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Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra to hold special concert for refugees

The “timing was not intentional,” but a special WSO event February 19 nearly aligns with the anniversary of many Syrian refugees arriving in Winnipeg.

Odette Heyn Project contemporary dancers are just one of the dance groups participating in the very special event.

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Odette Heyn Project contemporary dancers are just one of the dance groups participating in the very special event.

There may not be an official “happy one-year since you arrived in Canada” song, but the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO) has something special planned for the city’s newcomers nevertheless.

On Feb. 19, the WSO will host a special “Welcome Refugees” celebration by offering a free concert to as many as 1,000 refugees.

Seats will be set aside at the Sunday matinee performance of Once Upon a Dance, featuring several dance troupes performing in front of the WSO’s musical ensemble.

“We’re always looking to connect with new communities… and we have so many newcomers to Canada, many, many to Winnipeg, we wanted to find a way to welcome them,” said Brent Johnson, the WSO’s community engagement manager.

He said the special event was a long time in the making, and it all began last Spring when the WSO applied for funding through the Canada Council for the Arts “The Arts and Culture Welcome Refugees” intiative.

“The goal of that program was for arts (groups) to put on a special event or invite refugees to attend an arts experience to enrich their lives, make them feel welcome in the community,” Johnson explained.

The WSO was successful in that application, and then received further funding from the Winnipeg Foundation to open the Welcome Refugees event up to even more newcomers.

Since then, the WSO has been working with the Manitoba Association of Newcomer Serving Organizations to get the word out about the concert.

Johnson said everything about the event, including the time and selection of the show itself, was deliberate to make sure it was as accessible as possible for families.

“We took a look at our season and wanted to find something very family-friendly and did some consultation with people who work with the new Canadians,” he said. “What we found, one resounding theme, was particularly because Syrian refugees come from such a war-torn place many don’t want to let their kids out of their sight.

“Plus, babysitting is an added challenge, and a lot of them have such large families, we thought okay—we have to make this something parents can bring their whole family to.”

The 2 p.m. show meets that criteria, but Johnson believes the concert itself is also family-friendly.

Described as “a twirl through Manitoba’s history in dance,” five of the province’s leading dance companies will showcase a few different styles including Irish, French and Ukrainian. 

“It’s a very visually interesting show,” Johnson said. “For children, because there are dancers on stage in front of the orchestra in colourful costumes and what not, it’s very appealing.”

He said the “timing was not intentional,” as it aligns fairly close with the first anniversary of government sponsored Syrian refugees arriving in Canada, but adds “it certainly does work as a kind of celebratory opportunity, for sure.” 

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