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Local artists prepare to showcase Prairie power

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Michelle Grégoire's jazz quintet, novelist Margaret Sweatman, the Winnipeg Chamber Music Society, bands the Waking Eyes and the Liptonians and choreographer Jolene Bailie have joined the lineup for Ottawa's Prairie Scene festival, it was announced Monday.

The contemporary-classical ensemble GroundSwell and musicians Royal Canoe, Greg MacPherson, Luke Doucet and Wab Kinew are also in the huge contingent headed for the 13-day celebration of Manitoba and Saskatchewan culture.

The eclectic event runs April 26 to May 8 at 35 venues in Ottawa-Gatineau. Organizers from the National Arts Centre unveiled the final lineup Monday and announced that tickets are on sale.

Prairie Scene will showcase 500 artists -- emerging, established and historical -- in 80 events encompassing music, theatre, dance, visual and media arts, literature, film and culinary arts.

"You won't be able to go anywhere in Ottawa without running into a Prairie artist," festival producer Heather Moore said from Ottawa. "There's a real buzz going on here."

Moore said she is especially impressed by the depth and liveliness of the Manitoba music scene. "I guess the artists you had back in the '70s ... and the strength of the folk festival have really helped grow an amazing group of artists," she said.

Newly announced Manitoba art exhibitions in Prairie Scene include one celebrating 20th-century painters Charles Comfort, L.L. FitzGerald and Walter J. Phillips; one mounted by the Platform gallery on the theme of "the psycho-geography of Winnipeg's past, present and future" with works by Daniel Barrow, Shawna Dempsey, Lorri Millan and others; a show called A Prairie Snapshot featuring Marcel Dzama, Neil Farber, Joseph Reyes and Diana Thorneycroft; and an exhibition by Ojibway artist Jackie Traverse from the Urban Shaman gallery.

Works by about 25 Manitoba filmmakers, such as Mike Maryniuk, Matthew Rankin and Jaimz Asmundson, will be screened.

In dance, Bailie's troupe Gearshifting Performance Works will perform Hybrid Human. Local flamenco dancer Claire Marchand has pulled out of the festival for personal reasons.

The only Manitoba participant in the "small but fun" culinary part of the festival is Alexander Svenne, chef at Bistro 7º, who will face off in a friendly competition with a Saskatoon chef.

It's the Prairie region's turn to have a festival put on by the NAC, following Atlantic Scene in 2003, Alberta Scene in 2005, Quebec Scene in 2007 and B.C. Scene in 2009.

B.C. Scene attracted more than 50,000 people to ticketed and free events, Moore said.

One goal of the festival is to boost artists' careers by having them seen by presenters. More than 60 national and international presenters will attend to scout for potential bookings, Moore said, including a Beijing music festival, a Paris gallery, a New York performance-art festival and a British festival of Canadian art to be held in 2014.

Canadian presenters include the Toronto music venue Hugh's Room and stage companies such as Alberta Theatre Projects.

Sixty per cent of Prairie Scene's $2.8-million budget comes from private fundraising, donors and ticket sales, and the rest from the federal, Manitoba and Saskatchewan governments.

High-profile artists announced previously include filmmaker Guy Maddin presenting Tales From the Gimli Hospital with a new live score; the Royal Winnipeg Ballet with Wonderland; Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers; the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra with violinist James Ehnes; the art exhibitions Wanda Koop... On the Edge of Experience and Winter Kept us Warm; the plays Talk (performed by just-announced Arne MacPherson and Graham Ashmore) and Russell's World; classic rockers Bachman & Turner; comic Dean Jenkinson; and musicians such as Daniel ROA, Del Barber, Camerata Nova, Chic Gamine, the Duhks, Romi Mayes, JP Hoe and the Wailin' Jennys.

Four Manitoba individuals or groups turned down invitations to Prairie Scene to protest sponsorship by the pipeline company Enbridge. Environmentalists have accused Enbridge of irresponsible corporate behaviour, particularly concerning an oil spill in Michigan. Winnipeg band Propagandhi is the only act of the four that Moore would name.

"I don't think it's had an effect on the festival at all," Moore said about the protest, which included a letter signed by 40 Manitoba artists, asking NAC to reconsider partnering with Enbridge.

"We fully understand that certain artists have their views and chose not to accept our invitation, but we've got 500 artists coming....

"There's a lot of corporate and government support that goes into this, and we need that to make the festival happen."

Artists who signed the protest letter but are participating in the festival include MacPherson, Dempsey, Millan and curator/filmmaker Noam Gonick.

The full lineup is at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 1, 2011 C3

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