben Siapas and Larissa Currie in rehearsal for Brébeuf’s Ghost. Credit: Ashley Elliott

For Brébeuf’s Ghost, Nolan directs a talented young cast drawn from the fourth year Acting Conservatory in York’s Department of Theatre. Upper-year undergrads make up the creative team handling all aspects of production design and execution, including sets, costumes, lighting and an original soundscape.

Daniel David Moses is registered as a Delaware Indian, though he hails from the Six Nations lands located on the Grand River near Brantford, Ontario. An alumnus of York University’s Theatre program, he is one of Canada’s foremost playwrights. He has been hailed as “… a coroner of the theatre who slices open the human heart to reveal the fear, hatred and love that have eaten away at it” (The Globe and Mail). His plays include Almighty Voice and his Wife, Coyote City, The Witch of Niagara, and The Indian Medicine Shows. A two-time nominee for the Siminovitch Prize in Theatre, he received the Ontario Arts Council’s Aboriginal Arts Award in 2015. He divides his time between Toronto, where he writes, and Kingston, where he teaches in the Department of Drama at Queen’s University.

The maquette, or set design model for Brébeuf’s Ghost, designed by 4th year theatre student Tenihkie Brant, inspired by the Northern Lights and the granite around Lake Nipissing
The maquette, or set design model for Brébeuf’s Ghost, designed by fourth year theatre student Tenihkie Brant, is inspired by the Northern Lights and the granite around Lake Nipissing

Director, playwright, dramaturg, actor and educator Yvette Nolan is a major force in the creation and performance of Aboriginal theatre in Canada. Born in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, to an Algonquin mother and an Irish immigrant father, she has worked with theatre companies across the country, including Winnipeg’s Manitoba Theatre Centre; Nakai Theatre and Gwaandak Theatre in Whitehorse, Yukon; Eastern Front Theatre in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia; and Toronto’s Native Earth Performing Arts, where she served as managing artistic director from 2003 to 2010.  Her directing credits include the  Western Canada Theatre Company/National Arts Centre co-production of George Ryga’s The Ecstasy of Rita Joe; The Only Good Indian for Turtle Gals Performance Ensemble; and Death of Chief, A Very Polite Genocide and Tombs of the Vanishing Indian for Native Earth Performing Arts. She has been writer/playwright-in-residence at Brandon University, the NAC, Mount Royal College and the University of Regina. Her honours include the George Luscombe Award for mentorship in professional theatre, Bob Couchman Award for direction, Jessie Richardson Award for outstanding original script, and Mallory Gilbert Leadership Award. Later this season, Theatre @ York will present her adaptation of Aristophanes’ The Birds, recast as a tale of Indigenous and settler relationships on Turtle Island.

Brébeuf’s Ghost is presented under the auspices of Performing Indigeneity, the Department of Theatre’s thematic focus for 2015-16. In Theatre @ York productions, the Performance Studies (Canada) Speaker Series, curriculum and classroom dialogue, the department is exploring questions raised by Indigenous performance, including interculturalism, indigenous protocols, post-colonialism, and the staging of ethnicity. York’s theatre program joins the national conversation undertaken by the country’s most influential theatre organizations and leads the nation in addressing how postsecondary theatre training intersects with Canada’s Indigenous peoples and the diversity of their artistic practices.

Admission is $20 for the general public and $12 for students and seniors. Preview tickets are $7. There is a group rate of $10 (for groups of 10 or more; not available through online purchase — call the box office). For ticket information, contact the Box Office online or call 416-736-5888.

Trip to NYC puts theory into practice for 32 York theatre students

A group of students from the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD) had the experience of a lifetime when they travelled to New York City last semester to see Sleep No More by the U.K.-based production company Punchdrunk and Deaf West Theater’s Spring Awakening.

The 32 students were accompanied by AMPD theatre Professors Gwenyth Dobie, Ian Garrett and Laura Levin. The trip gave the students an opportunity to apply the theories they had learned in the lecture hall in an experiential education setting.

Professor Gwen Dobie (right) with students outside the Deaf West Theatre in New York City
Professor Gwen Dobie (right) with students and faculty outside the Deaf West Theatre in New York City

Sleep No More, which premiered in 2003 in London, has been running in New York City since 2011 to sold-out crowds. The production features roaming audiences who experience storytelling inside theatrical worlds. In Levin’s book Performing Ground: Space, Camouflage and the Art of Blending In, she discusses this unique form of this environmental theatre piece, exploring how it blurs boundaries between spectators and performers and turns the world of Shakespeare’s Macbeth into an immersive choose-your-own-adventure game. The trip to New York to see Sleep No More animated her writing and teaching with a concrete learning opportunity for the students.

The group outside the Punchdrunk
The group outside Sleep No More

Sleep No More was unlike any show I have seen,” said fourth-year devised theatre student Deanna Gallati. “I appreciated the amount of time I was given to explore and soak in all that was happening. The set was amazing! It is definitely a show you need to see more than once; I know I want to go see it again from different perspectives.”

The group poses outside the theatre prior to the performance of "Spring Awakening"
The group poses outside the theatre prior to the performance of “Spring Awakening”

Garrett brought his extensive professional connections to the trip, which afforded additional opportunities to enrich the experience. The day after the performance, a talkback was organized with Nick Bruder, who played Macbeth and the Boywitch in Sleep No More, and with Tiffany Williams, who is the production’s assistant lighting director. For several hours, students spoke with Bruder and Williams about the complexities of this extraordinary show.

The following night, students attended the production of Spring Awakening by Deaf West Theater. Spring Awakening is adapted from the 19th-century German play by Frank Wedekind, which was banned after publication. Directed by Michael Arden, the primary roles are divided among deaf and hearing actors, with the deaf performers’ songs and some of their dialogue being delivered by hearing actors who double the roles. The production invites more cultural space for people with disabilities in the arts (the cast also includes an actor in a wheelchair), while also asking important questions about how interpersonal communication and physical ability are interpreted in various social contexts. (For more on Deaf West Theater’s production of Spring Awakening, see New York Magazine writer Jesse Green’s article.)

After the show, the York University students were invited to a talkback with Spring Awakening Stage Manager TJ Kearny. This was an exciting opportunity to hear about the powerful community of deaf and hearing performers. “The talkback with the stage manager after the show was a lovely bonus,” said fourth-year devised theatre student Chi-Chi Onuah. “I very much enjoyed getting to learn more about this show and how it incorporated American sign language into every aspect of production.”

Every year, the Department of Theatre forms a focused research question and theme, which acts as a cornerstone for discussion in classes and Theatre@York play selection. The production of Spring Awakening brings focus to next year’s theme of “Extraordinary Lives: Difference and Disability.”

Ten individuals with connections to York University appointed to the Order of Canada

Order of Canada Member medal large image for YFile homepage

York University honorary governor Helen Vari (LLD [Hons.] ’03), honorary degree recipients Lloyd Axworthy (LLD [Hons.] ’15), Jack Cockwell (LLD [Hons.] ’01), Wade Davis (LLD [Hons.] ’14) and Rohinton Mistry (DLitt [Hons.] ’03), and York alumni Joseph Boyden (BA ’91), Rudy Buttignol (BFA ’82), Barbara Hall (LLB ’78), Fiona Amaryllis Sampson (DJur ’05) and Faye Thomson (BFA ’77) are among the 69 Canadians to be honoured with Canada’s highest civilian honour – the Order of Canada.

The new appointees include six companions (C.C.), 14 officers (O.C.) and 49 new members (C.M.). The names of the 69 individuals to receive the honour were made on the recommendation of the Advisory Council for the Order of Canada and announced Dec. 30, 2015, by the Office of the Governor General of Canada.

Helen Vari
Helen Vari

An honorary member of the Board of Governors of York University and a recipient of an honorary doctor of laws degree from York University in 2003, Helen Vari was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada for “her philanthropic and volunteer contributions, and for her extensive service to educational, cultural and social initiatives.” A lifelong supporter of education, Vari spent her early years in Hungary prior to travelling to Canada where she met and married her late husband George Vari. The couple established the engineering and construction company SEFRI Construction International. Their strong belief in the power of education led to the establishment in 1984 of the Vari Foundation, which has helped students at many Canadian educational institutions with scholarships, as well as support for teaching programs and financial gifts. York University’s Vari Hall is named for the couple.

Lloyd Axworthy
Lloyd Axworthy

Lloyd Axworthy was promoted to Companion of the Order of Canada for “his principled contributions to international human rights and for his leadership in postsecondary education, particularly in support of Aboriginal students.” Axworthy has had a distinguished career as a Member of Parliament, a cabinet minister and, most recently, as the president and vice-chancellor of the University of Winnipeg. Among his most notable contributions, he created the Royal Commission on Equity in Employment while he was minister of employment and immigration. Later, as foreign affairs minister, his leadership behind the Ottawa Treaty to ban anti-personnel land mines garnered him a Nobel Peace Prize nomination. He has gone on to advocate for international human rights. In 2014, he was installed as the first chancellor of St. Paul’s University College at the University of Waterloo. In 2015, York University bestowed an honorary doctor of laws degree on Axworthy.

Jack Cockwell
Jack Cockwell

Jack Cockwell was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada for “his civic engagement in the areas of education, conservation and history.” He serves as the Chief Executive Officer and Chairman at Partners Limited. In 2001, the Schulich School of Business honoured Cockwell with a Doctor of Laws degree. As a business strategist, Cockwell has played a leading role over the past 35 years in the development of numerous prestigious office properties, hydroelectric power dams, base metal mines and forest product mills in North and South America and in the process, helped build one of Canada’s largest industrial groups. A strong believer in continuing education, Cockwell played an active role at Ryerson University for a number of years as a member of its Board of Governors and as campaign chair for The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education.

Wade Davis
Wade Davis

A recipient of an honorary doctor of laws degree from York University in 2014, Wade Davis is professor of Anthropology and the BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia. He was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada for his efforts to promote conservation and for his work as a writer and scholar. Between 1999 and 2013 he served as Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society and is currently a member of the NGS Explorers Council. Named by the NGS as one of the Explorers for the Millennium, he has been described as “a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet and passionate defender of all of life’s diversity.” An ethnographer, writer, photographer and filmmaker, Davis spent over three years in the Amazon and Andes as a plant explorer, living among 15 indigenous groups in eight Latin American nations while making some 6,000 botanical collections. Davis is the author of 240 scientific and popular articles and 17 books.

Rohinton Mistry
Rohinton Mistry

The recipient of an honorary doctor of letters degree from York University in 2003, Rohinton Mistry was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada for “his acclaimed work as an author of international renown.” His first collection of short stories, Tales From the Firozsha Baag, was published in 1987. In 1991, he published his first novel Such a Long Journey, which was awarded the Governor General’s Literary Award, the W. H. Smith/ Books in Canada First Novel Award, the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Best Book. Such a Long Journey was also short-listed for the Booker Prize. A Fine Balance was published in 1995. It won the Giller Prize, the Royal Society of Literature’s Winfried Holtby Prize, and the 1996 Los Angeles Times Award for fiction. It was also short listed for the Booker Prize. Family Matters was published in 2002 and was short listed for the Booker Prize. In 2008, Mistry published The Scream, illustrated by Tony Urquhart, a limited edition publication to benefit by World Literacy of Canada. Mistry won the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 2012.

Joseph Boyden
Joseph Boyden

Winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize for his second novel, Through Black Spruce, York University alumnus Joseph Boyden (BA ’91) is a graduate of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. He was appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada for “his contributions as an author, who tells stories of our common heritage, and for his social engagement, notably in support of First Nations.” Boyden’s novel The Orenda, won Canada Reads and was nominated for a Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Award for Fiction. A novelist and short-story writer, Boyden is of Irish, Scottish and Métis descent and the son of a highly decorated medical officer of the Second World War (Raymond Wilfrid Boyden). As an author, Boyden became widely known in Canada following the publication of his first novel, Three Day Road, which was selected for the Today Show’s book club and won various awards. It was also short listed for the Governor General’s Award for Fiction. Boyden has also written non-fiction works, including Extraordinary Canadians: Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont and From Mushkegowuk to New Orleans: A Mixed Blood Highway. He divides his time between Northern Ontario and Louisiana.

Rudy Buttignol
Rudy Buttignol

A graduate of the School of Arts, Media, Performance & Design, Rudy Buttignol (BFA ’82) is a Canadian television network executive and entrepreneur. He is the president and CEO of British Columbia’s Knowledge Network, BC’s public broadcaster and is also president of Canadian subscription television channel BBC Kids. Buttignol was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada for “his contributions as a champion of Canadian documentary filmmaking and for his transformative leadership at the Knowledge Network.” Buttignol’s career spans more than four decades. At the beginning of his career, he worked as an independent producer, director, writer and editor of documentary and children’s programs, and later as a commissioning editor, television programmer, and broadcast executive. From 1975 to 1993, Buttignol worked as an independent filmmaker creating film and video works. In 1993, Buttignol began work as a public broadcaster when he joined TVOntario as commissioning editor and creative head of independent production. In 2004, he shared the Gemini’s Donald Brittain Award with documentary filmmaker Allan King for Dying at Grace (2003). In 2007, Buttignol was awarded the inaugural Hot Docs’ Doc Mogul Award. In total, Buttignol is the recipient of nine Gemini Awards from the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television.

Barbara Hall
Barbara Hall

The former mayor of the City of Toronto, York alumna Barbara Hall (LLB ’78) was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada for “her human rights leadership and for her commitment to public service.” A graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School, Hall is a Canadian lawyer, public servant and former politician. She was the 61st mayor of Toronto, the last to run before amalgamation. She was elected mayor of the pre-amalgamation City of Toronto in 1994, and held office until Dec. 31, 1997. On Nov. 28, 2005, Hall was appointed chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. After having her term extended four times, she retired Feb. 27, 2015, after almost a decade in the position. On July 17, 2014, a city park in Toronto’s Church and Wellesley neighbourhood was renamed in her honour. On March 16, 2015, Hall was appointed by the provincial government to chair a seven-member panel that will conduct public consultations to review the governance of the Toronto District School Board.

Fiona Sampson
Fiona Sampson

Osgoode Hall Law School alumna Fiona Sampson (DJur ’05) was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada for “her commitment to human rights, particularly those of women and girls in Africa.” Sampson is a human rights lawyer and the founder of The Equality Effect, a non-profit organization based in Toronto. The organization uses international human rights law to work on behalf of girls and women, its main focus is the protection of girls and women in sub-Saharan Africa from rape. In May 2013, Sampson and her team secured a victory in Kenya when the country’s highest court found the government was guilty in failing to protect girls from rape. In addition to her role as executive director of The Equality Effect, Sampson serves as an appointed member of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. An experienced litigation lawyer, she has appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada representing various women’s NGOs in equality rights cases. She was appointed an Ashoka Fellow, named the 2014 Lawyer of the Year by the New York State Bar Association, named one of Canada’s Top 25 Lawyers and is one of 50 “Global Heroes” working to end violence against children, along with among others, Queen Noor and Hillary Clinton.

Faye Thomson

Faye Thomson (BFA ’77) is a contemporary dancer of national significance. Thomson, a graduate of the School of Arts, Media, Performance & Design. With collaborator Odette Heyn, the duo were appointed Members of the Order of Canada for “their contributions to contemporary dance in Canada and to the development of the next generation of Canadian dancers.” In 1983, Heyn and Thomson founded the Professional Program of The School of Contemporary Dancers. Since that time, the Professional Program has made significant contributions to the contemporary dance arts community and the cultural fabric of Canada. Working in a partnership for over 30 years, they are the longest serving directors of a national professional dance training program in Canada. Thomson has performed with Stephanie Ballard and Dancers, Rachel Browne, and Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers including with Tedd Robinson. She continues to serve as rehearsal director for Stephanie Ballard and Dancers for several projects, and has recently been rehearsal director for works presented by NAfro Dance Productions and Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers including for the Rachel Browne Tribute Tour. She studied and performed in South Indian Classical Dance for many years under the direction of Menaka Thakkar, including an acclaimed 1984/85 performance tour of India. For several years, she served as a member of the board of directors of the Winnipeg Arts Council and as a member of the Manitoba Arts Advisory Panel and continues to serve as a juror/assessor.

Panel presentation on AMPD eLearning highlights York as a leader

From expanding options for working with images in Moodle to managing information flow for a fully online film course with 800 students, faculty members in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD) have creative approaches to adapting eLearning for the arts.

Michael Longford
Michael Longford
Professor David Gelb
David Gelb

Instructors came together on Nov. 27 for a panel presentation to share their trailblazing efforts in this quickly evolving arena.

The celebration was organized by David Gelb, AMPD eLearning lead and professor in the Department of Design, and Michael Longford, professor in the Department of Digital Media and one of the AMPD project champions for Academic Innovation Fund activities.

“This presentation is a model for York University,” said William Gage, associate vice-president, Teaching and Learning, during the event.

Gage said he can “clearly see” that AMPD is a leader on campus, and recent feedback on AMPD projects presented at the Designs on eLearning Conference last September in London is evidence that the content being created in AMPD is world-class.

“We believe there’s a growing appetite for blended courses among our students, and augmenting those with some fully online offerings allows more flexibility in how students engage with course material,” said Longford. “We all have unique learning styles, and there are definite benefits to online teaching, from being able to revisit recorded lectures, to consistent expectations across multiple tutorials, to the instant feedback of an online quiz. Through multiple iterations in design in response to ongoing student feedback, our courses continue to improve.”

Katherine Knight includes video excerpts from her award winning documentaries in her Moodle. Still from Spring & Arnaud (2013)
Katherine Knight includes video excerpts from her award winning documentaries in her Moodle. Still from Spring & Arnaud (2013)

Department of Visual Art & Art History Professor Katherine Knight and Cinema & Media Arts Course Director Gillian Helfield both launched into their presentations by saying “I love Moodle”.

Collaborating with York’s Leaning Technology Services (LTS) and University Information Technology (UTI) divisions, Knight is working to find ways to better integrate images into her Moodle site for her first-year course, Critical Issues in Visual Art.

“Thanks to the incorporation of media galleries into York’s Moodle last September, every assignment now includes making an image in response to course material, and the images are uploaded into a gallery where they can be shared with other students for comment,” said Knight. “Allowing image creation and sharing inside Moodle has also made the course more engaging for all of us.”

Helfield’s first-year Cinema & Media Arts course for non-majors, Hollywood Old and New, was recently redesigned with support from the Ontario Shared Online Course Fund. This fully online course averages enrolments of 600 to 800 students. With 19 tutorials, and seven or eight teaching assistants involved, information management, consistency of experience and fostering a sense of community have become Helfield’s primary goals.

“We’ve created a teaching assistant manual with grading rubrics to support the TAs’ initial training,” said Helfield. “We’ve also established a good balance between essay assignments and quizzes to reduce the grading load and allow the students to get some of their marks immediately.”

The content is revised every year based on student feedback, she said, which allows her to find “that balance of simplifying the information flow without compromising the pedagogy”.

“I’ve really enjoyed the evolution,” Helfield said.

Rock and Popular Music Moodle BannerOriginally hesitant to move to online course delivery, Department of Music Professor Matt Vander Woude was astonished by the student response to critical issues in his Rock & Popular Music course for non-majors, offered online last year.

“We’ve all taught reluctant participants in our classes,” said Vander Woude. “It was amazing to see how much the students became engaged in the Moodle forum – shyness was not an issue. I recognize that heated debate has a lot to do with the content and how you present it, but the high level of thoughtful discourse has me really excited about what an online forum can do.”

Gelb and Longford led the development of Interactive Art + Design Learning Modules, an interdisciplinary eLearning initiative accessible to faculty and students around the world. Created in collaboration with Brock and Ryerson universities, with support from York’s Academic Innovation Fund and the Ontario Shared Online Course Fund, the project features web-based modules that introduce key concepts in the theory and practice of new media at the intersection of art and design, science and the humanities.

A still from one of the Interactive Art + Design Learning Module videos
A still from one of the Interactive Art + Design Learning Module videos

Each module offers a range of recorded audio/visual mini-lectures, interviews with experts, case studies, and suggested learning activities with links to readings and other educational resources. Topics covered include transhumanism, new media history, principles of interaction design, fundamentals of physical computing and programming for hardware and software design, and interactive screens for urban environments. The modules are shared through Creative Commons license at

“Instructors can use the entire suite of videos and accompanying learning activities, or they can opt to integrate just one module into an online, blended or face-to-face course,” said Gelb. “We want teachers to sign up for the content and tell us how they use it. We’re really excited to get these ideas out there.”

Across all the presentations, a recurring success story is the support for multimedia content generation arising through the participation of work/study students. From shooting and editing audio and video, to helping with graphic design and uploading content to the web, AMPD Instructional Technology Coordinator Lillian Heinson and a team of four work/study students had a hugely successful summer creating highly professional content while providing the students with valuable skills development opportunities.

“Mobile technologies are transforming the ways in which we access and interact with information,” said Longford. “My laptop, phone and tablet are my gateway to news, entertainment, managing my finances and increasingly my primary point of contact with family and friends.

“It is time to be thinking how best to integrate such technology into our teaching too,” she said.

Two York professors and the York Dance Ensemble animate choral performance of L’Enfance du Christ

Hector Berlioz
Hector Berlioz
Stephanie Martin with the scores of L’Enfance du Christ
Stephanie Martin with the scores of L’Enfance du Christ

Dancers often perform on stage to live music provided by musicians hidden in an orchestra pit. York University music Professor Stephanie Martin had a different idea in mind when she invited the Department of Dance to collaborate with the Pax Christi Chorale in a seasonal concert.

Martin is the artistic director of Pax Christi and under her baton, the 100 -voice choir will perform the rarely heard, hauntingly beautiful oratorio L’Enfance du Christ by 19th-century French composer Hector Berlioz at Grace Church on-the-Hill in Toronto Dec. 5 and 6.

Joining the chorale will be some of Canada’s finest soloists: Nathalie Paulin, Olivier Laquerre, Alain Coulombe, Sean Clark and Matthew Zadow, as well as the Pax Christi Orchestra, the Havergal College Choir and the York Dance Ensemble.

Now in its 28th season, the York Dance Ensemble (YDE) is the lively repertory company of York University’s dance department, featuring rising young artists on the brink of their professional careers.

“When Stephanie [Martin] approached us with the idea of including dancers in L’Enfance du Christ, I was immediately intrigued,” said Professor Carol Anderson, a well-known choreographer who has set numerous works with the YDE.

The York Dance Ensemble rehearse
The York Dance Ensemble rehearse

Anderson and Martin worked together to integrate the ensemble into the concert. The dancers appear in the instrumental sections of the work, enriching the musical performance by animating the characterizations Berlioz specifies in the score, through original choreography created by Anderson.

“They variously interpret a soldiers’ nocturnal march, a wild dance for soothsayers, an overture for shepherds, a passage for busily domestic Ishmaelites and a celebratory, graceful welcoming dance,” said Anderson.

The YDE’s 14 members move throughout the space, performing in the aisles and at the back of the church as well as at the front with the singers and orchestra.

“The energy and grace of these young dancers give us a fresh approach to this 19-century masterpiece. They bring the story to life – the story of a refugee family fleeing violence – which is strikingly current and poignantly in our minds this year,” said Martin.

L’Enfance du Christ will be performed Saturday, Dec. 5 at 7:30pm and Sunday, Dec. 6 at 3pm. Grace Church on-the-Hill is located at 300 Lonsdale Road. Tickets ($25-$45) are available at or by emailing

Hector Berlioz
Hector Berlioz

L’Enfance du Christ is not Martin’s only seasonal offering. The following weekend, she will direct the Pax Christi Chorale in an adaptation of Handel’s Messiah created especially for children. The hour-long performance features the most popular choruses and arias from the oratorio, in addition to short, child-friendly narration and sing-along carols. Children’s Messiah takes place Saturday, Dec. 12 at 4pm at the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene, 477 Manning Avenue in Toronto. Admission is free for children and pay-what-you-can for adults, with proceeds going to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). York music Professor Catherine Robbin will make a guest solo appearance at the concert.

Winter Nights coverMartin is an eminent composer as well as conductor, and the Pax Christi Chorale has just released a recording of her works. Titled Winter Nights, it celebrates Martin’s almost 20-year legacy as the chorale’s artistic director. The CD features many commissioned works and showcases Martin’s diverse compositional range, from pieces for full choir and orchestra to intimate chamber works.

“It’s all new music – some published, some not; some of it written, tearfully, in a period when music was my sole salvation; some of it written, joyfully, in a golden age of singing; some of it written on retreat in a convent in England,” said Martin.

Martin set her music to texts ranging from ancient to modern, including Biblical verses such as the Song of Solomon and passages from the Book of John, poems by classical masters Tennyson and Yeats, and contemporary poetry by Cori Martin as well as some of her own writings.

“This is a particularly wonderful time of year for choral music.  Berlioz’s subject, a family in need looking for shelter and food, inspires us all to be generous and thoughtful this season,” she said.

AGYU recognized for innovation in programming and exhibition design

The Art Gallery of York University has been recognized for innovation in programming and exhibition design by the Ontario Association of Art Galleries (OAAG) last week in Toronto.

Philip Monk shows off the award from the OAAG for his exhibit Is Toronto Burning? 1977/1978/1979 Three Years in the Making (and Unmaking) of the Toronto Art Community
Philip Monk shows off the award from the OAAG for his exhibit Is Toronto Burning? 1977/1978/1979 Three Years in the Making (and Unmaking) of the Toronto Art Community

The AGYU received two awards from the OAAG, which were presented during the 38th annual awards ceremony on Nov. 18. The gallery received the Exhibition of the Year (thematic) for AGYU Director Philip Monk’s Is Toronto Burning? 1977/1978/1979 Three Years in the Making (and Unmaking) of the Toronto Art Community, and the Public Program Award for Heather Cassils’ research-action piece Labour Intensive, curated by AGYU Assistant Curator Suzanne Carte.

In its decision to award Is Toronto Burning, which took place fall 2014 at AGYU, the jury noted: “This was an important exhibition due to its assessment of recent, archival material….? Exhibition layout and execution was excellent, with an evident depth of research. The publication, though not available as a public edition, presents significant potential for scholarly attention. The jury applauded the work involved in putting together this material.”

A project demonstrating AGYU’s commitment to student engagement, Labour Intensive took place during the fall of 2014 at York University’s Keele campus. Labour Intensive was a collaboration between Los Angeles-based artist Heather Cassils and students from the School of the Arts Media, Performance & Design Professor Barbara Balfour’s print making class, Faculty of Environmental Studies Professor Anders Sandberg’s course, and York University’s School of Social Work. In addition, Carte worked closely with the York Federation of Students, Trans Bi Lesbian Gay Allies, Sexual Assault Survivors’ Support Line & Leadership, Women’s Empowerment Club’s, Active Minds, Creative Art Student Association, Visual Art Student Association, International Student Association, Centre for Women and Trans People, Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG), and the Centre for Human Rights, all of whom contributed to the design and production of the project.

Suzanne Carte displays her award for the exhibit Labour Intensives
Suzanne Carte displays her award for the exhibit Labour Intensive

The jury said it was impressed with its scope and reach and the ways in which the project was genuinely student-led, noting in its decision the following attributes: “Engagement of local community in a creative manner. Brought in interesting collaborators. Did not feel didactic. Site-specifically looking at the needs of the students. Good documentation that made it an understandable project.” 

The following day, on Nov. 19 at York University, the OAAG in partnership with the AGYU and the Department of Visual Art and Art History in the School of Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD), hosted a lively and polemical workshop for an eager group of some 40 art professionals from across Ontario and a group of York University curatorial students.

Presenters Emelie Chhangur (AGYU), Wanda Nanibush (Art Gallery of Ontario), Stephanie Nadeau (Ottawa Art Gallery), Syrus Marcus Ware (YorkU PhD Student (Faculty of Environmental Studies/AGO), Elizabeth Sweeney (Robert McLaughlin Gallery), Christina Kerr (McMichael Gallery), Ellen Anderson (Creative Spirit Art Centre), Christopher Régimbal, Rebecca Gimmi (Justina M. Barnicke Gallery), and Erin Peck (Doris McCarthy Gallery) were charged with addressing the following questions: Can innovation in exhibition design and installation change how art is experienced and by whom through new models of accessible design or performative modes of civic engagement? What are the potential forces of change that can transform the gallery or museum institution from within?

Titled Innovation in Exhibition Design and Installation, the workshop was the most attended in OAAG’s history. It also represented the first such workshop that students attended. The students were able to attend because of an initiative by AGYU and AMPD that saw the AGYU paid the workshop fees for four top students to attend. AMPD provided the facilities and technical support for the workshop. In doing this, AGYU and AMPD brought museum professionals from across Ontario into dialogue with York University graduate students, who represent the future of Ontario’s gallery professionals. An hour-long tour of AGYU’s current exhibition, Marlon Griffith’s Symbols of Endurance, acted as a case study for new ways of presenting performance in a gallery and also for setting new standards for accessibility in installation design.

Emelie leads workshop
AGYU Assistant Director Emelie Chhangur (in spotlight wearing the patterned jacket) leads workshop tour of Marlon Griffith’s Symbols of Endurance exhibit 

The workshop was curated by AGYU Assistant Director/Curator Emelie Chhangur. Chhangur has won the OAAG Exhibition and Installation Design award five times over the past nine years and the OAAG Public Program Award four out of the past six years.

The AGYU is a university-affiliated, non-profit, public contemporary art gallery supported by York University, the Canada Council of the Arts, the Government of Ontario through the Ontario Arts Council, and the City of Toronto through the Toronto Arts Council.

The gallery is open Monday to Friday, from 10am to 4pm, Wednesday, from 10am to 8pm, and Sunday from 12 to 5pm. It is closed on Saturdays.

Marlon Griffith: Symbols of Endurance continues until Dec. 6.

Three York researchers awarded Banting Fellowships

Three York University researchers have been awarded prestigious Banting Fellowships – Richard Last in the Department of Humanities and the Department of History, Mary Elizabeth (M.E.) Luka of the Sensorium Centre for Digital Arts & Technology in the School of Arts, Media, Performance & Design, and Heath MacMillan in the Department of Biology.

“We are so incredibly proud of our Banting Fellows and their immense contributions to research here at York,” said Barbara Crow, dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies. “Congratulations to Richard, Mary Elizabeth and Heath on this great accomplishment.”

Richard Last
Richard Last

Last’s Banting research is titled “The Occupational and Neighbourhood Settings of Early Christianity.” It experiments with pulling the Jesus movement out of the private domain, where it tends to be confined in contemporary historiography of Christian origins. Academic descriptions of ancient churches as having originated almost exclusively from family-based networks seem to be caught up in modern descriptions of religion as a non-political phenomenon.

Of particular interest to Last, in terms of setting the agenda for new comparative scholarship on recruitment to the Jesus movement, are the neighbourhood- and occupation-based voluntary religious associations that recruited people on the basis of common residence or common profession. Many inscriptions and papyri show that the Judean deity and Christ were honoured by occupation-based and street-based clubs, possibly along with traditional Greek gods, and he is collecting and organizing this data while at York University. These types of voluntary religious associations illustrate how a person’s job or residence in a given neighbourhood could determine, at least partially, his or her cult practice in antiquity.

Mary Elizabeth (M.E.) Luka
Mary Elizabeth (M.E.) Luka

Luka’s Banting research project is titled “From creative citizenship to globally networked cultural collaborations: Imagining culture, identity and creative work today.” It uses the concept of creative citizenship to investigate how civic, culture and business sectors are networked in the digital age, including the intricate ways that governments, universities, corporations and social enterprises connect. The concept of creative citizenship established by Luka’s previous research helps analyze cultural industries and creative labour policy and practices. New approaches to cultural production emerge through knowledge sharing, policy activation and creative practices that address social goals, resource limits and opportunities.

Luka’s research is crucial to help cultural workers shape their careers and lives, for employers to cultivate inspiring work environments within the culture sector and outside of it, and for governments and universities to effectively generate deeper civic, creative and business engagements and commitments, all redefining what it is to be Canadian in a global, digital era.

Heath MacMillan
Heath MacMillan

MacMillan is studying the molecular mechanisms that determine the susceptibility or tolerance of insects to temperature extremes. MacMillan’s research integrates observations at the subcellular, cellular, tissue, organ and whole animal levels to explain the critical differences in animal physiology that can mean life or death in the cold.

Insects represent more than 75 per cent of land animals and are of great economic and environmental importance as disease vectors, agricultural pests and invasive species. Understanding the physiological and molecular mechanisms that set limits to their thermal tolerance is of great importance. “Why can one species survive a Canadian winter while another cannot?” says MacMillan. “If we aim to predict the impacts of global climate change on animal distribution and abundance, we first need to understand what sets thermal tolerance limits.”

The purpose of the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships is to build world-class research capacity by recruiting top-tier Canadian and international postdoctoral researchers at an internationally competitive level of funding. Seventy fellowships are awarded yearly through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada. The fellowships carry a value of $70,000 per year for two years.

Dance Innovations premieres 36 new works by York’s rising dance artists

Students rehearse Christina Logan’s trio "Embers"
Students rehearse Christina Logan’s trio “Embers”

Thirty-six new works will debut Nov. 26 to 28 in Dance Innovations: Strong/Light, a choreographic showcase of York University’s Department of Dance.

York Dance Ensemble performs a work by Tracey Norman (image: David Hou)
York Dance Ensemble performs a work by Tracey Norman (image: David Hou)

York’s rising young dance artists step into the spotlight with three distinctive programs of original choreography, presented in the McLean Performance Studio, 244 Accolade East Building on York’s Keele campus.

Dance Innovations: Strong/Light is directed by celebrated independent choreographer, writer and York dance Professor Carol Anderson. The crews – including board and lighting operators, assistant stage managers, projections, and many front-of-house positions – are students in the production course led by Dance Innovations production director Professor William Mackwood.

The showcase is a collaboration with the Department of Theatre, and most of the dances will be lit by students in a stage lighting course taught by Steve Ross.

The title Strong/Light refers to the continuum of effort from strong to light in the Laban system of movement analysis. Students are working with choreographic investigation of dynamic variation, and motif and development in their choreographic projects.

Most of the featured choreographies are created by fourth-year students in York’s BFA program in dance. Works by MFA candidates, as well as an ensemble piece created by Professor Darcey Callison for third-year dance majors, round out the program.

Students rehearse Christina Logan’s trio "Embers"
Students rehearse Christina Logan’s trio “Embers”

Callison’s “Post Baroque” brings together the structural inquiry of post-modern dance (1962 to 1979) and the decorative sensibilities of baroque dance (1690 to 1750). Although these two periods are often viewed as aesthetic opposites, they both valued the harmonious connections between the body and patterns in nature, and attempted to show intrinsic order within disorder.

Several student choreographers found inspiration for their works in the many facets of human relationships. Mariah Awaiye’s untitled duet explores the overwhelming power of attachment; Natalie Chung’s trio “Linked” is about getting to know one another; and Becca Graziano’s duet “Perhaps I am a tumbleweed” investigates intimacy through space, touch and eye contact. Testing the limits of mind and body is the theme of Tori Kelly’s “Begin, Risk, Stop”; Jessica Irwin’s “Unbound” and Rosie Kimble’s “Alone, Together” look at how secrecy plays out in relationships; and “Disintegration,” a quintet by Stefanie Stefanov, explores the battle underlying the dissolution of love.

Looking inward and examining the self is another thematic connection within Strong/Light. Colleen Dingeldein’s “Two” looks at how it is possible for us to feel trapped in our own bodies; Emily Griffiths’ “Em’s Gems” is about self-expression; and Jessica Mannara’s “(IN)Consinnus” questions elegance and vanity. “Saudades” (Longing) by Kyle Manraj is inspired by traditional Portuguese fado music; Dedra McDermott choreographs a soul’s awakening; and Deuana Robinson’s “Posy” compartmentalizes the female body. Juliana Roman’s sextet “Interius Daemones” (Inner Demons), explores overcoming addiction; Rebekah Spence’s duet “Faith” focuses on the relationship between religion and hope; and “Heart Cry,” a duet by Selina Twum, explores struggle and strength.

Four students dance around the clock, looking forward or back in time. Madison Burgess’ “among the memories” recalls the distant past; “Moirai” by Marivic de Vera explores destiny and memory; Natalie Feigin’s duet “Raisa” is a eulogy for a girl who did not survive the Holocaust; and Victoria Gubiani’s “A Cry of the Romantics” explores the free expression and rebellion that empowered art and literacy in the Romantic Era.

Other choreographers take inspiration from the natural world. Heather Carter’s “From the Ground Up” evokes a plant’s metamorphosis from seed to maturity; Crystal Finn-Dunn’s sextet is driven by qualities of an amoeba; Tenzin-Tara Haines-Wangda’s quartet “In the Lab” is about clearing one’s mind; “Tempest” by Kate Kovach embodies the dynamics of storms from different perspectives; and Danielle Wake’s trio “Predatory” shows the animalistic physicality of a cheetah pursuing its prey.

Students rehearse Natalie Chung’s "Linked"
Students rehearse Natalie Chung’s “Linked”

The geometry of dance is also a thematic focus. “Oblivion,” a trio by Amber Davis, explores improvised movement through space; Chloe Munday’s “A Sense of Rush!” deploys strength and dynamism in diverse spatial patterns; Christina Logan’s trio “Embers” displays directionality, contact and focus; and Bianca Trulli’s quintet “One-off” is an exploration of movement.

Six choreographers from York’s graduate program in dance contribute arresting new works to the playbill. Ashley Burton’s playful duet “vin pour deux, s’il vous plait” takes the audience on a Parisian adventure; Caitlin Elmslie’s trio “Next Level” illustrates the effects of similar movements expressed at various levels in space; “With(in) Thyself,” a quintet choreographed by Rose Hajas, explores one person’s experience of dissociation and disconnection from reality; Em Leonard’s “Romeo and Juliet” focuses on lesbian, gay, polyamorous and asexual stories; Suzanne Liska’s “Elemental” explores the journey around uniting elemental states; and Lexie Strachan’s “Convergence” stems from the idea that a dancer’s creative possibilities are endless.

The performance runs in three programs: Program A, Program B and Program C on all three days, with evening and afternoon performances scheduled.

Admission to each program of Dance Innovations: Strong/Light is $18, or $12 in advance (before Nov. 22). For more information, for a complete schedule or to purchase tickets, visit or call 416-736-5888.

Padma Subrahmanyam is the 2015 Shan & Jaya Chandrasekar Visiting Artist at York U

Internationally acclaimed South Asian classical dance artist and musician Padma Subrahmanyam is the 2015 Shan and Jaya Chandrasekar Visiting Artist/Scholar at York University’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design.

A dancer, choreographer, composer, singer, teacher, researcher, writer and Indologist, Subrahmanyam is one of India’s foremost artist-scholars. With a legendary performance career spanning six decades, she has graced stages on five continents. She is the author of 10 books and many articles and research papers on South Asian art and culture.

Padma Subrahmanyam
Padma Subrahmanyam

Subrahmanyam composes the music for most of her dance works and is a multilingual singer, performing in Sanskrit, Tamil, Hindi, Telugu, Malayalam, Bengali and Kannada, among others. In 2010 she made history by choreographing a work for 1000 dancers for the 1000th anniversary of Thanjavur Brihadeeswara Temple, part of a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of India’s largest temples and most prized architectural sites. She led the performance, which was telecast live in more than 150 countries.

Subrahmanyam’s artist residency takes place Nov. 23 to 28. During her visit, she is offering two public performances, a series of lectures and master classes for York University dance and music students, and a workshop at the Sampradaya Dance Centre, a South Asian dance academy in Mississauga founded by York graduate and adjunct professor Lata Pada.

A highlight of the residency is a public performance of Bharata Nrityam, a program of original dance works choreographed by Subrahmanyam. Joining her on stage for the performance will be two of her disciples: dancer, singer and educator Gayatri Kannan, and dancer Mahati Kannan. The evening will offer a rich overview of Bharata Nrityam, a classical dance form evolved by Subrahmanyam that revives and brings together the Marga technique of the Natya Sastra with the Desi form of South India.

The performance takes place Thursday, Nov. 26 at 7:30pm in the Tribute Communities Recital Hall, Accolade East Building at York’s Keele campus. Admission is free.

Subrahmanyam will also give a free, informal midday performance featuring her music compositions on Wednesday, Nov. 25 at 12:30pm in the Martin Family Lounge, room 219 in the Accolade East Building at York.

Dedicated to education and promotion of South Asian arts on the local and world stage, Subrahmanyam is associated with a number of universities across India. She is also president of Nrithyodaya, a school and research centre for Indian arts and culture in Chennai that was founded in 1942 by her father, the well- known filmmaker and activist K. Subrahmanyam. At Nrithyodaya, where she has trained a generation of dancers, musician-accompanists and teachers, her pioneering work includes the development of a new pedagogy that integrates the practical, theoretical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual aspects of the art of dance.

Subrahmanyam’s public service contributions include the Indo-US Sub-Commission on Education and Culture, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, and a host of other organizations in arts and academia. She currently serves on the Expert Committee for India’s Ministry of Culture and is a trustee of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and managing trustee of the Bharata-Ilango Foundation for Asian Culture.

Her long list of honours includes Padmasri and Padma Bhushan, among the highest civilian awards of India, and Japan’s prestigious Fukuoka Asian Cultural Prize for Arts and Culture. Her performance awards include Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, the highest Indian recognition given to practicing artists; Kalaimamani and State Artiste awards from the Government of Tamil Nadu; and Kalidas Samman from the Government of Madhya Pradesh.

Subrahmanyam’s visit is made possible by The Shan & Jaya Chandrasekar Visiting Artist/Scholar Residency. The residency program was established in York’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design by Shan Chandrasekar, the founder, president and CEO of Asian Television Network International Ltd. and Jaya Chandrasekar, executive vice-president and vice-president, programming of ATN.