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Sarah Mclachlan. Photo: Kharen Hill

National Arts Centre’s 50th anniversary Golden Gala features special guest Sarah McLachlan—10.05.19

By Madeline Paiva on October 5, 2019

On Saturday, October 5th, the National Arts Centre will be holding their annual Gala to support the NAC and the National Youth and Education Trust. This year’s 50th Anniversary Golden Gala will feature a number of guest performances in a showcase of Theatre, Dance, and Music, with special guest Sarah McLachlan. Ahead of this star-studded Gala, I spoke with Jillian Keiley, Artistic Director of NAC English Theatre; Greta Hodgkinson, Principal Dancer of the National Ballet of Canada; and Heather Gibson, Executive Producer of NAC Presents.

This year’s Golden Gala is an opportunity to showcase every aspect of what the NAC does from performance to fundraising to education. The Gala is taking a different direction this year. Keiley said, “This year we are opening up the gala to be more than a concert. The concert section; we have one of the best performers in the world. Sarah McLachlan is our headliner and the NAC Orchestra always has a huge part of the Gala. They’re just stars among us! But also we have performers from all the different disciplines. iskwē, a pop indigenous singer with her powwow singers. She is playing with the orchestra as well. We are featuring Mani Soleymanlou. He has a production called Un/One he does in French and English; that’s representing Theatre. We have dance from Greta Hodgkinson of the National Ballet of Canada.” There is something for everyone in attendance!

We are going to have some special guests to understand why we are so passionate about education here. Just to remind people it’s not just a glitzy glamour Gala. The whole thing is really focused—we do all kinds of outreach and education.—Jillian Keiley, Artistic Director of NAC English Theatre

The Gala is an important fundraiser for education, in all aspects. Keiley said “we are going to have some special guests to understand why we are so passionate about education here. Just to remind people it’s not just a glitzy glamour Gala. The whole thing is really focused—we do all kinds of outreach and education. These are big education initiatives; it goes just beyond matinees and masterclasses; it goes into funding research or funding conversations for people right across the country to talk about topics through the arts that focus on education and how best to make work and tell the stories to be told today.”

NAC Presents is a slice of the pie, dedicated to Canadian musicians.—Heather Gibson, Executive Producer of NAC Presents

Heather Gibson, Executive Producer of NAC Presents, said that “NAC Presents is a slice of the pie, dedicated to Canadian musicians. Most often it’s developmental work!” She says her role for the Gala is that of a Producer: “they’re calling me the Producer of the Gala. The clearest responsibility NAC Presents has in this is iskwē. iskwē is an artist NAC presents has worked with and she’s on in the first half with the orchestra. She’s doing three newly commissioned pieces.” One of the most interesting things she told me was that “Sarah McLachlan, played the studio 20/25 years ago. Jann Arden has played the studio, Celine Dion played in 1996. NAC Presents is well attached to these artists.”

Greta Hodgkinson, Principal Dancer of the National Ballet of Canada. Photo provided by Victoria Schwarzl (NatBallet)

Greta Hodgkinson will be performing Dying Swan from Swan Lake. She is retiring as principal dancer of the National Ballet of Canada after this season. “I’ve been a principal for 24 years. I think it’s just me and Karen [Kain] and Veronica [Tennant] that have had that. It’s nice for me to be in such an illustrious company and to have achieved that and I’m proud,” she said. I asked her about what an audience should expect of her performance. “It’s really an interesting solo, because, of course, it’s been done by every famous ballerina you can name. Once you’ve seen it, though, you can’t just say ‘I’ve seen it.’ There are many different interpretations.” She also said of the performance that “there aren’t a lot of coat tricks. It was shocking to me how hard it was. To actually do it physically, to really inhabit that and basically show the music, it’s extremely difficult! To be en pointe that whole time—it’s 3 minutes en pointe. So it’s a real challenge. But on the flip-side, it’s extremely satisfying to do. It’s such a nice opportunity.” In our interview, Gibson commented on the piece by Greta Hodgkinson and said “it’s going to be epic!”.

It’s really an interesting solo, because, of course, it’s been done by every famous ballerina you can name. Once you’ve seen it, though, you can’t just say ‘I’ve seen it.’ There are many different interpretations.—Greta Hodgkinson, National Ballet of Canada, on her Swan Lake solo

With this year’s theme being nostalgia, I wanted to ask about memorable moments. Each of their moments was a passionate story. Hodgkinson said that “more than anything a lot of my memories, as much as there are on-stage memories, it’s a lot of the day to day stuff! I think that the thing is for me, maybe what I’m going to miss the most, is the day in and day out. The hilarious moments in the studio that you laugh about that make it into the piece. It’s a lot of those things. The life of a dancer, is so different from many other jobs. For us, it’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle, a way of being. It’s not just the wonderful moments on stage, it’s the other stuff too that really makes you who you are.”

Gibson said, “I’ve been so moved and proud to be part of Indigenous Theatre being part of the NAC. It’s a really important and moving time to be here. There’s just something about it, as an artistic person. Hopefully in 15 or 20 years we’ll say ‘yeah of course Indigenous Theatre is part of the NAC!’ It really is important.”

One of Keiley’s most memorable moments was “Children of God, the artist who wrote it made this before the truth and reconciliation report came out. It was coming out at the time we were opening the show. In that moment, [audiences] were just opening their eyes to residential schools. This show, which was a musical about residential schools, hit our audience so hard. The audience was asked to hold hands at the end of the show. I will never get over it!”

I’m really excited to have the gala expand to include other disciplines. They always decorate the place, have a cool band playing in the lobby. It’s always really fun—it’s a place to be. I think the success of the Gala is on the people who create the event. It will be great!—Jillian Keiley

Keiley and Gibson spoke extensively about how exciting the Gala is. Gibson said “the Gala is such a great evening here in Ottawa. I think that hopefully in the future, we’ll see people coming for all different kinds of reasons. I wonder if the public knows it’s open to the public. It’s definitely a public fundraiser and all the public is welcome!” Keiley said “I’m really excited to have the gala expand to include other disciplines. They always decorate the place, have a cool band playing in the lobby. It’s always really fun—it’s a place to be. I think the success of the Gala is on the people who create the event. It will be great!


The NAC 50th Anniversary Golden Gala is taking place on October 5th. The Gala Concert runs approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes, including intermission. There will be a pre-Gala concert cocktail reception beginning at 5:30pm and a night of dancing post-concert. Tickets are still available here. Tickets range from $135 to $260.