Innovative fun comes to Manitoulin with annual 4elements Living Arts festival

Elijah and the Backburners performed in front of a large crowd in the Park Centre during the Elemental Festival.

KAGAWONG—From great music and dancing to just plain fun, the fifth annual Elemental Festival, hosted by 4elements Living Arts on October 1 and 2, was a huge success.

There were opportunities for people to try out new activities and people surprised themselves by joining in things they had never considered before, said Lou Hayden, festival coordinator. “As Mel Hunt, owner of Feather and Fern Studio in Kagawong, said of the workshop held by local dancer and educator Candice Irwin, ‘I was surprised by how gentle it was. If her adult dance workshops are like that, I could absolutely manage it.’”

Cassidy McAuliffe, photographer, filmmaker and artist had a go at improv theatre for the first time and discovered it wasn’t nearly as scary as she had imagined. “It’s really just a question of following the basic rules of play and seeing where they take you,” said improv teacher Scott Florence.

“We were really delighted to have so many fans and friends of Elijah and the Backburners come and support the band at the festival and would like to thank them for coming in from across the Island to be there,” Ms. Hayden said. “The band was in top form and we had a lot of fun dancing together, especially dancing a rock ‘n roll conga around the room. That was a first for me and a definite highlight of the festival.”

The M’Chigeeng Ladies Drum Group (made up of Mary Dantouze, Isadora Bebamash and Bonita Bebamash) sang a welcoming song in Anishinabek to begin the festival.

Soprano Brooke Dalton, left, and clarinetist Rebecca Danard, brought their magical performance of Ariadne to Sandy Beach in Kagawong, at the Elemental Festival.

Susan Snelling, chair of 4elements, welcomed everyone and thanked Ms. Hayden for organizing the festival. Ms. Hayden added her welcome and thanked volunteers for their major contributions to the two-day festival, encouraging everyone to thank Ms. Snelling. “When I had health problems, she stepped in to fill in the gaps in organizing this event. The Island is so lucky to have her.”

Ms. Irwin shared her latest work ‘Water Bodies,’ a development of her water-based work with local youth dancers earlier this year, in which Georgia Hathaway was also a guest musician collaborator.

“Water has always been a comfort and home for me,” Ms. Irwin told the large gathering. “This past summer I was fortunate to partner with 4e on a three-day youth workshop and performance on how to feel comfortable with their body. I was lucky to be able to share my own work.”

Ms. Irwin has many memories of being younger and playing in the water, memories that include a metal slide, cannonballs and playing with her cousin. “My mother taught me to love the water,” she said.

Accompanied by the music of Ms. Hathaway, Ms. Irwin had all members of the audience, young and old, participating in dance exercise moves and games. It was evident from the smiles on everyone’s faces how much this event was enjoyed.

“Both of these wonderful people have done fantastic artistic work,” said Ms. Snelling. “Candice with ‘Water Bodies’ for youth in two locations on Manitoulin this year and Georgia was our artist-in-residence this past August. She lived in our mobile studio to share her artistic wealth. It was a pleasure to have her as artist-in-residence. It’s all about artists coming together with the community.”

Brooke Dufton, who is a soprano singer and has a Ph.D. in outdoors sound, put on a fascinating workshop at Riverbend Stage, where she shared her expertise in vocalization techniques in natural outdoor settings, part of the Listening Out Loud workshop inspired by the work of R. Murray Schafer. Everyone who participated in the exercises learned to see the world anew with their ears.

“I was so pleased to be there to see many of the varied performances and experiences taking place,” said Stephanie Hahn, executive director of 4elements. “Personally, I especially loved the sounding workshop that took place in that beautiful outdoor space where we could hear the river in the background; it’s such a breathtaking setting, perfect for 4e’s work to help people connect with the land through art.”

There was also time for Saturday afternoon games, including a Maypole string game and others. Then it was time for a parade led by Patrick O’Schraves and his family around the Park Centre, with everyone wearing funny hats and costumes.

Scott Florence, one-half of the Sudbury-based performance company ‘oddhawks’ brought his brand of fun to the festival with a beginner’s improvisational workshop. Ms. Hathaway shared her new songs and tunes. Cassidy M’Auliffe, official photographer for the festival, presented her film ‘Women Who Break Trail’, featuring stories of trailblazing Ontario women including lumberjills, Indigenous women, frontier women, wilderness riders and gold rush prospectors.

Patrick and Julie O’Schraves, along with son Aine, are an award-winning group of musicians, educators and community leaders from the Algoma region who play piano, bagpipes, whistle, flute, fiddle, cello and guitar. They had the audience up and dancing to some tunes and stomping their feet to others as the O’Schrave family performed Celtic and French traditional music. Later on Saturday, they led the Ceili and Family workshop.

“The turnout for our family ceili with traditional Celtic musicians, the O’Schraves, was amazing,” said Ms. Hayden. “Folks came up to me afterwards and said how excited they were to have a ceili back on the Island and how long they’d been waiting to dance. They’ve asked me to come back every month and call the dances again. I couldn’t be more delighted.”

Ariadne, the classically trained collaborative of soprano Brooke Dufton and clarinetist Rebecca Danard, was to bring their magical performance to Sandy Beach from a canoe on Sunday morning. Ariadne uses water, rocks, trees, canoes, natural sounds, voices and instruments to create a meditative and mystical performance.

“There are always surprises that come up during a live event,” Ms. Hayden said. “Our last performance with the classical duo Ariadne had to be adapted at the last moment, as the weather turned quite windy at Sandy Beach. Our expert paddlers, Sandy Cook and Ted Kilpatrick, did their best to paddle out despite the waves but it was too rough to perform in the canoe, so Ariadne performed on the beach instead. It was really amazing.”

“Elemental Festival is a showcase for the 4elements Living Arts project that happens throughout the year, as well as other community-engaged performances,” said Ms. Snelling. She thanked the Ontario Arts Council, Heritage Canada, and the government of Ontario for making the festival possible as an accessible, pay-what-you-can event.