Stage Notes: Movement is key on stages this weekend

Shay Kuebler’s newest dance piece MOI stops in Edmonton this weekend while Shumka’s Nutcrackers gets the screen treatment and Ballet Edmonton gets festive

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It may seem to have been tailor-made for the pandemic, but Shay Kuebler’s newest dance piece, MOI: Momentum of Isolation, was written well before COVID hit.

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“I actually started researching the topic of isolation and loneliness back in 2018,” says the Edmonton–born choreographer on the phone from somewhere in the Bahamas, where he’s working as director and lead choreographer for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines’ aqua shows. “I read an article about the Minister of Loneliness, which is a term coined by the media for an actual government position in the U.K.”

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Always looking for inspiration, Kuebler found himself engrossed in this signifier of the developing world, in which social isolation and accompanying loneliness are having an adverse effect on mental and physical health. From that initial article, he began researching through the next two years, with the intent of creating a show in 2020. We all know what happened at that point.

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“We ended up researching and creating a show about isolation in an online, isolated format because of the pandemic,” chuckles Kuebler, who works with Radical System Art and The 605 Collective in Vancouver, and has collaborated with The American Dance Festival, National Arts Centre, Les Grands Ballet Canadiens, Moment Factory and Decidedly Jazz Danceworks. “So it was a strange, cosmic synchronicity that the show kind of worked its way through the pandemic. So this show has had kind of a surreal timing. I didn’t want to make a show about the pandemic, because the topic of isolation and loneliness has been something that’s been building for years. There’s been books written about it, including one called Bowling Alone. It’s about how, in the ‘90s, they did a study showing that there were more individual bowlers than ever before, but hardly any bowling leagues or bowling teams anymore. Society is moving and drifting towards this kind of individualistic expression.” 

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Perhaps fittingly, Kuebler is totally isolated in his role with the ensemble performance with Radical System Art, which takes place as part of the Brian Webb Dance Company season at the Timms Centre for the Arts on Dec. 16 and 17. He never interacts with any of the dancers, only inanimate objects in a confined office space. It’s very fitting for the theme, but somewhat of a nightmare for a performer used to exchanging energy with his fellow dancers. As he notes a number of times during the interview, it’s the energetic exchange between performers and artists that make the show.

Still, isolation and lack of physical closeness did have a few benefits for Kuebler, who initially worked very loosely with the dancers through one on one Zoom sessions.

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“I thought it was really interesting, because in a way it allows the artists to have their own sense of investigation and inquiry, and select the topic and what they found valuable,” he says “We researched as a group, and then after that, I would have them improvise and give them one-word directives like ‘hold,’ ‘stop’ and ‘breathe.’ So they were using their instincts to shape these solos. It was an interesting way to work, and those solos have made their way into the show.”

MOI: Momentum of Isolation takes place at the Timms Centre for the Arts, 87 Avenue and 112 Street on Dec. 16 and 17 at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $25 at the door or in advance from

Shumka’s Nutcracker on film

It’s time to lay Shumka’s Nutcracker to rest.

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No, not forever. It’s just that after three decades and more than 500 successful performances, the Ukrainian dance troupe is thinking it might be time to change it up a little and take a year to dream up new ideas for costumes and staging. But before they do this, the company is celebrating its long run with Shumka’s Nutcracker on Film, taking place Dec. 17 at the Jubilee Auditorium.

“We had actually shot footage of our performance in 2017 with the intention of getting some really nice promotional material,” says Les Sereda, Shumka’s artistic director. “During the pandemic, we had time to look at it and realized we had something more. So we edited it together and it’s been a wonderful opportunity to reevaluate what we have and make more of it as a tribute to the legacy of the production.”

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There’s more to it, of course. Since the Shumka production makes use of guest performers from Ukraine there was little chance of the live Nutcracker happening in 2022 — not with many of the principal dancers fighting in a terrible war that has wrought devastation in their country.

If you’ve seen Shumka’s Nutcracker though the years there’s a chance you’ve seen Kyiv Ballet regular Oleksandr Shapoval, who died in battle on Sept. 12.

“That one particularly hit home,” says Sereda in a somber tone. “He was part of our team and played different roles for us through the years. That was a cold reality of war. They had a huge and beautiful funeral for him right in the Opera House that many of our friends and collaborators paid their respects at, but we obviously couldn’t participate. He’s now a hero of Ukraine. We have other friends that are serving as well, so we’re thinking of them.”

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Shumka on Film is billed as a celebration, and as such Sereda notes there are lots of family-friendly activities to participate in. There’ll be crafts, balloon artists, photos with costumed characters, storytellers, carolers and much more. It’s also a fundraiser, a way to raise money for the hard work of building sets and designing new costumes for the next 30 years of Shumka’s Nutcracker.

“It’s a tough time for raising funds because everyone’s out looking for money this time of year,” Sereda points out. “We all have to pick and choose how we spend our money in the world of nonprofit arts. But for us, this is how we survive and we hope that arts supporters in Edmonton will come forward and help us continue to keep this production on the stage.”

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Shumka’s Nutcracker takes place Saturday at the Jubilee Auditorium. Doors are at 6 p.m. and tickets start at $25 at the door or Children under five are admitted free with a ticket.

Be Merry ballet

Ballet Edmonton will be taking over the Varscona Theatre this weekend for its seasonal soiree, Be Merry. The acclaimed dance troupe won’t be alone in the merrymaking, however, as there are a few musical friends as well, including jazz pianist Chris Andrew, vocalist Andrew MacDonald-Smith, cellist Ronda Metszies and violinist Neda Yamach. Be Merry takes place Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Varscona Theatre, 10329 83 Ave. Tickets start at $15 in advance from

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