By JESSE POPESKIi, Chai Co-Artistic Director I grew up on the prairies, so the first time that I saw mountains I was in awe. I remember the dense mist that surrounded them, how odd it seemed that there were homes at the foot of them and even onto the slopes and thinking that they looked just as they were described in the heroic fantasy books I loved at that age.
Another memory: when I was in elementary school, a family immigrated from Argentina to Canada, and so I had a new classmate. Despite being envious that he was much better at soccer than I was, we became friends. My memory is of the first snowfall of the season, and my new friend’s first time ever seeing snow – and like the soccer player he was, him shifting and dodging to avoid the falling flakes, before stopping to catch them on his tongue and shivering. What to me was an ordinary, annual sign of the coming cold of winter was to him that same moment of awe, surprise and delight that I felt seeing the mountains.
As varied as the landscapes of our planet are its people. In the arts, we may sing in different languages, play different instruments, and dance different steps, but the differences are only on the surface; beneath is a shared passion and necessity to express our experience through art.
The Sarah Sommer Chai Folk Ensemble’s upcoming June concert, The Mountains Will Dance, will feature four guest groups, representing a variety of cultures and highlighting the diversity of our city. As co-artistic director with Sarah Sommer, we’ve been in dialogue with the artistic directors of these groups to plan a concert that expresses the exuberance of the concert’s title, the meeting of nature and culture. Yuko Nozoe, director of Hinode Taiko, describes the link to nature of their piece Akatsuki as “the phase of sunrise immediately before first light. It signals a new day, a fresh start, and hope.” Poorany William, the teacher and coordinator of the Tamil Dance Group, sets the scene of the classical Tamil song Panthaattam in a meadow. “It’s a fascinating ball game, where the balls are woven together using flowers from the meadow. The dancers engage in a game of throwing, catching and chasing, enjoying every movement.”
The Chai Folk Ensemble has a few new pieces that will debut at the June concert. A highlight of a Chai concert is the singers feature, a song that is typically sung a cappella in the style of a choir.  As I learn the ropes of being an artistic director, I see that this serves a logistical purpose as well as artistic, giving the dancers a chance to change costumes and maybe take a minute to catch their breath! For The Mountains Will Dance, our new singer’s feature will be a combination of the traditional folk song Mayim, Mayim (Water, Water) and the contemporary song Mai Nahar (River Waters) by Idan Raichel, arranged by Sarah Sommer. Before becoming artistic director, Sarah was a singer and vocal director of Chai, and she brings a wealth of choral experience to her arrangement. “The traditional folk song begins as a canon, the voices mimicking waves of water ebbing and flowing before transitioning to the contemporary piece. Finally, both songs are layered in a blend of old and new.” Relating the song choice to the Mountains Will Dance theme, Sarah says “both texts are biblical, expressing celebration. Although we’re performing it as a singer’s feature, the Mayim dance is the iconic Israeli ‘grapevine,’ and the singers’ melodic lines will emanate the shapes of the beloved dance.”
Sydney Kay is one of a handful of new recruits to join the Chai singers this season. Her first performance with Chai was part of the WSO’s A Celebration of Nations last December, but June will be her first full concert. She gives some insight into the rehearsal process of a new Chai singer: “As with most pieces, we learn each of the sections individually according to our vocal range.  With this song it was so special when we put everything together; Sarah’s combination of the two songs is very beautiful and unique. It’s my personal favourite piece, and I’ve really enjoyed the time we’ve put in for this new singer’s feature to come together.” Please join us for what is sure to be a diverse and varied show of Winnipeg’s multicultural talent in The Mountains Will Dance on Thursday, June 22nd at MTC. Tickets are available online at www.chai.ca or phone 204-955-0069.

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