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Spring social season warms up in Calgary and Toronto

On the scene

A song and dance to remember

Anna Davison, Chelsie Klassen, Alison Tindle and Killeen Kelly

The spring social season warms up, writes Nolan Bryant, with opera and ballet parties in Calgary and Toronto

Love lost, love gained, forbidden love and love triangles – all have inspired the work of poets, painters, dancers and filmmakers. Love makes for great comedy and greater tragedies, and it's the emotion that binds us humans the most. On Feb. 11, the Calgary Opera – where love in its most joyous and tumultuous forms regularly comes to life so brilliantly on stage – chose love as the inspiration for its latest gala.

It was a fitting theme, and not just because the gala was held in the week leading up to Valentine's Day. Opera fans have been having a love affair with the company since it was founded in 1972. In the 44 years since, they've supported the creation of new works and productions – including Filumena, co-commissioned by Calgary Opera and The Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, which is now the most produced Canadian grand opera in history – as well as the careers of budding young opera performers. These gen-next voices were the beneficiaries of this latest happening; the evening raised funds for the Emerging Artist Development program, which each season acts as a link between academic opera programs and the professional world of the art form as it provides up to eight young singers the chance to study alongside the pros.

At the gala, dinner lead to dancing that lasted until midnight, but the highlight for many was performances from alumni of the program. One such alumnus, Andrew Love, came to the gala direct from Broadway, where he's currently the lead in Les Miserables. Rising Canadian soprano Lida Szkwarek joined him, and together, in keeping with the eve's theme, the two performed a selection of opera's most famous duets.

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Among those partaking in the love fest: interior designer Jerilyn Wright and Sharie Hunter, of creative agency Arthur/Hunter, both Valentine Ball co-chairs and Calgary Opera board members; BD&P partner Bruce Allford and Mary Moran, president and CEO of Calgary Economic Development; Calgary Opera board member Lachlin McKinnon and Julianne McKinnon, his wife and partner at Prospector Executive Search & Consulting Ltd.; political types including Daniel Paillé and Martha Hall Findlay, now Canada West Foundation's President and CEO; Calgary Opera board member and former CEO of United Way of Calgary Ruth Ramsden-Wood; and Calgary Opera's recently retired general director and CEO, arts community veteran Bob McPhee.

Bearded men in flannel shirts, trapper hats, HBC blanket coats, maple leaf-festooned fascinators, tartan ties and even a dress painted in the likeness of a Tom Thompson painting. No, this event wasn't a hipster-heavy fashion launch or artisanal craft fair opening. It was the annual gala for the National Ballet School, which on March 3 honoured Canada's sesquicentennial employing, you guessed it, a Canadiana theme to celebrate.

During cocktails, Nimkii Osawamick, an Odawa artist from Wikwemikong, on Manitoulin Island, performed a spectacular hoop dance brimming with symbols of his peoples' culture and history. Later, at dinner, he was seated to my right, alongside fellow collaborator at the Kaha:wi Dance company Leslie McCue, and to my left was long-time NBS board member Carol Darling. Also in attendance were members of big-giving families from the east and west coasts of Canada, with McCains and Sobeys representing the east, and Shaws from the west.

While the fashions were fun and the room was on theme, the evening's real highlight came after dinner when the student performances, sponsored this year by Gail Drummond and Bob Dorrance, commenced. It was a delightful taste of the talent who will benefit directly from the gala's fundraising efforts (this crop was enrolled in the NBS's Grade 10-12 Post Secondary Program). Some pieces were familiar, such as Peasant Variation from Giselle performed beautifully by Daina Zolty; others, like the excerpts from works to be included in this year's instalment of the Assemblée Internationale (an international dance festival hosted by the school every four years), highlighted the brilliance of works choreographed here in Canada by former students of the school. Especially breathtaking was the final performance: Buenos Aires-born, NBS-trained Demis Volpi's Chalkboard Memories, which premiered in 2014 at the school and was performed this time by Siphe November, Ryan

Tomash and Bomin Kim to great ovation. Did I mention that the students, already brimming with such talent are between the ages of 15 and 17?

Among those toasting the ballet talent fostered within this country's three coasts: event co-chairs Ann Lawson-Brehl and Kim Tanenbaum; decorator Tommy Smythe, who took to his emcee duties in a tutu (and pulled it off!); fashion designer Tanya Taylor; Remington Group chairman and chief executive officer Rudy Bratty, and his wife Cathie; opera singer Ambur Braid; prima ballerina turned producer/director Veronica Tennant and her husband Peter Lamb; National Ballet of Canada's artistic director Karen Kain; philanthropist Lisa Balfour Bowen; and, of course, Canada's National Ballet School artistic director and CEO Mavis Staines.

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