For 13 years, the indefatigable Mary-Louise Albert has been bringing reinvention and creative energy to the annual Chutzpah! Festival in Vancouver, Canada. Actually, Managing Artistic Directors should have their own category at the Olympics for juggling, strength and endurance!
Sitting in the lobby of the Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre, Albert is understandably excited about the 17th Annual 2017 Chutzpah! Festival that runs February 16th to March 13th. “While we always attract global, national and locally acclaimed performers, it’s our cross-cultural collaborations this year that makes Chutzpah! extra-special and opens our minds,” says the former professional dancer. She won the national Eric Bruhn Memorial Award from the Dancer Transition Resource Centre to attend British Columbia’s School of Business at BCIT.
Albert has spent many years building relationships with artists. She attends Tel Aviv’s annual International Exposure in Israel and APAP in New York, the largest global gathering of performance arts professionals, that both showcase innovative contemporary dance and music.
It’s safe to dive into the humorous depths of the Canadian/Italian World Premiere of empty.swimming.pool starring Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg and Silvia Gribaudi (February 16-18 Scotiabank Dance Centre.) From Israel, the Yossi Berg & Oded Graf Dance Theatre present their provocative, 4Men, Alice, Bach and the Deer hot-off its premiere in Germany. (Feb.25-27, Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre.) New York-based, Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion, fuses elements of modern dance, jazz, hip-hop and African influences into a Western Canadian Premiere (March 11-13,Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre.) Italy’s Spellbound Contemporary Ballet returns to Chutzpah! Festival with their full-length production of Carmina Burana choreographed by Mauro Astolfi. It’s a modern riff based on a collection of 13th Century medieval poems that touch on greed, pleasures of the senses to life’s fleeting nature. (March 4-6, Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre.)
I don’t think Albert would mind an additional title of ‘match-maker’ added to her CV – for the love of the performing arts, of course. Because of the current political milieu, “I wanted to add another layer to the mix by putting performers together who might not have that opportunity. So with Israeli musician, David Broza, who not only is a great performer but a peace activist through education and music, Mira Awad, the first Arab Israeli to represent Israel at Eurovision in 2009 will join him in concert.” They perform (Tuesday, February 28th at the Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre.)
“I also paired two hilarious comedians, American stand-up and playwright, Judy Gold who is Jewish, with Canadian, Ali Hassan Muslim Interrupted, on the same double-bill.” (February 24, The York Theatre.)
We all need more laughter in our lives-even the great Jerry Seinfeld who says, “Mark Schiff is one of the funniest, the brightest and best stage comics I have ever seen!” As if that endorsement isn’t enough, Mark Schiff has written for and guest-starred on several iconic 90s TV shows such as Mad About You, appeared on Empty Nest and as a writer for The Roseanne Show. (February 20th, Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre.)
The public may not be aware that Albert offers a residency program in support of local talent in Vancouver and in a rural environment at Sointula on Malcolm Island in Alert Bay, in northern British Columbia, Canada that includes a commitment to premiere at the Chutzpah! Festival.
“I’m so proud of bringing back Vancouver-based Shay Kuebler/Radical System Art with the final full-length World Premiere of TELEMETRY,” says Albert. “Over the past three years we’ve been instrumental in helping Shay through our residency program to create his last two full-length productions, Glory and TELEMETRY that are now touring. It’s wonderful to take a chance with new performers and watch them grow.” Kuebler’s highly physical choreography in TELEMETRY translates radio systems through interactive lighting and a physical language influenced by tap, swing, jazz and house dancing. (February 18-21, Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre.)
Grammy Award-winners, The Klezmatics who have re-interpreted Eastern European klezmer with eclectic influences from African, Arab, Latin and Balkan rhythms, perform (February 23, Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre.)
In another double-bill, Israeli/US band MARBIN based out of the windy city Chicago, has garnered a huge social media following of tens-of-thousands of fans from all over the world for their exuberant jazz meets rock style.Opening for them is Vancouver’s MNGWA, blending psychedelic rock, dub and African rhythms with vocals in four languages. (March 3, Biltmore Cabaret.)
Fans of world music star, The Idan Raichel Project will recognize the vibrant vocals of Maya Avraham. She returns to Chutzpah! Festival with her own 5-piece band (March 7, Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre); Lyla Canté, a spicy bouillabaisse of Japanese, Argentinian and American performers (March 9, Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre); and EXIT – the iconic Israeli rocker, Shalom Hanoch with long-time collaborator, Moshe Levi perform (March 8, Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre.)
Theatre has always been an integral part of the Chutzpah! Festival and this year, the intrepid, Aaron Davidman presents his amazing one-man show, Wrestling Jerusalem in which he portrays 17 different characters, including women. (March 1 &2 Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre.)
“The show has been seven years in the making,” confesses Davidman, Skyping from his home in Berkley, California. “I had a very liberal, progressive Jewish upbringing but at twenty-five I went to Israel and had quite an identity awakening coming face to face with my Jewish roots.” Portraying both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian schism with few props or costumes, his fast-paced performance is both disarming and mesmerising to watch and must be physically exhausting for him as an actor. “I’m not there with a particular agenda,” Davidman explains, “but I think with the current social and political climate globally, it provides some much-needed intercultural dialogue.”
I ask Davidman if he’s changed any of his characters over the past seven years. “No in fact, I’ve only changed one word in all that time – Trump,” he says smiling.
While Wrestling Jerusalem has enjoyed a busy touring schedule across North America, it has yet to be performed in Israel. “I’d love the invitation though,” he says. In the meantime, a feature film directed by Dylan Kussman based on Davidman’s acclaimed stage play has been shot, capturing his stage performance and on location in the desert. “I want to take it on a College campus tour to provide more balance to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and perhaps as an antidote for the ‘fear of the other’ so prevalent today.”
TOP PHOTO: Shay Kuebler/Radical System Art from the World Premiere of TELEMETRY. Photo: David Cooper