My mother, Johanna, had a deep love of the performing arts. To her, the experience was about beauty, immediacy, connection, intellectual challenge, and pure delight. She was, all her life, a seeker of the truths and transformations to be found in the worlds of theatre, music, and dance.
Chair, Board of Directors, Metcalf Foundation
Johanna had great faith in the ability of remarkable people to accomplish extraordinary things, and she backed them unreservedly.
President and CEO, Metcalf Foundation
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Njacko Backo is a Toronto-based musician and educator. Born and raised in Cameroon, he has lived and made music in 12 countries, and has released 12 albums independently. Music and art have always been an integral part of Njacko Backo’s life; in fact, he will tell you that music has saved his life on more than one occasion. From his early days as a marginalized child in Cameroon, Njacko has risen above very tough circumstances to become a living testament to the transformative power of music. After experiencing homelessness and rejection at home, he left his family at age 17 and worked his way through West Africa. Eight years later he arrived in Europe where he established his first band, Njacko and the Sunshine, and released his first two albums. After arriving in Canada, Njacko wrote, directed and starred in a semi-autobiographical theatre piece Baki and the Magic Egg. He has also independently released 10 more albums, been recognized for his songwriting by Billboard, and was nominated for World Group of the Year by Canadian Folk Music Awards for his 2013 release Ici bas, rien n’est impossible. The common theme through Njacko’s artistic practice is universal love. He counts children as one of his greatest inspirations. Njacko says “I write my songs with children in mind and emphasize the importance of love, togetherness and respect. Every time I perform, my goal is to touch people’s hearts, make them dance and have fun.” As an educator, Njacko is a cultural and French language ambassador who has shared his music, dance, stories and culture with hundreds of thousands of students across Canada.
Robin Dann uses her voice and songwriting practice to connect with people. She is most interested in laughter, empathy, and the many ways music can make good things happen. Robin Dann studied Jazz at the University of Toronto and completed an M.Mus. at Goldsmiths, University of London in Creative Practice. Robin leads the Polaris-nominated band Bernice, who have toured extensively in Canada, the US, and internationally, and have released two critically acclaimed full-length albums and several EPs, most recently with the Canadian label Arts & Crafts. Robin’s interest in using the voice and song to generally feel better continues to lead her in many directions including recent collaborations with the Toronto Dance Theatre (Noisy, 2017, Persefony Songs, 2018, RING, 2019), Soundstreams (cast member of Claude Vivier’s Musik Fur das Ende, 2017), continuing musical work with seniors who deal with memory loss at the Dotsa Bitove Wellness Academy, as well as frequent musical work with many different people and projects including backing vocals for Martha Wainwright and Bahamas, collaborations with Ben Gunning (POM), Isis Giraldo, Alanna Stuart (Bonjay), Ali Eisner (puppet-based children’s programming related to gender identity and the environment), and Alex Samaras. Robin has received the support of the TAC, OAC, and CCA for numerous projects. In 2019 she was the recipient of a Chalmers Fellowship which allowed her to travel to the Arctic Circle as part of a residency program and will continue with research related to a central interest in song as an empathetic, community-building practice.
Sunny Drake is a playwright, theatre creator and performer. His inventive works have been translated into four languages and presented to a wide range of audiences in 59 cities across the world. Sunny is currently a playwright-in-residence at the Stratford Festival, and has been awarded numerous other residencies including: the National Arts Centre’s Collaborations (2018-current), Theatre Passe Muraille (2018/19), Nightswimming (2018), Factory Theatre’s Natural Resources (2017), Yaddo (New York, 2018), Playwrights Theatre Centre’s WrightSpace (2016), The Arctic Circle onboard a tall ship in the high arctic (2019) and Djerassi (2019). He was a finalist for the K. M. Hunter Theatre Award (2018). Touring highlights: Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (Toronto), San Francisco International Arts Festival, Espace Libre (Montreal), Northern Arts & Cultural Centre (Yellowknife & Fort Smith), Brisbane Powerhouse (Australia), Nuovo Cinema Palazzo (Rome), The Basement Theatre (Brighton, UK), and three times in the USA National Queer Arts Festival. Men Express Their Feelings premieres in Calgary with Downstage Theatre in Feb/March 2020. He recently received a Canada Council composite grant towards the development of five of his new works – he is the first individual to receive this grant which previously has been awarded only to companies. His wide range of audiences have spanned international arts festivals, elderly ladies in regional theatres, and queers in underground warehouses. Sunny was commissioned by the Playwrights Guild of Canada, PACT and ATFC to write the 2019 World Theatre Day message for Canada. Sunny was born and grown in Australia and has lived in Toronto since 2011.
Sarah Gartshore, Anishinaabe Kwe, is an educator and theatre creator who works alongside voices from the margins as a story teller, champion of community solidarity and of radical self-love. With ancestors from the Crane Clan of Batchewana First Nation and Clan Gartshore of Scotland, Gartshore is community minded and at home in leadership and collaboration. As the 2019 Creator in Residence for Jumblies Theatre and 2018 Playwright in Residence for Pat The Dog Theatre Creation, Gartshore gratefully experiences the larger theatre community she works within as both an offering of support and a fertile ground to share hard Truths (Debwewin). Gartshore’s plays Streetheart, Survivance, Debwewin, Remains, POW and ArmHer all highlight this Debwewin (Truth); the experts on the homeless community, sex working community, and people in active addiction, are the people with lived experience in those communities. Gartshore is honoured to move, with earned trust and always evolving integrity, within these groups of worthy experts and share the magic of theatre with them as a sacred space that welcomes pushing boundaries, transformation and the sharing and honouring of their stories. As an Ogitchidaa Kwe (Warrior Woman), the stage is Gartshore’s front lines and people she works with are water to be honoured. Minawaanigwendam.
Alice Ping Yee Ho is a prolific award-winning Canadian composer and noted classical pianist. The two-time JUNO Award nominee effortlessly crosses and references many musical genres. The Hong Kong-born Canadian composer is acclaimed for her distinctly individual style. Alice Ping Yee Ho is considered one of the most important composers in Canada today. She has written in many musical genres and received numerous awards including the 2016 Louis Applebaum Composers Award; 2014 Prince Edward Island Symphony Composers Competition; 2014 Kitchener Waterloo Symphony Friendship Orchestral Composition Competition; 2013 Dora Mavor Moore Award (Outstanding Original Opera) for her opera The Lesson of Da Ji; K.M. Hunter Artist Award; Luxembourg Sinfonietta International Composition Prize; and International League of Women Composers Competition. Her works have been performed by many major ensembles including the Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Victoria, Hamilton, and Windsor Symphonies; the Finnish Lapland Chamber Orchestra, China National Symphony, Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra, Polish Radio Choir, Estonia’s Ellerhein Girls Choir, Luxembourg Sinfonietta, and Amsterdam’s Nieuw Ensemble. Alice earned two JUNO Award nominations (2015 and 2018) and has an impressive discography. Her 5th solo CD, The Monkiest King with the Canadian Children’s Opera Company, will be released by Centrediscs label spring of 2020. This children’s opera with librettist Marjorie Chan is nominated for the 2019 Dora Mavor More Award’s Outstanding New Opera. Ms. Ho holds a Bachelor of Music degree in composition with high distinction from Indiana University and a Master of Music degree in composition from the University of Toronto. She makes her home in Toronto.
Jean-Michel is an artist-educator, playwright, director and creator of cultural events in nature. His theatre-based creations aim to combat the harmful effects of technology and strengthen young hearts and minds. Jean-Michel Le Gal has been passionately working in artistic education since 2002. During this time, he has created and led over 1200 hours of contemporary and classical theatre workshops in both official languages for some of Canada’s leading artistic institutions including the Stratford Festival, University of Toronto, and the Ontario Arts Council. In 2010, Jean-Michel co-founded the theatre school at Théâtre français de Toronto. As artistic director, he has created over 850 hours of workshops, 55 collective presentations for families, created and led a yearly summer camp with l’Alliance française de Toronto and a theatre club at Lycée français de Toronto, as well as directed 7 musicals for kids performed on professional stages. In 2017, Jean-Michel co-founded ArtiCulture, a non-profit corporation of professional artists passionate about connecting people to farms and wilderness through the arts. As a Member of the Board and Artist Circle he has created many cultural events in rural settings in partnership with the MRC and Tourisme Outaouais. Half-masked street theatre for more than 2,000 spectators created for a harvest festival, inspired the play Le coeur de la forêt. This family adventure musical currently in development with the Théâtre français de Toronto, attempts to address issues such as anxiety, depression and isolation.
With music described as haunting and eerily beautiful, composer Cecilia Livingston specializes in music for voice. Her current project is the opera Terror & Erebus. Cecilia is composer-in-residence at Glyndebourne Festival Opera, where her work is supported by the Canada Council for the Arts and builds on her 2015-17 Fellowship at American Opera Projects in New York. Winner of the 2018 Mécénat Musica Prix 3 Femmes for female opera creators in Canada, her music has been heard at Nuit Blanche, the 21C Festival, World Choir Games, Bang on a Can Summer Festival, Soundstreams, Tapestry Opera, Thin Edge New Music Collective, Canadian Art Song Project, Fashion Art Toronto, and with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Kingston Symphony. Her current projects include new works for Tafelmusik and Glyndebourne, the opera Terror & Erebus for Opera 5 and TorQ Percussion Quartet, and a song cycle with Orange Prize winning poet Anne Michaels and Women on the Verge. She has published on contemporary opera in The Opera Quarterly, Cambridge Opera Journal, and Tempo (Cambridge), and has presented at the Royal Musical Association and American Musicological Society annual conferences. She is a National Councillor of the Canadian League of Composers and a member of the Ontario Regional Council of the Canadian Music Centre. She holds a doctorate in composition from the University of Toronto, where she was awarded the Theodoros Mirkopoulos Fellowship in Composition. In her spare time, she enjoys running, eating other people’s cooking, and dreadful reality TV that has nothing to do with classical music.
An Anishinaabe violist and composer, Melody McKiver is a compelling solo performer based in Sioux Lookout within their homelands of Obishikokaang Lac Seul First Nation. Melody’s work integrates electronics with Western classical music to shape a new genre of Anishinaabe compositions. Their debut EP Reckoning was nominated for an Indigenous Music Award, and they were a participant in the Banff Centre for the Arts’ inaugural Indigenous Classical Music Gathering. A frequent performer across Turtle Island, Melody has performed at the National Arts Centre, Luminato Festival, Vancouver’s Western Front, and the Toronto International Film Festival. They have shared stages with Polaris Prize winners Lido Pimienta, Tanya Tagaq, and Jeremy Dutcher, and performed with acclaimed filmmaker and musician Alanis Obomsawin. As a composer, Melody was recently commissioned by Soundstreams and Jumblies Theatre to write a string quartet responding to Steve Reich’s Different Trains, drawing on interviews conducted with local elders. They also re-imagined Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring through an Anishinaabeg lens alongside choreographer Brian Solomon. Melody is involved in their community as a mentor with the Indigenous Music Mentorship Program, and is employed as a youth worker in Sioux Lookout, providing mental health and cultural supports to First Nations students. Upcoming projects include a song and music video premiering on Amplify, a new APTN show that explores musicians’ creative processes.
New Zealand-Canadian composer Juliet Kiri Palmer is the artistic director of Urbanvessel, a platform for interdisciplinary collaboration whose work crosses many genres. Recent works include: Oil & Water, Detroit Symphony Orchestra; Ukiyo, floating world, Urbanvessel and Thin Edge New Music Collective, ONGAKU Festival; rivers, solo CD release (Barnyard Records); Inside Us, installation and performance (Western Front, Vancouver); and Sweat, a cappella opera, writer Anna Chatterton (CalArts, Los Angeles; Bicycle Opera, Canada; National Sawdust, New York). Juliet was the 2011/12 Creative New Zealand/Jack C. Richards composer-in-residence at the New Zealand School of Music, and was also the 2012 composer-in-residence of Orchestra Wellington. She was an Artist-in-Residence at Sunnybrook Research Institute in 2018 funded by the Ontario Arts Council. She is the winner of the Detroit Symphony’s Elaine Lebenbom Award and the recipient of a Chalmers Arts Fellowship 2018-19. Juliet holds a Ph.D. in composition from Princeton University and an M.Mus. in performance, composition and time-based art from Auckland University.
Toronto composer James Rolfe has been commissioned and performed by ensembles, orchestras, choirs, theatres, and opera companies in Canada, the USA, Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. Mr. Rolfe’s operas have been performed in Toronto, Halifax, Vancouver, Banff, Edmonton, and New York. Beatrice Chancy, his first opera, played to sold-out houses and rave reviews in 1999; his most recent opera, The Overcoat, was premiered by Tapestry Opera with Canadian Stage and Vancouver Opera in 2018, and was nominated for 10 Dora Awards. Two solo CDs (raW, 2011, and Breathe, 2018, nominated for a JUNO Award) are available on Centrediscs. Mr. Rolfe is a composition instructor at the University of Toronto, and frequently acts as a mentor in master classes and workshops. His work has been recognized with a Guggenheim Fellowship, the K. M. Hunter Music Award, the Louis Applebaum Composers Award, the Jules Léger Prize for New Chamber Music, SOCAN’s Jan V. Matejcek Concert Music Award, a Chalmers Arts Fellowship, and the Outstanding Choral Work Award from Choral Canada.
Lucy Rupert is the artistic director of Blue Ceiling dance, a choreographer and dancer, a freelance performer, an art/science writer, a mom, a conservationist and an astrophysics enthusiast. Lucy Rupert is the artistic director of Blue Ceiling dance, through which she creates, commissions, produces, and performs. Her repertoire has toured throughout Ontario and to New York and Germany, presented by DanceWorks, Dance Ontario, Dusk Dances, dance: made in Canada/fait au Canada, the Stuttgart Solo International Tanz Theater Festival, and WAXWorks Brooklyn. Lucy’s work embodies her strong curiosity about the translation of ideas from science into physical, dynamic practice, and a reverence for intergenerational casts and diverse bodies. Lucy writes about the art-science intersection on her blog, blueceilingdancer.blogspot.com, including interviews with prominent local scientists and reflections on creative works from this intersectional perspective. As a freelance artist in theatre and dance, Lucy has performed for Fujiwara Dance Inventions, Theatre Rusticle, Marie-Josée Chartier, Nova Bhattacharya, Theatre Passe-Muraille, William Yong, Sashar Zarif, Anandam Dance, Puppetmongers Theatre, and Circus Orange, among others. Lucy teaches Imaginative Body classes, for dancers and non-dancers, aimed at using the imagery to fuel physical virtuosity and bold exploration. These classes have been hosted by Blue Ceiling dance, by several Ontario school boards, and at private studios, reaching ages 10 to 70. Lucy has a Joint B.A. in Dance and Music from the University of Waterloo, and an M.A. in History from the University of Toronto. Lucy recently received an Audience Choice Award for her performance at the 2017 dance: made in Canada Festival; she is a two-time Chalmers Fellowship recipient and a two-time nominee for the K.M. Hunter Award in Dance.
Santee Smith (Tekaronhiáhkhwa) is a multidisciplinary artist and founder of Haudenosaunee company Kaha:wi Dance Theatre from the Kahnyen’kehàka Nation, Turtle Clan, Six Nations of the Grand River, Haldimand Treaty Territory, Ontario. Santee trained at Canada’s National Ballet School and completed Physical Education and Psychology degrees from McMaster University and a M.A. in Dance from York University. Santee premiered her debut work, Kaha:wi, a family creation story in 2004, and one year later founded Kaha:wi Dance Theatre which has grown into an internationally renowned company. Santee’s artistic work speaks about identity and Indigenous narratives. As a creator, her process includes collaboration, research, community engagement, and Indigenous dramaturgy focused on land-base and cultural iconography. Her body of work includes numerous productions and short works which tour nationally and internationally. Her commissions include choreography for the National Arts Centre Orchestra, Canadian Opera Company, North American Indigenous Games, among others. She is the recipient of the K.M. Hunter Award; Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Award; John Hobday Award; Hamilton Music Award for Kaha:wi; Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Choreography in Dance for Susuriwka – willow bridge and a REVEAL Indigenous Arts Award. Her work Blood Tides received Outstanding Production and Outstanding Performance Ensemble in Dance at the 2019 Dora Mavor Moore Awards. Santee is a sought-after teacher and speaker on the performing arts, Indigenous performance and culture, most recently at Citadel Theatre/Training Program and the Stratford Festival. Her life and work have been the topic of TV series and films aired on CBC, NFB, APTN and PBS (US). Santee is the Chancellor of McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario.
Maylee Todd is a Filipinx multi-media artist, artist consultant, musician and curator based in Toronto. Todd combines multiple artistic disciplines in her projects, such as songwriting, production, performance art, dance, and 3-D projection mapping. Her creativity is derived from a wide range of artistic disciplines: songwriting, production, performance art, dance, and 3-D projection mapping. Maylee has released three records: Choose Your Own Adventure (2010), Escapology (2013), and Acts Of Love (2017). She is best known for her multimedia show Virtual Womb which has toured internationally for Tokyo’s Billboard Live, Fringe Manila, and across Canada. Todd’s creativity is inspired by concepts from science fiction, futurism, and psychology. She has created a series of multi-media experiences paired with her full-length self-produced records; this series includes Maylee Todd’s Musical Planetarium (2013), Inamorata (2016), Virtual Womb (2015- Present) and Psychonaut Experiments (2018-Present). Her productions incorporate 3D-projection mapping paired with dance, a live orchestra, a choir, visual installations, and costumes. Maylee established Yuzu, a non-for-profit that facilitates artistic development workshops and mentorships for POC and female-identifying artists across Canada and internationally. Her creative development work includes collaborations with Canada’s Music Incubator, Regent Park School of Music, Unicorn Project, Kapisanan, and many more. In 2018, Todd transformed her home into a DIY venue, gallery and community called Virtual Womb HQ, dedicated to representing artists, cultural producers that create multi-media and alternative arts.
Maryem Tollar has been an integral part of the development and reach of world music in Canada. She has performed, composed, and worked with artists across a variety of musical traditions and disciplinary genres nationally and internationally in English, French and Arabic. Ahmed Hassan invited her to sing in The Trilogy of Sable/Sand, which she prepared for with Arabic singing lessons. A second collaboration with Ahmed, 14 Remembered, was a commemorative piece for the 14 women who died in the Montreal massacre. At that time, she met Christos Hatzis who was composing a multi-media piece commissioned by the Gryphon Trio, Constantinople. Hatzis suggested integrating a second voice, representative of the East, and Tollar became involved in the project. This led to collaborations with Tafelmusik in pieces that gave voice to pertinent social issues including Tales of Two Cities: The Leipzig-Damascus Coffee House and Safe Haven. Maryem has an on-going collaboration with Egyptian-Canadian poet and activist, Ehab Lotayef, setting his Arabic and English poetry to music, addressing vital social justice concerns. She creates the soundtrack for storyteller Dawne McFarlane’s stories of strong women who triumph against the challenges of their time and place. Maryem continues to create and to unearth connections that work to underscore not only the diversity of the influences that shape us, but the resonances of the commonalities between us. Currently, Maryem performs regularly with Al Qahwa and Turkwaz.
Bageshree Vaze is an Indo-Canadian multidisciplinary artist who has choreographed numerous dance works and has five CDs to her credit. In 2010, Bageshree was a co-recipient of the K.M. Hunter Award in Dance. Bageshree Vaze is an Indo-Canadian dance artist and musician. Raised in St. John’s, NL, she initially trained in Bharatha Natyam dance and studied Hindustani vocal music with her father, Damodar Vaze. She later trained in the North Indian style of Kathak in New Delhi and studied with the renowned vocalist Veena Sahasrabuddhe in Mumbai. Her breakthrough album Tarana (released as Khanak through Times Music in India) is a CD of songs adapted and arranged for Indian dance; it is digitally accessed and used by dancers worldwide. Bageshree has been commissioned by and has performed in major festivals including Dusk Dances, the CanAsian International Dance Festival, and Pt. Birju Maharaj’s Vasantotsav festival in New Delhi. Under the auspices of her organization Pratibha Arts, Bageshree engages a diverse roster of musicians and dancers in Ontario, and in May 2020 will curate and present Sadhana, a professional development series for emerging South Asian artists from across Canada at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. Bageshree has a Master’s degree in Dance from York University, and a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Carleton University.