Shatner, Shore nab Governor General arts awards

Actor William Shatner and composer Howard Shore are among the latest winners of the Governor General's Award for the Performing Arts.
Actor William Shatner is among the latest recipients of the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards. (Associated Press)

Actor William Shatner and composer Howard Shore are among the latest recipients of the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards.

Shatner, Shore and four other Canadians were named Thursday for the honour, presented for a lifetime of achievement in the performing arts. 

The film and television career of Montreal-born Shatner, known for his roles on shows including Star Trek and Boston Legal, has spanned 60 years. Shatner, who began his career in CBC Radio drama, is also an author, philanthropist and environmentalist.

Toronto-born Shore earned three Academy Awards for creating the score of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, and has worked with notable directors including Martin Scorsese, Tim Burton and Jonathan Demme. Shore has done scores for 13 David Cronenberg films, including the acclaimed Eastern Promises. He was also one of the original creative team members of Saturday Night Live and served as music director from 1975-80.

Other winners announced in Toronto on Thursday are:

  • Yvon Deschamps, Quebec comedian known for satirical monologues.
  • Margie Gillis, veteran dancer, choreographer and teacher who has created more than 100 original dance works.
  • Leslee Silverman, artistic director of Manitoba Theatre for Young People since 1982.
  • Paul Thompson, co-founder and former artistic director of Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto, who has brought more than 200 original works to the stage. 
Canadian director Denis Villeneuve won the NAC Award for accomplishment in the past year. ((Chris Young/Canadian Press))
Filmmaker Denis Villeneuve, the Oscar-nominated director of Incendies, will also be recognized with the National Arts Centre Award (NAC) for exceptional achievement over the past performance year. 

Villeneuve, already recognized as a director to watch with Polytechnique, began to receive international recognition when his Incendies hit the festival circuit at Sundance at the beginning of 2010. Since then, it has won the Toronto and Vancouver Film Critics' Awards for best Canadian film, and went on to an Oscar nomination in 2011.

Montreal's Jean-André Élie was named winner of the Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for volunteerism for his long-term support of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

Winners of the Governor General’s awards receive $25,000 and a special Canadian mint coin. The NAC Award also comes with a $25,000 cash prize.

Shatner and Shore were unable to attend the announcement of their win, but all the other artists were present.

'Breaking the rules'

Winnipeg-based Silverman said she always wanted to work with young people. She finds it rewarding to change the thinking of young people who have learned to focus on the narrow window provided by a laptop or electronic device.

Her idea is to get children to engage with theatre by doing it as well as by seeing it.

Leslee Silverman of Manitoba Theatre for Young People says she wants to challenge children by involving them in theatre. (Canadian Press)
"With children also, there is that huge ability to say, 'What if. What if the Wild Things [of Where the Wild Things Are] were all around me and I was on an island.' We can think about theatre so we can change their point of view," Silverman said in an interview with CBC News.

She says she started out to transform children's theatre in Winnipeg from "cutesy entertainment" by bringing in the best adult writers, actors and designers, as well as international productions.

"What could we do to take the most interesting forms of performing through shadow puppetry and through video puppetry and always in the interest of what story do you have that only you are able to tell and nobody is listening to," Silverman said.

"We did the first ... play about residential schools. We did Naomi's Road about the disinteritance and encampment of the Japanese," she added, referring to some of her accomplishments at Manitoba's Theatre for Young People.

Heather Ogden in Theme and Variations. (Bruce Zinger/Nationa Ballet of Canada)

Hart to mentor Ogden

Former principal dancer Evelyn Hart will mentor the National Ballet of Canada’s Heather Ogden has part of an ongoing mentorship program by winners of the Governor General’s Awards for the Performing Arts.

Hart won the award in 2004, after a dance career at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet with guest appearances at international companies.

Ogden recalls lining up to have Hart sign her ballet shoes when she was a dancer in training.

Now, Ogden is a principal dancer and has performed classic roles in Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, Onegin and The Merry Widow.

Since Hart works around the National Ballet centre, they see each other daily, but the new arrangement means she will take a particular interest in Ogden.

"When she’s done all of the work to get to a certain place as a principal dancer, now really is the time when an artist can step forward and become themselves, and really embrace their own fears and develop into the artist that they are meant to be," Hart told CBC News.

She plans to advise Ogden on international engagements and encourage her development as a dancer.

"It’s a matter of having someone to support you. She has all of that inside her and it’s a matter of having someone to bounce ideas off and say, ‘Go for it. That’s brilliant.’"

'Proud and honoured'

Thompson also was a theatre pioneer, particularly in paving the way for artist collaborations in which actors and writers create original Canadian work.

"When I began in theatre, there were a bunch of young hungry artists who didn't feel they were being used very well because at that point, there was a kind of tradition based on English theatre and they were restless within that," he said.

Now, he says, there is even more creative talent and actors are better trained in the fundamentals of theatre. Thompson helped mentor artists who began Newfoundland's CODCO, Saskatoon's 25th Street Theatre and Toronto's Nightwood Theatre.

"One thing that I've learned is it's only by breaking the rules you make the theatre world alive. It's essential," Thompson said.

"The kind of work that I've been doing is based on the amazing potential of the performer to create whole worlds and tell whole stories."

He plans to donate his $25,000 award to some of the newer theatre groups he currently is working with — including Human Cargo and Impromptu Splendour.

Gillis has been a breakthrough innovator with her free-spirited dance creations, and has worked with groups such as the National Ballet of Canada, Paul Taylor Dance Company and Alberta Ballet.

She says a new generation of young artists is taking up her example of dance innovation.

"I'm so proud and honoured to have opened the door. That's what you want to do," Gillis said.

"You want to make it possible and have people come and say, 'I relate to that, I got that. Now what else is out there?'"

Gillis continues to dance and has appeared recently in Threads, as well as working with Randy Newman in Manitoba on a new work and exploring the role of dance in conflict resolution.

Gov. Gen. David Johnston will present the honours to each recipient at a gala later this year.