5 min

A rare variety show

Stage for AIDS returns with a blockbuster lineup of stars

WORLD CHAMPION. Darin Kyle has tapped his way to the pinnacle of success. Credit: Shawn Scallen

Feet flitting across the stage, the finest fashion and a fabulous French atmosphere will dazzle show-goers at Ottawa’s premier AIDS fundraiser in June.

For the past seven years, the Stage for AIDS, a benefit to raise money for the AIDS Committee of Ottawa, has entertained people with performances from legendary and up-and-coming Canadian musicians, dancers and artisans. This year, with a world champion tap dancer, a fashion show by acclaimed designers and a gala hosted at the French Embassy on the bill, the Stage for AIDS promises to continue its great tradition.

“It’s the kind of variety show that is rarely seen in Ottawa,” boasts Michael Tabbitt, a special events coordinator for NAC and co-producer of the benefit concert.

This year’s Stage for AIDS is being held on Jun 21, the summer solstice, and will ring in the summer with a bang.

Toes are sure to be tapping to the beat of Darin Kyle’s performance. The 25-year-old Ottawa native and world-renowned dancer will tap and hoof across the stage at the NAC’s Southam Hall.

“It’s a dying art. How many tap dancers are out there?” asks Kent Newson, co-producer of the Stage for AIDS concert.

“And it’s cool to have the world tap dance champion be from our city.”

The dancer plans to perform the same routine that garnered him the title of world tap dance champion in the 2001 competition. At 21, Kyle, who grew up in the Woodroofe-Richmond neighbourhood and trained at the Ottawa Dance Academy, traveled to Riesa, Germany to compete for Canada.

In his winning performance, Kyle, dressed as a music conductor, spiced up a classical routine by tapping against his prop: a music conductor’s stand. When he added a little hoofing to the dance, the judges were wowed.

“Hoofing is a real aggressive style. If you go at it long enough on a wood floor, you can start chipping away at it,” jokes Kyle.

At the age of five, Kyle saw Sammy Davis Jr dancing on television, sparking his interest in the dance. “Here was this guy making amazing noises with his feet,” he recalls. That fascination with sound is still there 20 years later. “You’re making noise,” he says. “The rhythms are intoxicating.”

Following his win in 2001, Kyle decided not to return to the world championship to defend his title because travelling overseas had become too costly. He’s now a tap dance instructor at the Canadian Dance Factory in Ottawa and travels to Pembroke and Brockville to give lessons weekly.

Sporting a navy Superman jersey and baggy jeans, Kyle says people expecting his performance at the Stage for AIDS to be similar to the tap greats like Fred Astaire and Sammy Davis Jr will be in for a delightful surprise.

Along with his winning dance, Kyle will perform a funky R&B dance to singer Aaliyah’s hit song, Are You That Somebody?

“I think it will be completely off the wall. Well, as off the wall as tap can get,” the dancer says, grinning.

In addition to the dancing, the Stage for AIDS has a great line-up of jazz, blues, swing and alternative musicians, says Tabbitt.

There’s Amy Sky, singer-songwriter and three-time Juno nominee and her songwriter husband Marc Jordan, who penned Rod Stewart’s hit song “Rhythm of my Heart.”

The line-up also includes Sarah Slean, an up-and-coming musician who performed in this year’s Tulip Festival.

Ottawa’s own Lynn Miles, who took home a Juno for Roots and Traditional album of the year and the Susie Arioli Swing Band, a minimalist swing trio from Montreal, will also entertain music lovers.

Comedian Sean Cullen, who’s had stints on This Hour Has 22 Minutes and Made in Canada, will be sure to have people in stitches, Tabbitt says.

For the audience, Stage for AIDS is a fun-filled night out on the town. For the AIDS Committee of Ottawa, it’s a major source of the agency’s funding. Last year, the benefit brought in $30,000. Brent Oliver, ACO’s executive director, says this year’s goal is even higher, as money is needed to provide a range of services to people in Ottawa living with HIV and AIDS.

“We’ve seen the issue of HIV and AIDS drop out of the public spotlight as prevention became more successful and there were more medical treatment options available,” Oliver says.

“I think because there are better medications out there people think there is a cure. But this is not the case.”

The artists who volunteer to perform at Stage for AIDS help bring the disease back to people’s minds, he says. “This event is not just to raise money but to raise awareness that AIDS is still a life-threatening disease for many people and that there are about 100 new cases of AIDS in our city every year, that is, 100 reported cases.”

Ottawa musician Lynn Miles agrees it’s important for artists to pitch in.

“It’s such a great cause. I want to do something with what I have,” the Juno winner says in an interview from St. Louis. Miles has been touring 24 cities in the States and is excited about playing for a hometown audience.

“Any time as an artist you’re asked to participate in something and if it’s an important cause, it’s an honour to do so,” she says.

Just as artists and organizers are excited about the performances, anticipation is building around the pre-show and post-show events. The famous gala night promises to be full of fashion and French flair.

Well-known designer Richard Robinson is planning a unique fashion show. The models, rather than parading his summer fashions on a runway, will walk around in the crowd to showcase the clothing.

Another exciting feature is the gala’s location: the French Embassy, where the Ambassador to France, Philippe Guelluy, will host the wine event.

Last year, with few embassies willing to host events following the Sep 11 terrorist attacks, the gala was held on the NAC’s terrace. Even this year, organizers were worried the Iraq war would keep the embassies away.

‘We’re really excited to have it at an embassy again,” co-producer Kent Newson says. “Not everyone gets to hang out at an embassy unless you go to an event like this.”



Amy Sky – Sultry and romantic three-time Juno nominee singer-songwriter and recording artist.

Marc Jordan – Sought-after songwriter who has written for Cher, Chicago and gave Rod Stewart a #1 hit with “Rhythm Of My Heart.”

Seán Cullen – Award-winning, madcap, irreverent comedian and one of the co-hosts for the evening.

Lynn Miles – Ottawa’s own Juno Award winner for Roots and Traditional Album of the Year.

Darin Kyle – Former World Champion Tap Dancer.

Susie Arioli Swing Band – Montreal’s “minimalist swing” trio and darlings of the jazz scene around the world.

Sarah Slean – Canada’s bright new eclectic songwriting talent.


National Arts Centre, Southam Hall.

Sat, Jun 21, 2003 at 8.30pm.

Pre-show Gala reception will be held at the French Embassy.

Gala tickets are $150 and only available from the AIDS Committee of Ottawa by calling 238-5014.

Regular tickets are currently on sale at the NAC box office and through TicketMaster (755-1111), for $25, $50 and $75.