Not Your Average Rodeo

By Veronika Janik

In the year 1986, a small Calgary based Theatre Company put on a rodeo. This was not your average bucking horse, bull-riding rodeo. It was an opportunity for new and young talent to express their artistic abilities. For years, the festival was kept open to anybody who wanted to participate. If you had a show, you were in.

The year 2005: One Yellow Rabbit Theatre Company hosts its 19th annual High Performance Rodeo. However, as opposed to previous years, the rodeo has become one of Canada’s leading festivals of professional yet fresh and experimental theatre.

“It started out very semi-professional,” says Associate Producer Kirk Miles.

“Of course, as we got funding, not only did we want the quality to go up, but our audience was getting older and also expected the quality to be higher,” he adds.

As years went by, the rodeo became more and more prosperous. The audience grew each year, while the performers continued to produce consistently entertaining and edgy material­–something that remains at the core of One Yellow Rabbit’s original goal.

“Our mandate is to create new and exciting work. We’re not doing old Shakespeare here, and if we do Shakespeare, it will be Shakespeare with a twist,” says Miles.

Although this year’s rodeo does not contain any “twisted” Shakespeare, it does provide audiences with a wide range of plays, music, dance and multi-visual performances.

With over 15 different shows, the diversity of the festival stands out as one of the High Performance Rodeo’s most impressive elements.

“Because there are so many different shows, some are a lot edgier than others,” says Miles.

“However, sometimes when we say new and diversified, it’s not always just the nature of the art, it’s also the nature or styles of the companies,” he adds.

Miles explains that certain shows such as Santee Smith’s Kaha: wi, isn’t cutting edge with respect to its content, however it does provide audiences with an opportunity to see Aboriginal Modern Dance on the big stage.

As expected, the variety in programs is accompanied by a variety in theatrical genres. The rodeo presents everything from comedy in Andy Jones’ King O’ Fun, to deeper meaning performances with poetic undertones in Laurie Anderson’s The End of The Moon.

Amongst others, Say Nothing, put on by a comedy troop based out of the UK, is a political satire with Monty Python type humor that guarantees a good laugh.

While producing straight up comedy is one of many features that sets this festival apart from others, it is The Suicide Girls’ traveling burlesque show that draws in the largest audience.

“The reason we hired The Suicide Girls is because with them you’re not just getting a burlesque show. If that’s all I wanted then I’d just hire a stripper,” states Miles.

“They come with their own culture. It is really a celebration of a different lifestyle. Tattoos, piercings, that whole underground thing,” he explains.

The Suicide Girls’ counter-culture phenomenon is also a younger culture, which Miles sees as extremely beneficial in order to build up a younger audience.

“We’re old hipsters but we’re constantly trying to develop young hipsters,” states Miles.

“I think it’s really valuable for young people to come and check out Calgary’s local culture because it is happening here despite what Toronto and anyone else thinks.”

Consequently, for youth with a low budget and little time, Miles strongly recommends Boca del Lupo’s The Suicide, which he also crowns the gem of the festival.

“I know the name isn’t very funny but it’s a hilarious play. It’s got that sense of irony that is just amazing.”

In second and third place are Montreal Danse’s Big Bang, a stunning array of choreography and lighting, and Laurie Anderson’s musical genius with integrated spoken word.

Miles encourages students to come out and get a glimpse of their culture and the display of outstanding talent.

“It’s pure comedy and pure fun, so come and have a good time. Besides, tickets are fairly cheap so you really can’t go wrong,” states Miles with a grin.

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