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Bringing People Together in Walter Saunders Park

By Sarah Fellows and Sarah Nguyen, Outreach and Events Assistants

Pink, yellow, orange, green, blue and white geometric Arts in the Parks flutter banner waves in the wind, with Taiko drums set up in the background in Walter Saunders Memorial Park. Photo courtesy of @nagatashachu.

Walter Saunders Memorial Park is located at Dufferin Street and Eglinton West. It is a beautiful neighborhood park with a large grassy field, large trees, a pathway for biking and walking, and includes a splash pad and a playground. The park is surrounded by mixed-use homes and apartments, and offers an oasis for community gatherings, family fun, and a quiet place to enjoy nature in the middle of the city. The ambiance of the park in the soft sound of the rustling leaves, trees, and grass really complemented every single performance in the Arts in the Parks Together Again event!

On the first day of the event, community members came ready with their blankets as per BYOB-bring your own blanket protocol and children were given free arts kits! After being checked in at the entrance and settling onto the grass, families were excited to receive free ice cream from our Outreach and Events Assistants working the cart! Ice creams varied from vanilla caramel, fudge Drumsticks, OREO sandwiches, and popsicles. But the free swag didn’t stop there, as Councillor Mike Colle for Ward 8 of Eglinton-Lawrence stopped by to hand out free hand sanitizers to the community and say a few words about the land on which Walter Saunders Memorial Park stands.

Audience members gather as the performance starts on August 31. Photo courtesy of Arts in the Parks.

The first live performance at the Arts in the Parks Together Again event was of the local rap and poetry artists, Maya Gabriel (@_mayagmusic) and Jhyve (@thisisjhyve), in collaboration with RISE Edutainment (@rise_edt). Maya’s energy was so positive and radiating, she often asked the audience to dance with her and vibe to her music. She even brought her friend Michelle onto the stage to sing “Give Thanks” together. Jhyve on the other hand introduced his wife to the audience, also known as his beautiful red guitar, Cherry, which gave everyone a good laugh. Jhyve then said a few words on his appreciation for being outdoors, having these kinds of events at parks, and the ability to socialize with others after lockdown.

Maya Gabriel performs at Walter Saunders Park. Photo courtesy of Arts in the Parks.

As the second performance neared, audience members were instructed to move closer to the stage as per Hercinia Arts Collective’s request for their high-flying comedic show called HASA: The Aerial Space Show, where no circus has ever gone before! In this 28-minute family-friendly cirque-style intergalactic show created by co-director and producer Sandra Crljenica (@scrljenica) and co-producer Natalie Parkinson (@acrowithnat), with help from Stage Manager Vanita Butrsingkorn and Outreach Coordinator Zita Nyarady (@zitabird), these women were able to provide the community with a wonderful circus experience. Not to mention the highly-skilled HASA aerial astronauts themselves, Kirsten Leila Edwards @mesonic98 on hoop, Madeleine Seignoret @carmenthespectacular on straps, and lastly, Meg Boland (@megsb87) on yellow-gold-colored silks. From white full body jumpsuits, blue shoes, and helmets with a visor that read HASA to multicolored bodysuits and black tights, the audience was starstruck as the aerialists performed their acts from a 20ft free standing rig.

Kirsten Leila Edwards @mesonic98 photographed while on hoop. Photo courtesy of @herciniaarts

Madeleine Seignoret @carmenthespectacular photographed while on straps. Photo courtesy of @herciniaarts
Meg Boland @megsb87 photographed while on yellow-gold-colored silks. Photo courtesy of @herciniaarts

On a beautiful cool and sunny September day, Arts in the Parks Together Again Day 2 kicked off with two more amazing artists: Ensemble Jeng Yi @ensemblejengyi and Nagata Shachu (@nagatashachu)! The excitement in the park was palpable even before the event started, as people were already in the park with their blankets at the ready, and were asking the staff when the events would begin later that afternoon! We had an amazing turn out, including people of all ages and cultures, from children to elders! Arts in the Parks staff were handing out free art kits and postcards for everyone to enjoy and participate in the arts and crafts. Everyone was just as excited about the free ice cream at the event too!

Ensemble Jeng Yi is a Korean performing arts ensemble based in Toronto. The group has entertained audiences with their exciting repertoire of original compositions and traditional pieces. Not just talented drummers, the members are also accomplished performers of the ribbon-hat dance in which each member spins a ribboned-hat called the sangmo-all while dancing and drumming!

Ensemble Jeng Yi once again began their performance further into the park, rallying the audience and the neighborhood patrons with the bang of their drum to signal the start of their show! The Ensemble then paraded towards the audience, garnering lots of excitement from the many children at the event standing up and pointing out the performance to their parents. Ensemble Jeng Yi continued to parade towards their park stage, and lined up to perform the traditional ribbon-hat dance, all while dancing and drumming in sync! The Ensemble also performed on the traditional Korean drums while seated in a semi-circle later in the show. And of course, special guest Joo Hyung Kim graced us all with her own compositions on the Kayagum, the traditional Korean Zither. 

Ensemble Jeng Yi performing in Walter Saunders Park. Photo courtesy of Arts in the Parks.

Nagata Shachu also presented us with some amazing music, performing Japanese Taiko drumming. While rooted in the folk drumming traditions of Japan, Nagata Shachu’s principal aim is to rejuvenate this ancient art form by producing innovative and exciting music that seeks to create a new voice for the taiko. Taking its name from founder Kiyoshi Nagata and the Japanese word shachu meaning group, Nagata Shachu has become renowned for its exacting, physically demanding and energetic performances on the taiko. Their playing is the combination of unbounded spirit and passion with the highest levels of musicianship and discipline. Featuring an arsenal of thunderous taiko, bamboo flutes, the three-stringed shamisen and an array of gongs, cymbals, shakers and wood blocks, Nagata Shachu took us on a musical journey in the park!

Nagata Shachu wowed the audience with their bombastic drumming. Our favourite part of their performance was listening to the bamboo flute harmonize and play with the drums, and watching the female drummers play the drums on a high stand. They were hitting the drums above their shoulders with all of their physical strength and power! I also really enjoyed learning about traditional Japanese culture from Nagata Shachu, and learning about the names and origins of each of their musical pieces. Thank you so much for sharing your show with us, Nagata Shachu!

At the end of the festivities, we all said a bittersweet goodbye after such an amazing afternoon. But not to worry! There are more Together Again events coming in the future! Our next Together Again event is in Edgeley Park on Tuesday, September 28th & 29th featuring Nagata Shachu, Hercinia Arts Collective, Ensemble Jeng Yi and Art Gallery of York University! Don’t miss out on the fun- we’ll see you there!

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