Roundup of Junior a festival for young audiences

by Lynn on May 28, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Harbourfront, various venues, Toronto, Ont.

Harbourfront Centre presented a new festival of theatre and dance pieces called Junior, Big Thoughts for Growing Minds  for young audiences, four- years-old and up from May 19-25. Performances over the long weekend catered to families, those during the week were for school groups. The Festival was beautifully curated  and programmed Mary Francis Moore.

She engaged companies from Ontario, Quebec, Australia, the United Kingdom, Kahnawake Mohawk Nation, Norway and Alberta to tell their stories. Of the nine productions, I was able to see six.

Briefly, here is what I saw:

Suite Curieuses

Cas Public, Quebec

At the Paul Fleck Theatre

For audiences 7-14.

Played May 19-21, 2018

Choreographed by Hélène Blackburn

Music by Martin Tétreault

Animation by Majolaine Leray

Dancers: Cai Glover

Robert Guy

Daphnée Laurendeau

Danny Morissette

The piece asks: “Who is more dangerous, Little Red Riding Hood or the Wolf? In an animated section, diminutive Little Red Riding Hood walks along and the huge, large-jawed wolf presents itself.

The dancers—all male except for one woman who takes on the mantle of Little Red Riding Hood—joke, dance, flip, incorporate gymnastics, and prove the question is not an easy one to answer. The dancers are engaging and the piece is a burst of energy with some danger.

New Owner

The Last Great Hunt, Australia

At Harbourfront Centre Theatre

For audiences 7 and up.

Played May 19-21.

Artists: Gita Bezard,

Adriane Daff

Jeffrey Jay Fowler

Arielle Gray

Chris Isaacs

Tim Watts.

Charming and so inventive. A puppy is adopted by an elderly woman who is recently widowed. The frisky puppy and the slow-moving woman eventually bond. But through a chance of fate they become separated and the frisky puppy must fend for himself in a big, mean world. He finds a friend in another homeless dog and together they learn the true meaning of friendship, trust and love.

The dogs are stunning puppets that are worked by puppeteers dressed all in black to appear ‘invisible.’ Projections and animation appear on a screen and surround the puppeteers so that their action on stage melds into the world of the animated projections. There is no dialogue. One figures out the story because of the fine puppet work, gestures and body language.

Medicine Wheel

Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo and Marian Atehawi Snow, Kahnawake Mohawk Nation

At the Brigantine Room

For audiences 4-14

Played May 19-21

Performers: Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo (Medicine Wheel and Red)

Marian Atehawi Snow (Black and White)

Cody Coyote (Yellow).

Through traditional dance and ceremony the world of the Medicine Wheel is revealed. The important colours of the Wheel are Red, Black, White and Yellow and each performer either danced or sang to reveal the meaning in each colour. Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo especially was impressive with her hoop dances, either twirling or intertwining multiple hoops with grace, concentration and artistic creativity.

We Are All Treaty People

Co-produced by Quest Theatre & Making Treaty 7 Cultural Society, Alberta

At the Brigantine Room

For audiences 5-12

Played May 22-25

Cast: Elizabeth Ferguson

Geneviève Paré

Garret Smith

Two young girls in the same class want to be friends. One is a First Nations and the other is white. The Trickster arrives and declares in no uncertain terms why they cannot possibly be friends. There is too much bad history caused by the whites against those of Indigenous people. The Trickster mentions the white person’s killing of the buffalo hundreds of years ago; the white people also brought disease to indigenous people; the residential schools etc. The two young girls join together to challenge the Trickster and his negative comments about their possible friendship.

The history lesson of course makes one heartsick. What we do to each other. Beautifully presented. A devastating lesson of a terrible past but hope for the future.

Child of the Divide

Produced by Bhuchar Boulevard, United Kingdom

At the Studio Theatre

For audiences 8-14.

Played: May 19-25

Written by Sudha Buchar

Directed by Jim Pope

Designed by Sue Mayes

Cast: Halema Hussain

Devesh Kishore

Adam Karim

Nyla Levy

Diljohn Singh

Stunning. This is a play about the implications of the partition of Pakistan and India in 1947. When India got its independence form British rule, it partitioned Pakistan for the Muslims and welcomed Hindus to India. Families were uprooted. One family was leaving Pakistan because they were Hindus, to go to India. A husband, wife and their six-year-old son Pali prepared quickly to leave. In the confusion of racing through the bustling streets to get into a truck that was going to India, Pali became separated from his family. He was found sleeping in the streets by a kind man who took him home to his wife. They looked for Pali’s father, or waited for someone to come for him, but that didn’t happen. They raised him as their own for seven years. Gradually Pali was brought up as a Muslin with a different name. Then his father does find him after all that time and takes him home. But what is Pali now? Is he Hindu or Muslim? Or Both.

Child of the Divide is a  challenging, thoughtful piece that looks at identity, religion, friendship and how we are defined and it does it with tremendous sensitivity and thought. There are no easy answers here, but posing the question: “Who am I?” is the most important part of it.


The Jury

By Hege Haagenrud, Norway

At the Harbourfront Centre Theatre

For audiences 6-14.

Played May 19-22.

Dancers: Caisa Stremmen Røstad

Catharina Vehre Gresslien

Two women dressed in tights and a top do interpretive dance/ballet to classical music,  in front of a screen on which is a video of a river. The video captures the movement of the river as the dancers move across the stage and in front of the screen. This goes on for several minutes until we hear a child’s voice ask, “What’s going on?” Another says, “I don’t understand.” “This is boring.”  There might be a comment that it was stupid or that it was not for children.

The dancers stop dancing, looking confused. The river scene disappears and the faces of various children appear on the screen. I reckon there are about seven kids most under 10 years-of-age. They are not happy with what they are looking at. They want changes. They want the dancers to put on colourful costumes. They want a story with love, death, blood, a dinosaur. The dancers change into colourful dresses and try to enact what the children want. They children don’t seem happy with the result. The children appear on screen again giving more suggestions. The dancers try again. The kids come up with a top ten list of what they want: There are more suggestions incorporating: love, violence, blood, death, the universe. The dancers frantically incorporate all of the suggestions and collapse on the floor at the end suggesting “the universe’ has exhausted them. Then the dancers get up and take a bow. The show is over.

Mystifying.  Let’s go to the program note for clues: “….the children stop the show (with their suggestions). They decide that since they are children, and this is a performance for children, they should not only have their voices heard, but should also direct the performance itself. Who knows better than a child what a performance for children should be like? We don’t know if they are going to succeed as the group faces many challenges: will they manage to agree on what a good performance should contain and create the ultimate performance for children?”


Who says this is a performance for children? Interpretive dance in front of a screen on which is projected a moving river, is not a performance for children, so saying it is, ain’t so.

I’m at a distinct advantage? Disadvantage? in that I have seen lots of theatre for children created by adults who know how to appeal to a kid and hold their attention. One such gifted person is Mary Francis Moore, (who programmed Junior) who, with Maja Ardal created One Thing Leads to Another, a show for babies between 10 weeks old and 24 months and those infants were riveted. So this program comment is wrong. Moving along, the children don’t seem to know what they want so how can the note say that children are the best judges for what is best for them. Answer? They can’t.

Their frames of reference here are pop culture and television: blood, violence, love, colour etc. This doesn’t come from an audience that seems to go to the theatre. The last scene in which the dancers ‘die’ is inconclusive because the creators of The Jury never go back to the children to find out how successful this version of their vision was. As I said, mystifying.

So what is The Jury really about? I think I finally get it—it’s a send up of clueless adults trying to make theatre for children. Picture my eyebrows crinkling. In a festival full of theatre created by sensitive adults for children, who cares about a send-up of a show for ‘children’ that doesn’t work?

I find it very telling that the picture for this show has two young children looking serious, but choreographer Hege Haagenrud doesn’t give the children a bow (on video) at the end of the show—just the two dancers, nor are the children listen in the cast of characters.

This is the only dud I saw of this festival.

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