The High Performance Rodeo and presents Declaration

at the Municipal Building, January 26 & 27, 7pm (Artist talks at noon, Open Lab until 5:30pm)

Pay What You Want

by Stephen Hunt

One of the coolest things about the High Performance Rodeo is the festival’s ability to re-invent different buildings as performance venues.

That was evident last Sunday, when Why We are Here transformed Lougheed House into an improvised sort of concert hall (led by composer Joe Slabe in the first act, and Michelle Thrush in the second).

It’s there in Juliet and Romeo, Decidedly Jazz Danceworks’ thrilling new piece that includes its spectacular new performing arts space in the show, which includes huge windows overlooking downtown Calgary that allow choreographer Kim Cooper to turn the actual skyline into part of the set – (if you like La La Land, you better rush to see Juliet and Romeo before it closes Saturday.)

It’s there in Landline, an innovative, engaging show where the audience is the show and goes for a walk through downtown while texting with a scene partner in Newfoundland going for a walk of their own in St. John’s.

It’s there in the Plus 15 connecting Banker’s Hall to the Core shopping mall, where a pair of Montreal artists have created #boxtape, an art installation that’s one part shipping materials, one part jungle gym, all of it transforming a plus 15 filled with corporate suits into an outtake from a Spiderman movie.

And speaking of superheroes, the Calgary municipal building found itself transformed Wednesday evening into a performance hall, when a group of indigenous performers created and presented Declaration.

The show sprang out of a public artists’ talk held in the same space at noon, where artists such as Michelle Thrush, Rodeo intern Justin Many Fingers, electric cellist extraordinaire Cris Derksen, led by curators Tara Beagan and Andy Moro, formed what they describe as a guided art jam, inspired by Article 11 – part of the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people – celebrating indigenous artists and their reverence for the land.


I wasn’t there for that part – but by 7pm, after working together for a grand total of one afternoon, the group created a remarkable 45 minute long performance piece that featured multi-media (video of the bridge formerly known as Langevin, shot by Thrush’s daughter Imajyn Cardinal), a haunting cello score by Derksen, and a kind of anguished physical movement piece performed by Thrush and Many Fingers, a big guy who looks like an offensive tackle, but moves like Baryshnikov (if he was built like an offensive tackle).


(Justin Many Fingers and Imajyn Cardinal in Declaration, at the Calgary Municipal Building, at the 2017 High Performance Rodeo in Calgary. Photo: Stephen Hunt)

Mayor Nenshi bestowed the event with his mayoral blessing, announcing that it was taking place on treaty land, after Siksika elder Clarence Wolfleg blessed the event with a prayer.

“Traditional people look at – and respect – everything around them,” said Wolflake, before referencing a blue star – which Cardinal also spoke about in a poem she composed and performed to close out the show.

“Our spirit has travelled distances,” he added. “That’s the blessing of the creator.”

Nenshi wore an indigenous jacket and moccasins that he’d been presented with when he received his indigenous name, which I forget. (“I often say I have two Indian stories to tell,” he said.)

As usual, the culture mayor delivered some thoughtful comments in a space he referred to as “Calgary’s living room”.

While he was there to kick off a performance inspired by the coming together of a number of indigenous nations, he reminded the audience that for a long time, in Canada, such a gathering and sharing of stories not only would not have likely been encouraged – it would have been forbidden.

“The practice of indigenous culture,” he said, “was outlawed.”

Now, he said, it was imperative that we recognize the right – and necessity – for indigenous stories “to speak, to be seen, to be heard.”

All of it was performed on a temporary stage constructed on the main floor of the municipal building, turning it into a performing arts venue – with about 100 foot high ceilings.

Unbelievably, the acoustics were pretty decent. The video screens hanging off the walls – or maybe they were just walls, now that I think about it – looked great, and the group took advantage of the building’s quirks, such as the staircase behind the stage, incorporating it into the show.

I must be seeing too many superhero movies – we all are, aren’t we? – because the municipal building felt as if it had been ripped straight out of Gotham City or something even darker – Suicide Squad anyone?

There’s still a few more nights to catch Declaration and see the municipal building get its Rodeo closeup, tonight and Friday at 7pm (with free artist talks open to the public both days at noon, and an open creation lab throughout the day, up to 5:30pm.)

Admission is by donation.

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Read more about the High Performance Rodeo here

Stephen Hunt is the 2017 High Performance Rodeo Writer in Residence