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Intriguing program shows us anything can happen

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Anyone who has lain awake at night counting endless sheep would have understood Camerata Nova's latest concert, Falls the Shadow.

Saturday night's eclectic program explored the cracks between hazy dream states and the waking world -- where "magical states of consciousness are open to the unconsciousness" and anything can happen. The intriguing show was conceived by CN's artistic director/conductor/composer Andrew Balfour, who led the 13-voice choral ensemble during the 90-minute concert, including three world premieres of his own compositions.

Inspired by T.S. Eliot's haunting poem, The Hollow Men, the multimedia production also featured choreography by Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers artistic director Brent Lott, performed by WCD company dancers: Kristin Haight, Lise McMillan, Johanna Riley and Sarah Roche (with understudies Christie Martens and Alison Pethrick), as well as Dean Cowieson's shadowy lighting design. Guest percussionists: Derek Elaschuk, Phoebe Man, Mark Paxton-MacRae and Michel Loiselle on hurdy-gurdy added a strong ritualistic flavour.

The two weekend shows were performed in the grand rotunda of The Aboriginal Centre, with its glorious acoustics ideally suited for the (mostly) a cappella program.

Balfour's Between the Conception sets a verse of T.S. Eliot's text with syncopated hockets and vocalizations, creating an unusual, lighter treatment for the bleak poetry. His ambitious Gregorio's Nightmare displayed his flair for drama, with brave soprano soloist Karine Beaudette literally falling backwards from her perch into the waiting arms of the six dancers.

The venue's sight lines proved to be a challenge, with the dancers often seeming to disappear on their low stage. More integration between the artists -- such as during Gustav Holst's gorgeous I Love My Love where Roche wove amongst the singers like a ghostly figure -- would also have created a more satisfying experience, as would have a better, stereophonic use of the richly resonant space.

We did have a taste of this with Saint-Saëns' Calme des nuits with the choir divided into halves, as well as during O Virgo splendens, where the choristers sang from the aisles, enveloping the crowd of 325 in sonic pleasure.

The evening's most dramatic moment came during Balfour's third work of the program Raven Can Tango. Near the end of the hypnotic work, Paxton-MacRae and Man suddenly broke free of the band to swing oversized black flags overhead, creating the soul-stirring sound of flapping wings that became a leitmotif for the entire concert.

Despite a few inevitable bumps that come with any creative risk-taking venture, Balfour continues to prove that he is an important voice -- and restless dreamer -- in Winnipeg's rich artistic community, tirelessly seeking new ways to express wholly authentic music.

That is magic in itself.

Concert Review

Falls the Shadow

Camerata Nova

March 14-15

Attendance: 325

3 1/2 out of five

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 16, 2009 B7

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