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‘Love, risk, resilience’

Duo Concertante, Robert Chafe create new work to explore N.L.'s changing ocean


By Jeff Green

The ocean that surrounds us is the inspiration for a new artistic work featuring members of the Memorial community.

Taking on Water premiered at this year’s Tuckamore Chamber Music Festival, which is led by artistic directors Dr. Nancy Dahn and Prof. Timothy Steeves, both of whom are John Lewis Paton Distinguished University Professors in the School of Music.

The pair perform professionally as the award-winning Duo Concertante.

Taking on Water is based on stories by playwright, alumnus and 2018 honorary degree recipient Dr. Robert Chafe that explore the theme of living near the ocean.

He and St. John’s-based actor, dancer and choreographer Louise Moyes are featured in the show, which includes music by Canadian composer Randolph Peters performed by Duo Concertante.

Four individuals are seen on a stage. From left, they are: Dr. Nancy Dahn, performing violin, Prof. Timothy Steeves, playing piano, and actors Louise Moyes and Dr. Robert Chafe.
From left are Dr. Nancy Dahn, Prof. Timothy Steeves, Louise Moyes and Dr. Robert Chafe performing Taking on Water in the School of Music.
Photo: Submitted

The production received support from the Future Ocean Coastal Infrastructures project of the Ocean Frontier Institute and other partner organizations.

Climate connections

Dr. Dahn says Dr. Barb Neis, John Lewis Paton Distinguished University Professor and senior research associate at the Office of Public Engagement’s Harris Centre, approached her about developing the funding applications.

“The intent was to create and tour a new artistic piece that would touch upon issues surrounding ocean change and sustainability,” said Dr. Dahn. “She had heard about some of our recent work with Robert and also about our other extra-musical projects that try to use art as a catalyst for change and thought. Taking on Water is a natural extension of a couple of recent projects.”

Dr. Dahn points to Dr. Chafe’s show, What Was Needed Most, which explores Newfoundland and Labrador’s confederation with Canada, and Duo Concertante’s Ecology of Being, which was inspired by the climate emergency.

She says it’s meaningful to her that the germ of Taking on Water is the stories residents of coastal communities in the province shared with Dr. Chafe.

“I think audiences will be left feeling many things.” — Dr. Nancy Dahn

She says it brings relevance to what she and Prof. Steeves do as musicians: people who often play music from elsewhere, written long ago, connecting us all to this place and time.

“I also feel strongly that art can provoke thought and has a way of engaging people’s minds and hearts in a non-preachy, through-the-backdoor kind of way. It is important for us all, not just scientists, to try to stay attentive to the role we play in the environmental situation.”

Dr. Dahn also says the new show features stories filled with humanity, love, risk, resilience, beauty and humour.

“Randolph Peter’s music is incredibly moving and powerful and adds layers, and sometimes even irony, to the text. I think audiences will be left feeling many things, including some uncomfortable truths about where we are, where we might be headed, but also just how much is at stake.”

The Office of Public Engagement and the Ocean Frontier Institute are also supporting the creation of a documentary based on Taking on Water.

Award-winning filmmaker and 2015 honorary degree recipient Dr. Barbara Doran has been accompanying Dr. Chafe as he interviews residents of the province and is also documenting the workshopping of the production.

“I think the inside look into how the initial interviews led to an hour-long dramatic and musical piece is something people will find quite interesting and is a process most artists don’t reveal,” shared Dr. Dahn about the film.

August-September performance dates

Taking on Water is touring parts of the province with stops at the Hearts Content Regional Centre for the Arts on Aug. 23; the Princess Sheila Nageira Theatre in Carbonear on Aug. 24; the Beaches Arts and Heritage Centre in Eastport on Aug. 25 and the Garrick Theatre in Bonavista on Aug. 26.

It will also be performed Sept. 21-28 during an Arts and Culture Centre tour with stops at numerous schools.

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