High Performance Rodeo meshes local and global stage art

By Ian Gregg

Calgary may not be the most metropolitan city in the world– anyone who wants to take it down a couple notches can easily point out the phallic symbol we chose as our flagship building, or rebuke the idea that we stand out as a glittering prairie jewel. As of January 5-28, the city’s dissenters have an awful lot to get distracted by as the High Performance Rodeo rolls into town for its 26th year.

Not everyone may know what this whiz-bang affair, also called Calgary’s International Festival of the Arts, entails. But if they were to ask any of the 9,000 Snowblower revelers– who danced their pants off to DJs and fire-spinners against a backdrop of ice sculptures at the kickoff party at Olympic Plaza last Saturday– they’d have a pretty good clue about what to expect for the rest of the month. What excites associate producer Mark Hopkins about the performance art festival, though, is its multiplicity.

“We’re partnering with [the magazine] The Walrus this year for ‘The Walrus Talks.’ Some of Canada’s greatest thinkers will speak on the art of the city. It should be an incredibly engaging and interesting dialogue. On the flip side, we have Lucha VaVOOM, an act out of Los Angeles which combines Mexican wrestling, burlesque striptease and comedy at the Big Four Building.

“In the same breath, we have an intellectual conversation, a South African dance troupe and Mexican wrestling,” says Hopkins.

The HPR not only incorporates theatre, dance, multimedia, music and sport, but also makes itself extremely obvious while doing so. Although their edginess makes HPR performances stand out at any venue, they are not limited to the stage.

“We try to animate every space possible. We’ve set up in all the theatres you’ve probably heard of, including Vertigo and the Martha Cohen. We’re also incorporating the +15 systems and the Calgary Tower. If you’re downtown, you’ll have to try very hard to ignore us.”

The HPR has a reputation for being a little left-of-centre. The festival tends to bring in shows that don’t typically take place in Calgary’s art scene. When asked how the festival influences our cultural landscape, Hopkins replies, “We ask every Calgarian to participate. Every theatre and artist we could think of has been asked to pitch in their most original material and stretch well outside of their comfort zones. This allows us to witness performances that we would normally never see.”

The festival doesn’t just rely on loads of cash to fly established acts to Calgary for performances– it full-heartedly encourages local talent to shine with the rest of them in the spotlight. This year, over 50 lucky locals will be listed on the same program as the experimental performer Laurie Anderson, the renowned One Yellow Rabbit theatre company and the awarded playwright John Murrell. You don’t have to join the Freemasons or sell a kidney to get on the roster, either. When asked about how local performers can get on board, Hopkins responds bluntly.

“Frankly, e-mail or call us . . . It always helps to send in a video of your project as well.”

He continues by mentioning more opportunities throughout the year. “The Year of the Dragon +15 Art Parade is composed of artists from every discipline and could provide a few openings. Keep your ear to the ground.”

To potential festivalgoers looking to plan their January entertainment schedule, Hopkins suggests John Murrell’s play Taking Shakespeare. “He’s a huge name in Canadian theatre and never disappoints– a sure thing for any theatre geek.”

Finally, Hopkins adds that “Lucha VaVOOM will be one of the single craziest things Calgary has ever seen.” I, for one, can’t wait to agree.

Leave a comment