NAC launches 2021-22 season, featuring bold new programming

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The National Arts Centre is launching a new season of performances that will not only make up some of the shows that were called off because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also venture into bold, new programming directions while continuing to embrace the digital audience that grew when the institution was closed. 


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Highlights of the coming months include the collaboration between English theatre and Montreal’s Black Theatre Workshop, concerts by the likes of Feist, Bruce Cockburn and Carly Rae Jepsen, the NAC Orchestra’s focus on female composers and guest artists, a passing-of-the-torch in French theatre, and a mix of digital and in-person performances in both Dance and Indigenous theatre.

“I think of it as renewing a relationship with an old friend,” NAC CEO Christopher Deacon said of the 2021-22 season. “It’s been a difficult year. The risk of a little too much solitude is something that I feel keenly and so I see this season as a re-embracing of the magic of the live experience.

“But the magic only works when the audience is there to put themselves in the shoes of the main character or performer on stage, and to empathize and identify with that story. That’s a very powerful experience, and a great psychic and spiritual exercise.”


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National Arts Centre CEO Christopher Deacon at the NAC in Ottawa.
National Arts Centre CEO Christopher Deacon at the NAC in Ottawa. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia

Of course, the institution is still at the mercy of public health guidelines, so it has to be ready to change course at any time. For now, the ramp-up involves bringing staff back and ensuring they’re vaccinated, in accordance with the vaccine mandate stipulated last week by the federal government for its employees. With the first performance, a NACO concert, set for Sept. 10, the countdown is on. 

Deacon said proof of vaccination will not be required for ticket buyers (unless it’s a measure introduced by government), but capacity limits are in place, meaning smaller audiences at the beginning of the season. An increase in numbers is expected as the months progress and regulations, hopefully, relax. 

“We would love to be in a position to welcome everyone in,” Deacon said, “but we all have to be patient with the progression of public health. That’s been our touchstone throughout this: We follow the public health guidelines.” 


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He added that the building has been made as safe as possible, with regular cleaning of high-touch surfaces and a touchless payment system implemented in the parking garage. Although there’s no word yet on when the box office will open for in-person ticket sales, you can buy tickets by phone or online, starting at 10 a.m. on Aug. 19. For more information and to order, go to nac-cna.ca, ticketmaster.ca or call 1-888-991-2787. 

In the meantime, here’s a quick overview of each of the six programming departments.

Black and Blue Matters (Grand Acts Performance).
Black and Blue Matters (Grand Acts Performance). Photo by Giordanno Bruno /NAC

English theatre

It’s the first season of collaboration with a Black theatre company, an initiative created by artistic director Jillian Keiley in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. In her second-to-last programming year — she announced she will move on after this season — Keiley handed over half her budget and resources to Montreal’s Black Theatre Workshop. The results will be ready to present next spring, with one highlight expected to be the long-awaited second play, Black and Blue Matters, by Omari Newton, who was also responsible for the compelling tale, The Lamentable Tragedy of Sal Capone, staged in 2018.


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Tomson Highway. (Photo credit: Sean Howard)
Tomson Highway. (Photo credit: Sean Howard) jpg

Indigenous theatre

The department led by artistic director Kevin Loring will present works that aim to build understanding and promote healing in what he calls a time of reckoning. Highlights include Mononk Jules by Jocelyn Sioui, a work inspired by the playwright’s great-uncle, the Indigenous hero Jules Sioui, and Émilie Monnet’s original work Okinum, which features three languages and was inspired by a recurring dream of a giant beaver. Also planned is a celebration of Tomson Highway’s 70th birthday on Dec. 11, as well as a host of free online activities throughout the fall, including a day of workshops and events to mark National Truth and Reconciliation Day on Sept. 30. 

Bingo Cosmique will be showing at the NAC’s French theatre.
Bingo Cosmique will be showing at the NAC’s French theatre. Photo by Dominique T. Skoltz /NAC

French theatre

It’s a transition year for French theatre as long-time artistic director Brigitte Haentjens moves on, passing the torch to the new artistic director, Mani Soleymanlou. In the final season programmed by Haentjens, she kicks off with a piece created by Soleymanlou in which 30 artists from Ottawa-Gatineau envision what life will look like in 2042. Also included in the season is a chance to see Haentjens’ new work, Reve et Folie, described as a radical exploration of a poem by the expressionist poet Georg Trakl. 


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James Ehnes.
James Ehnes. jpg

NAC Orchestra

Music director Alexander Shelley, who in June welcomed a second son to his family, leads a season that blends artistically ambitious works with audience favourites, beginning Sept. 10 with a 20th-anniversary remembrance of 9/11 that features Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. There’s also some Beethoven, Handel, Schumann and much more in the season, with a list of guest artists that includes artist-in-residence James Ehnes, French pianist Hélène Grimaud and Mohawk singer-songwriter Shawnee Kish.

José Navas/Compagnie Flak.
José Navas/Compagnie Flak. jpg


Executive producer Cathy Levy calls it a season of “renewal and rediscovery” for her department, which features works by 14 companies, all but two of them Canadian. Five shows postponed from the last season are back on the calendar, including José Navas/Compagnie Flak and Greece’s Dimitris Papaioannou, along with major productions by Ballet BC, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Les Grand Ballets Canadiens de Montréal and more. There’s also the chance to see new, NAC-funded works by Guillaume Côté and the Gatineau company, BBoyizm. Several popular digital initiatives are returning, too, including the on-demand series #DanceForth, the international film series, Digidance, and REBO(U)ND, to be screened on the Kipnes Lantern for viewers outside the building. 


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Leslie Feist. (Photo: Goodchild Richard)
Leslie Feist. (Photo: Goodchild Richard) jpg

Popular music and variety

The preliminary lineup assembled by Heather Gibson, producer of the recently renamed PMV department, finds music on all four stages of the NAC, from blockbuster Southam Hall concerts by Bruce Cockburn (April 23, 2022) and Carly Rae Jepsen, who will perform with the NAC Orchestra on Dec. 22-23, to intimate Fourth Stage shows with emerging artists such as Marie-Clo, Hannah Georgas and Leith Ross. Songstress Feist is on the bill with her innovative Multitudes production (Oct. 12-17), leading a pack of returning favourites that also includes Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Matt Andersen, Whitehorse, William Prince and Chilly Gonzales, to name a handful of the close to 40 shows on sale now. More will be announced throughout the year.  




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