May 24, 2019

Ancient Greek ghost story brought to life by puppets and opera

UCalgary Across Alberta: School of Creative and Performing Arts in a support role as Ghost Opera makes its debut in Banff May 24

When Peter Balkwill was 13, he found a puppet in the corner of a friend’s basement. The puppet was a monk, with long, dark robes, its jaw on a hinge so that the monk’s mouth opened and closed when manipulated. Balkwill vividly remembers picking up the puppet, working the mouth trigger and making it talk.

And from that point on, he was hooked: “I loved that I could make adults laugh and engage with them in a genuine way.”

Balkwill is an assistant professor of acting and drama at the University of Calgary, a career that takes him from the lecture hall to the stage and back again. In addition to his work on campus, he is an originating member and puppet master of Calgary’s Old Trout Puppet Workshop.

His latest collaboration is called Ghost Opera, a production making its world premiere at the Banff Centre on May 24 and then coming to Calgary for a limited run at The Grand.

Ghost Opera is a haunting tale that draws on ancient Greek history, employing both puppets and opera to bring the work to life. A collaboration between Calgary’s Old Trout Puppet Workshop, the Calgary Opera Company and Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Ghost Opera was penned by Giller Prize-winning author André Alexis and scored by Calgarian Veronika Krausas.

Ghost Opera is antiquity lurching into life-size puppet creation,” says Balkwill. “Puppeteers bring the statuesque puppets to life by integrating the puppets and their own body's movements together.”  

The cast of Ghost Opera includes eight singers and six puppeteers, including three UCalgary alumni: Braeden Griffiths, BFA'05, Léda Davies, BFA'08, and Val Duncan, BA'09.

An enduring history of collaboration

The relationship between Banff Centre and UCalgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts is long-standing, moving across all areas of the arts, resulting in the creation of some enduring relationships. 

“The University of Calgary’s research and disciplinary community is vast, and includes pre-professionals as well as graduates,” says Nathan Medd, managing director, performing arts at Banff Centre. “Through our work with UCalgary, Banff Centre is able to make connections beyond the fine arts in terms of theory, construction and dissemination of work made by artists who come to Banff Centre.”

And with Balkwill and the three alumni, Ghost Opera is just the latest artistic work to bring UCalgary and the Banff Centre together in one place, with much more to come.

“We are excited to be working this season with University of Calgary on a number of initiatives, including the upcoming conference of Theatre Research International in July 2019," says Medd.

“Together we will be welcoming several hundred academics and practitioners to Banff, who will engage with the innovative artists of Banff Centre’s new Indigenous dramaturgy intensive, sharing new storytelling methods with the world.”