Alone or onstage, great talents weave magic

July 5 1993


Alone or onstage, great talents weave magic

July 5 1993



Alone or onstage, great talents weave magic

For artists, the drive to communicate their visions and dreams can be almost overwhelming. And although achieving a breathtaking performance may be their ultimate goal, it is only a small part of any life truly devoted to creative accomplishment. Thrilling achievements result from years of practice and thought. Talent may be a gift, but it is one that bestows a lifetime of labor on those who receive it. “You never really stop,” says Shauna Rolston, a 26-year-old cellist from Banff, Alta., who has gained renown at home and abroad. “You have to keep in shape, much like an athlete. It is both a physical and a mental commitment.”

That hard work generates rewards that others may seldom sample—the joy of extracting new heights of emotion from a piece of music, for example, or the glory of applause. Performers speak glowingly of the moments when they are able to share their message with others. Rebecca Jenkins, a Toronto actress who also sings and dances, says that artists have “all kinds of personalities: reclusive, outgoing. But in some way, they all want to communicate an emotion or an idea.” That is what drives them on.



At 26, she has already spent 24 years mastering her instrument. But Shauna Rolston of Banff, Alta., says her parents never imposed ambitions on her. She now plays her cello for rapt audiences around the world, and wants to make a video to spread the magic of classical music to younger audiences. But it is the thrill of performing live that entrances her. “There is a freedom that I find exhilarating—when it all comes together and when the audience is participating and you feel that you are really reaching out to them,” she says. “That makes it worthwhile.”




Julie Masse appears upbeat about the world. The pretty, blond 23-year-old pop star from Longueuil, Que., projects enthusiasm in her music videos, and says she has no intention of turning gloomy and serious. No wonder: so far, she has sold more than 500,000 CDs. Masse says that she knows that the world has problems—she just doesn’t feel like singing about them. IT at optimistic approach carries over into her private life. In 1991, her father died in a small plane crash. Masse was back onstage two weeks later.



She infuriates purists with her left-field interpretations of jazz standards, but Holly Cole’s playful approach has won the Halifax-born singer an audience of people who seldom listen to jazz. Her trademark long gloves and torch singer’s gowns show a soft spot for nostalgia, but it is her modem touch on the classics that has garnered three top-selling albums. “When you’re all dressed up in long black gloves and an evening gown, you can say almost anything you want,” laughs Cole, 29. “I’m just trying to update some of the old songs and bring a little humor back to the music.”



Ellen Greaves dispels the image of a temperamental chef who throws kitchen knives. The new executive chef at Toronto’s Winston’s restaurant says that “a big part of being a chef is being a manager,” but creativity and precision are also important. Greaves honed her skills over six years in some of the finest restaurants in New York City and Los Angeles, before returning to Toronto last year to modernize Winston’s traditional menu. While the Saskatchewan-born Greaves, 30, considers cooking more of a craft than an art form, she relishes the moments when her audience appreciates her performance. “When I watch the plates come back from the dining-room empty,” says Greaves, “that’s when I’m happy.”



As an aspiring author at Toronto’s York University in 1977, Nino Ricci was told by visiting professor W. O. Mitchell that he was “too weak to make the grade.” But Ricci, now 33, persevered. In 1987, he earned a master’s degree in creative writing from Montreal’s Concordia University—and then turned his thesis into Lives of the Saints, a first novel that won the 1991 Governor General’s Award and has been published in five other languages. It is the story of a young boy’s life in rural Italy in the 1960s, ending with his arrival as an immigrant to Canada. His second book, called In a Glass House and set in a fictional village modelled on Ricci’s home town of Leamington, Ont., picks up the story and will be out this fall.



Quebec television is undergoing a big transition, says Marie Plourde, the 27-year-old TV host who is moving from the French-language music channel, MusiquePlus, to the Radio-Canada network this fall. “It’s quite stunning that they are giving young people such opportunities.” Indeed. Two other Quebec TV shows have hosts in their 20s. The antics of Julie Snyder, 25, on L’enfer c’est nous autres (Hell is us) have endeared her to some, irritated others. And Quatre Saisons sought an even younger host, 23-year-old Anthony Kavanagh. “We skipped from the older generation straight to hosts in their 20s,” says Kavanagh, whose parents immigrated from Haiti in 1967. Kavanagh is also one of the few blacks appearing on Quebec television. “I was very surprised that they offered me the show,” he says. “Usually, there is a lot of racism and those in charge say, ‘People aren’t ready for that.’ ”



From the lushness of Barbados, to the hockey rinks of suburban Montreal, to the stages of the world, John Alleyne’s life has been a remarkable odyssey. In his 12 years as a performer with the Stuttgart Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada, he distinguished himself as a lithe and eloquent dancer. But the restlessly creative Alleyne has choreographed his own works since he was 21. “I have this habit of constantly putting challenges in front of myself,” says Alleyne, now 33, who has been artistic director of Vancouver’s Ballet British Columbia for the past year. “I guess it’s the fear of standing still.”



At the Lyric Opera of Chicago, he performed the title role in William Bolcom’s 1992 production of McTeague. At the opera houses of Milan, tenor Ben Heppner has rivetted audiences. Raised in Dawson Creek, B.C., Heppner was performing with the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble in the early 1980s when opportunities dried up and financial pressures nearly forced him to abandon his work. His career finally took off in 1988, when he won the Metropolitan Opera auditions in New York City. He stuck with opera, said Heppner, now 37, because “ultimately, I realized my heart and soul were more vibrant when I sang.”



The opening strains of the Johann Strauss Jr. operetta Die Fledermaus were pleasingly familiar to a May audience of opera lovers at Montreal’s Place des Arts. The conductor, making his debut that night with the Opéra de Montréal, was a musical veteran who has been musical director of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and conducted the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. But Jacques Lacombe is just 29. “There is always a period where an orchestra sizes up a new conductor,” he says. “But I have never felt any unease about my age, because dictatorial approaches don’t work.

I try to forge a team spirit.”



Mixing print dresses with whimsical hats and clunky Doc Marten boots, Cassandra Vasik represents an attractive mix of rural and urban cultures. Bom in Blenheim, Ont., she began her career as a country singer, but experimented along the way with rock and then alternative music in an all-female band called Little Egypt. She is now recognized as Canada’s most promising country singer. But for all her modem touches, Vasik, 33, does not scorn the traditional. On her second album, Feels Like Home, she includes a tribute to Patsy Cline. “It brought out my original love of country music,” she says, “and helped me rediscover my musical roots.”



They have reached an enviable point in their evolution: musicians who are earning a living, gamering glowing reviews, and still getting along with one another. Ontarians Geoff Nuttall, 27, and Barry Shiffman, 26 (first and second violins), along with Albertans Marina Hoover, 28, and Lesley Robertson, 30 (cello and viola), have been lauded for their originality and creative edge. Shiffman says that performing in a quartet, rather than as soloists or as symphony musicians, offers the freedom to play some of the most beautiful works ever written. But it has also meant learning to function as a team—and they are keenly aware that other quartets have been tom apart by dissension. They are also sensitive to their Canadian roots. “We take Canadian music to * most concerts,” says Shiffman. “If we play in Ï Paris, we play a Canadian piece. We really feel | committed to promoting Canadian music.” ±



He doesn’t mind being called a prodigy—although he thinks he is a bit old for the term.

But 17-year-old violinist James Ehnes has the credentials, having won 13 major competitions and a place at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City. With the tone of someone recounting an embarrassing moment, Ehnes recalls pointing to a picture of a violin hanging on a wall of his parents’ Brandon, Man., home when he was just three years old. But he remained frustrated and without a violin until he was 5. He has since made up for lost time. “It is important not to be too critical when you are on the stage or else you’ll go crazy,” he says. “Perfection in music is not something that exists.”



He aims “to make people forget about the problems in their lives, and look instead at the magic in the sky.” In 1985, fresh out of theatre school in Ste-Thérèse, Que., Patrick Brault took a job as a laborer on a crew designing the first Benson & Hedges Inc. international fireworks festival. Captivated by the art of pyrotechnology, Brault founded his own company, Concept Fiatlux, in Montreal and has been lighting up skies from Spain to China ever since, most recently with a display at April’s U.S.-Russian summit in Vancouver. For Brault, 27, the personal high matches the thrills he brings audiences. “There is a little bit of kick,” he says, “in the danger of it all.”



Christopher Woods’s subjects are his friends and how they live in the 20th century. His current theme: fast food and its impact on life. “Fast food is a global phenomenon,” says Woods. “I don’t think people understand what an enormous part it plays in their daily lives.” The 23-year-old Chilliwack, B.C., resident was always known in school as the kid who could draw well, but now he finds his extremely realistic paintings acclaimed by Vancouver art critics. His paintings are eerily still, imbuing everyday scenes with a mystic quality. Success has sent him looking for a better studio, but his long-term ambition is to be a “mythmaker for modem consumerism.”



As a teenager, he played in an Ottawa punk band called The Bureaucrats. He made his first feature at 24, a $300,000 slasher film titled The Carpenter. Now, with the release of his first serious movie, I Love a Man in Uniform, Toronto-based David Wellington, 31, has emerged as an impressive talent. A dark psychodrama about an actor playing a cop, who starts wearing his uniform on the street, the movie was a hot ticket at the Cannes Film Festival. And Variety called it “a chilling saga of a sociopath that’s certain to work its way under your skin.” With the film, says Wellington, he has purged his angry-young-man phase, and now plans to make a love story.



er acting career is taking off but Rebecca Jenkins, 34, of Toronto has no intention of limiting her horizons. As a child, she favored singing and songwriting; in university, she was a dancer. And even now, after a supporting role in the American satiric movie Bob Roberts and starring in the Canadian film Bye Bye Blues, Jenkins remains passionate about music. She is recording an album of her own songs and has just helped to direct a video for singer Jane Siberry. Only confidence causes her to pause. “Sometimes it is really difficult to see your talent and appreciate it,” she says. “People—including myself—tend to think everyone is more talented than themselves.”