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Aging Zappa ites, a circus and a whole lot of dance

The season opens with semi-nude dancing, ends with a man on stilts, and there'll be a circus, erotic puppets and a husky monologuist somewhere in between. But dance dominates this year's Yukon Arts Centre lineup.

The season opens with semi-nude dancing, ends with a man on stilts, and there’ll be a circus, erotic puppets and a husky monologuist somewhere in between.

But dance dominates this year’s Yukon Arts Centre lineup.

Yukoners can expect at least six dance performances, five theatre performances and three musical acts.

“Partly that’s because dance is more highly subsidized - so we can bring larger (dance) productions for smaller amounts of money,” said arts centre artistic director Eric Epstein.

“There’s more (federal) money going to dance companies,” he said.

There’s traditional Middle Eastern dancing in March, jazz dancing in late October, and a children’s dance show in April.

As with last season, semi-nude, avant-garde dance has been welcomed.

The season opens with Orpheus and Eurydice - a interpretation of the classic Greek legend featuring live snakes and topless, pastied dancers.

In October’s Suites Cruelles, famed Montreal choreographer Helene Blackburn orchestrates an examination of the thin line between pleasure and pain.

Dancers with vacant expressions madly grasp each other in a increasingly menacing search of pleasure and conquest.

The accompanying music is eerie, to say the least.

Past performances have included a grand piano played by direct plucking of the strings.

With the Winter Olympics occurring a mere two-hour-flight away, two Cultural Olympiad-bound performances were able to detour their way into the arts centre lineup.

The Old Trout Puppet Workshop, the heaviest promoter of Canadian puppet theatre “outside of Quebec,” will bring up a puppet take on the libertine existence of Don Juan.

In 14th-century Spain, so the story goes, mythical ladies-man Don Juan was dragged off to hell.

Direct from Hades, The Erotic Anguish of Don Juan features Don Juan’s attempt at repentance.

“Not for young children; it features puppet sex,” said Epstein.

Onstage, Don Juan is portrayed with a ball and chain bolted to his penis.

The Olympiad has also brought Wonderland Productions, a small Newfoundland-based circus troupe.

“It’s not Cirque de Soleil” but it’s “folksy,” said Epstein.

In January, Whitehorse will host the inaugural tour of Night.

Still in pre-production, the show is a bit of a “mystery,” said Epstein.

Night teams up two Nunavut performers with two Icelandic performers in a show that examines the effects of living in constant darkness.

An oft-hashed northern theme, yes, but Night delves deep into the world of depression, isolation and suicide that it begets.

The show will premiere at Ottawa’s National Arts centre before sweeping through both Yellowknife and Whitehorse.

Across all productions, minimalist sets are a theme - the result of Whitehorse’s higher-than-average freight costs.

The set of Lauchie, Liza and Rory, for example, is expected to fit into the checked baggage of the actors.

The performance surrounds a love story in a Cape Breton town - with the town’s myriad of characters portrayed solely by the two performers.

This year’s At Nightfall and last-year’s Frankenstein, however, pull off grandiose productions using fabric-based collapsible sets.

New York-based monologuist Mike Daisey brings the Last Cargo Cult.

Daisey travelled to a remote Pacific Island where, at the base of a live volcano, the United States military is worshipped with religious fervour.

Bamboo B-52s are built as icons and bamboo US-army-rifles are shouldered in ceremonies.

Daisey riffs on this bizarre island anomaly, and holds the island’s cargo culture against the economic collapse of 2008.

Winnipeg’s Eagle and Hawk offers straight-ahead Juno-winning rock - coupled with a dose of traditional First Nations music and dancing.

Frank Zappa may be gone, but The Mothers of Invention live on.

The Grande Mothers features original members of Zappa’s backing band performing selections from Frank’s 60-plus album catalogue, as well as pieces from psych-rocker Captain Beefheart.

Ferron was scheduled for an arts centre performance - her first Yukon performance since 1985’s Dawson City Music Festival - but had to cancel due to health concerns.

“Her health is in jeopardy, so they’ve cancelled all their gigs,” said Epstein.

Cape Breton’s the Barra MacNeils come up in late March.

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, said Epstein.

A Scottish band, they’re a bit of a stretch from the music of the Emerald Isle.

“Once you’ve had a few drinks, it doesn’t matter,” he said.

Each year, Epstein’s goal is to assemble a catalogue balancing audience-bait with more risky performances.

The arts centre never turns a yearly profit, so Epstein has to engineer how to lose a preset amount of money.

A large-draw performance like Mike Daisey might even pay for itself.

But edgier shows like 5 O’Clock Bells - a one-man show about Canadian guitar innovator Lenny Breau - on the other hand, may see only a smattering of attendees.

It’s those shows that usually have the greatest impact, said Epstein.

Last year’s The Secret Life of Joseph Finch attracted fewer than 100 people - but flabbergasted those who saw it.

“I still see value in having presented that show, even though we didn’t get a larger audience out for it,” said Epstein.

Contact Tristin Hopper at