NAC’s 50th birthday party will kick off with a Big Bang

The Big Bang Festival in Europe is the inspiration for this February's Big Bang at the National Arts Centre. Photo: Dries Segers

The National Arts Centre turns 50 in 2019 and the party will really get started with a Big Bang in February.

The centre is organizing a festival for young and old on Feb. 17 and 18 that is built on a connection with a European event of the same name and intention.

The NAC’s Big Bang will open up the innards of the centre to people who are interested in taking in all the sights and sounds of a major performing arts space.

The full extent of the 50th anniversary celebration at the NAC isn’t known yet but some things have been discussed publicly including a major Europen tour by the NAC Orchestra taking place next May and the unveiling of the first season of the new department of Indigenous Theatre next fall which is expected to be introduced by a major celebration of Indigenous art making.

A Big Bang festival is typically very concentrated into a few days, said Genevieve Cimon, the NAC’s director, Music Education and Community Engagement. That’s because the event takes over the entire centre meaning other programming cannot happen. That can only go on for so long, she added.

“The idea too, is that we want them to discover as much as possible.” The centre has traditionally had programming on Family Day. “This seemed to be a perfect fit.” The centre has actively encouraged performing arts education and performance experiences for young people for many years and the Big Bang festival was a perfect fit with that philosophy.

Experiencing what a performing arts centre is about will be an education in itself, she said. Add in the many performances and you have the full package, she said. “This is not conventional art that you will see. That really struck me when I went to this festival,” she said.

It shows what is possible in the performing arts, Melanie Dumont, the Big Bang’s artistic director for the NAC said. Dumont and Cimon first witnessed the Big Bang in Lille, France in 2015 and both were immediately taken with the concept.

There has been some preliminary conversations about how to make the Big Bang an annual event, she said, but nothing has been decided yet.

The Big Bang project itself stems from the Oorsmeer children’s music festival in Brussels, Belgium which started in 1995. The festival was founded to bring modern art music programming to children. The organization behind the Oorsmeer festival founded Big Bang in 2010 with the goal of creating a European music festival for young people.

Big Bang takes place every year in Brussels, Lisbon, Stavanger, Norway, in Lille, France, Antwerp, Athens, Hamburg and Seville, Spain.

The NAC has established a connection with Zonzo Compagnie and in recent years, has presented some of the company’s shows, including Listen to the Silence about the music of John Cage and Slumberland, which explores the world of dreams and the night.

The Big Bang in Ottawa will be a first in North America and there is already some consideration being given to carrying on with the idea in subsequent years.

The Big Bang festival, which is aimed at children five to 12 years old and their families, will happen over two very intense days in mid-February.

The centre will offer performances both free and ticketed and also allow patrons to get behind the scenes and explore places such as the NAC’s Prop Shop and dressing rooms, the kinds of spaces the public never gets to see.

The ticketed program includes: 

Nimble Fingers (age 5 and up)
Featuring Alexander Shelley, the NAC Orchestra and the innovative puppeteer Marcelle Hudon, who will present a shadow theatre piece while NACO plays along.  
When: Feb. 18 at 1:30 p.m.
Where: Southam Hall

Mile(s)tones (age 6 and up)
Zonzo Compagnie (BE)
This event features three musicians and the music of jazz legend Miles Davis in an interactive show.
When: Feb. 17, 1 p.m. & 3 p.m. Feb. 18, 11 a.m. & 1 p.m.
Where: Azrieli Studio

Gordie MacKeeman & His Rhythm Boys (age 5 and up)
The pride of PEI will bring his group and his nimble fiddle to the NAC 
When: Feb. 17, 1 p.m. & 3 p.m., Feb. 18, 3 p.m.
Where: Fourth Stage

Ottawa’s Jesse Stewart, Bastille and Les Incomplètes
Three different performers in three micro-concerts on the tour behind the scenes at the NAC. 
When: Feb. 17, 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 4:15 p.m., Feb. 18, 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m.
Where: Backstage
Capacity: 75 people 

Free stuff

Ze Radcliffe Fanfare 
These Quebec-based musicians will bring a big brass sound to the Thorsteinson Glass Staircase.
When: Feb. 17, 12:30 p.m. & 4:30 p.m., Feb. 18, 12:30 p.m. & 4 p.m.

Nomad : Papâmacihowin (Cree word meaning never in one place/to roam)
The multidisciplinary Métis artist Moe Clark collaborates with Mexican musician Ahau Marino and a group of Indigenous youth to explore survival, determination and continuum through song, story and language. 
When: Feb. 17, 2 p.m. & 4 p.m., Feb. 17, 12 p.m. & 2:30 p.m.
Where: Canal Lobby Stage

Pneumaphone by the Logos Foundation (BE)
This connects some brightly coloured air cushions to some strange wind instruments. The audience bounces on the air cushions and makes some music.
When: Feb. 17 & 18
Where: Lantern Room

The Nebula by L’eau du bain
An immersive experience involving a headset and ambient noises.
When: Feb. 17 & 18
Where: O’Born Room

Marbles, Motion, Music presented by Jesse Stewart
Sensors will track motion and make music all while some marbles roll around inside a dome.
When: Feb. 17 & 18
Where: Rossy Pavillon

Love Song presented by ChampdAction (BE)
Patrons will be able to press a button and experience sounds recorded by hundreds of children on dozens of heart-shaped recording devices. 
When: Feb. 17 & 18
Where: Mezzanine Foyer 

Share Post
Written by

Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.