From south to north, ridiculous to sublime, the year past proved yet again that gay and lesbian artists in Canada rank as the country’s best. Here’s a baker’s dozen of delight – just the tip of the iceberg, really, of queer cultural riches clogging up the Northwest Passage in 2006.
1) Best CD: He Poos Clouds
“Nothing in the pop world sounds like this,” writes John Webster in his Xtra review. For the second year in a row, Toronto music-maker Owen Pallett (aka Final Fantasy) tops our pops. Webster calls Pallett’s weird and hypnotic sophomore album, which won the inaugural Polaris prize for new Canadian releases, “a remarkable piece of art… brilliant and original.”
2) Best feature film: A Whole New Thing
“This is a wholly original story about a gifted student (Aaron Webber) with a full-on crush on his nervous gay teacher (Daniel MacIvor),” writes film reviewer Shane Smith. Directed by Amnon Buchbinder and written by Buchbinder and MacIvor, the film is “smart, funny and refreshingly honest about precocious teenage sexuality; and a bittersweet look at the lonely lot of a middle-aged gay man living in a small town. With hot toilet sex, natch.”
3) Best short: Saddest Boy In The World
“Timothy Higgins may be the saddest boy in the world, and he may be preparing to hang himself at his ninth birthday party, but Vancouver filmmaker Jamie Travis injects this seriously stylish short with enough heart and humour to make sure everything turns out (semi-) okay,” writes Shane Smith. “This one’s for every skinny, lisping awkward fag that was ever on the business end of a dodge ball, a bully or a disinterested mother. Ah, the memories….”
4) Most ballsy film performance: Sook-Yin Lee
The local music gal and media maven bared all in John Cameron Mitchell’s sexational comedy drama Shortbus — braving the scorn of her fuddy-duddy masters at the CBC in the bargain. A respectful yet irreverent exploration of people’s sexual/emotional needs — with real sex — much of the film’s charm and heart can be credited to Lee’s star turn.
5) Best theatre: A Beautiful View
The last play from Daniel MacIvor’s company Da Da Kamera is an incisive look at passionate friendships, a form of coupledom that falls outside all categories. In his review of the Toronto production at Buddies In Bad Times directed by MacIvor, Martin Roebuck writes that Tracy Wright and Caroline Gillis give “note-perfect” performances as “slightly beaten down yet endlessly optimistic characters.” MacIvor just won his first Governor General’s Award for I Still Love You, the published version of five of his plays, including A Beautiful View.
6) Queerest opera house in Canada: Four Seasons Centre
Okay, it’s Canada’s only opera house, but the opening of the Four Seasons Centre — an amazing development in itself — is queerly significant for the two marquee events heralding the inaugural seasons of the Canadian Opera Company (COC) and the National Ballet Of Canada. Out lesbian Adrienne Pieczonka reaffirmed her place as one of the world’s best Sieglindes in Die Walküre, part of the COC’s landmark Ring Cycle designed by Michael Levine, another out gay, who made his directorial debut with the last opera presented in the series, Das Rheingold. Then it was the National’s remount of Rudolph Nureyev’s milestone 1972 production of The Sleeping Beauty. Besides showcasing the strength and depth of the company’s dancers, the gorgeous refurbishment of Nicholas Georgiadis’ fouffy costumes and sets ensured the production was the gayest thing on 130 legs.
7) Best gay-for-pay on Broadway: Robert Martin
The most successful Canadian production on Broadway, The Drowsy Chaperone, won a Tony for Lisa Lambert (a former Xtra contributor) and Greg Morrison for music and lyrics (they are also up for a Grammy for the cast recording), and for Bob Martin and Don McKellar for best book — winning five Tonys in all. While the queer Canucks involved in the show’s various Canadian productions didn’t make the trek to Broadway, the loveable main character/narrator Man In Chair (played by Martin) got stranger and gayer by the time the curtain went up at the Marquis Theatre. Wrists of mercury.
8) Best new bar: Beaver
“Co-owners Will Munro and Lynn McNeill have created a mecca for hot queer cultural make-out,” states scene writer Lisa Foad. Whether it’s a demented drag party, a low-key love-fest for Morrissey, a holiday meal for those who hate Christmas or an over-the-top art event, the Beaver gang makes everyone and anyone feel welcome. A perfect complement to the queer goings on at the neighbouring Gladstone Hotel and art galleries.
9) Biggest media whore: Keith Cole
“From black face at Fly nightclub and native drag in a jock strap at the Gay Flambé (burning Xtra mags in the bargain) to nationally televised sissy fits as Canada’s Worst Handyman, Cole knows just where the sore spot is, gently kicking it on a regular basis,” writes scene queen Anna Pournikova. “He is all balls and heart, a great example of how much we as Torontonians can get away with in this wonderfully accepting and diverse city.”
10) Best performance art: Jess Dobkin
Her performances this year included the Lactation Station Breast Milk Bar (where audience members taste-tested human breast milk), Vagina Dentata (part of Nuit Blanche) and Emergency Exits (part of SummerWorks). “All were humorous, thought-provoking, innovative and on the edge,” writes Kathleen Mullen. “Dobkin is an amazing performer with truly a unique perspective on women, motherhood and sexuality.”
11) Best folk art: Winnipeg Babysitter
“Fey Canadian art star Daniel Barrow’s wistfully nostalgic and tragicomic tour through the annals of Winnipeg’s jaw-droppingly democratic public access TV uncovered dozens of everyday folks making sweet love to the camera,” writes film reviewer Jon Davies. “Barrow’s obvious love for the ‘Peg’s more theatrical residents — including music-making The Cosmopolitans, an older lesbian couple — brought together queers of all stripes at the Images Festival for an unforgettable evening of funny and sad bargain-basement exhibitionism.”
12) Best poetry: Consensual Genocide
“One of the year’s best books was Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s debut collection of raw and vivid poetry,” writes book reviewer Sandra Alland. “It will give you goosebumps. Piepzna-Samarasinha draws deeply personal portraits of racism, homophobia, war, queer-on-queer oppression, love, family, dreams and fierce femme survival. Her style is excitingly original; her use of language skillful and startling.”
13) Best novel: Stolen
“Published by Anvil Press and long-listed for the 2006 Giller prize, Stolen by Saskatoon- and Winnipeg-based Annette Lapointe presents Rowan, a career thief living just outside the sprawl of Saskatoon. Rowan’s stuck on his childhood sweetheart. Trouble is, Macon’s doing time in the local psych ward,” writes book reviewer Jim Bartley. “Lapointe’s groundbreaking novel takes us deep inside these damaged boys. Their shared hunger is slowly embraced, their consummation volcanic.”