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Standing ovation: the performing arts do more than survive - they thrive in Winnipeg.

THE COMING YEAR WILL HERALD THE ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION OF THE FIVE principal companies that form the crown of Manitoba's cultural industry. At centre stage is the Royal Winnipeg Ballet celebrating its 54th anniversary, bracketed by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra in its 45th year and the Manitoba Theatre Centre with its 35th anniversary. Next is the Manitoba Opera Association saluting 21 years and the Prairie Theatre Exchange at 20 years.

Amid the excitement and jubilation is a quest to better understand why and how Manitoba's performing arts groups have achieved their longevity and fiscal stability in defiance of national trends. Another puzzling factor is the success of a plethora of smaller and younger companies, all vying for the same audience.

The success of Manitoba's performing arts groups is no accident. Nor is it easily explained. Theories abound, ranging from our geographical isolation to our ethnic cultural traditions -- even our history as a distribution centre.

Dr. Reg Skene, Chairman of the Theatre and Drama Department at the University of Winnipeg, is working on a book about the history of theatre in Manitoba. While he does not discount the above explanations as contributing factors, he has his own theory: "The business of theatre and the theatre of business is very much a part of the story."

It all started with the arrival of C.P. Walker in 1897. Part businessman and part showman, he brought the finest of British and American repertory companies, vaudeville shows and musical productions to perform in Winnipeg.

For three decades, Walker reigned as both cultural hero and wheeler-dealer par excellence. People were as much intrigued by the style in which he conducted his business as they were with the big names he brought to town. "He established the framework for our tradition in the performing arts," says Skene, "and it continues to this day."

John Hirsch, Arnold Spohr and Colin Jackson -- just to name a few -- carried on the tradition in their turn, he says. Each promoted their respective cultural entities while capturing the imagination of their audiences with their own personae. "It isn't enough to put on a good show in Winnipeg, one must be theatre," says Skene.

Meanwhile, the people behind the scenes also play their part in the success of the performing arts in Manitoba. They include administrators, technical and production crews, marketing and promotional staff, volunteers and the boards of directors.

Not to be forgotten are the anonymous donors. "They, too, provide a sense of theatre," says Skene. "The most famous anonymous donor in Winnipeg is not anonymous at all, but we allow her to play her part and we share in the act with her," he says.

It may also be too much to ask for a definitive answer to the questions why and how Manitoba's performing arts groups achieve their success. Perhaps we don't even want to know. After all, everyone loves a mystery, so why spoil it?

A Season of Celebration

Manitoba Theatre Centre

Celebrating a 35-year tradition, the 1992/93 season will see a return of stage, screen and TV star Len Cariou to his hometown and the theatre where he made his acting debut. He will star in the Canadian premiere of Ronald Harwood's "Another Time" -- a hopeful, bittersweet story that promises to fire the intellect and warm the heart of Winnipeg theatre-goers.

MTC is also presenting the world premiere of Maureen Hunter's "Transit of Venus" -- directed by Larry Derochers who brought Winnipeggers last season's smash hit "M. Butterfly."

Rounding out the season are Shakespeare's classic, "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Joseph Kesselring's "Arsenic and Old Lace," and John Murrell's "Democracy." Neil Simon's latest hit "Lost in Yonkers" -- which won four Tony awards including Best Play on Broadway and the Pulitzer Prize for drama -- will close the season and ring out MTC's 35th year with a peal of laughter.

Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra

The 1992/93 season, which comprises a total of 74 concert performances, will bring the very best in both symphonic music -- Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert to Sibelius, Prokofiev and Adams -- and guest appearances. The WSO will be joined by such outstanding artists as Jon Kimura Parker, Tracy Dahl, George Cleve, Henriette Schellenberg, Cho-Liang Lin, and guest conductors Glen Fast, Susan Haig, Erich Kunzel and Richard Hayman. This year's season will see a return of the "New Music Festival" following its stupendous success of last season. "The whole country was a-buzz with what we achieved and this year's version will be even better," says Bramwell Tovey, conductor of the WSO.

Royal Winnipeg Ballet

The 1992/93 season offers endless cause for celebration for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. It marks, not only the 54th anniversary of the company, but RWB's prima ballerina Evelyn Hart's 15th anniversary and the 100th anniversary of "The Nutcracker." The RWB will perform this grand classic with a fresh and inventive approach as its holiday season offering. Included in this year's programme are three ballet premieres -- two world premieres by the RWB's resident choreographer Mark Godden and a Canadian premiere of a pas de deux created by the famed Jerome Robbins. The RWB will also perform two of the most popular ballets in its repertoire -- Agnes de Mille's "Rodeo" and Rudi van Dantizig's "Romeo and Juliet." This year's guest company is Les Grand Ballet Canadiens performing "Coppella."

Prairie Theatre Exchange

1992/93 marks the 20th season for Prairie Theatre Exchange and the first season Artistic Director Michael Springate has selected the playbill. Headlining the Mainstage season is a dramatic adaptation of Manitoba's own Margaret Laurence's "The Stone Angel" and the world premiere of Carol Shields' "Thirteen Hands."

"We are also introducing a Second Stage season called Theatre with Bitel, where theatre artists from Winnipeg and elsewhere will present their own work," says Springate. Four new plays are planned for this experimental theatre which promises to open a new chapter in cutting edge theatre in Winnipeg.

Manitoba Opera

Highlighting the Manitoba Opera's 21st season is the Manitoba premiere of Poulenc's "Dialogue of the Carmelites." A relatively new opera -- it was composed in the 1950s -- it will be performed in French and will feature an outstanding Canadian cast starring Judith Forst, David Watson and Joanne Kolonyjec, with the WSO's Bramwell Tovey conducting. "The audience will never forget the power of the shocking climax," promises MOA executive director Joann Alexander Smith.

The MOA will also perform two of its most popular operas: Puccini's "Madame Butterfly" and Verdi's "Nabucco." The latter will be the semi-stage version in which only the principals will be costumed so that the MOA can hire an enhanced choir to perform the world-renowned "Va, Pensiero," explains Smith.
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Author:Mouflier, Sylvia
Publication:Manitoba Business
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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