The High Performance Rodeo is so hot, it pops the polar vortex

High Performance Rodeo artistic producer Kelly Reay talks about the 32nd edition of the popular month-long festival, which includes premieres, international productions and one show that's performed in English, Farsi and Arabic.

32nd festival of performing arts kicks off Wednesday with high octane Australian queer cabaret Hot Brown Honey

Georgina Beaty performs Extremeophiles as part of the 2018 High Performance Rodeo, which kicks off Wednesday in Calgary with a month-long festival featuring over 150 performances. (Dahlia Katz)

High Performance Rodeo's artistic producer Kelly Reay isn't taking credit for snapping the back of the polar vortex, but he's the first to suggest that if any performing arts group could actually change the weather from last week's bone-chilling cold to this week's marvellously mild, it's Hot Brown Honey.

That's the name of the Australian show that kicks off the 2018 High Performance Rodeo on Wednesday night at Theatre Junction Grand downtown.

"It's a wild cabaret experience from Australia," said Reay, in a Tuesday interview with The Homestretch.

"It's six indigenous female queer artists performing this show that's part song and dance, part circus performance, part clown raucous dance party. That's one we're really excited about, just because of the energy that will launch the festival."

Hot Brown Honey kicks off a month-long performance festival featuring artists from Ireland, Australia, New York, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Toronto, as well as co-productions with some of Calgary's best-known arts organizations, such as Theatre Calgary, and Lunchbox Theatre, in addition to smaller, independent companies like Downstage and Inside/Out Theatre.

While the festival — now in its 32nd year — never sets out to program according to a specific theme, Reay said one slowly emerged as he surveyed the lineup for the 2018 festival.

"One that's become clear this year is family," he said.  "Family and identity and belonging. So real universal stuff."

The cast of Onegin, a contemporary re-imagining of the classic Tchaikovsky opera, by Vancouver composer Veda Hille and Ariel Gladstone, is one of the notable shows being presented at the 2018 High Performance Rodeo, which starts Wednesday in Calgary. (David Cooper)


* Inner Elder, from award-winning Calgary actress, director and playwright Michelle Thrush. "It's based on her own life experiences, largely autobiographical," Reay said, "but she's also created her own character based on the elders in her life. It's part heartwarming, part knee slappingly funny and part transformative experience."

* Extremophiles, from former Calgarian (now based in Toronto) Georgina Beaty. "(It's) produced by Downstage locally here in Calgary," said Reay, "and it's another one-woman show about Georgina's character, who's afraid of everything." Set in 2020, Extremophiles tells the story of Margaret, who lives during a global pregnancy epidemic, which finds her and her quite unusual new baby quarantined in the North, which has been transformed by global warming into a barren desert.

* Make Love, Not Art, from Inside/Out Theatre's Col Cseke and Elaine Lee, tells the story of a uniquely-abled painter and her gallery curator, as they attempt to define the parameters of their relationship with one another.

* Moon Moon No Moon, from One Yellow Rabbit, with a few special guests such as former Rabbit Onalea Gilbertson (Jan 25-27), Kid in the Hall's Bruce McCullough (Jan 12-13) and blues singer Tim Williams (Jan 18-20), along with former Calgary poet laureate Kris Demeanor, Jamie Tognazzini, Karen Hines, Mark Bellamy, Jeff Charlton, Jonathan Lewis, David Rhymer and Denise Clarke. The show is an ode to humankind's relationship to the moon, from embodiment as a god or goddess to its use as propaganda during the cold war.


* Onegin, from Vancouver composer Veda Hille and Amiel Gladstone, which Reay says not to confuse with the opera of the same name by Tchaikovsky. "(They're) wildly different," Reay said. "It's the same story. It takes its inspiration from the classic opera, but it's written by (Craigslist Cantata composer) Veda Hille (and Gladstone) so it's contemporary in style — and maybe classical in themes."

High Performance Rodeo artistic producer Kelly Reay (Diane & Mike Photography)

* Salt-Water Moon, David French's Newfoundland-set drama is reinterpreted for the 21st century by Toronto playwright, director and performer Ravi Jain, is an updated interpretation of a classic Canadian drama.

* Foreign Radical, an award-winner from Theatre Conspiracy, is unique in style and language: it's performed in English, Farsi and Arabic. "Thirty people at a time experience this play," Reay says, " the stage-is divided up into four different areas, and so the audience travels from one area to the next on their feet.

"You experience the show and within each element, there's different multimedia components, different language components and it's an examination of some intersections of society."

* The Shoe Project. Facilitated by One Yellow Rabbit Denise Clarke, The Shoe Project "is a show that's taking place in several different cities across the country," Reay said. "It's the story of immigrant women who have come to Canada … so it takes 12 non-performers and gets them to tell their story of coming to Canada."

The High Performance Rodeo runs at various Calgary venues through January 28

With files from The Homestretch

The Homestretch