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SCPA director Bruce Barton on the Alchemy Festival

By Nimra Amir, March 27 2023

For over a decade now the University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) has been showcasing student work from all disciplines — music, dance and drama. The 2023 season of the Alchemy Festival is no different.

Initially, the Taking Flight Festival focused on drama performances, but things changed after the drama department joined the SCPA. 

“We had a conversation about the fact that we had student activity and student-driven activity from across all of our disciplines and it would be really interesting to figure out what would happen with a festival that would bring all of those activities together,” said SCPA director Bruce Barton.

The Taking Flight Festival was then rebranded as the Alchemy Festival which encourages performances from all disciplines. 

“Many people will be drawn to a drama performance,” said Barton. “If you are familiar with drama, then look really closely at the dance and look really closely at the music. There is a really rich selection of music. There are so many recitals and there are so many ensembles — it is almost a mini-festival of its own.”

Since the Alchemy Festival encourages student work in performances from all disciplines, the festival also encourages interdisciplinary performances. If each discipline lived on its own, the SCPA would be quite insular. However, within the SCPA, the disciplines live together all year long and that is exactly what is reflected in a lot of the performances at the Alchemy Festival — from performances that happen to be interdisciplinary to specifically interdisciplinary performances.

For example, Semiosis is a large-scale interdisciplinary performance driven by music students and dance students about the experience that one has with sound but also the experience that one has with physical movement.

“The one thing that I do oversee from beginning to end is the interdisciplinary stream. So, I am very excited to see what those students have gotten up to,” said Barton.

Yet the focus of the Alchemy Festival throughout all performances from any discipline is ultimately the fact that these performances are not driven by the course work of faculty members like the rest of the 2023 season but driven by the work of students. Hence, the name of the festival references the magical process in which raw materials turn into really fine metals like the dedication of students in their work over the years that turn into their final performances.

“The festival plays an important part in the development of the artists within the school because the festival is particularly that moment when the work that they individually have created over the years is meeting the audience,” said Barton.

For example, the choreographic and directorial work driven by senior-level dance majors in Dance@Night is all the work from over the years culminating in their final performances as they become choreographers — even if they have only been working on these individual performances just over this year.

“I am always super excited to see the final dance performances because you get to see these artists in a way you do not throughout the other four years,” said Barton.  

Although the performances are driven by the work of students, some students are still working with faculty members or mentors. For example, Catalyst is a dance performance choreographed by a professional choreographer with students. 

From being driven by student work from all disciplines but with the help of many, the Alchemy Festival, as Barton says, has “a self-forming energy.” To experience the energy for yourself from March 23 to April 5, you can find more information on the SCPA website.

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