Century Songvolcano.ca

Century Song is a live performance hybrid created by Canadian soprano Neema Bickersteth, choreographer Kate Alton and director Ross Manson. The show features music by composers from the early 1900s to the present day, as well as projections by Germany's fettFilm – images that bring alive major Western art movements of the 20th century. Inspired in part by Virginia Woolf's Orlando and Alice Walker's In Search of Our Mother's Gardens, Bickersteth uses song and movement to inhabit a century of women whose identities are contained within her own.

Neema's Question×

"As a classical singer, I have spent a great many years training my voice, to the exclusion of almost anything else.

Once I became comfortable with my ability as an opera singer, once I got to the point in my career where I felt immersed in the form, and no longer a student of it, then I began to question the form itself.

I started to wonder how I, as a black person singing white European roles from another era, connect personally to this art form.

The idea of my acceptance into the form wasn't complete enough for me. It became problematic to connect with what I was trained to sing. I love this music, but I began to feel constricted in my expression of it.

I began to look for other ways to fuse my training and love of classical music, with my dawning awareness of other modes of expression..."


Two Travellers×

Two travellers are searching for something.

They leave their homes.
They visit strange lands.
They witness times change.

They experience: love, grief, memory, hope – too much to put down on this webpage.

The first traveller, whose bloodline reaches back to the glorious days of ancient warrior kings, enters the world an English nobleman and, midway through his life, falls asleep (as people do) and awakens to find himself, inexplicably, a woman. She lives for hundreds of years and hardly ages beyond 30.

The second traveller is unable to provide details on her bloodline, or her place of birth for that matter, though it is generally agreed she first opened her eyes somewhere in West Africa. She entered the world a black woman and leaves it as one, at the age of 31.


When Neema Bickersteth, Kate Alton and Ross Manson first began to think about a structure that would help Neema tell her story of identity though classical song and dance, the team arrived at the tale of Orlando, by Virginia Woolf.

Woolf brings her readers to consider the invisible journey of a female artist living in a man's world by taking one central character – the eternally youthful noble(wo)man, Orlando – on a pilgrimage through time.

The piece that became Century Song began as a reworking of the Orlando story, now set in Canada across key moments of the 20th century.

As development progressed, however, Neema found herself faced with a contradiction:

"There's no way that a black person could have lived as Orlando in that story. It had to be a white person."

Neema's question had returned with full force: how can I reconcile my background with classical Western culture?


In 2013, Neema read an essay by Alice Walker, "In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens", and in it she encountered the figure of Phillis Wheatly. Captured and sold into slavery at the age of seven, Wheatly grew to become a poet whose art could never fully break free of the culture that had enslaved her, and yet who was nevertheless a woman overflowing with artistic life force.

Walker's essay pays homage to the millions of artistic spirits whose place in society and history denied them the ability to reach their true potentials; who, like Wheatly, lived half-lives, marked by tragedy, confusion, and unfulfillment.

At the same time Walker celebrates the ultimate indomitability of the creative spirit – its persistence to thrive in the most desolate of circumstances, and find outlets in the lives of these black women of the past, triumphing through song, through story, through prayer, in the beauty of their mothers' gardens.

The journey of Phillis Wheatly and others like her became a new way of envisioning the story of Orlando.

In "A Room of One's Own," Virginia Woolf says a female writer should have a room of her own with a lock and a key. Alice Walker took it up a notch and said Phillis – a black writer during slavery – didn't even have this. And somehow she still did it, she still wrote.

If Phillis were to be born now she would be a great poet; her poetry wouldn't be about her white slave owners and how awesome they are. She could just write whatever she wanted. I have this freedom. But the person I would have been in 1916 is closer to a Phillis than an Orlando.

- Neema Bickersteth, Soprano

A third traveller

Neema 1916

My father – originally from Sierra Leone – showed me a photograph of a woman he thinks is his great grandmother. It is a rare photo from the late 1800s. The woman in the photo looks like a combination of his mother and him. It's strange, because the face is familiar, but the cut of the clothing is European 19th century, the fabric is African print, the shot is professionally done, and it is of a woman alone – no family, no children, no husband. All of these details are mysteries now: who is she? Why is she alone? How did this photo come to be?

It made me think of time, and where I am within time and space – my family's time, the many spaces that my family has occupied on the planet...

I'm going back in time to 1916. I'm going to perform Century Song as me."

- Neema Bickersteth


The Visual Art×


Kathleen Munn, The Dance, 1923

The Cubist Movement emerged at the turn of the 20th century in Paris and, from its conception onward, completely revolutionized the face of art.

Its pioneers were Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso who, between 1907 and 1914, began an adventure in experimentation that would be continued and transformed for decades onward by artists around the world.

An earlier generation of artists, the Impressionists and the Fauvists, had already begun to challenge the deep-rooted idea that art's role is to copy nature.  Rather than aspiring to realism, their paintings portrayed subjective experiences of the world.

With major advances in technology – photography, film, the automobile, aircrafts – changing the ways people perceived the world around them, Picasso and Braque wanted to find a new way of showing reality as they experienced it in the modern world. The visual language they arrived at was born out of an exploration of three things:

George Braque - Le Guerdion (1928)

The first was the idea of representing figures as basic geometric shapes – a technique that had been explored earlier by the artist Paul Cezanne.  Braque and Picasso's geometric shapes did not behave according to traditional rules of painting. Rather than creating the illusion of three-dimensional space, they pierced and intersected each other and emphasized the two-dimensional flatness of the canvas.

Braque and Picasso searched for new ways of portraying the human face.  African masks had been making their way into Europe as artifacts and curiosities since European powers had begun their colonial exploits in Africa.  These masks fascinated Braque and Picasso. They revealed to the two artists that a face can be distorted, a face can be abstracted, and it can still be a face.

The third aspect of their exploration involved using many, many perspectives. For Braque and Picasso, in order to completely reveal the truth about a subject in a painting, the subject would have to be painted in all its different perspectives.  In their first, 'Analytic,' phase of cubism these artists created paintings that analyzed the subject by breaking it down into geometric fragments.  Sometimes this meant the subject was distorted to the point of being unrecognizable.

Later on in their explorations (now referred to as 'Synthetic' cubism) Braque and Picasso began to put the fragments of their subject back together again, and also began to collage elements from the outside world, such as newspaper, into their works.

The first exhibitions of Cubist art were met with skeptical, and at times, mocking responses from some viewers. However, this controversial new movement spread like a wildfire across the globe and opened up endless pathways for artists to explore abstract creation.

Much like in real life, there is always a purpose or function to clothing that dictates its form on stage. The projections and the music are key to the emotional landscape that our protagonist is in. The costume tells that story further by its colour, texture and cut, to set us into the particular period we are passing through. And of course, always front and centre are the needs of the movement of the dance.

- Charlotte Dean, Costume Designer

Featured Artist: Kathleen Munn

Kathleen Munn was one of the first Canadian artists to explore modernist techniques in painting. Born in Toronto in 1887, Munn was influenced by the post-impressionist and cubist movements coming out of Europe as well as the American avant-garde.

Munn took very traditional subject matter – landscapes, still life, the human figure – and transformed them through abstraction and bold experiments in colour. She was interested in reconciling new with old. In her untitled work, now known as "Nude in Forest", Munn explored containing the fragmented geometry of cubism within classical laws of proportion.

Munn's work won the respect and enthusiasm of her peers, although she remained largely unknown to the Canadian public. According to many art critics of the day, Toronto audiences were not ready for her "advanced" art.

Munn stopped making art around 1939 at the age of 52. Her works were rediscovered in the mid 1980s, after her death. Munn is now recognized as a pioneer in Canadian art.

Neema and 'Untitled' (Nude in Forest) by Kathleen Munn. Photography by Jeremy Mimnagh


Nollendorfplatz by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1912

The challenge an Expressionist artist takes up is to show the world through intense subjective emotion, through the raw responses that an event or an object can arouse in a person.  Expressionism recognizes the human filter – our physical senses, our thoughts and our feelings – between us and the world around us. An Expressionist painting is like an act of disgorging that concentrated internal human reality back out onto the canvas of the external world.

Expressionists convey their responses to the world by distorting, exaggerating, or intensifying what they see.  In paintings, space is often disjointed, brushstrokes agitated, colours highly contrasting or distorted.  Valued above harmony and form is a sense of the visceral, the dynamic, the immediate.

From the early 1900s through to the 1930s, Expressionism emerged in Germany as a reaction to widespread anxieties about the modern world.  Expressionism was more than just a style; it was a cultural current that extended beyond the visual arts community and permeated literature, dance, theatre and film.  At the centre of many Expressionist works was an alienated individual, trying to survive in a world that was increasingly urbanized, mechanized, ruthlessly capitalistic, and spiritually impoverished.  As a result, Expressionism became a powerful mode of social criticism.

The Nazis denounced Expressionist art, along with many other forms of modern art, as 'degenerate'. Works were banned, confiscated, and purged from museums. Some pieces made their way into the Nazi party's 1937 Degenerate Art Exhibition which displayed particularly notorious works that were alleged to "insult German feeling, or destroy or confuse natural form or simply reveal an absence of adequate manual and artistic skill".

Fighting Forms by Franz Marc, 1914
Featured Artist: Käthe Kollwitz
Hunger by Käthe Kollwitz, 1903

Käthe Kollwitz was a German painter, sculptor and printmaker whose work highlighted the suffering of the poor and oppressed.

Already well known at the approach of the Second World War, she spoke out against the Nazi regime and as a result had her work removed from museums, was forced to resign her post at the Akademie der Künste, and was forbidden from showing her work.

Many of Kollwitz's drawings and prints are featured in Century Song, but she is also known for her sculpture. An enlarged version of her sculpture "Mother With Her Dead Son" sits in Berlin's Neue Wache Memorial, exposed to the elements by an oculus in the ceiling.

Used in Century Song: The Survivors (1923), Children Die (1924), Unemployed (1925), Sleeping Woman with Child (1930)

Quebec Automatiste Movement

Françoise Sullivan, Danse de la Neige (Dance in the Snow), 1948

In the early 1940s a group of Montreal artists began meeting at the studio of painter and teacher Paul-Émile Borduas to experiment with a new creative process.

They had been inspired by the art and writings of André Breton and the Surrealists, who sought to free their creative work from reason, aesthetics and moral concerns by accessing the raw materials of their unconscious minds. Central to this process was creating from a state of unfiltered, automatic free-flow.

For the Automatistes exploring the subconscious through art was a transgressive act. Quebec, during the 1940s, was pervaded by a socially conservative ideology, which was upheld by the tightly allied establishments of Premier Maurice Duplessis's government and the Catholic Church. The Automatistes were revolting against the established order and a cultural climate of fear. The fears of "prejudice", "public opinion", "being alone without a God", "absurd laws", and "internal drives" were, in the eyes of Borduas and his circle, stifling the lives of Quebecers. Moreover, the Automatistes saw a Quebec that was parochial, inward-looking and chained to its past. They wanted to bring about a global outlook and "a renewed faith in the future".

"We must break with the conventions of society once and for all, and reject its utilitarian spirit. We must refuse to function knowingly at less than our physical and mental potential..."

Refus global – "Total refusal" – was the name of the manifesto Borduas and his circle published in 1948. The tyranny of "reason" and "intention" would be overthrown by creative rebellion:


The Automatistes were painters, poets, choreographers, theatre-makers. Not long after Refus global was published the Catholic Church denounced the movement. Under this public pressure the group was forced to disperse, but they individually continued to pursue their work. These artists are considered forerunners of Quebec's Quiet Revolution.

The complete text of Refus Global is available in French and English.

The signatories of "Refus Global" Maurice Perron, Seconde exposition des automatistes au 75,rue Sherbrooke Ouest, chez les Gauvreau, 1947
Featured Artist: Marcel Barbeau

"What interests me in what I do is to always make sure there is a magical aspect where the work takes me by surprise. It's like a gift. The will disappears completely, making way for joy."

- Marcel Barbeau

Marcel Barbeau

Montreal-born Marcel Barbeau was a multi-disciplinary artist and prominent member of the Automatiste movement. Originally a student of furniture design, Barbeau switched into fine art and began paying regular visits to the studio of Automatiste leader, Paul-Émile Borduas. He became one of the signatories of the "Refus global" manifesto. During this period Barbeau painted Rosier-feuilles, a magnificent abstract work of swirling, crackling white lines that anticipated the drip paintings of Jackson Pollock. Barbeau generously allowed Volcano Theatre to use this painting in Century Song.

In addition to painting Barbeau also created through sculpture, photography, film and life performance. In the 1970s Barbeau began to explore combining the act of painting with music and dance. At the centre of these explorations was spontaneity and gesture.

Barbeau was welcomed into the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

The Volcano Theatre was saddened to hear that Monsieur Barbeau passed away on 2nd January 2016.

When I contacted Quebec Automatiste Marcel Barbeau (who passed away just a few weeks before our Toronto premiere, at the age of 90) to ask permission to use Rosier-feuilles in the show, I was amazed at the generosity he and his wife Ninon Gauthier showed us. Ninon wrote to me: "Marcel, who has always been involved in transdisciplinary since the mid forties, is very enthusiastic about your project." I felt a connection to a tradition of cross-disciplinary art in this country I previously knew nothing about. These connections across time are important. I am delighted I was given the chance to learn of this artist and the movement he was a part of. I am saddened he was too unwell to travel to Ottawa to see the show (they sent friends in their stead, who, apparently, loved it), and that now, we are without him. The support and kindness that both Ninon and Marcel showed us has meant a great deal.

- Ross Manson, Director

Pop Art

By the late 1950s and into the 1960s there was a growing feeling that art had become too abstract, too divorced from life. Culture was stratified into levels of "high" and "low". Many artists were fascinated by this boundary: they wanted to play with it, blur it, or even destroy it.

From Andy Warhol's 'Marilyn Tryptick'

At this time, Canada was diversifying as a nation and old policies were being put into question. In 1960, the Quiet Revolution had begun in Quebec and, in 1962, racial rules were eliminated from Canadian immigration laws. To the south, the American Civil Rights movement was gathering momentum and mass protests against the Vietnam War were on their way. The Women's Rights movement was ramping up on both sides of the border. Old social orders were being challenged: a new generation sought out its own truths.

The Pop Art movement brought recognizable imagery back into the world of art. Pop artists drew from mass media, popular culture and the commercial world. As their subjects they chose commonplace objects and people from everyday life. They sought to elevate pop culture to the status of "high art".

Pop Art has provoked many different responses and interpretations. Some people see works of Pop Art as embodied revulsions of our celebrity-obsessed, advertisement-saturated, money and media-driven world. Others see Pop Art as a celebration of these very things. Still others understand the Pop Art movement as a way of working through the anxieties of the modern age, in the tradition of the experimental movements that came before it.

One of the reasons why these different opinions can exist is because Pop Art tends to present its subject in a way that is straight-forward and emotionally removed. Still, what we see is not objective reality. In its playful, cutting way, Pop Art acknowledges that we have no direct access to the world around us. Everything we experience in life is mediated by something by something else.

Photography by John Lauener
Two Pop Art Inspirations: Andy Warhol and Yayoi Kusama

The fettFilm animations of Neema Bickersteth in Century Song have been inspired by the silkscreen printings of Andy Warhol and the polka-dot motifs of Yayoi Kusama.

Andy Warhol began a very public career as one of the most successful commercial illustrators in America. He vaulted himself even further into the mass-media gaze as a self-created celebrity-artist. Among Warhol's most iconic images are his silkscreen Marilyn Diptych (1962) – completed weeks after Marilyn Monroes death, and Campbell's Soup Cans (1962) – thirty-two Campbell's Soup Cans depicted on thirty-two canvasses.

Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama uses her artwork as a way of working through trauma. She has painted assaults of polka-dots, which approximate the terrifying hallucinations Kusama experienced as a child, over floors, walls, ceilings, furniture, and most recently, Louis-Vuitton bags.

Kusama plays with the idea of accumulations and obsessions: rooms stuffed with innumerable phalluses, mirrors reflecting mirrors reflecting mirrors (Infinity Mirror Room - Phalli's Field, 1965), carefully repeated arcs of paint building up into large patterns (Infinity Net series, 2009). Much of Kusama's early work championed sexual liberation and she was one of the first artists of her time to use her body as a canvas.

Video Art: fettFilm

Torge amd Momme

By combining video with other media the video artists Momme Hinrichs and Torge Möller primarily want to create multifaceted works of art, which do not merely decorate the stage or coexist with it but instead blend various artistic levels.

Volcano Theatre first collaborated with fettFilm's Momme Hinrichs and Torge Möller during the creation of the 2010 Volcano production, The Africa Trilogy.

In 2013 Momme and Torge returned to Toronto to bring Century Song's featured 20th century artworks into a new life on the stage. They also created original video for large sections of the show including the Neema's journey through the "Hall of Progress".

The use of video in the performing arts has become increasingly common. Momme and Torge's work is both unique and innovative: they seek to fully integrate their visuals with all other elements of a performance, and to make video a live, responsive event on stage.

"Unlike costume, stage and light, video is still an unexpected medium in theatres. It has more potential than being a mere representative feature of cinema and TV-culture. In combination with the stage and acting it can give birth to a third element; liberated from its square shape, editing, panning shots and TV-series it can adapt to the stage. Used properly and with fantasy the visual material can be incorporated into the lively structure of live-theatre.

Video on stage does not function like a film. Instead of the rules of cinema or the TV-screen, those of the stage apply. It's not like in the cinema: the light goes out, the film begins. We are in a theatre: the curtain is raised, the actors appear on stage. It is different every evening, it's always live – this experience for the viewer must not be destroyed by the seemingly pre-recorded nature of the video-material. As far as content and technology are concerned, this is a very fine line to walk. On stage, video is an active partner which should be taken seriously. This is certainly the most important insight that a creator of theatre should consider when using video in his production."

- fettFilm


Thumbnail photography by John Lauener

The Music×

I like singing without words. Because when somebody else writes words for you that is your starting point, and language is so clear. That's the main way we think we communicate. Without words – we're forced to exist in all the other ways we communicate.

- Neema Bickersteth, Soprano

Sergei Rachmaninoff

During a century in which composers set out to reach towards the unknown and extend classical music beyond its traditional language, Sergei Rachmaninoff has been called an "anachronism".

Vocalise was performed for its first concert audience in Moscow on January 25, 1916 - almost 100 years to the day before our Toronto premiere of Century Song. Delicate, yearning, gorgeously lyrical, Rachmaninoff's song-without-words was deeply-rooted in the traditions of an earlier age. In 1916, the composer Arnold Schoenberg had already abandoned the major and minor tonal centres of Western music and was creating through atonality. Igor Stravinsky's violently dissonant ballet, The Rite of Spring, had three years earlier scandalized its Parisian audiences and its composer was continuing to explore possibilities outside traditional uses of meter. However, Rachmaninoff, throughout his life, persisted in creating music with sweeping, tonally-centered melodies, flexible rhythms, and sumptuously consonant harmonies. Some people view him as the last great Romantic composer.

Born into an aristocratic military family, Rachmaninoff was sent to Moscow to study music under Nikolay Zverev after his parents lost most of their fortune. Although he quickly distinguished himself as an incredibly talented as well as prolific composer, Rachmaninoff was gripped with a self-doubt as a young man that often sent him hurtling into depressions. Nevertheless, Rachmaninoff was able to carry on a successful professional career in Moscow. He became famous not only as the composer of powerful piano concerti, but also as a virtuoso pianist who could strike a thirteenth on the keyboard.

Rachmaninoff went into exile twice in his life. During the Russian Revolution of 1905 he moved to Dresden for some time before returning home again. Then, during the 1917 October Revolution, Rachmaninoff left Moscow a second time for Switzerland and then the United States – this time, he never returned. Although he was welcomed and supported as a renowned composer abroad, Rachmaninoff felt increasingly alienated in a country whose language he did not speak and whose culture he couldn't connect with. Rachmaninoff continued to compose into old age. He died in Los Angeles in 1943.

Originally vocalises were like studies, so often there would be something specific you'd be working on. So, a vocalise might be written with a lot of trills. Then composers started thinking, Oh, I can just write whatever I want, it doesn't have to be for a study!

When Kate and I first started looking at songs we looked at songs with words. It was Kate who was having trouble seeing how she would choreograph without being led by the words. And I wanted her to be led by the music. But the words were there and she couldn't divorce them from the work. So then I said, Well there are these wordless songs out there...

- Neema Bickersteth, Soprano

Neema singing Rachmaninoff

Olivier Messiaen

In homage to the Angel of the Apocalypse, who lifts his hand toward heaven, saying, "There shall be time no longer."

This is what Olivier Messiaen wrote on the score of his 1941 composition, Quartet for the End of Time. The words reach back centuries to the Book of Revelation. The quartet's performance at Stalag VIIIA prisoner of war camp in Görlitz could not have been more immediate.

It was winter. The prisoners and their Nazi guards assembled together in a freezing concert hall to listen to strange music played on battered instruments. Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time has been described as a work that is striving to break free not only of regimented metre, through its expanding, contracting, disappearing rhythms, but also from the weight and tragedy of human history.

At the outbreak of the World War Two, Messiaen had been assigned to a war hospital as a medical auxiliary. There, he was taken prisoner by the Germans. His captors at Görlitz granted him access to tools for composing: pencil and paper. Messiaen wrote his quartet for the instruments that were available to him: a piano, a cello, a clarinet, a violin.

View of Stalag VIII at Görlitz, Messiaen's section

In Century Song, the second movement from this quartet, "Vocalise for the Angel who announces the end of time", has been reinterpreted for soprano voice, piano, glockenspiel and computer, and has been paired with the bleak images of expressionist painter, Käthe Kollwitz.

Another, vastly different Messiaen precedes it.

Vocalise Etude (1935), is a sumptuously melodic piece, born out of a completely different period in the composer's life. Messiaen had emerged triumphantly out of music school at the helm of a group of spirited young composers, La Jeune France ("Young France"), who were intent on defeating all frivolity in French music with their "sincerity, generosity and artistic conscientiousness." He enjoyed the position of principle organist at La Trinité in Paris. He was a new father as well, and was married to a woman he deeply loved. Towards the end of WWII his wife would lose her memory in a medical accident and rapidly deteriorate.

Messiaen was extraordinarily resilient; his artistic life, on both sides of human tragedy, was marked by fruitfulness and innovation. He developed his own musical language derived from the serialism of Schoenberg, Greek metrical rhythms, traditional Hindu music, and also birdsong. Messiaen devoted much of time to listening to birds and notating their sounds. The voices of a blackbird and a nightingale can be heard his Quartet for the End of Time. Messiaen was a synesthete; he experienced colours when he heard music and he visualized his compositions in vibrant detail as he worked.

Rich tonal colours, complex rhythms and unique harmonies are hallmarks of Messiaen's music – but also present is a sense of the composer's deep spirituality. In the words of Messiaen, the human who experiences music is "flesh and consciousness, body and soul; his heart is an abyss which can only be filled by that which is godly."

I am by no means an authority on the music in Century Song, but the evolution of compositional style and the definition of "music" in the repertoire of the show is illuminating. The various composers are trying to come to grips with an idea, an expression, and then allowing the context of what is around them in the world filter or shape this idea. This complex relationship between culture and the brain, art and society is always present in much the same way in traditional and more ancient musics from around the world. I find it again and again in authentic music no matter what the genre, period, or tools used - I love it.

- Debashis Sinha, Musician and Improviser

It's just being creative, and as Hodgman says, finding the crux. I have a philosophy with Western Classical music - once there are at least ten different recordings, anything goes. How else do you keep it contemporary?

- Gregory Oh, Pianist and Improvisor, on reinterpreting Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time

John Cage

The setting is Woodstock, New York. It's the late summer of 1952 and audiences have gathered to listen to a recital of contemporary piano music. A man enters the room, sits down at the piano and closes the lid of the keyboard. Four minutes and thirty-three seconds later the piece has ended.

What had gone on in between?

According to the piece's composer, John Cage, it was not silence, but music.

Born in Los Angeles, 1912, Cage became one of the most controversial musical figures of the 20th century. He began creating his early compositions using the twelve-tone method of his teacher, modern-music giant, Arnold Schoenberg. By 1939 Cage had begun to move into a more personal style that explored the sounds of non-traditional instruments and radically experimented with how traditional instruments could be used to create sound.

One of these experiments was Cage's "prepared piano": a performer places various objects on the strings of a piano before playing it. The act produces a very strange and percussive alternate reality version of the familiar piano sound. In A Flower (1950), the Cage piece used in Century Song, the pianist plays upon a closed keyboard with fingers and knuckles. The entire vocal line is constructed of just four pitches, except for a single bar near the end where a fifth pitch is used."

Cage aimed for a kind of purity in is work: he strove to free music from individual taste and from the ever-accumulating Western cannon. He loved, as he once put, "the activity of sound".

John Cage's 'Prepared Piano'

In the 1940s, Cage had begun to study Zen Buddhism. From this he arrived at the understanding that "all the activities that make up music must be seen as part of a single natural process". To Cage, all sounds are potentially musical. His compositions encouraged audiences to widen their awareness to all sounds in a room, not just those produced by a composer.

Cage often worked with what he called ‘indeterminism': using randomness as a key element in musical composition and performance. Cage's Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (1951), for instance uses 12 randomly tuned radios, 24 composers, who control their dials, and a conductor. Alongside the choreographer, Merce Cunningham, Cage created pieces for dance that relied on randomly generated sequences of movement.

I was introduced to John Cage quite early in life because I had a modern dance teacher in high school who had danced with Merce Cunningham. Her name was Sandra Neels and she had a profound influence on me. I was feeling horribly restrained and despairing about my future in dance and her classes reminded me of why I had started to dance in the first place.

Cage and Cunningham had a long time connection and some shared philosophies. In fact I also met him once. I did not ever meet Cage but I have taken classes with Merce Cunningham wandering in and out, and I met their visual art collaborator Robert Rauschenberg once after performing in a tribute to him.

- Kate Alton, Choreographer

Cage's fierce commitment to his own path is present in every note and sound he composes, indeed in every gesture of the man. His embrace of silence, his appreciation of sound as sound, his total dedication to being - these all drive my own impulses in music and life. I hope in some small way I am the better for it in at least striving towards what he has achieved, staying engaged and authentic and being true to myself and my music.

- Debashis Sinha, Musician and Improviser

Georges Aperghis

George Aperghis

Georges Aperghis was born into a family of visual artists in Athens in 1945. He grew up in a newly post-war world, painting from an early age, and later, teaching himself how to play music and to compose.

In 1963 Aperghis made the decision to give up painting and move to Paris in order to devote himself wholly to music. There, he began his formal studies in composition and was introduced to two new techniques in music that were making waves in Europe. The first was Serialism, which involves creating a pattern with one of the elements of music (a tonal pattern for instance) that repeats itself over and over again, continuously. The second was the musique concrète of Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry, which uses recorded sounds as raw materials for creating sonic montages. Both techniques became big influences on many of Aperghis's early works.

In Paris, Aperghis became increasingly drawn to yet another art form – theatre. In 1971 Aperghis composed a new work for lute, cello and the voices of two women, who would not only sing but also speak. La tragique histoire du nécromancien Hieronimo et de son miroir was Aperghis's first big experiment in interdisciplinary theatre, playfully questioning the relationship between music, words and live performance.

Aperghis founded the Atelier Theatre et Musique and there he really mined the possibilities of what this cross-arts relationship could be. Aperghis was intent on finding a form in which voice, instrument, movement, text and staging were all equally important, with each element working to enhance and illuminate the other. These works have used the skills of actors, as well as singers and musicians.

Aperghis has also written a large body of operas and concert music. In these works he often builds complex rhythmic structures and creates alloys of different sound qualities. Récitation for solo voice [1977-1978], which Neema sings in Century Song, is based on the principles of repetition and accumulation. Nonsensical sounds are forced to obey precise mathematical rules. The piece is a mental and physical juggling act. It dares a singer to play around with these sounds, like a child, and discover some kind of interpretation of them…at the same time it demands that the singer finds this play within a strict rhythmic structure.

Récitation 10 for Solo Voice, by Georges Aperghis

Reza Jacobs

Reza Jacobs is an award winning composer, lyricist, sound designer and music director, known for his versatility in style and genre. Born in Pakistan and raised in Kuwait and Canada, Reza studied history at Columbia University before going on to study Music Theatre Writing at NYU.

His has created music and sound design for the Shaw Festival, Factory Theatre, Volcano Theatre, Cahoots Theatre, Acting Up Stage Theatre, the Luminato Festival, & Harbourfront's World Stage Festival.

Reza wrote his Vocalise for Neema, in partnership between Volcano Theatre and Tapestry New Opera and the piece was first performed in March 2014 as part of Tap:Ex Revolutions.

In the interview below, Neema Bickersteth talks about her collaboration with Reza on the creation of their vocalise

Can you tell me a little about your work with Reza Jacobs?

Neema: Reza came over recorded me. He asked me to just be completely free and to do anything that my voice could do, and just explore.

And he recorded me doing that - maybe gave me a couple of notes, asked me to do a bit more of this and that and whatever. And then he took those recordings of me doing brrrrr, brriiiillll, arrlala [laugher!] and that's what he used to create his piece.

He's worked with me before, and not just as a classical singer. I was in a show where I had to sing Motown and I also had to sing sort of classically. So he understands that my voice wants to be many things. And he enjoys that.  He understands that that's me. He wanted to incorporate this part of me into his music.

He put this sort of pop music chording as the base of the piece – like an anthem. I say it's pop-music-ish because it uses the same chords over and over again. And then on top of that he added me - all my noises and sounds.  He named it Vocalise for Neema.

What was that like – improvising and then having somebody taking what your voice did and feeding it back to you?

Neema: It was scary because after the first section I have to do a super high lip trill – a high C or something – and I was like, "I don't knooowww…can I do that? Can I do that?"  And Reza was like, "Well you DID."

And so I didn't have any excuses! Because anything he wrote I had already done on that recording.  So yeah - it was super scary at first; just looking at it I thought, this is crazy.  He said to me, "I can change it, but you did it. You did more than that, sooo…"

That's great because it makes me think of the way things change in an art form. Narratives can make it seem like a composers had exactly this thing in mind, or that they set out to change this. When really often it's just going somewhere and then…going there again…

Neema: Like a workshop of anything I guess. Yeah, and then Reza and I got together again. ‘Cause once I had the music, I remember I was singing through it and it was really boring and weird and lame. So we got together again and this time he sort of music-directed me through it. And then with Ross too we added intention to the sounds and it suddenly raised everything up.

Putting intention in sounds…

Neema: Yeah, I mean that's what we have to do. With text we have to do it. We need subtext, we need to put intention into our movement, into everything. And that's actually something that is reiterated in the process of this whole piece. It's rarely so much about what, it's mostly about how.

During choreography work Kate might say put your arm in front of you and bring it back. But then she'll give like a metaphor like… imagine a string pulling your fingers as far as it can and then snapping. Then suddenly some simple movement, that every person who's got an arm can do, is raised up. It's the same thing with music.

All the music in the show means an enormous amount to me. Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time was a complex and haunting experience for me the first time i heard it (from Toronto's Art of Time ensemble). Knowing its history makes it even more remarkable now. The list goes on. Aperghis is mind-blowing. Cage is deeply human while still being breathtakingly ahead of his time, even now. And Reza's song for Neema is an exercise in human understanding. Reza took all the threads in the show, and all the voices within Neema, and wove them together. It was a privilege to witness this music coming into existence. I am still utterly captured by this song every time I hear it.

- Ross Manson, Director


Thumbnail photography by Jeremy Mimnagh

Moving Through Space and Time×

Q: What is something you learned about about Canada while working on Century Song?

"A great deal. I knew next to nothing of black Canadian history outside of Africville and stories of more recent immigration. I knew nothing of the Oklahomans who settled in Alberta, and the ordeal they went through. I knew nothing of how integrated the jazz scene was in Montreal in the 1930s and 40s in comparison to every city in the USA. I wasn't surprised to hear that, in spite of this, women musicians (of any colour) were discriminated against, in that they regularly remained un-billed. I knew nothing of Hogan's Alley in Vancouver, and its sad parallels to Africville. I had NO IDEA that Jimmy Hendrix had a Canadian connection. And finally, I learned the distinction between white and black feminism in my research into the 1970s. White feminism called for equality. Black feminism called for justice. The difference is vast. In short – I learned that as a country there is much under the surface of our history that most of us aren't aware of. And so the question formed: why does what is taught in our schools omit so much?

- Ross Manson, Director

Keystone, Alberta, 1916

Mr. Allen, 1915

Keystone was an early 20th Century black settler community in rural Alberta. Between 1908 and 1911, approximately 1,000 black settlers arrived in Alberta from Oklahoma in response to advertising campaigns initiated by the Canadian Immigration Department. Many of them had been forced to sell their land because of racially discriminatory policies, and looked to Canada as a land of tolerance and opportunity. Regrettably, many of their new white and Native neighbours in Alberta were as little prepared to treat them as equals as had been the Americans, and they usually chose to settle together in rather isolated locations. The Canadian government never proposed any direct legislation against black immigrants for fear of tainting their public image or damaging their relationship with the United States. Instead, they relied upon indirect methods to discourage these "undesirables" from undertaking the journey up north. These informal policies were effective, and by 1912, black immigration to Alberta had all but ended.

Left: Group of early settlers, c. 1909. Right: Charlie and Emma King's Homestead, 1912

Montreal, 1935

Irving Berlin's 1928 hit: Hello Montreal!, "Goodbye Broadway, hello Montreal"

During the height of the Great Depression, jazz was considered a little avant-garde, a little dangerous and was flourishing in Montreal. The city had a booming red light district with jazz hotspots like the Hollywood Club and the Terminal Club with its bare floors and pot-bellied stove. While most North American clubs were segregated, black musicians found greater integration in Montreal clubs. The all-black (and all-male) Canadian Ambassadors, an entirely indigenous Canadian band, had contracts at The Montmartre, Connie's, and the St Michel. Rockhead's Paradise, begun in 1928 by one Rufus Rockhead, was the first black-owned club in the city. However, most women jazz musicians in Canada (black or white) during this era (1920s-50s) were not documented, billed, or credited, and their names have been lost to history. Few recording opportunities were available in Canada compared to our American neighbours during the early periods and what opportunities were available were more accessible to men than women.

The International Band at Café St-Michel, 1947

Canadian Black Women in Labour, circa 1940

"Private Roy, Canadian Women's Army Corps" by Molly Lamb Bobak, 1946

For black women in Canada, the war provided their first opportunity to enter factories, as they had been previously shut out of most blue-collar work (and were denied participation in Canada's war effort in WWI). As Dionne Brand puts it, "We weren't allowed to go into the factory until Hitler started the war". Black Canadian women also formed the Black Cross nurses, modeled on the Red Cross, to aid wounded soldiers. These women worked in black communities by providing first aid, nutrition, health care, and child-care. Black women also worked in other ways during the war, including work in ammunition factories. Here, black women were often given the most dangerous jobs: working with explosives, etc.

For all women, especially those with children, labour at this time was particularly onerous, as they were still expected to carry the domestic load as well as paid work. Part-time work allowed some women to cope better with the double shift of paid and unpaid work, but it also meant casual employment at exploitative rates with little job security or union protection. The wage gap in manufacturing saw women earning 54 to 55 percent of male wages in much of the 1940s. In addition, the paid workplace was often unsanitary and dangerous for women workers exposed to fumes, dust and unprotected machinery, while the home was seldom a comfortable retreat, at least for working-class women and their families. The dual process of racism and gender-segregation meant that women of colour, who because of the marginal economic status of their families and communities, were banished to the lowest rungs of the occupational ladder.

Munitions factory workers, c. 1940

Hogan's Alley, Vancouver, 1950

View of Hogan's Alley

Hogan's Alley was a lower middle class/working class neighbourhood of Vancouver that grew up around Fountain Chapel, a chapter of the African Methodist Episcopal church. Founded in 1918, by Nora Hendrix, grandmother of none other than the famous musician Jimi Hendrix, Fountain Chapel had become the cultural heart and spiritual home of Vancouver's black community.

Although there were no laws segregating blacks in Vancouver (those laws did exist for Asians and First Nations people), many lived in Hogan's Alley because they would not have been accepted elsewhere. Hogan's Alley was largely a family-oriented neighborhood, albeit, a rather impoverished one (illegal drinking establishments, brothels, and gambling dens also operated here, as they did in various other non-white sections of town).

The African Methodist Episcopal church, Vancouver

By the 1940-50s there was growing social concern about the living conditions of the city's poor. The cabins and houses in Hogan's Alley were deemed unfit for habitation by the city, and the entire neighbourhood was bulldozed in the early 70s. Today, the block or so that is left of the alley itself bears little to no mark that there was ever a black presence there, and is an indistinct part of Strathcona.

African Methodist Fountain Chapel Church Choir, including Leona Rigsby, Nora Hendrix, Mattie May King and Eleanor Collins. (The building still stands at 823 Jackson Ave.)

...we have so much choice now in comparison to the beginning of the 20th Century.  And that often that choice is made towards simplicity. And although clothing now in general is much less restrictive, what with stretch fabrics, lack of corseting, jeans and yoga pants, there will always be the opportunity given to us by haute couture and front edge trends for us to put those restrictions right back on our bodies for the sake of fashion and culture.

Charlotte Dean, Costume Designer, on the evolution of women's clothing during the 20th century

Multiculturalism and Feminism, 1970s

CN Tower under construction, 1974

Pierre Trudeau introduces Canada's Multicultural Policy; with the Immigration Act reforms, Black West Indians flock to Canada; the Urban Alliance on Race Relations is founded; Black History Month in Ontario is founded. In 1978, Bob Marley plays Maple Leaf Gardens. Blondie plays the International Centre.

In Canada, as throughout the Western world, a new women's movement has emerged. This second wave of feminism in North America came as a delayed reaction against the renewed domesticity of women after World War II. The new feminism rejects all limits to the equality of women's rights and shows that equality in daily life cannot be obtained through simple legal, political or institutional modifications.

Creating a just society for women means the elimination of sexism in all areas, particularly in the legal system, in the organization of social production, in the perception and treatment of women's bodies, and in the arts, sciences, religion, education and the mass media.

In the 1970s, new organizations develop, including many community-based organizations focusing on health issues, abortion, reproductive rights, and protection from violence. These develop from university women's centres and self-help groups, and include women's centres and crisis centres.

Black feminism emerges and differentiates itself from the politics of mainstream European/American feminism by its focus upon the simultaneity of oppressions that affect Black and other women of color, especially racism, sexism, class oppression, and homophobia. Issues of particular concern to Black women cannot be solely attributed to gender discrimination. Issues that affect all women, for example, battering, are simultaneously shaped by racial identity, class status, and sexual orientation as well as by gender.

In Canada, expanded government financial and program support for social assistance initiatives means growth of such women's organizations. Mainstream women make job gains in the professions, the military, the media, and sports. The battle against violence sees the emergence of marital rape laws, the establishment of rape crisis and battered women's shelters, and changes in custody and divorce law. The position of women in society begins to significantly shift.

Edmonton, 1978


The present is where everything meets, and keeps re-meeting, over and over, until time runs out. I mean this specifically of every individual. Our history, everything that has happened before that shapes us, is constantly meeting inside us, being updated by what we've most recently learned, or remember, or imagined, and this present self both shapes and is shaped by the potential of what lies ahead - for good or for bad. We're like silk passing through a keyhole.

- Ross Manson, Director

'Present moment' as an artist for me is when you are working on a project, a drawing, choosing colours or fabrics,or sitting in a darkened theatre during technical rehearsals and you become so immersed in what you are concentrating on, that there is a little stopping of time.  And sometimes that will happen just if you are out and about and the light hits the sky, or the buildings, or the garden a particular way to make you observe. Same feeling. I guess present moment is to be fully present.

- Charlotte Dean, Costume Designer

To me, "the present moment" is a kind of chimera. The moment one tries to grasp or understand it, it rots, petrifies, ceases to be. I often come off stage having no clue what happened - no conscious understanding of what passed, whether it was successful, or "good". This is the way I want to make my way in the world on stage. No moment. No present. Only now.

Debashis Sinha, Musician and Improviser


The Process×

Nov 2010

I hope to create a show that examines this collision – or perhaps negotiated agreement (!) – between my own background, and Western classical music.

To me, the key to such an experiment is an exploration of identity...

- Neema Bickersteth, Soprano

Neema makes her first grant proposals for an exploration of movement and dance.

Obsidian Theatre Company and Nightswimming Theatre fund Neema's initial exploration through the Ontario Arts Council's Theatre Creators' Reserve program.

Jun 2011

Choreographer, Kate Alton teams up with Neema for two weeks to explore how they might work together. (To take on the question: "Is it possible to sing operatically and dance at the same time?")

Kate and Neema set three vocalises to movement: Vocalise (1912) by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Vocalise Etude (1935) by Olivier Messiaen, and Recitation pour voix seule No. 10 (1978), by Georges Aperghis.

I cannot say that we developed a method but I would say that something that was crucial to the way we worked was that Neema was willing to let the movement affect and in some cases distort the sound she created quite profoundly. With this willingness as a base, we were able to broaden the expanse of possibilities for movement. Each piece was so different that we had to use a different approach for each one. Some of the choreography emerged very quickly, but in one case we made many versions of the vocalize before settling on something that we felt really belonged.

- Kate Alton, Choreographer

Midway through the workshop, Ross Manson, is invited to view the material. Ross, Neema and Kate collectively arrive at the idea of using Virginia Woolf's Orlando as a possible structuring tool.

Ross is invited to join the team as director for the next stage.

At end of two weeks, Neema and the team present a showing of their work at Pia Bouman Studio and receive feedback from a small invited audience (Xin Wang, Rhonwen Derbez, Mike Ross, Rebecca Singh, Pulga Muchochoma). Nicole Bellamy played the piano.

Baby news: Nicole Bellamy had just had a baby.

We invited a small group of people into the studio and we could feel that the power of Neema's voice combined with movement was immediately compelling to everyone there.

- Kate Alton, Choreographer

Dec 2011

Neema has begun researching the history of black women in Canada.

Research opens doors into what was previously unknown. It widens your field of vision, and that, in turn, leads to invention, to inspiration, to the ability to synthesize and distill facts into art. It's very important

- Ross Manson

Over the course of two weeks, Neema and Kate work together part-time on continuing to develop singing and choreography.

Debashis Sinha joins the team as a musician and improviser.

During this period, John Cage's piece, A Flower (1950) is choreographed.

Baby News: Kate Alton is pregnant with twins.

Feb 2012

Over an eight-day period, Neema and Kate work together on singing and choreography.

Mar 2012

Baby News: Kate gives birth to twins

Sep 2012

The team reconnects for eleven more days of development. The show's working title becomes A Moveable Beast.

Reza Jacobs joins the project. Together, Deb and Reza work together on structuring musical improvisations between songs.

The first rough structure for the piece is determined, with 4 songs placed in chronological order: Rachmaninoff (1912), Messiaen (1935), Cage (1950), and Aperghis (1978), with Reza Jacobs' vocalise yet to come.

I enjoy the challenge of working with artists with perspectives and skills different than my own. Their thoughts and ideas frame my impulses and process and give me a new perspective. They challenge me to think outside the box I am normally in, or at the very least dig deeper into the initial impulses I come up with.

- Debashis Sinha, Musician and Improviser

Jan 2013

A Movable Beast is pitched as work in progress at the International Society for the Performing Arts in New York City. The Dutch music centre De Bijloke Ghent expresses interest in the show.

Mar 2013

A Moveable Beast begins its two weeks in residence at York University. The focus for these two weeks is on projection and set design and initial sketches are made for both.

The team grows:

Costume and set designer Camellia Koo and lighting designer Rebecca Picherack join the project.
 Anahita Dehbonehie and Cameron Davis come on board as design assistant and projection assistant, respectively.

Torge and Momme, the German video artists of fettFilm being their collaboration with Neema, Ross, Kate and the team. The first green screen shoot for A Moveable Beast's "Orlando" film takes place.

During the making of what we call the Orlando video - I was surprised at how good Momme looked in the afro wig!

- Neema Bickersteth, Soprano

Neema begins to use Alice Walker's essay, In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens as a guiding text. From this point, A Moveable Best becomes less about pure chronology and more about identity - specifically black female identity in Canada.

May 2013

Kate uses three solo sessions to continue work on choreography.

Jun 2013

Neema and Kate work together, along with pianist Stephanie Chua, as part of another singing and choreography development session.

The company holds a green screen shoot rehearsal with a terrific team of volunteers – Sochi Fried, Natalie Kulesza, Sarah Fregeau, Alyssa Bartlett and Anna Sapershteyn –who play multiple Neemas. Together, they figure out how to coordinate the movement of bodies, as well as the timings for Neema to learn.

A Moveable Beast's first storyboard is created. This becomes the structural template to which historical research, visual ideas, staging and music are added.

Oct 2013

Four more days of green screen rehearsals to work out timings and shot list.

The team continues to grow:

Charlotte Dean and Laura Gardner join the team as costume designer and costume associate, respectively.

Patrick Lavender joins the team as Production Manager.

Finally the green screen shoot takes place over one day in one of the largest green studios in Toronto. This is necessary for how fettFilm intended to cut together the multiple Neemas section.

Crew for the day: Torge and Momme and Ross and Kate (all directing), a cameraman with a "red" 5K camera, Clare Preuss (assistant director), Patrick (production manager and green treadmill operator), Camie (set and props), Jeanne Lesage (continuity), Meredith Potter (craft services), Charlotte Dean and Laura Gardner (costumes), and some wonderful volunteers on set. In the words of Ross, "Massive day. Neema is magnificent! We finish ahead of schedule."

The collaboration has been amazing.  And because of the costuming within the video element in the show, which although it had a sort of separate life to it, the video always needed to be at the back of your mind when dealing with the piece as a whole.

- Charlotte Dean, Costume Designer

Mar 2014

Reza Jacobs writes a new Vocalise for Neema, in partnership with Tapestry New Opera.

Reza's Vocalise for Neema debuts at Tapestry as part of Tap:Ex Revolutions.

Baby News: The company receives word that Torge's third child born was born in January in Germany.

Jul 2014

A Movable Beast has three weeks of development at Canadian Stage, Berkeley Street Space, culminating in a fully designed, work in progress showing at Theatre Centre.

The team continues to grow:

Gregory Oh joins the team as pianist, improviser and arranger. 
Katilin Hickey on board as projection assistant.

Clare Preuss continues work as assistant director.

Emilie Aubin joins the team as Stage Manager.

The Theatre Centre showings for the general public are successful: they provide the team with much positive and useful feedback. Heather Moore from the National Arts Centre comes to one of the performances. She invites the show to become part of the NAC's Ontario Scene Festival in April 2015.

Baby News: Neema is 3 months pregnant during the showing. Reza became a father 3 days before the showing starts.

Video editing is extremely difficult within the timeframe the team has: essentially about 50 minutes of content that has to be designed, edited, finalized, re-edited and rendered: many many many hours of work. The Germans [fettFilm] have never had to do so much in so little time. Welcome to Canada. Luckily, we have found the fett boys some terrific Canadian designers to help out: Cameron Davis and Kaitlin Hickey (and, in the near future, in time for the Ottawa premiere, Jeremy Mimnagh).

- Ross Manson

Mar/Apr 2015

A Moveable Beast's title is changed to Century Song. 
Final adjustments made to video and costume designs.

Jeremy Mimnagh comes on board as associate projection designer.

Century Song opens in Ottawa to rave reviews.

Baby News: Neema gave birth in January. Baby Nuala is 3 months old at Ottawa premiere. She attends tech rehearsals.

I love the very end of the show when I feel like I'm really a dancer moving in only light, no other visual distractions, just me in my body as myself.

- Neema Bickersteth, Soprano

Summer/Fall 2015

Tour engagements and negotiations for Century Song proceed:

UK-based agent/producer Richard Jordan joins the team to help build a European tour.

Tour bookings for early 2016 are finalised in Calgary (High Performance Rodeo) and Vancouver (PuSh festival at the Cultch) and Toronto (Progress Festival at the Theatre Centre).

A European tour is put together for May 2016 including stops in Manchester (the Lowry), Birmingham (MAC), London (artsdepot) and Ghent (de Bijloke).

Nov 2015

Century Song's final development period takes place: one week of work with a focus on music.

During this week a new song is added to the show: Vocalise for the Angel Who Announces the End of Time, by Olivier Messiaen (part of his Quartet for the End of Time, 1940). The song is adapted by Neema, Greg and Deb for piano, voice, computer-generated voice and glockenspiel. Costumes are adjusted for the new song.

Michela Sisti joins team as assistant director.

It's good to work with people who have strong thoughts, and are at the same time respectful of each other. Nothing slows down art like courtesy.

- Gregory Oh, Pianist and Improviser


Final rehearsals will take place in January going into Toronto premiere at The Theatre Centre (January 2016). This is 100 year to the month after Rachmaninoff's vocalise debuted in Moscow.

Baby news: Opening night is also the 1st birthday of Nuala Omolara Bickersteth Manson.

Preparation rehearsals for the new computer/percussionist, Ben Grossman, will also begin in early 2016. Ben will be taking over from Deb during the European Tour.

Canada and European tours... with a baby.

Becoming a parent has introduced me to a new kind of person in my life: my own child. This little person has a profound impact - in both comic and serious ways: sleeplessness sits beside love, helplessness (mine, not hers!) sits beside pure joy. Knowing what this is like, and knowing it is unique for every baby, and every parent, makes me realize that the only real language for dealing with such complexity, such simultaneous contradictions, is art.

- Ross Manson


The Team×


SOPRANO / CO-CREATOR: NEEMA BICKERSTETH trained in opera at the University of British Columbia, where she received both a Bachelor and Master of Music. She has had the opportunity to perform many operatic roles in both Canada and Europe. The Toronto Star has written of her, "Soprano Neema Bickersteth is all coiled energy that snatches our attention whenever she enters the room." Opera Canada described her as having "amazing control of her vocal palette, producing a warm and sensual colour". Although classical voice is where Neema is most comfortable, she enjoys singing in different genres and collaborating with various artists. This facility has allowed her many opportunities including the great honour of performing for the XIVth Dalai Lama, the Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Shirin Ebadi. More recently, Neema has been fortunate to be a part of some innovative contemporary works with Tapestry New Opera Works, Nightwood Theatre, Black Theatre Workshop (Montreal), Urbanvessel, Ambient Opera Society, Lake Nora Collective, Flight Works, Nightswimming, Native Earth Performing Arts, Theatre Columbus, and Artistic Fraud (Oil and Water, two national tours). Ms. Bickersteth was recently nominated for a Dora award for Caroline, or Change (Acting Up Stage / Obisidian Theatre), and was named one of the 2012 Top Ten Theatre Artists in Toronto by NOW Magazine.

COMPOSER: REZA JACOBS is an award winning composer, lyricist, sound designer and music director, known for his versatility in style and genre. His credits include sound design and composition for the Shaw Festival, Factory Theatre, Volcano Theatre, Cahoots Theatre, Acting Up Stage Theatre, the Luminato Festival, & Harbourfront's World Stage Festival. As Music Director, he has won Dora Mavor Moore Awards for Caroline, or Change (Acting Up Stage, Best Music Direction & Best Musical 2012), Assassins (TIFT, Birdland Theatre, Award for Best Musical, 2010) and London Road (Canadian Stage Co.). He is also the resident Canadian Music Director for Andrea Martin's one-woman show, Everything Must Go.

PERCUSSION / COMPUTER and COMPOSITION: DEBASHIS SINHA. For many years a percussionist with a number of Canada's premiere world music pioneers, Sinha has begun to forge a name for himself in the world of audio and new media art. His training under master drummers from various world percussion traditions inform his work and his questioning of the role of tradition as a tool for innovation. This basic premise fuels the many ongoing projects which form the basis for his creative output, including audio art, experimental video, audio installation, and music performance. His solo improvisational performances (using traditional percussion instruments, electronics, laptop, or combinations of all 3) are noted for their range of aural and physical gesture, and he continues to perform as a percussionist within the world music scene with various ensembles. Current projects of note include Knuckleduster, with Berlin's Robert Lippok (of To Rococo Rot fame), and the creation of a body of audiovisual work for live performance.

A musician with a distinctive voice and imagination, Sinha has netted 2 Juno nominations (with Maza Mezé and autorickshaw) and a Juno Award as part of Leela Gilday's ensemble. A fixture on Toronto's dance scene, he has collaborated and performed with Dancemakers, Peter Chin, Julia Aplin, Sukalyan Bhattacharjee, Hari Krishnan, and Winnipeg's Fusion Dance Theatre. Contemporary dance luminary Peggy Baker's resident accompanist for over a decade, since 2010 Sinha has created numerous new stereo and multichannel electroacoustic compositions for choreographies by Peggy Baker and NYC's Doug Varone.

PIANO AND COMPOSITION: GREGORY OH gained his notoriety as a "new music revolutionary", but he is equally at home in opera, theatre and indie rock. Holding graduate degrees from the Universities of Toronto and Michigan, Gregory is an acclaimed classical pianist whose repertoire spans five centuries. His recent work has carried him to performances in venues as diverse as the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, to the legendary techno club Berghain in Berlin, to the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville, to the Wordless Music Series at the Lincoln Centre in New York. Gregory was contemporary music curator at Toronto's Music Gallery for many years and is now the artistic director of the Open Ears Festival in Ontario, Canada and the acclaimed new music group Toca Loca. He has worked at San Diego Opera, the Canadian Opera Company and the Banff Opera Program. He teaches at the University of Toronto, is on faculty at the National Youth Orchestra of Canada, and is a resident artist at Soulpepper Theatre, Toronto.

Behind the Scenes

CHOREOGRAPHER / CO-CREATOR: KATE ALTON is an award-winning Canadian dancer and choreographer who has performed on stages around the globe. She is a former member of Toronto Dance Theatre and is Artistic Director of Crooked Figure Dances in Toronto. Kate creates thought provoking, emotionally engaging theatrical dances that are as much explorations of the mind as of the body, working with writers, directors and vocal coaches to develop inter-disciplinary performance works that pack an intellectual and emotional punch. Her work has been presented across Canada and in Europe. Highlights from the recent past include Associate Direction and Choreography for The Exchange Rate Collective's Dora award winning Appetite, performing James Kudelka's works In Paradisum and 15 Heterosexual Duets for Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie in China, Mongolia, the USA and Canada, and firstthingsfirst productions' sold-out shows Namesake and Namesake:Three. Kate is choreographer and co-creator/director, with Ross Manson, of the dance and sound poetry production The Four Horsemen Project, which garnered four Dora Mavor Moore awards including Best Direction by Kate and Ross Manson and has toured nationally and internationally. NOW Magazine named Kate as one of the best Toronto dance artists of the past twenty years.

SET AND COSTUME DESIGNER: CAMELLIA KOO is a Toronto based set and costume designer for theatre, opera, dance and site- specific performance installations. Recent designs for opera include Maria Stuarda (Pacific Opera Victoria), The Lighthouse (Boston Lyric Opera), Dido and Aeneas (Opera Avalon), Turn of the Screw and La Bohéme (Against the Grain), Giiwedin (Native Earth), and The Shadow (Tapestry New Opera) and Associate Designer on productions of The Magic Flute (Budapest State Opera) and Candide (Châtelet/Hyogo PAC, Japan).

Recent designs for theatre include collaborations with numerous independent to regional theatre companies including fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Company, Cahoots Theatre Projects, Modern Times Theatre, Native Earth Performing Arts, Fujiwara Dance Inventions, Tarragon Theatre, Theatre Smash, The Second City, The Shaw Festival, and Young People's Theatre.

She is a graduate of Ryerson Theatre School (technical production), and completed her M.A. in Scenography at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design (UK) and the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten (Utrecht, The Netherlands).

She has received five Dora Mavor Moore Awards (Toronto), a Sterling Award (Edmonton), a Chalmers Award Grant, and shared the 2006 Siminovitch Protégé Prize. Most recently, she was a member of the Third Prize team at the 2011 European Opera Directing Prize. Upcoming plans include The Tales of Hoffman (Edmonton Opera), Carried Away on a the Crest of a Wave, and This is War (Tarragon), and The Blue Planet (Young People's Theatre).

PROJECTION DESIGN: FETT FILM. By combining video with other media the video artists Momme Hinrichs and Torge Møller primarily want to create multifaceted works of art which do not merely decorate the stage or coexist with it but instead blend various artistic levels to achieve a synthesized whole. In addition to the Salzburg, Bregenz, Vienna and Bayreuth Festivals, the two artists have worked with the State Opera Unter den Linden Berlin; Akademie der Kunst, Berlin; Deutsch Oper, Berlin; the Vienna State Opera; Theatre an der Wien, Vienna; La Monnaie in Brussels; the Bavarian State Opera, Munich; the Semperoper Dresden; L'Opera nationale de Paris; the Komische Oper Berlin; the State Opera Hamburg; Susanne Linke; the Hungarian State Opera, Budapest; and many other small and large European theatres. They have also successfully realised projects in North America and India to great critical acclaim. In Toronto, they have worked with director Ross Manson, and his company, Volcano, on The Africa Trilogy / Another Africa.

DIRECTOR / CO-CREATOR: ROSS MANSON is an award-winning director, and the founding artistic director of Volcano, an internationally acclaimed theatre company based in Toronto. Over the past 20 years, Ross has directed and or co-created many shows for Volcano, which have toured around the world, and won or been nominated for over fifty local, national and international awards (including Dora awards for Ross as a director, a play-maker and a co- producer), a KM Hunter Award for his body of work as a theatre artist, a Harold award for arts community service, and the Best of Edinburgh award for his production of Goodness, by Michael Redhill). He has also directed for various companies across Canada, as well as in Helsinki (Svenska Theatre) and in Munich (BeMe). Ross trained in England at the University of London (MA in Theatre, specialty in Directing), in Germany (Directing apprenticeship, Stadttheater Freiburg), and in Canada (Banff School of Fine Arts and Mount Allison University).

LIGHTING DESIGNER: REBECCA PICHERACK is an award-winning Toronto-based lighting designer who has created lighting for dance and theatre projects across three continents. Dance Designs include Falling to Grace (Tanya Crowder/Julia Sasso), Art Fag (Daryl Hoskins), She's Gone Away, Still, Waking En Dessous, Love/Loathing (HUM), Aflutter featuring At Last, aRound2 (FourChambers /Heidi Struass), Namesake (Crooked Figure Dances and first things first productions), Signs (Princess Productions), and No Man's Land (Michael DuMaresq). Theatres include: Blyth Festival, Buddies in Bad Times, DNA, Crow's Theatre, Factory Theatre, Mammalian Diving Reflex, Mirvish Productions, Native Earth, Nightwood, Nightswimming, Obsidian, Tarragon, Theatre Centre, Theatre Passe Muraille and Volcano. Rebecca has 12 nominations and 2 Dora Awards for her work.

COSTUME DESIGNER: CHARLOTTE DEAN is a five-time Dora Award winner, four times for outstanding costume design, and once for outstanding set design; and the winner of the Virginia and Myrtle Cooper Award in Costume Design. Charlotte has an extensive list of design credits from theatres across Canada, including the Stratford Festival, the Shaw Festival, Canadian Stage, Globe Theatre, Manitoba Theatre Centre, Neptune Theatre, Citadel Theatre, Theatre Calgary, Necessary Angel Theatre Company, Tarragon Theatre, Grand Theatre and the Charlottetown Festival, among others.

STAGE MANAGER: EMILIE AUBIN is a Toronto-based stage manager for theatre, opera, and musicals. Credits include Counting Sheep (SummerWorks 2015), It Comes in Waves (Bluemouth Inc & Necessary Angel), M’Dea Undone (Tapestry Opera), Harper Regan (Canadian Stage), James and the Giant Peach, Jacob Two Two Meets the Hooded Fang (Young People’s Theatre), Late Company (Suburban Beast and surface/underground theatre), carried away on the crest of a wave, The Golden Dragon (Tarragon Theatre), The Homecoming, The Grapes of Wrath (Stratford Festival), Turandot (Opera Lyra Ottawa).

PRODUCTION MANAGER: PATRICK LAVENDER works as a production manager for Necessary Angel Theatre Company, Acting Up Stage Company, The Company Theatre, Obsidian Theatre, and Soundstreams. He also works as a set and lighting designer. Recent credits include; Late Company (Why Not surface/underground theatre), Crawlspace (Videofag), It Comes in Waves (Necessary Angel/Bluemouth), Birth of Frankenstein (Litmus Theatre).


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