P.E.I. performers proud of their country

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Sally Cole
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Young Company members perform the opening number in We Are Canadian! inside Memorial Hall at the Confederation Centre of the Arts. From left are Greg Borris, with Alex Kelly and Melissa MacKenzie, who are from P.E.I., Gray Monczka, Jeff Toste and Robyn Harrison. The high-energy show continues until Aug. 23.

 We Are Canadian!, a new show performed by the Young Company at the Charlottetown Festival, explores new and old cultures

It’s raining outside, but inside Memorial Hall in Charlottetown it’s bright and cheery as Young Company members burst onto the stage singing.

Dressed in red and white and lifting their arms into the air, their voices, rich in talent and in pride, reach out to every corner of the room and to delighted faces of all ages: “People from the whole wide world come to where the Maple Leaf's unfurled. We Are Canadian. And this is our home."

It’s the opening number from the new musical, We are Canadian!, that is attracting large crowds six days a week at the Confederation Centre of the Arts amphitheatre on fine days and in Memorial Hall on rainy days.

It features the talents of 14 young Canadians who know how to engage their audience. And, whether they’re performing the Irish Lullaby, the First Nations Poem, the Acadian step dance or the Eastern European folk dance, their enthusiasm inspires crowd participation with every number.

“The audience is all around us and we’re allowed to interact with them as we showcase our love for Canada and the cultural mosaic that we are,” says company member Melissa MacKenzie.

And by the time company members reach the final number, the audience responds with thunderous applause.

“Honestly, every show feels like we’re stepping up and finding more energy and more life (in the music). And that’s thrilling,” says MacKenzie, one of two Islanders performing in this year’s show that continues until Aug. 23.

Alex Kelly is the other local performer.

“We feed off the energy of the audience so when they get excited, it makes us perform even harder. We top each other,” says Kelly, who is thrilled about returning to the Young Company after performing in its 2010 production, Abegweit Soul of the Island.

“Our group is incredible cohesive. We all get along really well. So it’s a great atmosphere to work and perform in — having all these great, talented people around me in the show.”

The new show is the brainchild of the centre’s artistic director.

“After doing shows about the various provinces and the individualism of each, it seemed to me the right thing to do, to do a show about Canada,” says Anne Allan.

It’s also a perfect fit for the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference which led to the birth of the nation.

“Because Canada is always evolving and changing I thought it was important to explore the cultural aspects of the country and how much it has changed since Alan Lund first created Les Feux Follets in 1965.

“We’ve taken our inspiration from Les Feux Follets. Then we’ve added different cultures to it, along with a little history of the first peoples who came to Prince Edward Island. We naturally start with the First Nations, move to the Acadians and then to the English, the Scottish and the Irish,” says Allan who set to work with her team, Kerry Gage as director and choreographer, Jacqueline Sadler, music director and Cory Sincennes, set and costume designer, to create the new show.

“So we’ve added the multicultural society that is now Eastern Europe. Then we’ve taken it further than that, towards China, India and the Middle East. And we finish it with a fantastic Caribbean number.

“It was important to me to recognize the huge diversity in Canada. And we’re so lucky that we have young artists of many different cultures in the show this year to show that.”

Later, when the show is over, one audience member calls it a “winner.”

“It was fantastic. I loved seeing all the different dances from all the different nationalities,” says Nelleke Calder, who is from New Brunswick.

Lisa Heldman agrees.

“I loved it. It’s a great representation of our country,” says Heldmann of Elmira, Ont.

For Hannah Rose Swan, who is a young dancer, it was the energy of the dancers that captured her attention.

“Just to see the enthusiasm the group has. They just keep going and going,” says Swan, a Fredericton, N.B., resident.

What’s the secret to the show?

Relating to the audience, says MacKenzie.

“It’s about making that connection. It’s such a good feeling.”

AT A GLANCE

If you are going

What: We Are Canadian!

When and where: Monday-Saturday at noon at the Confederation Centre of the Arts until Aug. 23. It’s held in amphitheatre on fine days and Memorial Hall on rainy days.

Admission: Free.

Organizations: Young Company, Confederation Centre, First Nations Poem

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Canada, Prince Edward Island Eastern Europe China India Middle East Caribbean New Brunswick.Lisa Heldman Fredericton

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