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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 13, No. 1 September 2007

Adult Arts Education

by Vanessa Lundgren & Tessa Blanchfield / September 4, 2007

Drawing upon a rich life experience: Adults get creative in art class

Vanessa Lundgren

Ever wonder where to go for art classes in the city? Whether you’re working full-time and raising a family, or if you’re retired and want to express yourself, two Montreal art centres can give you an opportunity to pick up that paintbrush and learn a trick or two from an experienced artist.

The Visual Arts Centre and Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors are two places where you can take a wide range of art classes for adults wanting to discover their inner Picassos.

Elisabeth Galante, the Fine and Applied Arts program director at the Visual Arts Centre, explains that adult students offer “a richness of expression” to their creative work because they are able to draw upon their varied life experience.

“It’s often not a casual interest ... at this point in their life,” says Galante. “They’re very motivated to learn, and I feel I’m very privileged to be involved in these artistic self-discoveries.” Born in New York and educated at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, Indiana University and Concordia University, Galante has been teaching at the centre for 25 years.

Apart from her responsibilities as director, Galante teaches drawing and watercolour classes at the centre. Like her, all the teachers are professional artists who are passionate about sharing their interests with students with regards to new mediums, techniques and ways of thinking.

“Our school is unique,” she says. “We call it ‘an alternative art school’. It’s not part of the university program. It’s not an accredited program. We don’t grade our students. There are no exams. So it’s a great program for people who want to study the arts outside of an academic type of environment. Anyone can come to this school.”

The Centre offers a broad range of courses at all levels, from painting to ceramics. Class sizes are small, with a maximum number of 15 students in an average class. This is designed for greater interaction with the teacher, she explains. Students are encouraged to fully engage with the teacher, lessons and materials.

“It’s not pure relaxation,” Galante says. “It takes you out of yourself — your day-to-day thoughts, your normal preoccupations. So it’s not relaxing in the sense of ‘easy’. It’s hard work. Time has no meaning when you start drawing or painting. The three hours of the class pass quickly. Before you know it, it’s over and you wish you had three more hours.”

Therese Weinberger and Joanne Bolduc study watercolour under Galante. They’re serious about their art — so serious that they’ve formed a collective dubbed “Our Group.” They’re organizing their first independent exhibition and hope to launch it within a year. Weinberger says that the group is made up of 10 members who are all women and all from diverse backgrounds.

When it comes to the question of ‘Why take art classes?’ Weinberger answers “Why not?”

“It’s an expression of the inside of me and it’s something that I need to do now.” says Weinberger.

Weinberger and Bolduc are both passionate about their chosen medium. They speak excitedly about the challenges in watercolour and in finding a creative vision.

Dr. Gwen Spurll, another member of Our Group, also finds an outlet of expression in paint. Director of the Hematology Laboratories at the Royal Victoria Hospital and a mother, Dr. Spurll finds time to paint on weekends. It’s her time of solace.

Diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2005, Dr. Spurll says that it was her condition that motivated her interest in painting.

“It offers a way of expressing what I’m feeling. It also one of the few times when I forget what’s going on,” she says.

Celia Gordon, 83, considers her art workshops at the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors to be empowering. She started out as an arts and crafts volunteer some 40 years ago, working for the late Anne Greenstein, founder of the facility’s thriving Fine Arts/Crafts Centre.

Dedicated to clay sculpture, she routinely donates her pieces to the craft sale held every November at the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors.

“It’s a very nurturing, safe community,” says Suzy Levy, supervisor at the Fine Arts/Craft Centre. She mentions that the facility’s oldest student is 102.

Registration for fall classes at both the Visual Arts Centre and Cummings Centre have already begun. For classes at the Visual Arts Centre, call 514-488-9558 or visit www.visualartscentre.ca. If you are interested in attending classes at the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors, call 514-342-1234 or visit their website at www.cummingscentre.org.

Ballet Divertimento

The romance of ballet – for adults

Tessa Blanchfield

Ballet classes conjure up the grace and elegance of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. For some women, playing Clara in the National Ballet’s production of the Nutcracker remains a dream. For other lucky dancers, the romance of ballet becomes a reality with Ballet Divertimento.

Founded in 1991, Ballet Divertimento has been offering adult dance classes since its inception. According to general director Susan Alexander, the introduction to ballet course for adults is so popular, that they have had to put clients on a waiting list.

The school offers all levels of ballet courses to adults, and a chance to work in a professional atmosphere. Alexander explains: “Many professional dancers who need to prepare for a show, or who may be pregnant or
taking a hiatus, practice with the adult advanced class and dance with the other students.”

Parents enrolling their children in ballet for kids are pleased to discover that they can learn ballet as well, at levels ranging from beginners to advanced. There are many parent-child students at Divertimento, as well. In fact, the school is so attuned to its clientele that when parents started talking about flamenco classes, a course was created especially for them.

Divertimento also teaches ballet jazz, a type of dance unique to Montreal. Alexander describes it as a “Broadway style of jazz and ballet,” whose popularity has only grown with time.

Men and women of all ages, from their early twenties to early fifties, are taking ballet in their stride, at Divertimento’s downtown studios. They serve as a testament that it is never too late to practice the fine techniques of ballet, as a young Clara or an older Veronica Tennant.

Ballet Divertimento

3505, Durocher street (corner Milton)

Montréal, (Québec) H2X 2E7, Canada

Phone: (514) 285-2157

Fax: (514)-285-4505

Email: danse@balletdivertimento.com

Theatre Ste. Catherine
Improv- No laughing matter

Tessa Blanchfield

“I am not going to try to make this scene funny or clever. I am going to be boring, but positive. Somehow, by doing this, I will entertain you.” So says Eric Amber, the founder of Theatre Ste. Catherine and the director of Sunday Night Improv, a free, two-hour class where any and everyone can try their hand at entertaining “sans script”.

Amber explains that the class is based on the teaching of Keith Johnstone, an improv legend, and head of the International Theatre Sports Institute based in the U.K. Immediately, all preconceived notions are cast aside as Amber tells us that improv is not about being funny, but about telling stories.

On stage, a vibrant red-headed woman plays it cool, circling her fellow actor, behaving naturally, but entertaining us at the same time. She comes back every week “for the challenge.” She explains that Johnstone’s improv has taught her how to fail on stage and accept it. “There is nothing to be afraid of after you have mastered failure. Improv is always evolving, and it is more about the education of life than it is about jokes and gags. It is about being yourself and letting your demons come out.”

And the demons do make an appearance. Throughout the evening, different pairs of actors are thrown on stage, given no other direction than to “just start a scene.” The players are transported to the gym, the grocery store, an apartment kitchen, a bus stop, just by their own imagination. Sure, these places sound boring and mundane, but that is the point. The actors must explain who they are, where they are, and if they know each other, just by acting naturally. Surprisingly, stories develop rather quickly. Without warning, an unassuming man receives a roar of laughter from the audience. He was funny without even trying to be funny.

Johnstone believes that actors should be cheered on just like wrestlers during a match. The most important task on stage is to engage the audience and create relatable and realistic story lines. Amber has been practicing this form of improv for the last 15 years. And although the theatre is a new venue in Montreal, it has already rejoiced in the laughter from dozens of “unfunny” people.

Join Theatre Ste. Catherine’s free Sunday Night Improv, and stay until 8 pm for a free show for students by professional improvisers. (For those who do not attend the free class, tickets are $5.) All proceeds go towards keeping the theatre’s doors open.

Théâtre Ste. Catherine 264 Ste. Catherine Est. Berri-UQAM
(514) 284-3939 or send an email to: info@theatrestecatherine.com

(c) La Scena Musicale