International Children’s Festival of the Arts
May 28 to June 2
Downtown St. Albert, Arden Theatre, St. Albert Curling Rink, Cornerstone Hall and École Father Jan School
Tickets: Single or flexible packages. Call the Arden box office 780-459-1542, in-person or at www.ticketmaster.ca
From chasing fairies and building secret codes to paddling down the Sturgeon River, the International Children’s Festival of the Arts is packed with spontaneity, vibrancy and colour.
Running May 28 to June 2, this boutique festival takes place in downtown St. Albert between St. Anne Promenade and the banks of the Sturgeon River. This sprawling backdrop makes it the perfect background for rows of carnival tents mixed in with shade-giving forests peopled with fantasy roving artists.
Throughout the six-day event, six main-stage shows, 13 workshops and 11 roving artists anchor the festival. Additionally, a Pajama Party Variety Show, an outdoor stage, airbrush tattoos, photo booths, a healing garden and a maze complement the anchor events.
Paul Pearson, the City of St. Albert’s cultural development manager, has taken on the role of festival co-ordinator as part of his official duties.
“I’m not sure people who live in St. Albert or come to the festival regularly realize how special this is. So many places in the province I’ve visited would love to have this kind of event and support it. This is heads and shoulders above other festival’s I’ve seen. This is about an authentic art experience. It gives children their first real taste of the arts, and art is what makes us human,” said Pearson. He was previously employed for 18 years in the arts branch of the Alberta Department of Culture.
As with every year, the festival team tweaked its setup. One change is it no longer offers a festival app. Last year, organizers introduced an app to provide more extensive information to social media users.
“There weren’t a lot of people using it and we found it wasn’t money well spent. We found families prefer holding brochures and flipping through the colourful pages. It was a great experiment, but it didn’t pay off,” Pearson said.
Another change is the long-running traditional Sunday night finale. It has been switched to Saturday night and is marketed as a Pajama Party Variety Show for the entire family. Similar to the original finale, all artists offer a sampling of their stage act.
“Come on down. Bring your pajamas. It’s first come, first serve. If you like what you see, you can buy a ticket for a Sunday show.”
The popularity of Toddler Town keeps growing every year. The preschool festival-within-a-festival started with one tent and grew to four. This year, the munchkin metropolis is adding more space through St. Albert Nature School, a group that leads the tykes through a forest expedition.
On their first tour to Canada, Australia’s Polyglot Theatre challenges the imagination with a work that is a combination of immersive theatre and interactive art installation.
The idea is to create a woodland, a mystical make-believe world of cardboard trees and fantastical flora and fauna.
“They start with cardboard tree trunks. The public is given a quick lesson on how to fold paper and it’s added to the installation. By the end of the week, the school gym is filled with paper creations and no two are alike. It’s going to be so cool,” added Pearson.
Jessica McMann, a Calgary Indigenous dancer and flautist, brings eight dancers to mesmerize audiences with dramatic dancing, spectacular regalia and the haunting beauty of Native American flute songs.
Among the varied presentations are the fancy dance, the jingle dance, the hoop dance and Métis dances among others.
“What I like about them is there are so many dance styles and they give you a snapshot of artistic dances within the Indigenous community,” said professional programming presenter Caitlyn North.
Koo Koo Kanga Roo
Popular on the GoNoodle Network, Koo Koo Kanga Roo are a couple of young guys who have created a dance-along comedy party.
Outfitted with an iPod, two mikes, one giant rainbow and some gold sneakers, best friends Neil and Bryan get kids groovin’ and moving their feet to catchy pop tunes and rhythmic beats.
“They have cheeky, fun and interactive songs and dance. They’ve enjoyed massive success on YouTube,” North added.
Back by popular demand, Kalabanté Productions returns with Won’Ma Africa, another circus-style show of daredevil acrobatics and African dance and music.
“This show is slightly smaller than the one in 2016, but the quality is no less. The sheer physical ability and athletics makes it hard not to be amazed,” noted North.
Trained in Beijing, Li Liu creates breathtaking feats through hand-balancing, plate spinning, foot juggling, ribbon dancing and yo-yo manipulation.
A freelance circus artist based in the United States, Li has toured the world with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
“She performs the traditional Chinese arts of plate spinning and has this incredible bicycle act. It’s traditional in approach but amazingly beautiful.”
St. Albert Children’s Theatre
In this heart-warming adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of The Ugly Duckling, we meet Ugly, an awkward duckling shunned by his brothers and sisters.
Feeling glum about his circumstances, Ugly departs the farm on an adventure of self-discovery where he meets special characters that help him discover his true spirit.
One of the most dynamic aspects of this year’s festival is the revamped workshops. Most are new or have not been part of the festival for several years.
“We overhauled the workshops this year. We worked hard to bring in new workshops that give the festival a facelift,” said North.
Magician Malcolm Russell opens the door to his secret world Shazamadoo!, a place where kids learn sleight-of-hand tricks, make objects disappear and reappear, read minds and make predictions.
Fizzlewit’s Fairy Finding Tours
Meet Fizzlewit and his miniature fairy garden where the wee folk live – pocket fairies, toilet goblins, gnomes, interweb trolls and toenail fairies.
“Children try to find the Princess Flutterby. There are a series of riddles and children walk through the forest and find clues through magic and storytelling.”
Ashley Anjlien Kumar offers a sampling of Bollywood dance as well as the ancient and celebrated dances from mythology that have gained world-wide fame.
“The dances are beautiful and we’re finally happy to have her here.”
Diversity in Structure
Children are given the Art Gallery of St. Albert’s guided tour of High Energy, a high-school student art exhibit. They are then encoraged to create collaged houses that reflect their personal identity, culture and background.
The Rush is On
Musée Heritage Museum salutes people who have hiked across the globe in search of gold. Now kids get the chance to see if they, too, can strike gold.
Coders are the savvy brains who create step-by-step commands that make computer software, games, apps and websites function. Using a program called Python Turtle, kids can learn the basics of programming language.
Indigenous People’s Experience
Fort Edmonton Park brings out well-preserved furs and weaving, and through stories and narratives take children back to the days of the bison hunts.
Fabric, beads and yarn are all kids need to create a small woven wall hanging. With multimedia artist Hilary Mussell, kids can play with their imagination to create unique works.
The Great Wall of Stories
Marty Chan returns with a new show that spins draw-and-tell stories about the 12 animals of the Chinese calendar.
Moo-vin To The Rhythm
One of the festival’s longest-running workshop masters, Bob Fenske gets kids movin’ and groovin’ with drums, cymbals, pots, pans and even garbage can lids.
Printmaking: A Great Impression
Getting your hands dirty is a must in this new workshop where kids can create their own original print.
Les Bûcherons (The Lumberjacks)
Returning after almost a decade absence, these ambassadors of French-Canadian culture tell stories and teach children to play with hand-crafted wooden spoons and puppets.
Voyageur Canoe Tour
Special Weekend Workshop
For Saturday and Sunday only there will be guided paddling trips along the Sturgeon River to Big Lake and back. Four 50-minute trips are scheduled daily.
Pearson explains that for some time, organizers had wanted to integrate the river into the festival’s activities.
“The river is so beautiful and it’s such a treasure. We wanted to incorporate it as more of a feature. It would bring Father Jan School and the main site together. The river was also an important part of Indigenous culture in this area.”
Park & Ride
Free shuttles to the festival depart every 15 minutes from St. Albert Centre Exchange (across St. Albert Centre Mall).