The High Performance Rodeo

through Sunday, at almost every conceivable Calgary venue

by Stephen Hunt

A chinook has arrived, just in time for Calgarians to head out for one final weekend binge on the High Performance Rodeo.

Many years, the High Performance Rodeo kind of peeters out – so many shows, so many winter nights – and then suddenly, it’s all dwindled down to a precious few (shows).

2017? Not so fast.

Friday and Saturday are absolutely stacked with performances, from noon (Six Guitars) to 9pm (Winners and Losers). There’s Mouthpiece, a show that made both the Globe & Mail and Toronto Star’s list of the best Toronto plays of 2016 and won several Dora Awards a year ago) playing at the West Village Theatre at 7pm. Mouthpiece tells the story of a single day inside the head of a woman trying to write her mother’s eulogy in a way that’s imaginative, unconventional, and incorporates music, movement, text, two different women playing the same character – and a bathtub.

This year’s festival – the 31st – has, by all the buzz, been one of the very finest High Performance Rodeos. 28 shows, a diverse lineup, combining international, national and local performing arts groups – if I hadn’t lived here for 11 years, and sort of started to take it for granted that every January, this city would host an international performing arts festival that rivals any other, anywhere, I might almost spend some AirMiles to fly to Calgary in January.

Instead, I get to save them and dream of one day running the Rock ‘n Roll Marathon in Lisbon!

A lot of Canada’s leading theatre professionals have been making their way to town, including the Queen of Stratford: Seana McKenna, who plays Queen Elizabeth in The Audience, opening tonight at Theatre Calgary , has been a Rodeo regular, attending (so we hear) a half dozen different productions.

Also spotted at various productions, sometimes more than one: Mayor Nenshi, kd lang, Stephen Hair and Theatre Calgary favourite (he was Undershaft in Major Barbara) Dean Paul Gibson.

For the uninitiated, here’s a brief history of most of what you can still catch at the High Performance Rodeo this weekend. (There’s more but I don’t want to overwhelm you).

Stranger to Hard Work (Martha Cohen Theatre, Arts Commons). Cathy Jones is a Canadian comic legend, and is back kicking comedy ass in Stranger to Hard Work at ATP, which explores all the unexpected pleasures – and complications – of being a woman hitting your sixties without having them hit back.


Juliet & Romeo (DJD Dance Centre). Decidedly Jazz Danceworks’s artistic director Kim Cooper teams up with a former Trailer Park Boy, Cory Bowles, and her talented company of dancers, to reinterpret a Shakespearean classic through the glass of DJD’s gorgeous new dance centre. Bowles adds a little hip-hop flavour to the Bard’s prose too.

Landline: A two-city walking tour (in this case Calgary and St. John’s Newfoundland) that encourages participants to veer off the (audio) script in the iPods each is given prior to starting the show. A study in the fine art of wandering around and seeing your city with fresh eyes. (Friday afternoon, starting at Arts Commons).

Six Guitars: Portland’s Chase Padgett plays six different genres, featuring an array of different guitar slingers, in a show that’s been one of the toughest tickets in town – ever since Padgett first brought it here to the Calgary Fringe in 2013. (At Lunchbox, Friday at noon, 6pm, and Saturday at noon)


Through the Gaze of a Navel: One part light yoga workout, one part New Age satirical gaze into the pseudo-spirituality of yoga in a capitalistic culture, this one figures to combine hamstring maintenance with belly laughs. (At Lunchbox, 8pm Friday and Saturday, 2:30pm Sunday).

All’s Well That Ends Well. The Shakespeare Company takes on one of the Bard’s ‘problem plays’ in a moody production that feels like it wants to be a romantic comedy, but keeps breaking out into reality instead. I hate when that happens! Allison Lynch as Helena, and Braden Griffiths as Parolles, both deliver shining performances – maybe because in real life, they’re married. (At Vertigo Studio Theatre, 7pm Friday and Saturday, with a 2:30pm show Saturday. )


Declaration: an innovative, moving indigenous creation art lab that transforms the municipal building into one of the more unique performing arts spaces you’ll ever experience – one part theatre, one part Gotham City. (Calgary Municipal Building, Friday at 7pm With artist meeting at noon and open creation lab all afternoon, until 5:30pm)


Winners and Losers: Two longtime Vancouver theatre pals, Marcus Youssef and James Long, play a game where they define the world in a very narrow binary, including themselves and their relationship with each other. It’s funny, until it begins to get real. At West Village Theatre, 9pm Friday and Saturday.


Mouthpiece: If you want to make it a double bill at the West Village, go for drinks at Mikey’s Juke Joint, then hit Mouthpiece at 7pm, to watch a too-smart woman thinking much too much as she tries to compose a eulogy to her departed mom. 7pm Friday, Saturday and 2pm Sunday.)

And then, just like the end of the movie Carrie, it turns out the Rodeo isn’t actually done: next Thursday, at Jack Singer, it all wraps up with dirtsong, from Australia’s Black Arm Band. Featuring musicians, composers, dancers and filmmakers, Black Arm Band is an aboriginal arts collective that promise to send a High Performance Rodeo on the other side of the planet off to one final, blazing, beautiful farewell. (8pm, Feb 2, Jack Singer Hall)

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