Performers include pianist Sarah Hagen, Dene Nation singer Leela Gilday, musician TiKA, chamber musicians Crozman & Chu, folk singer John Sheard
A break from in-person performing arts was not a waste of time for the Aurora Cultural Center. Instead, it was time to think about what they wanted to offer local audiences.
It was time to look at not only what they were presenting to the community, but also how and why.
The result is a cross section of new artists and returning favorites that showcase a wide range of Canadian voices that form our cultural tapestry.
“This is our first full-fledged season since the pandemic kind of shut everything down and we wanted to reflect the changes that have happened over the last two years,” says Kalaisan Kalaichelvan, performing arts producer for the Aurora Cultural Center. “Aurora’s community landscape has changed dramatically. The cultural landscape of the arts has changed dramatically in the past two years alone. It was very important that our lineup reflected that – and I think we’ve assembled a really exciting panel of artists that reflects that.
The cultural center’s in-person performing arts will kick off on Friday, March 11 with acclaimed musician Sarah Hagen performing her comedy show “Perk Up, Pianist!” which will take place under the exposed beams of Trinity Anglican Church.
Hagen’s performance, which has been compared to the work of Victor Borge, combines classical piano with the story of a professional pianist navigating troubled times while struggling to maintain her optimism.
“Sarah is a brilliant classical concert pianist and performer, but the show she does is a really fantastic way to open up the classical repertoire to a wider audience,” says Kalaichelvan. “She ties [these classical pieces] with these hilarious anecdotes, really opening up the historical and cultural context of all these different pieces. It’s like a musical theater piece that we’re really excited to bring to Aurora.
Modern meets tradition on April 7 as the Center welcomes Leela Gilday to the Aurora Armory as part of their Signature Series.
Born and raised in the Northwest Territories, Gilday and her four-piece band bring to life the songs she wrote about the people and the land that created her.
“Confessing his stories to his audience with a bold voice and open stage presence, Gilday weaves his experiences as a northerner, a member of the Dene Nation, and a traveler into a beautiful world that transports the listener,” says the center. “If you’re from the north, Leela’s music is your home. If you’ve never been there, he’ll take you there.
It’s a journey that Kalaichelvan says he’s excited to take with local audiences as well.
“She just has this really strong stage presence and powerful voice in her music and you can tell there’s something very conscious about the way she thinks about her music,” he says. “We are really excited to schedule it in our season. She brings a color not often seen in communities like Aurora.
« Conversations [with our First Nations] have become more and more [prominent] in Aurora and everywhere else, so it’s important that we reflect that. Going back to these themes of Truth and Reconciliation, how we recognize the role that the Indigenous community plays culturally and politically in our arts – even Indigenous community musicians and artists are not a monolith. They are incredibly diverse musicians in this community and have many different styles and offerings. Leela is a great example of someone who has found her own contemporary sound but also taps into the traditional roots of her upbringing. She pulls on R&B but also incorporates some of those cultures and traditions that she grew up with, especially up north, and also weaves in her idea of storytelling, which is very important to Leela Gilday and a common thread in many indigenous forms of music. .”
R&B is a common thread that ties Gilday to the next Signature Series performer: TiKA.
According to the Cultural Centre, TiKA, a Montreal artist with Jamaican roots, offers “ethereal sounds that envelop you, bringing back other memories”.
“TiKA is such an exciting performer,” Kalaichelvan says of the performer who will be hosted Friday, May 10 at St. Andrew’s College. “She’s very hot in the industry. Any up-and-coming musician knows the role TiKA plays in the music industry. His sound draws from his Jamaican roots, R&B and soul, and it has this fantastic fusion. His music sounds deeply personal and raw, but at the same time, it’s something you can definitely listen to. We’re excited to bring her here because she’s one of those voices that’s really on the rise and we’re glad to have her before she skyrockets!
The pendulum returns to a more classic fare on Saturday May 28 with “Crozman & Chiu, cello and piano”, the next episode of the Great Artist Music Series, which will take place at Trinity.
Both acclaimed Canadian chamber musicians, they have developed a program with Spanish accents.
“They take us back to the tradition of what the Great Artist series does,” says Kalaichelvan. “Looking at the repertoire, especially in Spanish classical music, this color of European traditions is really appropriate. They are both top virtuoso musicians and hearing this caliber of musicians again is something that really excites us.
With many new and up-and-coming musicians on the program, perennial Aurora Cultural Center favorite John Sheard rounds out the program with two shows: The Legends of Canadian Folk on May 6 and Homeward Bound: A Tribute to Simon & Garfunkel on June 11.
“John is a huge cultural partner and collaborator of the Aurora Cultural Center and he’s an audience favorite,” says Kalaichelvan. “When we did our holiday gigs in 2021, the first question I had was, ‘When is John Sheard coming back?’ We opened our box office and the tickets went sky high. He wants to come back so badly and he’s such a generous and creative collaborator.
“It’s going to celebrate what we’re really looking forward to this season, which is the reunion of the community celebrating the performing arts.”
For more information on Aurora Cultural Center programming, including tickets, visit auroraculturalcentre.ca.
Brock Weir is a federally funded Local Journalism Initiative reporter at The Auroran