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Feb '10

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Big puppets reveal a little girl’s bravery

Big puppets reveal a little girl’s bravery

Photo: Jean Albert

March 2009

The puppets are coming! The inspiring prize winning play Maïta, last performed in French at the World Congress and Festival of the Arts four years ago, is being presented in English by Geordie Productions.

“After watching the French presentation, I called Théâtre de la Vieille 17 and the Théâtre de Sable (the play’s a collaborative production) to try to work out a way to present it in English here,” said Dean Patrick Fleming, Geordie’s artistic director.

Written by Esther Beauchemin and translated by Henry Gauthier, Maïta has made a trilingual tour in several US and Canadian cities as well as in Mexico. The theme is moving and can inspire the entire family to talk about children relegated to a life of labour.

“I believe this is an important show for children and adults to see,” said Fleming referring to the play’s plot. Maïta, the 8-year-old daughter of a Southeast Asian puppet maker, is sent by her father to work in a factory in order to pay off family debts. His parting gift is Issane, a precious puppet whose prettiness sparkles in the 1461 pearls that Maïta’s mother has stitched into the enchanting puppet companion. The pearls represent the number of days Maïta will have to work until she is reunited with her father. Every night, she delights all the other children working in the factory by revealing the enchanting tale of Issane – the Princess of Light. The story is also made powerful by the beauty of the tall puppets that bring the stage to life.

Given that the play will open on Geordie’s Mainstage only a few days after International Women’s Day, the timing has impact. “As the piece unfolds, Maïta comes to represent a kind of feminine leader who tells a tale about hope and freedom,” said Robert Bellefeuille, Théâtre de la Vieille’s artistic director.

Everyone loves a puppet show, and ultimately, this is what Geordie superbly delivers in premiering Maïta. The stage is transformed into a world of spectacle where coloured lights shine on traditional Indonesian shadow puppets – sure to mesmerize and entertain children age 7 and up.

Maïta opens Friday, March 13 at 7pm and runs until March 22 with a series of matinées. Performances are at D.B. Clarke Theatre, Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve W. Tickets range from $13.50 to $16. Info: 514-845-9810.

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Meeting Zeus and a Cretan goddess

My brother Jon and I are very different. He’s quietly curious and knowledgeable. I’m overly-excitable and annoying. But we have one thing in common: the quest for adventure.

He needed little coaxing when I asked him to come to Crete with me. With thumbs-up and a subtle smile, he signaled he was game for the ride – lucky for me, given the dangerous roads we had to drive.

Barely having time to bid my dogs good-bye, Greece swept us up as swiftly as Apollo’s chariot traversing the heavens. Sky-high and safe, we snoozed in Air Transat’s wide seats offering great leg room. Jon and I are no spring chickens, so we both appreciated the comfy nighttime flight that rejuvenated my usual jet lag.

I stayed on in Athens while intrepid Jon headed for Chania, Crete where I would join him three days later. We would drive along Crete’s southwestern shore, swim in its lovely Libyan sea and hike like Hercules.

Checking into a darling hotel named Plaka, I was surprised by it’s cozy affordable charm and quiet beauty. Its location put me in the middle of Midas gold: shopping, dining and ancient sites. I had the best of both worlds: a lively Plaka neighboruhood outside; tranquil Plaka Hotel inside. My room offered a breathtaking view of the Acropolis, but it got even better atop Plaka’s roof garden. An awesome 360-degree view of Athens revealed itself. Two hotel feasts: the view and breakfast!

It was time to meet Jon. We were both set on doing some spectacular hiking in Crete’s incredible gorges. Our favourite hike was Imbros Gorge, Four hours to the finish line with a beach to reward you. No matter the gorge, a treasure of floral magnificence unfolded. Orchids poked out of crevices dug deep into the earth. Oleanders, lilies and poppies appeared among intimidating boulders. Our feet were treading over billions of years of time!

No trip to Crete would be complete without serious caving, so Jon and I set out to find the Ida cave – birthplace of Zeus. After driving hours to reach the foot of Mount Psilaritis’s 2,456 metres, we stumbled upon the legendary cave.

What a disappointment! We were staring into a black cavern with no opening to explore. I went red with rage. Never one to interfere, Jon let me have a go at the god. Carefully stepping down the stairs leading into Zeus’s rock hovel, I cursed the God in broken Greek. We had traveled over 1000 kilometers (I allowed myself poetic exaggeration) and all he could give us was a dank cave, an old Cretan goat and some crows flying overhead. Albeit, their cawing supplied some eeriness, but we deserved better! Even the off-tune lute music we had heard the night before in a hotel high up in Monasteraki village and the priest we had met in Meronas who requested I stay thirteen days to convert me into a good Greek Orthodox girl was more interesting than this. Crete has over 2000 caves. Why did this one have to be a dud?

The next day I realized Zeus had been present, for he gave us an unforgettable gift. It happened while we were trying to traverse the waters along Kourtaliotiko Gorge. Suddenly, a beautiful nymph-like lady appeared. “I’m Sylvie: follow me,” she said, waving. This goddess guide led us out of the gorge. We were ascending into unknown territory. “Welcome to my home,” she smiled. It was a cave covered in flowers with running water, even fire. Stretched out over one of her cave cushions, Sylvie cooked us our first cave meal: keftedes (meatballs), tzatziki with herbs picked outside her cave and yogurt with honey from the gods. Lulled by Sylvie’s magical manner, we nicknamed her Calypso – Odysseus’s kidnapper.

Our hiking was put on hold. My “Ode to a Cretan Urge” was being fulfilled right here. As stars twinkled and Sylvie smiled, the black hush of midnight descended. We were a trio in a land resonating with minotaur myths, impenetrable mysteries and surprises that confound the imagination.

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Innovative artist goes for the funky

Une, Deux, Trois Tasses

"I'm on a high right now. Many good things are happening in my life," says Cote St-Luc artist Carol Rabinovitch.

"My son just got married and so did my daughter, within two months of one another. My husband and I are ecstatic but I'm also excited about the art show" – an exhibition at Cafe Volver featuring acrylic and one-of-a-kind ballerina prints, displayed beside the work of established artists Myrna Brooks Berkovitch and Joyce Slapcoff Stuart. "The response was fabulous."

"Myrna's mixed media art is magnificent. She's my mentor and she inspires me as my teacher. Joyce's oil landscapes and ballerina prints are appealing. I felt honoured to be in the same show," says Carol, who is coming into her own in a big way. She has exhibited at six Montreal galleries, and her whimsical works have been in solo shows at Gryphon d'Or and Dix Mille Villages.

Her work has also been featured at Mountain Lake Arts Auction on PBS, The Art for Healing Foundation at Maimonides, and Mesquite Restaurant. At one exhibit, she showcased her collages of recycled objects featuring bottle caps, CD fragments and badges. Called Blue Hawaii, it was a hit.

Her fun personality pops out in each one of her paintings, from wardrobe, watches and wedding scenes to shoes, dancers and musical instruments. "My passion flows in bright colours. I take the traditional and make it whimsical and illogical. I'm often told that my paintings are unique and highly imaginative."

Jazz Queen

Carol has the uncanny knack of creating a new version of something ordinary that she sees. In her piece Jazz Queen, a shirt sporting the word Ôjazz' and a male musician's face have been morphed into a Picasso-like female playing a saxophone. It's full of her signature swirls and dots. Vibrant, almost kaleidoscopic, it seems to move before your eyes. You can almost hear the music.

"My overactive mind turns the mundane, such as a teacup, into an amu­sing version. On this tea theme, I created an Alice in Wonderland series of paintings." There is joy and humour as teapots dance about in a colourful background speckled with spirals, stripes and dots. Talent pours out of her, just like the tea in her teapots. Called Party of Teapots, this series' themes are painted on tiny 7-inch-square canvases, currently on display at TMR's Gallery Archipelago.

"I never set out to change the image – it just happens, but I see that each piece shares a commonality: vibrant colours, simple lines and seemingly unrelated objects are prevalent. They seem to go together. I'm just happy that people respond to my art with a giggle and smile. They must have something going for them."

Hot Hot Hot

Admittedly, Carol says, she may be a tad crazy. Even her son nicknames her Crazy C. "Sometimes, I have to remind myself that less is more. I just want to keep adding more decorative motifs." But she certainly has found her crazy calling. It's at the end of a paintbrush. To date, Carol has sold several of her paintings abroad and locally.

She also generously donates her art to charity fundraisers. Her website is at earthartgallery.com.

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Jet-set golfer takes a swing at painting

Side by Side (photo: Peter Smith)

Peter Smith can’t recall which came first – swinging a golf club or dabbing the paintbrush. But one thing is certain: the precision of his putt is at par with his painting.

Both have played an integral part in his life for the past 35 years. His pursuits of the perfect landscape to paint and the perfect golf course to play on have led him to the four corners of the world. Combining both while traveling, he claims that the game of golf is not that far removed from the art of painting.

“I’m always looking for perfection whether it’s in the stroke on the golf course or the stroke of a paintbrush on canvas. Inevitably, I rarely find that perfection, yet I know it’s there. In both, I have to envisage and imagine what I’m striving for,” he says, having golfed and painted landscapes in 37 countries. He has produced hundreds of paintings now hanging in galleries and private collections all over the world, but you need not travel far to enjoy the picturesque views he has captured – his paintings can be seen in various store windows on Monkland and of course in his studio, where private collectors gather.

Although he is an award-winning golfer and writer – having published 15 books on golf and 14 on travel, plus countless articles – Smith is far more intent on talking about the challenges of painting.

Peter Smith

“A painting is not like a photograph, which represents what the eye sees. A painting is what the heart sees. I try to capture that sense of enjoyment rather than a mere photographic image.”

He succeeds exquisitely. His paintings have a striking quality of tranquility and timelessness. His vast azure skies are as interesting as the demure trees that give way to the powerful horizon above them. Nothing goes unnoticed by Smith – just as his eagle eye helps nail a nine-iron, so too does it hone in on the minutest of details destined for his landscapes. Look at his leaning boats in the painting Side by Side. It all seems effortless, yet every shadow, texture and colour is filled with detail. No matter the scene, each has an inherently neat, almost manicured look. The effect is calming.

“For me, painting is a very peaceful activity that at the same time demands concentration, just like golf. Interestingly, both involve strategies. With golf, I have an end in mind and to get the score I want, I need to use different tools and a plan according to the terrain and weather conditions. Similarly for a painting, I know how I would like it to look. The art is in achieving that end, through technique and feeling without compromising spontaneity.”

Peter Smith is online at peterdsmith.net.

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Miniature art is anecdotal and personal

Cactus Road

Roxanna Kibsey's studio is a shocker. And so is she. Aside from the usual clutter of paint brushes, palettes, tubes of acrylic, colour spatters and canvasses, her studio is brimming with all kinds of objects: hundreds of beads, thimbles, glue tubes squeezed to the end, tiny porcelain objects, miniature figurines, pieces of fabric and inch-high furniture.

Just when your eye has processed all the items, the scene takes on a sharper perspective: Kibsey appears wielding a knife, dripping in red.

"Oh, don't worry, it's just paint," she laughs. "Red is my favourite colour. It's bold, it makes a statement. I'm finishing off the background in one of my tree paintings. It's for a person who lives up north." Cleaning the knife with a cloth, she then picks up a pair of tweezers. Moving them in the air beyond her stunning paintings of tree trunks, roosters, flowers and houses, she points them directly at their unconventional target — a real doll house. It's a wondrous work of art that any Thumbelina would be proud to live in.

"Do you like it?" Kibsey asks. "A bit too small for me, but I wouldn't mind owning this replica of a Chippendale chair on a life-size scale," she jokes. "It's taken me even longer to put the finishing touches on this decorated doll cabinet. It has miniature dishes, even a perogie bowl. It's just like the one my mom had when I was a little girl."

Not only renowned for her magnificent birch bark paintings that she renders on canvas using knives, Kibsey also produces pictorial doll-size miniatures. "My paintings reflect the larger side of my imagination, but half of my brain lives in a tiny world full of childhood memories. I make miniature memory pieces using miniscule objects." One of her thematic montages consists of a recycled wooden soap holder housing a five-inch tall fisherman dressed in appropriate attire. He has a rod and frog on his lap, netting behind him and shells around him. There's even a boat in a bottle at the back. This piece is for her brother who loves fishing.

The objects she finds come from all corners of the world. "In Australia, I found that bottle, fairies, Aboriginal beads and buttons, even a violin broach. I rarely go anywhere without scouting around for the small stuff."

Roxanna's miniature art is anecdotal and personal. Each little item displayed on pint-size furniture tells a specific story in itty bitty ways. She recently created a piece for her mother's 80th birthday. It includes a half-inch square 1957 photo of her mother and herself, a perfume bottle, a little button, a string of old pearls, and vintage beads. Assembled on a little dresser whose drawers are open with personal effects spilling out, it is a darling treasure of cherished memories expressed in art form.

"I make these miniature memory art pieces using tweezers and glue. The objects I find are mainly recycled and they allude to the life of the person. My fisherman piece is for my brother. He likes to fish. My niece is a painter, so I created a piece that holds a canvas on a miniature easel which stands beside a cut-out photo of her. The entire work can sit in the palm of your hand."

Roxanna owns, eggs, mixing bowls, bottles of milk, rolling pins, even roosters — all as tiny as your fingernail. "My little world is something I can escape to. As for the big houses and trees I paint, they reflect the big side of reality, and sometimes, it's overwhelming."

Roxanna Kibsey is searching for artists who use found objects. Her website is at kibseystudios.com.

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Multitalented artist leaves her print everywhere

Myrna Brooks Bercovitch

Myrna Brooks Bercovitch is an NDG artist who excels in experimentation. She crosses over all forms of expressing visual images. She is a printmaker, painter, watercolourist, and pastelist. Her collage and mixed media pieces are presently on show in Agora Gallery in Soho, New York City.

“I’m thrilled that New York is going to display my work for a year. It wasn’t my first choice,” she says, “but I couldn’t get a gallery here to show my collages — I was trying for three years. Curators told me my work was ‘too New York,’ whatever that means, but I took their advice, and went (via email) south of the border.” Her mixed media work on trees was recently shown at Montreal’s Café Volver, and her art has also been shown at the Georges Laoum Gallery (formerly the Montreal Museum of Fine Art store).

Myrna was a long time associate at Gallery Shore on Monkland and at the Saidye Bronfman Centre where she headed the children’s and teens’ art department. She is presently teaching collage at Henri Bradet Centre in NDG, but her soft spot for The Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors still remains strong.

Kimono and Blue Rose (watercolour, ink)

“I ran the art program there for three years. I loved doing it because the people there learned so much. It was a great way to connect to so many who have always wanted to express themselves through art. As an animator there, my idea was to introduce them to various art forms, develop their curiosity and stimulate imagination. They explored sculpture, jewelry-making, stained glass, and painting.”

She did this with ease, for she’s an eclectic artist. Her pastels of flowers are as inspiring as her watercolours that lyrically portray women draped in kimonos. Her beautiful faces reflect the pensive thoughts of women who seem to rise out of antiquity. Pompeii and Athens come to mind.

Myrna has also taken her printmaking talents to others with her fossil graphs. “I select the plants. I do it with kids and adults. We use my own garden to get the plants and flowers. I grow the ones that leave dyes — begonias, delphiniums, irises — and I also incude the weeds. It’s so much fun.”

Striped Kimono, Striped Landscape (watercolour)

Indeed, this grandmother of five keeps branching out. She’s presently taking classical ballet dance lessons at Studio Biz four times a week — she’s been dancing since 1972. Nothing holds this spirited artist down. She’s even created stage and set designs for choreographers. Now she’s ‘dancing’ her way to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts with her pastel workshops. Still finding time to create mixed media illustrations for Shoshanna Bret Anisman’s children’s book, titled ‘My Grandma Doesn’t Wear a Helmet’, Myrna has just written her own book on the creative process. It’s surprising she finds alone time to paint for herself, but she’s had a lifetime of experience doing that. “From the time I was small, I used to communicate my dreams by escaping from reality through collage and drawing. I found solitude in this. My family was traveling a rocky road which affected me. Fortunately my creative spirit took over. I was lucky.”

Humble by nature, this renaissance woman has embarked on many different paths. After nursing for three years and raising three kids, she spent seven years at the Saidye Bronfman studying the very art forms she now teaches. In 1980, she started formal art education studies, graduating from Concordia University at the age of 42. Nothing stops her desire to learn, through good and bad times. They say what goes around comes around, and this woman rightfully deserves the rewards she’s now reaping. She’s won five international prizes for her drawings and prints, and to date, has been the featured artist in 18 solo shows.

“I am blessed because I get to do what I love create my own way and share it with others.”

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A balance of flavours perfected at Anancy

When Anancy's George Grant found Jamaican chef Dave Holness out of 150 applicants to cook up authentic Jamaican dishes for his 3-month-old dream restaurant, he was ecstatic. Holness trained at Jamaica’s HEART Institute, was the executive chef for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and garnered cuisine kudos in Grand Cayman. Now Montreal diners can enjoy his palette-pleasing creations at Anancy Restaurant. Holness has refined Jamaican dishes, creating a balance between herbal input and taste bud appeal for the public up here. My dining companion Dale Newton and I were surprised by the recurring ‘lightness’ in our choices — each devoid of grease and pungent spices.

We started with the chicken soup. Pumpkin seasoning with thyme added flavour accent to the fabulous string bean-shaped dumplings, potatoes, carrots and chocho (similar to small shallots). This soup was my thumbs-up favourite. Dale went crazy over Anancy’s conch fritters. She last sampled such treats in the Bahamas. Rumour ranks these fish cakes as aphrodisiacs, but we didn’t attribute our love of main meal selections to these awesome appetizers. Still, my amorous sentiments were heightened when I bit into the jerk chicken. Wow! It was so tender — utterly pleasing with its Holness balance of seven herbs. I tasted ginger, garlic and pepper, and spied pimento and bits of red and green pepper, but the rest remained a mouth-watering mystery. Dale chose ackee, a yellow veggie resembling a cooked egg yolk in taste and texture. It was exotic. Salty cured cod pieces added great flavour.

I snuck one of the dumplings that go with ackee’s tasty salad mixture. They were sensational — like a donut without the hole or the sweetness. In fact, I quickly became an Anancy dumpling addict, stuffing myself with ‘festivals’ as they are called — three are on the menu as extras. I allowed Dale the last one. She found festivals exciting. I replaced dessert with Blue Mountain coffee. Dale sipped chocolate chai tea — a perfect finale for our Jamaican feast. All we needed now was a beach to stretch out on. There was, however, a waterfall cascading down the glass at the entrance. Art-filled terra cotta walls enhance the warmth. Incredibly affordable, Anancy is a treat on all accounts!

Anancy is located at 6587 Somerled. Info: 514-486-2629

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