Debuts, premiers and rare-sightings fill the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre’s 35th anniversary roster.
With big, showstopping productions appearing alongside smaller debuts of emerging artists, NACC executive and artistic director Marie Coderre said she aimed for a diverse selection of performers and mediums for the anniversary season. That includes dance troupes, circuses, and musical artists from a range of genres.
“My aim was to find a nice balance between giving voice to Indigenous talents and having different disciplines from all around the world,” she said.
At the same time, Coderre wants to build a “tradition” of attending the centres’ shows in smaller communities while expanding its reach in places such as Yellowknife. For smaller communities, however, “it’s nice that they don’t have to fly to Vancouver or Edmonton to see a show. We bring it to them,” she said.
At any show, Coderre said she always has good idea of “who I want to come, who is not coming and who I want to show up.”
This season, she wants to use some of that experience to invite more Indigenous community members and youth to shows. She also aims to push back against a “snobbish” reputation hanging over the organization’s past with a line-up that varies between high-drama, comedy and musical performances.
One of the season’s highlights, Pawakan Macbeth, is a Cree re-imagining of the Shakespeare classic set in the 1870s as First Nations fought over land with each other and the Canadian government. The show’s creator, acclaimed playwright Reneltta Arluk, approaches this new subject matter by bouncing between original Shakespeare flourishes, with contemporary English and Cree.
The show will stop through Yellowknife on Apr. 11.
In March, another performance, Frankenstein, will make its Canadian debut this season. A mix of live music, cinema, theatre and puppetry, the show revamps Mary Shelley’s horror masterpiece in a new take on the classic tale of creating a monster.
Coderre said that while these performances are guaranteed to be high-quality, their success will ultimately be left for the audience to judge.
“Like I say every year, arts is always subjective. It’s a question of taste, but I can promise quality. At the end of day, if they don’t like it, that’s their choice. It’s going to be high-skill anyway.”
And while the organization’s selection can be limited by budgeting, Coderre said a “mix of intuition, (a) mix of experience” still guides her process.
“It really depends on what I can find. When it’s love at first sight, I’ve been in the North a long time. I know the audience really well and I know what audience I want to bring. When I book a show, I know exactly who’s going to show up.”
One of Coderre’s top picks is opera singer Kofi Hayford, who will appear with a pianist and an ensemble of singers to perform a special opera-gospel Christmas performance. Coderre said Hayford was drawn to performing in the North after the two met at a party of rising opera stars in New York.
The unique setting can often attract high-calibre talent looking for a new experience, she said.
“He really wants to discover the North. We can draw really high scale artists because they are curious about the North,” she said.
With this outsized range of content relative to NACC’s size, Coderre said enlisting performances like this is “still very fun,” even after eight years of work with the organization.
“We’re probably the smallest team in Canada with such an extent of programming,” she said.