Set the tone with this cluster

Third annual integrated arts and music festival to open eyes to concepts of art

You might get lost in a cluster of great new art at Cluster Fest (but it will be worth it). Aaron Sivertson

A cluster is defined as a number of things of the same kind, growing or held together - and that is what this festival is all about.

Cluster 2012 is the place to see experimental, risk-taking art on an international scale. Focusing on new music, opera, drama and improvisation, Cluster has been expanding its focus and discovering the strength in numbers over the past three years.

Created by composers Heidi Ouellete and Luke Nickel in 2008, the inaugural Cluster Festival was held in 2010. The pair met through a compulsory composer seminar at the University of Manitoba, where they were both attending.

“Being composers, thinking of the new music scene in Winnipeg, we initially were trying to think of ways to encourage the creation of new music and new art, specifically forward-thinking and emerging art in the city,” says Ouellete, 27.

“When we started feeling like there wasn’t enough, we thought, well, rather than just sit around and complain about it or talk about how we wish it were here, we’re going to do something ourselves. And we really feel we have a new voice and something unique to present.”

“Very quickly we started seeing that there’s a hole in the scene that’s bigger than just a music festival,” says Nickel, 23.

“The idea of a festival of integrated art and many different art forms that were all banding together was quite important to us. We realized that if we wanted to do something successful, it was to actually bring everyone together into a community-oriented event.”

Being held over three nights in three different venues from March 8 to March 10, Cluster 3 is going where few have dared to venture before: opera.

Each evening features a different piece with numerous guest artists, including Trio 86 as well as video artist jaymez, and work from the founding pair themselves, with an excerpt from

There’s a real communal spirit (at Cluster), everyone eats long meals together between rehearsals, every meal is a feast, ideas are born around the table.

Kelly Lovelady, composer

Nickel’s Ophiuchus Rising opening the festival on Thursday.

Cluster has attracted international talent, particularly in Kelly Lovelady, the Australian-born, U.K.-based composer who completed her master’s degree in conducting at the U of M.

Lovelady has been commissioned to devise, direct and conduct the three operas being presented at the festival in the style of her performance art collective PAZZIA.

Lovelady had nothing but praise for the young fest.

“Cluster is truly unique in its level of artist support,” Lovelady says via email. “There’s a real communal spirit, everyone eats long meals together between rehearsals, every meal is a feast, ideas are born around the table.

“The directors (Ouelette and Nickel) take everything into consideration, they don’t just curate a concert series, they curate an ensemble of personalities that naturally fuel and feed off each other. I think that’s what makes it so manically creative, and the audience can feel that energy.”

Montreal-based flutist Solomiya Moroz is another featured artist who will be performing throughout the program.

“Cluster will probably be the most experimental festival (in terms of the new music and collaboration aspect) that I have participated in,” Moroz says by email from the road. “Other festivals always place emphasis on contemporary composers who are more of the established type rather than emerging and experimental.”

Cluster 3 takes place from Thursday, March 8 to Saturday, March 10. Tickets are $10 for students and $15 general admission. Passes are $25 for students and $40 for general admission. Tickets and passes are available at McNally Robinson or at the door. For more information and the complete schedule, visit or call 204-223-9939.

Published in Volume 66, Number 21 of The Uniter (March 1, 2012)

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