even when my new anna sui tights arrived in today's mail i didn't understand what a fantastic night we were in for. i'm just back from the mayor's celebration of the arts. a combination awards ceremony and olio performance, the event does exactly what it says it's going to: it's a real celebration.
"talent" and "diversity" were the watchwords, and they were there in spades. the talent is obvious: kita no taiko drummers, the bewitching samantha schultz (but how does a 17-year-old sing songs about driving at twilight? did she do it on a learner's permit?), stewart lemoine, renee brad, le fuzz ("for those of you who don't know, that's french for 'the fuzz'") -- but the stars of the show were undoubtedly red power squad, an inner-city first nations hip hop troupe. wow. i work out at the kinsmen next to the 11-year-old rhythmic gymnasts whose backs are made of rubber, and they can't move like RPS, with their one-armed handstands and their shocking ability to turn their bodies inside out. they rapped about racism and alcoholism, the perils of foster care, dysfunctional families and the importance of hope -- "peace, love, unity and having fun," as they put it: hip hop pith.
angela gladue, who's been with RPS and "freshly squeezed" for a few years now, won the emerging artist award. (here's to mile zero for nominating her!) angela is the only woman in the RPS crew; her baggy jeans and baseball cap mean you don't necessarily read her as 'girl' at first -- or maybe that's just from the second balcony. when she came on stage to claim her award, she did a cartwheel, faced her audience to give the big victory salute, and then hugged the guy from edmonton northlands who was giving out the award -- and we're not talking a polite arm-over-the-shoulder photo-op stance, or a mannered european kiss-kiss. i mean, angela threw both arms around him and gave him a big ole hug. before leaving the stage, she stopped by the mayor's box and thanked him, too.
angela gladue is my hero for the way she just puts her thing out there in the world. it is such a foolhardy, dangerous way to live, making art. it takes my breath away.
so, talent in spades. the diversity of the event is more puzzling, and kind of weird and embarassing, and -- as i suppose diversity always is -- more challenging, yet ultimately more moving. there's the obvious cultural diversity: japanese drummers, european opera, the teutonic poet laureate ted blodgett, etc. then there's the second most obvious diversity: age. i've noticed that the arts community is particularly attentive to emerging artists, youth artists, and so on. mo and i were sitting in the second balcony with all the high school students whose tickets were sponsored by a corporation -- epcor, i think, and probably others -- and let me tell you, you didn't want to be anywhere else when RPS took the stage. the mayor made a point of welcoming the kids, saying things like, "we want you to stay here in edmonton, we want you to be artists, we want you to make a life here." it was a pointed variation on the usual "you are our future" speech, and it was great to see 15, 16, 17 and 18 year-olds hobnobbing with the city's barbara pooles.
but the really puzzling, weird diversity? arts and corps. the mayor's celebration developed out of what used to be the mayor's luncheon for business and the arts, and all the awards handed out were sponsored by companies like stantec, atco, telus and molson. now, don't get me wrong, the northlands guy was deadly, and i got the giggles when the molson rep talked about his company's "long-standing commitment to canadian culture." it was hard not to feel a bit creeped out by artists doing command performances for corporate patrons and moneyed citizens.
but that analysis -- even if it's correct, and it's hard to see that it wouldn't be -- that analysis betrays the spirit of the event. it's far too chary to capture the feeling of shared joy, celebration, and goodwill that ran throughout the winspear. over and against my sardonic, eye-rolling hard left analytical all-knowingness, i kept seeing angela gladue bear-hugging the northlands lackey. what made that such a great moment was angela's total self-confidence and unself-conscious glee. in that moment, corporations and their disproportionate social power, their tax-deductible donations and their gratis self-promotions were beside the point, 'cause a little money and a little fame went to an artist, and that's cause enough for celebration.
the event ended with le fuzz, and on their last number the audience poured up onto the stage and started dancing. within five minutes there was a huge conga line of high school students, award nominees, MLAs and society ladies, the mayor himself and a bunch of ordinary folks from the audience. there's something about that -- and about the whole evening, the emerging artist award going to a first nations b-girl, the mutual goodwill between artists and their patrons, the pragmatic, fun-loving way people turned the stage into a dance floor -- that is quintessentially edmonton.
what a foolhardy, dangerous way to be a city.