Review by Michael Nesbitt
The College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts of Canada is showing another side of its personality to audiences attending the Celtic Festival event this year. Highland Storm Voyage of the Gaelic Spirit is a departure from the College’s familiar ceilidh format, in favour of a theatrically-oriented presentation of the origins, development and future of a culture which is the inheritance of an Island population of nearly seventy percent Scottish and Irish ancestry.
The 12-scene production continues the Celtic Festival’s intent to showcase the talents of the College’s students. Through dance, music, song and action, backed by narrative voice-over, Highland Storm portrays the Scottish origins of the music and dance, dispossession from the homeland, development in the New World, cross-cultural influences and, eventually, resurgence and by implication, the reason the College of Piping now exists. Thirty dancers, drummers and pipers fill multiple character and performance roles. While youth is evident in the performance characters, some of the dancers have more than 10 years experience in their Celtic craft. MacAulay notes that the youth orientation is part of the nature of the craft, with 21 being retirement age for many involved in competitive performing. Their efforts are augmented by College friends such as Timothy Chaisson, Elmer Deagle and Mylene Ouellette, who make up the House Band, vocalists Tracy Cantin, Victoria Gallant and Sydney Phelan, Gemini Award-winning Director and Choreography Consultant Shelagh O’Brien, who is a former champion Highland dancer, alumni Brad Fremlin and Colleen Taylor-MacMillan, as well as family and friends of college students who have invested time and effort in costuming, stage management and other duties.
This is also the first year that the show has had auditions for parts in the production.“Inspiring excellence is part of our mission statement and that plays to the mission. It is an achievement to be selected among the 30 performers from among more than 400 students,” College of Piping Director Scott MacAulay notes.
Highland Storm is fulfilling its mandate with audiences as well. Kayla and Kirk MacLeod of Edmonton had put the production on their vacation list and were pleased to have children Larisia, 13, and Kaia, 8, gain an appreciation for the music and culture presented.