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Festival lineup brings the world to children

Northern Alberta International Children's Festival ready to let imaginations take flight

By: Anna Borowiecki

  |  Posted: Thursday, Mar 20, 2014 06:00 pm

BIG KICKOFF – Members of the St. Albert Children's Theatre kick off the official announcement for the 2014 Northern Alberta International Children's Festival on Thursday morning at the Arden Theatre.
BIG KICKOFF – Members of the St. Albert Children's Theatre kick off the official announcement for the 2014 Northern Alberta International Children's Festival on Thursday morning at the Arden Theatre.
CHRIS COLBOURNE/St. Albert Gazette

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Preview

Northern Alberta International Children's Festival
May 27 to 31
Downtown St. Albert
Tickets: Main stage shows $10, Toddler Town $5 and site activities $3
Call 780-459-1542 or online at www.childfest.ca

Up, up and away.

Once again it's time for the imagination to soar as the 2014 International Children's Festival takes flight.

Scheduled for May 27 to 31 in St. Albert's downtown core, it's a five-day party that builds the foundations for cultural appreciation.

Throughout its 33-year history, organizers have deliberately created a whimsical ambiance that sparks learning in new and different ways.

This year 10 main stage shows representing five different countries – England, France, Israel, United States and Canada – will be on site. In addition, the festival offers children a flashy outdoor stage, assorted roving artists and 16 hands-on, interactive site activities.

The main stage shows are assembled with numerous disciplines in mind: music, dance, storytelling, puppetry, visual arts, theatre and a live-action graphic novel.

The Intergalactic Nemesis: Book One Target Earth is one of the newest concepts introduced in some time. It is a sci-fi adventure, an intriguing cocktail of equal parts graphic novel, theatre, radio play and visual arts.

Basically, a set of actors stands on the stage acting out the storyline of a graphic novel. Behind them a giant screen shows the graphic novel frame by frame.

In Book One: Target Earth, the intrepid reporter Molly Sloan and her sidekick assistant Timmy Mendez uncover a story that's almost impossible to believe. Together they journey across time and space to 1933 to save Earth from evil extraterrestrials living on planet Zygon.

Three actors, dozens of characters, live music, sound effects and over 1,000 hand-drawn full-colour comic images are projected on the screen.

"It's especially exciting for older kids. We can find lots of entertainment for children seven and under. But it's more difficult for older children," said festival professional programming presenter Caitlin North.

Bon Débarras is an infectious French-Canadian music trio that gets audiences tapping their toes with a skillful use of guitars, banjos, mandolins, accordions and washboards.

"They've developed a great bilingual program that's a tribute to French-Canadian music and Americana. It's full of energy and I like that involves dance and body rhythms with music," North commented.

On the quieter side, Métis author David Bouchard, a recipient of the Order of Canada, drops by to get children hooked on books. Using native flutes, songs, poetry and story telling, Bouchard creates a magical world for the imagination to thrive.

"He knows exactly how to talk with kids and make them feel important. I like that he brings his family and Métis traditions into performances and workshops. I'm a big reader and I enjoy the way he encourages children to share stories with their grandparents. He's really a treasure."

Blue 13 Dance, debuting Ghungroos & Whistles, is an East Indian dance company based in Los Angeles. It sets out to mesmerize audiences with intricate handwork and footwork in dances ranging from the traditional to the more contemporary Bollywood styles.

"They're so beautiful, so vibrant, so energetic and so colourful. They'll have the curling club going like crazy," North said.

Wacky and whimsical

Wide Open Theatre returns with Massive Munsch, a troupe of 30 puppets. This adaptation of Robert Munsch's wacky world recreates favourite characters such as the girl who refuses to change her smelly socks or the topsy-turvy character who wishes for snow in summer.

In an equally whimsical tale, The Queen of Colors returns after a seven-year absence. In this puppet-based fantasy, a queen is bored with her black-and-white world and orders a court painter to bring colour into the kingdom.

"Visually it's really beautiful. It's a nice way to incorporate visuals in theatre. "

The British company Tall Stories Theatre presents The Snail and the Whale, a story of girl snail that loves to travel the world with her seafaring father. So she hitches a ride on the tail of a humpback whale. But when the whale gets beached, it's up to the snail to save him.

The 2014 Juno-nominated Splash 'N Boots, who appear daily on Treehouse TV, are set to offer their invigorating brand of music and dance.

"Their enthusiasm. Their energy. They sing songs kids can relate to and they're quite possibly the friendliest children's performers you will ever meet," North said.

One show that is already creating serious buzz is A Touch of Light, a charming, intimate show that focuses on the early life of Louis Braille. At the age of three he began to lose his sight, living instead in a world of shadows and touches.

Developed by one of Israel's leading puppeteers, it's a feel-good story of a young boy that doesn't allow his disability to stop his imagination from exploring the surrounding world.

And finally, the St. Albert Children's Theatre will present A Year With Frog and Toad. Almost 80 per cent of their tickets are already sold out and organizers are encouraging patrons to avoid disappointment by booking early.

In a slight diversion from traditional main stage shows, North has also booked Book of Ashes – Behind the Scenes. It is a play reading based on a true event. It focuses on the chief librarian of the Central Iraqi Library who saved about 30,000 volumes as foreign troops stormed the city of Basra in 2003.

"This will allow kids to use their imagination and see how a play is developed. They will have the opportunity to talk to the playwright and the producer. We hope when it's ready to bring it back as a main stage show."

As well as main stage shows, the site artists bring to the plate an electric vibrancy through their diversity. Tanzanian born Tololwa Mollel sets out to inspire with his solo storytelling performance while playwright Marty Chan once again invokes the great Greek king Odysseus.

Keys for the City Project, making its festival debut, will encourage children to transform an ordinary street piano into a work of art. Children will leave their mark gluing a medley of buttons onto the piano creating a one-of-a-kind visual masterpiece.

The festival grounds will also be peopled with peculiar and off-beat characters that charm and delight. There's Phileas Flash, a steampunk Victorian hero; Mortal Coil, the larger-than-life amphibians; Nikolai the magician, the stilt-walking Green Fools; hula-hooping Safire, and Stories on Wheels, a miniature wooden stage built on the back of a bicycle.

"I'm really proud of how international the festival is," North said. "Some of the artists and presenters don't call their country home any longer, but the stories they tell allow our kids to see how vibrant the world really is."

Tickets go on sale Friday, March 21 at 10 a.m.


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