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Allison Girvan’s new show seeks a ‘place within the infinite’

Girvan directs and performs in ‘Quintessence: One Hero’s Journey’
Allison Girvan and Hiromoto Ida perform in Quintessence: One Hero’s Journey, which opens next week at the Capitol Theatre. Photo: Tyler Harper

Allison Girvan splits life in halves.

The first half of a life, she says, is meant to focus inward on self improvement. We grow, we learn, we build a family, a career, a passion.

In the second half, we give back. We try to improve our community.

At least, that’s how it used to work. But times and priorities have changed for today’s youth.

“They’re acutely aware they’re the ones who are going to have to reap the whirlwind,” says Girvan, who spoke at the same time a climate change protest was attended by students only a block away.

“Whatever damage is done in the next while, it’s their adulthoods that are on the line.”

Climate change anxiety is one of the themes in Girvan’s upcoming show Quintessence: One Hero’s Journey, which runs Oct. 10 to 12 at the Capitol Theatre.

Girvan, who wrote, directed and performs in the production, feels artists have an obligation to address the planet’s environmental crisis.

“As an artistic community, it’s tempting to say, ‘Well, the scientists are the ones who need to guide us, or the people who know, the people who have the technical chops to figure out something to do.’ It’s going to be too late by then,” says Girvan.

“We all need to be saying this is important to us. As artists I believe it’s time to direct creative energy to something that is a crisis.”

But the show is about more than climate change. Quintessence, the fifth element, is what Girvan refers to from Buddhist philosophy as the transcendence of suffering.

“In my estimation, that’s the feeling of figuring out your place within the infinite,” she says. “It’s a restoration of hope and where you fit in the tapestry of the universe.”

The one-hour performance is a showcase for some of Nelson’s best artists.

Girvan, who also directs the youth choirs Corazon and Lalin, is Nelson’s current cultural ambassador. Quintessence also features former cultural ambassadors Hiromoto Ida and Slava Doval, who are acting and handling choreography respectively, as well as a score written by composer Don Macdonald.

The performance also features Lalin, which will sing behind Ida and Girvan on stage.

“In involving Lalin it’s this really interesting thing because Hiro and I are at that place in our lives where we should be thinking about how to caretake humanity and the planet, historically speaking,” says Girvan. “Now it’s the high school age kids who are screaming for action the loudest, and being heard.”

Ida, who is making his return to the stage after a three-year absence, said it’s his first time working with a choir.

“I’ve never worked with 30, 40 singers,” says Ida, before Girvan politely corrects him to say there are only 22.

“They just seem like 40,” she says.

“But you can’t have that experience often, as a performer even,” says Ida. “This is a special moment for me.”

Quintessence is the third time Girvan and Ida have teamed up, and the first since 2016 when Ida presented Birthday Present for Myself. Girvan says she’s developed a creative trust with Ida.

“For people who are creating, there’s a certain amount of control you want,” she says.

“At the same time you want to value somebody’s input, so it has to be the right person who will trust when you say I want to go this way that they’re going to do their best to make it so, and that they are going to contribute their creative energy as well so they are going to make it more than you could on your own.”

All of the dialogue in Quintessence is sung, and includes vocal performances in Spanish, French, Japanese, Persian and Ewe, the latter of which Girvan says she received translation assistance on from Clementine Segbeaya.

Girvan says she incorporated other languages into the performance to help make the show feel more universal.

“There’s so much that can be learned by feeling somebody else’s language in your mouth,” she says. “So the next best thing is to be able to do that for other people so that they can hear those sounds.”

Quintessence, which received financial support from Columbia Basin Trust, will also feature booths for the Mir Centre for Peace, Kalein Centre and the Council of Canadians. Audience members will be encouraged to visit the booths after the show during a 15-minute intermission, which will be followed by a Q&A.

Girvan says she’s looking forward to seeing how audiences receive Quintessence.

“If it provokes some further exploration, that’s great. If all you’re there to do is receive the artistic thing, if it just makes you feel a little more wonder, because ultimately that’s what this is meant to do, it’s meant to take a time that feels hopeless and give back some sense of wonder, some sense of connection with our natural environment.”

Quintessence runs Oct. 10 to 12 at the Capitol Theatre. Tickets can be purchased at the theatre’s box office or online at

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Girvan says she’s developed a creative trust with Ida, who she last performed with in 2016’s Birthday Present for Myself. Photo: Tyler Harper

Tyler Harper

About the Author: Tyler Harper

I’m editor-reporter at the Nelson Star, where I’ve worked since 2015.
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