On May 19, 2016, Canada’s NAC Orchestra performed the world premiere of Life Reflected. It was the most ambitious concert in the history of the Orchestra, for many reasons. It was created by multiple composers, in collaboration with multiple artists, across many disciplines. Its multimedia presentation challenged the convention of what an orchestra concert could be.
But the work’s true power lies in its subject matter – stories that present the female perspectives of four remarkable Canadians: Alice Munro, Amanda Todd, Roberta Bondar and Rita Joe. Each faced great challenges in their lives, yet each spoke with a strong, distinct voice that made an impact on our world. In 2017, Life Reflected was performed in cities across Canada during the Orchestra’s Canada 150 Tour, to great acclaim. This spring, the Orchestra will be performing this ambitious, truly Canadian work for international audiences during its European Tour in honour of the NAC’s 50th anniversary.
Life Reflected tells powerful stories through the eyes, ears and words of some of Canada’s finest creative artists. It is an immersive, multidisciplinary work without an interval, an unbroken, focused, intense and dramatic experience from beginning to end.
During the creation of this unique symphonic experience, it has been an honour to bring together four exemplary Canadian composers in collaboration with an ensemble of extraordinary Canadian performers and multi-media artists, all under the inspiring leadership of Creative Producer & Director Donna Feore.
Canadian arts and culture continue to captivate audiences worldwide thanks to compelling stories such as those of these remarkable women, each of whom found voice through sacrifice and challenge. They have been an inspiration to me. And while some of the subject matter is born from painful memories, it is my belief that Life Reflected will prove a redeeming and hopeful experience for us all.
Life Reflected explores the lives of four exceptional Canadian women. Alice Munro, Roberta Bondar, Amanda Todd and Rita Joe, each in their own unique way, encourage us to see, and to see with fresh eyes. My challenge was to find a way of telling their stories in an orchestral setting that embraced their vision. Believing that many heads are better than one, I assembled an exceptional group of collaborators who drew their inspiration from these extraordinary women. And though each element is capable of standing alone, we built on the impact of the foundational orchestral work of four magical composers led by the incomparable Alexander Shelley, in the hope that we might arrive somewhere new.
The brilliant visual design team at Normal became the heartbeat of our effort. They made it possible to integrate the work of our wonderful collaborators; musicians, photographers, filmmakers, actors, dancers and singers into a seamless whole.
Dr. Bondar has seen us from afar. Alice Munro has seen us from within. Amanda Todd shared her heart and Rita Joe shared her soul. I hope the experience of Life Reflected will thrill and move you as much as it has enlightened and inspired me.
The National Arts Centre Foundation wishes to pay special tribute to Dasha Shenkman, OBE. A lifetime supporter of the arts, Ms. Shenkman, a native of Ottawa currently living in London, U.K., has been involved with a number of arts organizations throughout the years, either at board level or as a consultant. She and her brother Bill established a series of concerts at the National Gallery (London) performed by students from the Royal College of Music, in memory of their mother Belle Shenkman. Ms. Shenkman is a trustee of the Concordia Foundation, an organization that builds bridges through music and the arts, as well as on Tate International Council and The Better Planet Project Council at the University of Guelph, where she initiated a series of lectures in Contemporary Art at the School of Fine Art and Music.
In 2013, she received the Royal College of Music’s (RCM) Honorary Membership for her philanthropy, which was awarded by RCM President, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. In 2015, she was awarded Order of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE).
Ms. Shenkman has been an enthusiastic champion of Life Reflected since its inception. We would like to thank her for her outstanding support of Life Reflected and for contributing to Canadian creation.
When the NAC Orchestra approached me to adapt Alice Munro’s story “Dear Life” for symphony, I was in the process of reading all of Alice Munro’s short stories, in order. Rereading, rather, as I had waited impatiently for each new story to appear since I read Dance of the Happy Shades as a girl of eighteen. I grew up in a small town not far from Alice Munro’s home town, longing like her to escape. As I became a writer and got to know her, I was inspired by her unsentimental, clear-eyed embrace of the world she was born into, a world she has explored in literature for 50 years.
From her most recent story of several thousand words, I was asked to distill a work of only 500 words that would be the basis for the symphony and for Martha Henry’s recording. All of the words are Alice Munro’s; I have added none of my own, though the order of some events has been shifted for clarity.
It is a testament to Alice Munro’s generosity as a writer that she welcomes the creative play that an adaptation entails. And it is a testament to the authenticity and purity of her prose that such distillation is possible, the essence of her characters and themes vitally present in this new version of “Dear Life.”
Having my daughter remembered in a production produced by the National Arts Centre, alongside three notable Canadian women, is an honour in itself, and those of us who knew Amanda are so very proud of this.
Missing Amanda has played a huge part in my life and it was difficult for me to envision what the NAC wanted to create and present, but as time went on, the vision became clearer. Giving permission to use Amanda’s story in a venue of both visual and performing arts was a dream come true for Amanda’s Legacy. My daughter evolved around the sights and sounds of both art and music.
When I first met Donna Feore it was like meeting an old friend and getting reacquainted. Stories were shared and ideas crystallized. For the next year and a half, we stayed in communication. Listening to the music with Donna and Normal Studio for the first time was very emotional for me. It evoked emotions of joy, anger, sadness, and then peace. Together, we sat in silence with emotional tears in our eyes. I have no doubt that my daughter will be portrayed as a beautiful snowflake, symbolic of her unique individualism and fragility.
I want to express my appreciation to those who believe that there was a message of HOPE within Amanda’s story, and to send a message of thanks to those who BELIEVE and CARE. The NAC team worked to create a truer meaning of Amanda with her legacy – a spectacular representation of my snowflake princess Amanda in a production called Life Reflected.
Rita Joe’s simple and poignant poem I Lost My Talk reflects the complexity of First Nations people’s residential school experience and the resulting intergenerational trauma which still plays out in today’s society. As an artist, I can identify with Rita Joe’s wish to share her stories and experience with the goal to empower and educate. It is important to keep telling our narratives, which originate from the land, language and ancestral knowing, to continue to write, speak and dance our existence. As we look to the hope of reconciliation, let it move beyond an intellectual concept into embodied actions, and away from reconciling ourselves to colonialism.
I have always called my mom a genius. She was a very determined woman, who did so much for so many. Through her words, she stood up and won the fight.
When she first moved to Eskasoni, she was teased about her broken Mi’kmaw language. When I read the first paragraph of her poem I Lost My Talk, it says a lot.
Mom used to say she would become famous after she dies. And lo and behold, her poem is now a film and musical piece.
We were so excited to see the finished production of her poem. At the premiere, when we entered the NAC, it felt like a dream. Hearing our mother’s words spoken out loud by Monique Mojica for the first time, it brought life to the poem. It was a moment that we will never forget. I felt very emotional. I was overwhelmed when the music started and the film played on screen. There was a moment when I grabbed my husband’s shoulder to cry, but I quickly got my composure back because I did not want to miss a second of the show.
We would like to thank Alexander Shelley, John Estacio, the NAC Orchestra, Donna Feore and all the staff at the NAC who did a marvelous job.
Upon seeing this performance I believe my mom was dancing for joy. She was indeed a gentle warrior and the legacy she has left behind gives Mi’kmaq children hope for the future.