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Triple threat tete-a-tete

Winnipeg is renowned as an arts and culture mecca, and a good portion of that reputation is attributable to well established and prolific music, dance and theatre companies. Where Winnipeg sat down with the tours de force behind the big three to learn what drives them to create and entertain. 

By Erin Bend

In a competitive modern entertainment market with an instant gratification YouTube mentality arts pillars Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Manitoba Theatre Centre and Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet offer a modern nostalgic escape rooted in tradition. Settle in as the house lights dim and surrender your consciousness to the relentless imaginations of these three men.

Leading the WSO with passion

When selecting music for a WSO season, Alexander Mickelthwate considers classic factors such as country of origin (a healthy mix of American and Germanic is optimal) and a good blend of soloist performances for various instruments.

WSO Music Director Alexander Mickelthwate

During his tenure, the spirited leader has continued to honour the classics while simultaneously broadening the orchestra’s contemporary choices far past stagnant offerings of swing and Sinatra. Fresh collaborations with local bands such as The Lytics and The Waking Eyes, contemporary works enhanced by visuals,  and an Indigenous Music Festival have been titillating die hard orchestra fans and seducing new patrons.

A relative newcomer, Mickelthwate has fallen in love with Winnipeg and raves about its sophisticated arts audience. He hypothesizes its healthy arts appetite is an outcome of epic winters and Continental European ancestry.

His impassioned outlook has yielded outside acknowledgment—the WSO has been invited to play New York City’s renowned Carnegie Hall in two years.

Mickelthwate’s successes flow from the connection he’s able to create with audiences, “I think that music is pure emotion, if you really get into it. If you listen to a radio song it is really short, but if you go into a Tchaikovsky symphony, the music flows right to your emotional centre.”

Making theatre thrive on the prairies

“Planning seasons is really the only thing I do that I don’t delegate. I’ll consult, and I am forever doodling seasons,” Steven Schipper humbly admits. The MTC Artistic Director aims to challenge artists and enthrall audiences each year, within budget of course. Fully aware that not all folks equally savour Shakespeare, Schipper’s goal is to offer everyone’s favourite type of play at least once per season.

MTC Artistic Director Steven Schipper

He’s called upon to imagine the world’s zeitgeist two years in advance. The perfectionist recalls triumphing at this task only once, when a joyful playbill themed to buoy spirits coincided with an economic downturn.

Schipper shoulders the responsibility of being all things theatrical to the people of Manitoba, assessing this small market as a challenge he’s proud to rise to.

“It’s thanks to our forefathers and mothers who created institutions like MTC, RWB and WSO, and said ‘we are not going to be a stop on the road, we are going to create our own indigenous arts institutions’, and now generations later we are all thriving.”

One can see a direct link back to people who began these, the community that gave it life.

Assembling ballet’s parts

André Lewis take his creative cues from his surroundings: “I’ve always felt that Winnipeg has a romantic outlook on life.” He cites our open skies, great prairie lakes and medley of classic and modern architecture as elements that influence audience psyche. Also a level of tradition that remains from city founders’ European roots.

He designs the RWB’s seasons to achieve a cohesive balance among expressions of classic, contemporary, and broad-based appealing works, such as Dracula and Moulin Rouge. Accessible, big name ballets attract the broader audiences, which the RWB desires to transform into dance devotees.

Lewis fuels his artistic fire with the energy of other creatives—observing dancers and choreographers. “I’m not a creator myself,” he explains, “I don’t make ballets, but I sure know how to assemble people to do that. I’ve done it for 18 years.”

RWB Artistic Director Andre Lewis

The longevity of his passion mirrors the timeless form of ballet dance. Parameters define ballet as a style, and dancers try to improve within them, while other forms of dance like hip hop and modern are more idiosyncratic. This is why Lewis knows ballet is immortal, “Ballet is the lingua franca of dance in a way because each generation has been able to add to it.”

Winnipeg has been redefining music, theatre and art for generations and with the likes of these three artistic powerhouses driving the community we will be revelling in the magic of the arts for generations to come.