A Shakespearean Celebration of the Solstice

Besides the regular fare of snow-covered sidewalks, holiday decorations and bundled-up pedestrians, this time of year signals the impending arrival of two familiar – and connected – occurrences: the winter solstice and the annual production of Longest Night.

A creative collection of some of the Yukon’s finest performers are coming together to yet again mark the deepening darkness as the hours stretch on. And while Dave Haddock is back in the role as artistic director, he says this year the show is taking some new turns – interpreting William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.

“In some places we’re using the Shakespeare text, largely edited. But we’re presenting some of the story in a literal way,” Haddock explains.

“I asked performers to look at the text and see if it would at least inform what they’re doing, if not be included with what they’re doing. I really wanted to do something that was different from what Longest Night has perhaps become known as, so that we could break out of the mould a little bit and look ahead to the future.”

Haddock says the Bard’s work completely relates to the celebration of the solstice. The Winter’s Tale is one of Shakespeare’s final plays and has been described as a romance, a tragedy and a comedy. It tackles the dangers and evil of a King’s power, while ultimately administering a happy ending.

Haddock says the play’s first half is a descent into darkness, which mirrors the season, and the second half pulls through the deep despair to reveal lightheartedness, further echoing winter’s course.

The Longest Night Ensemble returns as the backbone of the show, with musical director Jordy Walker at the helm.

“The music that Jordy has been creating for the ensemble itself has really come together. And they really sound like a unit. It really sounds whole and the music, the different compositions, are connected,” Haddock says.

“I didn’t say I wanted all the music to sound like this or like that, but it seems to be working out that way.”

Walker, Haddock, Kim Barlow and Graeme Peters return to the ensemble and the group welcomes back Longest Night creator Daniel Janke. Also in the mix are André Gagné, plus musical guest Jake Jenne on percussion and saxophone.

Also on the music front – performances by Done Gone String Band and Peterborough, Ontario’s Mathias Kom. As lead singer of the band, The Burning Hell, Kom and his crew rocked the Guild Hall earlier this year and now he’ll present new works.

“We’ve kind of divided the show in half in order to present an overall story for the evening, as opposed to strictly one act after another. The later acts of The Winter’s Tale take place in Bohemia in a place where there are farmers and shepherds,” Haddock explains.

“So the Done Gone String Band will perform some old time music and Mathias performs with a ukulele. And I specifically asked Mathias to look at that part of the play to come up with some interpretations.”

Undeniably, music is a constant thread throughout Longest Night. But Haddock says The Winter’s Tale theme truly contributes as a bridge between puppetry, dance, film and traditional storytelling, which stage director Eric Epstein has helped bring to life.

Moira Sauer supplies the puppetry, with some additional musical assistance from Charlie Wilson.

Jude Wong and Michelle Fisher experiment with a wealth of dance techniques and styles in a new piece of choreography. And Epstein, Celia McBride and Mackenzie Shaw take on the Bard’s characters throughout the performance in edited scenes from the play.

“In the creation of things it’s great to have specific sources, even if it’s just a photograph or a word … anything. You just need a seed to make it happen. I think it’s been good for everybody to have that,” Haddock says of the theme.

“Hopefully [the audience will] become engaged in the storytelling and be enlivened through it. There’s a real sense of rebirth and so it takes you to a dark place, but it comes back into the light.”

Longest Night hits the Yukon Arts Centre stage on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 20 and 21. Tickets are available at Arts Underground and the YAC Box Office.

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