About Monique Walsh

Monique Walsh is a writer, collaborator, and facilitator. She currently holds the position of Communications Officer at The Banff Centre and is pursuing a Master's degree in Adult Education. Walsh is inspired by the magic of the mountains and the creative people that surround this place.
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Jorge Sandoval: designing dance

Jorge Sandoval has been a dancer, and now he sees his career in design as a natural evolution that keeps him in that world. He was just in Banff for the tenth consecutive year, working with a team of staff and work studies on the costume and production design for Dance Masters. He’s recently finished his Master’s degree in theatre and performance, and is now getting ready to start his PhD in the fall. He recently answered a few questions for me around process, design, and dance.

Why do you love designing for dance?
One of the reasons I think they keep inviting me back is that I understand movement. So when dancers move, creating these characters, the costumes have to be an extension of those characters. I’m always thinking about how they can really move the way they need to move and still look the way I want them to look.

How do you approach this type of design?
Before the performance, the choreographer and I have a lot of conversations. I always ask a lot of questions about the style of dance … choreographers tend to include a lot of different styles of movement, a little bit of hip-hop, acrobatics, and balletic style. I ask them are they doing a lot of stuff on the floor, or are they doing a lot of jumping, or are they doing a lot of partnering? Some choreographers want to prepare in the studio with the dancers, which is a more organic, a more artistic way, to collaborate. They count a lot on what the dancers bring to them. So a lot of the questions that I have are just theoretical until the moment we see the dancers in the studio. Continue Reading →

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Attack of the ox-eye daisies!

Groundsperson Laura LeBreton maintaining the flower baskets around campus. Photo: Rita Taylor.

Have you noticed how beautiful The Banff Centre grounds are these days? It can’t be easy to make 43 acres of property, 20 per cent of which is groomed, look so good. Even the remaining naturalized 80 per cent of the campus requires some maintenance, such as weeding, dangerous tree falling, and basic grooming. I met with groundsperson Laura LeBreton to hear firsthand what’s involved in keeping this place looking its best. LeBreton is one of our year-round groundspeople: she’s the one responsible for maintaining the hanging flower baskets you see around campus that always look so impressive. Those flower baskets alone take about three days a week to maintain, but if it was up to LeBreton she’d spend all day, every day with those baskets.

The flowers are brought in from a greenhouse in Pincher Creek. “We drop off the boxes mid-March and they start them from seed. We get them looking pretty good but when they arrive here they need to adapt to the cold weather,” LeBreton tells me. The flower baskets are an exception – most of the plants you’ll see around our grounds are native species. “We have wolf willow, alpine currant, juniper, and potentilla,” she says. “Also our trees are all native pines, poplars, and birch. People come to The Banff Centre for the natural aspect of it, and the landscape continues that feeling of really being in the mountains, being in nature.”

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Five things I learned from Jay Ingram

I’ve been a huge fan of Discovery’s Daily Planet and CBC’s Quirks and Quarks, so it was a lot of fun recently to interview science broadcaster and writer Jay Ingram, past host of both of those shows. Ingram has been program chair of Science Communications here at the Centre since its inception. It’s a collaborative, intensive program, that focuses on making science more accessible to “regular people”. He’s also the co-founder of Beakerhead in Calgary, an annual city-wide, week-long festival connecting the arts and engineering, which will have its inaugural event this September. Ingram has spent his career making science entertaining, so I asked him to give me a few tips on how he does it.

Science Communications program chair, Jay Ingram. Photo: Kim Williams.

Science Communications program chair, Jay Ingram. Photo: Kim Williams.

1)  Untapped creativity is everywhere
“Wherever you look in the world today, whether it’s in the engineering sector or the art world or anything in between, there’s untapped creativity that can be exposed by bringing artists and engineers together. Just mix these people up in ways that haven’t been done before and then put it all out on the street. It’s a mistake to screen people too early in life. Sometimes when you take a bunch of kids who are doing really well in math and tell them, ‘you should be engineers’ you run the risk of suppressing any artistic creativity they have as well.”

2)  The zanier the better
“There’s a certain zaniness to (Beakerhead). Honestly, the people attracted to this idea are the kind of people who turn an arm chair into a moving vehicle that you can drive. That’s not an ordinary person. That’s the kind of person who is attracted to Beakerhead and in turn who we want to attract.”

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Thalia Quartet’s peak performances

Solomon Liang (violin), Michelle Abraham (violin), James Jaffe (cello) and Esther Nahm (viola) of the Thalia Quartet, getting ready for Quartet in the Community

Solomon Liang (violin), Michelle Abraham (violin), James Jaffe (cello) and Esther Nahm (viola) of the Thalia Quartet, getting ready for Quartet in the Community. Photo: Don Lee.

Get ready. This summer, string quartet music is breaking free from traditional performance venues and hitting the streets. The Cleveland based Thalia String Quartet: Solomon Liang (violin), Michelle Abraham (violin), Esther Nahm/Rose Hashimoto (viola), and James Jaffe (cello), will be showing up in all sorts of unexpected places to wow new audiences. You can expect to see them on the top of a mountain, or while shopping for groceries around Banff at the end of August.

Tied to the triennial Banff International String Quartet Competition (BISQC), the Quartet in the Community: Melba and Orville Rollefson Residency supports one quartet to play for audiences in the community during the competition, to bring a wider appreciation to string quartet music. “The fact they want us out there says a lot about the way the competition is run, and the philosophy about inviting the public to see the competition,” Jaffe says.

The Thalia Quartet was recently here for three weeks as part of the Chamber Music Residency for Pre-formed Ensembles rehearsing and working on coming together as a group. “We’re learning more about ourselves as a group, how we present ourselves as an ensemble, and finding our common voice,” says Abraham. They’ll be back at the end of August just before BISQC kicks off, with a demanding schedule of two to three performances a day, and over 30 performances total during the two weeks. Continue Reading →

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Jennie Winhall: drawing on a blank slate

Jennie Winhall co-facilitating Leading by Design. Photo: Rita Taylor.

Jennie Winhall co-facilitating Leading by Design. Photo: Rita Taylor.

Sometimes, you just need a blank slate. This is the world designer Jennie Winhall works in as design and innovation director with UK-based social innovation firm Participle. She was in Banff recently to attend a Leadership Development program and co-facilitate the Leading by Design prototype. She applies the concept of design thinking to reframe large-scale problems, stepping back to do what’s referred to in the design community as upstream design thinking. “Nobody knows what the real problem is,” she says. “That’s where design thinking comes in, as opposed to design practice.”

On the surface, design thinking is a straightforward process: reframe the problem, generate ideas, find the biggest impact opportunity, and then explore different ways to address that opportunity. But she adds, “the toughest thing for people to do is to let go of where they are right now and join us in thinking very differently. It can be very uncomfortable for a while until things become clearer.” As a designer, she says, “you try to have no assumptions about what’s possible and what’s not possible.” Continue Reading →

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Renske Janssen: “I keep trying to erase the big things”

Renske Janssen in the Gerin-Lajoie studio with her recent work. Photo: Rita Taylor.

Renske Janssen in the Gerin-Lajoie studio with her recent work. Photo: Rita Taylor.

During her three-month residency here through the Mondriaan Fund in the Netherlands, Renske Janssen’s plan was to write a short publication of 10 essays exploring how thought leads to action, “how theories lead to material things.” But setting out to explore the relationship between art and nature in Banff, she ran into a bit of a challenge. “At one point I felt the mountains were over-subjectified in a way, it felt to me almost a cliché to do something with the mountains,” she says. In order to approach the challenge she made her focus more personal, ”as I walk around Tunnel Mountain and around the studio I keep trying to erase the big things and focus on the small things.”

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