Olympic Fever Comes to Orangeville

Roland Kirouac choreographs the excitement as Orangeville prepares to welcome the Olympic Flame.

November 15, 2009 | | Back Issues

In the course of his more than fifty-year career, Orangeville choreographer Roland Kirouac has directed the fancy footwork of everything from elephants and hand puppets to motorcycles and mountain climbers. Indeed, if the Olympics offered a gold medal for choreography, surely it should go to this 72-year-old Quebec native, who has applied his talents to such big events as the opening of Toronto’s SkyDome and the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.

But it is Kirouac’s current project that promises to provide the ultimate test of his prodigious talents. The town of Orangeville has been selected as one of forty “celebration communities” for the national torch relay as it makes its way across Canada in the lead-up to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. Kirouac is masterminding the twohour party planned for December 28 outside the Tony Rose Memorial Sports Centre, and his enthusiasm is boundless.

“It’s going to be huge,” he says. “Gigantic. It’s going to be like the opening of an Olympic Games. It’s that grand. A major event.”

Roland Kirouac (top) and Bryon Macki (left), Photo by Pete Paterson

Roland Kirouac (top) and Bryon Mackie (left). Photo by Pete Paterson

Kirouac has put together what he calls “a show in the round.” The thousands of spectators expected to attend the gala outdoor celebration will be surrounded on all sides by an unfolding extravaganza of sashaying ice skaters, Dixieland bands, local choirs and step dancers, as well as skiers and snowboarders waltzing down Murray mountain. There will even be a kids’ kazoo band. But the most ambitious performance may be the precision ride by The Orangeville snowmobile club. Under Kirouac’s direction, members have been practising their noisy, gas-powered ballet for months (using ATVs until there’s enough snow).

A stickler for detail, Kirouac has personally mapped out in painstaking detail every last movement of every one of the more than 200 performers, right down to the dancing snowmobiles. “Every element will be a show in itself,” he says.

Kirouac, who has taken time out on this rainy October morning to talk about his plans for the torch relay ceremonies, looks like a countrified version of Fred Astaire; just imagine a straw fedora and corduroy sports jacket in place of top hat and tails.

It’s a fitting comparison considering that one of Kirouac’s proudest accomplishments is a 1985 award-winning Ritz Cracker commercial that he created and performed in as an Astaire look-alike, dancing atop a cracker box to the tune of “Putting on the Ritz.”

Right now though, he is describing the Torch Relay’s closing spectacle: four skydivers parachuting down to the site, smoke billowing from their heels, brightly coloured canopies open, the thousands of spectators singing along to the tune of Kool and the Gang’s hit song, “Celebration.” With his hands he mimes the falling skydivers and then segues into an imaginary drum roll: “Ta ta tah, ta ta tah. It will be very, very powerful, very visual. The icing on the cake.”

But as Kirouac is only too aware, when it comes to orchestrating such an ambitious event, anything can happen. He recalls the 1989 SkyDome opening, which called for a group of ten members of Toronto’s Emergency Task Force to rappel down 300 feet (about 30 storeys) in unison from the stadium’s metal rafters to the ground. As far as Kirouac knows, the stunt had never been performed from such a height, and without the sheer rock face that rappellers usually have to brace themselves against on their descent.

To make matters worse, the team couldn’t practise in the SkyDome because it wasn’t completed, so they rehearsed the stunt at Maple Leaf Gardens where the jump was a mere 125 feet. On the day of the opening, Kirouac says, “a couple of the guys backed out. They just couldn’t face it; it was too far to the ground.” The others made it safely but the doubled pairs of leather gloves they wore to protect against rope burn were worn right through.

Then there was the first and last time that Kirouac tried to choreograph a bunch of vegetables, at the 75th anniversary celebrations for the Royal Winter Fair. Even the Garden City Circus’s dancing elephants he had worked with earlier in his career were more co-operative than this wagonload of pumpkins and eggplants, which upended into a pile of manure on the way into the show ring.

“There was nothing to do but shovel them back and carry on with the show,” he says, adding: “Nothing ever works out the way it’s planned. That’s why we practise and rehearse as much as we can. I hate surprises.” He admits that with the torch relay, however, the biggest surprise may be the weather.

“If there’s no snow, it will be tough. We can always make some for the skiers and snowboarders. But not enough for the snowmobilers. And if it’s not cold enough to make ice for the outdoor rink, well…” he smiles sadly and lifts his shoulders in a Gallic shrug.

“Roland is a character,” says Orangeville communications director Sheila Duncan. “He’s very passionate and I love that.” A case in point is the snowmobile ballet. “You can imagine the first time he met with the snowmobile club. There he was dancing around, hamming it up, trying to sell these guys on the idea of a ballet. But by the end of it they were all laughing. They loved the idea. His enthusiasm is infectious,” she says.

Not all of Kirouac’s career highlights have been beset by the vagaries of the weather or the difficulties of dealing with animal, vegetable and mechanical performers. He spent years in the relatively predictable world of television, acting as choreographer for such programs as The Wayne and Shuster Hour and The Bobby Vinton Show, and for ten years he was lead dancer and choreographer for The Pig and Whistle. He even taught a hand puppet, Shari Lewis’s Lamb Chop, to dance. A feat that surely makes realizing his longheld dream of forming the world’s first kazoo band seem like child’s play.

“There’s no such thing, of course, as a kazoo band,” says Kirouac. “But I’ve always wanted to do one. Every time I brought it up at a [torch relay] meeting everyone would laugh. Because the idea is funny. But when they saw I was serious, they went for it.”

Kirouac approached The Maples Independent School and they jumped at the chance. Thanks to his tutelage, thirty students aged eight to twelve will perform a two-minute medley at the torch relay celebration consisting of such old favourites as “You Are My Sunshine,” “Five Foot Two,” and “I’ve Got a Loverly Bunch of Coconuts.”

“Roland does not think small,” says Duncan. “He wants his show to be the best.” And Kirouac is convinced that his ambitious program is the reason Orangeville was chosen as one of two communities (the other is British Columbia’s Tofino) that were profiled in a television documentary about the torch relay that aired on CTV in October.

“We have taken an enormous chance here,” he says, “We could have hired a rock band and sold hot dogs, but we wanted to go for a really big show. That’s why we were chosen for the CTV documentary. It’s going to put Orangeville on the map.”

Kirouac says he couldn’t have brought it this far without the support of people like Mayor Rob Adams, Duncan and the relay committee.

“Sheila Duncan has been amazing,” he says. “I don’t know how she does it, but everything I ask for, she comes up with.”

What will he do when it’s all over? Well, there’s the East Garafraxa farm he shares with Sandra, his wife of thirty-two years. And there’s the volunteer work they do together visiting local retirement homes and Hospice Dufferin. Then his eyes light up.

“I almost forgot,” he says. Kirouac will be directing and choreographing Orangeville Music Theatre’s June 2010 production of Sweet Charity. It’s the realization of dream.

“Sweet Charity is one of my three favourite musicals,” he says. “I’ve already done the other two [The Boyfriend and Guys and Dolls]. Now the circle will be complete.” ?

Cecily Ross is a freelance writer who lives in Mulmur.

SIDEBAR: This December 28, on one of the darkest days of the year, the town of Orangeville will bask briefly in the light of the Olympic Torch.

The traditional lead-up to the Winter Olympic Games, which will be held in Vancouver inFebruary, began its 106-day journey to 1,030 communities across Canada on October 30.

Orangeville is has been selected as one of forty “celebration communities.”

Following is a partial list of events planned for the two-hour outdoor celebration at Tony Rose Memorial Sports Centre on Fead Street.

  • Brampton Flying Club provides an aerial escort as the Torch Relay arrives.
  • Stage performances featuring singer Mark Dubois, step dancer Chanda Gibson, the Orangeville Dixieland Band, Orangeville Sweet Adelines, Children’s Kazoo Band, and Theatre Orangeville Youth Singers performing an original Torch song written for the occasion.
  • A choreographed ski and snowboarding exhibition on Murray’s Mountain – and presentations by the Orangeville Curling Club and the Crushers, Tigers and Wolves hockey teams.
  • A skating performance on a temporary outdoor rink.
  • A snowmobile ballet performed to music by the Orangeville Snowmobile Club.
  • Torch bearer Bryon Mackie carries the torch onstage, accompanied by an honour guard from the Orangeville Legion, and lights the 1.3-metre high
  • celebration cauldron.
  • Recognition of local Olympians, past and present.
  • Four skydivers from The Descenders Parachute Club perform a spectacular finale as the Torch leaves the site and continues on its way.

On the same day as the Orangeville celebrations, the Olympic Torch will also be carried through Alton and Erin. And it will pass through Bolton ten days earlier on December 18.

Check the the following websites for information:

The 2010 Olympic Torch Relay: www.carrythetorch.com/

A list of communities and dates: www.carrythetorch.com/Route_Communities.pdf (PDF download)

Follow the Torch on Twitter: twitter.com/RBCfromtheRelay

The Orangeville Olympic Torch on Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Orangeville-Torch-Relay-Relais-de-la-flamme/79043361111

The official Vancouver 2010 Olympics web site: www.vancouver2010.com

Details of precise times for the community relays as well as the start time for the Orangeville celebration will be announced closer to the event.  Check these sites for updates.

Town of Orangeville: www.orangeville.org

Town of Caledon: www.caledon.ca

Town of Erin: www.erin.ca

About the Author More by Cecily Ross

Cecily Ross is an author and freelance writer who lives in Creemore.

Comments

1 Comment

  1. I loved your article and pictures on the Orangeville Olympians.

    I was surprised that you failed to mention one of Orangeville’s most successful female Olympians, Janine Rankin.

    She went to two Olympics in 1988 and 1992 for gymnastics.

    She has two world-recognized moves on the balance beam that are named after her (Rankin 1 and Rankin 2) and that have never been duplicated.

    She also doesn’t live that far away from Orangeville.

    Sincerely, Robert Abbott

    site admin on Nov 19, 2009 at 1:10 pm | Reply

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