25 years of High Performance

The name “High Performance Rodeo” is distinctly Albertan, but that’s not the focus of Calgary’s leading mixed-media arts festival. It’s not just Alberta anyway. In its 25th year, High Performance Rodeo draws acts and artists from all over the world to give Calgarians a smattering of the arts and a reason to surface in the middle of the cold, dark winter.

The festival runs for the month of January and in these four weeks, showcases 19 performances in 15 venues.

As most performances run more than once, festival curator Michael Green embraces organizing the whirlwind.

“It’s like packing a picnic basket,” says Green. “You know you need some cheese and you know you need some bread and you know you need some sandwich meat and something for dessert. You go to the market and get what’s there.”

“When you end up at your favourite picnic spot, you spread out the picnic blanket and then you see what it is you’ve got,” he continues. “I try and have a well-balanced mix of theatre, dance, music, comedy, performance art.”

This year is a veritable smorgasbord — Edmonton’s poet laureate and rapper Cadence Weapon is performing with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and some of the province’s most talented singer-songwriters for Acres of Dreams. Brian Eno is presenting An Illustrated Talk and will be in residence at the Cantos Music Foundation for a week. Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckow are presenting Bash’d: A Gay Rap Opera.

It didn’t start out like this though — the festival has humble beginnings.

“Twenty-five years ago, One Yellow Rabbit had been just kicked out of our punk club-turned-theatre,” says Green. “We didn’t have any funding, we didn’t have a venue, so I set up a theatre in my office and I had my friends come from across Canada to do theatre, dance, performance art, music, video, spoken words.”

“I didn’t really know what I was doing, but it worked quite well.”

The festival reinforces a recent statistic released by the Globe and Mail that Calgarians spend the most on the arts per capita in Canada. This is despite the pervasive view that Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto dominate the arts scene.

“Calgarians aren’t very good at judging their own character,” says Green. “What we tend to do is listen to what Torontonians think of us, that we’re a bunch of unsophisticated rednecks, and we just buy into that even though that’s not the way we behave. What makes us cultured is the way we actually get involved in the arts and in different cultural events and festivals and things like that”

Regardless, Green will keep at it.

“We’re really having fun pushing the envelope for Calgary,” he says. “Maybe we’ll turn a bunch of CPO subscribers onto rap.”

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