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Parading Whistler to the world

Higher Ground event planners aim to throw Olympic-sized performance

Picture 100 people parading through Whistler Village, showcasing mountain culture in a spectacular array of choreographed dances, detailed costumes and cutting-edge musical performances.

This hands-on parade would snake through the town’s core, ending up at Skiers Plaza, and take place every year leading up to the 2010 Olympics and everyday during the Games.

You have just pictured Christian Kessner’s brainchild, The Great Whistler Parade, which makes its stunning debut this February.

“I want this to be totally encompassing and embracing who we are in Whistler,” said Kessner, bubbling with enthusiasm.

“I know we have the ability in Whistler to do all these huge events that are going to take place,” he said.

Kessner’s company, Higher Ground Retreats and Events, got the contract from VANOC to hold this event. The aim is to show Whistler and British Columbian culture to the world during the Games.

Similar performances have been held in other Olympic host cities, such as Torino and Sydney. Unlike other Olympic cultural performances however, Whistler does not have any myths to base the parade on.

“So now is our chance. We are starting from a clean sheet to present the culture here,” said Kessner.

Kessner has been letting his imagination run wild as he dreams up out-there scenarios for this spectacle.

“I have kind of put it in my head that I want this to be like what Cirque du Soleil pulled off for Montreal,” said Kessner.

“Imagine mountain bikers coming out of the sky and jumping on trampolines, that type of thing. I really want to incorporate athletes and performers and really embrace the mountain lifestyle culture.”

The theme of the parade will be the four seasons, with each season described by weather, wildlife and lifestyle. For example, the fall season will incorporate elements of mushrooms, lanterns, and a big bear mascot.

“One choreographed part will be having kids walking in salmon costumes and having a big eagle flying around. And we will also have people going back and forth with fabric swaths to make it look like the salmon are in water,” said Kessner.

And — in staying true to the spirit of Whistler 2020 — the costumes and props in the parade will be almost entirely made out of recycled materials.

“Right now, it looks like 95 per cent will be from recycled products — the only part that isn’t is some of the fabrics for the costumes,” said Kessner.

“A lot of things have come from the Re-Use-It Centre and recycle bins, and we are looking to the community to help out as well,” he said.

While this is Higher Ground’s first big parade in town, the events planning company is not new to the local performance scene. In the past two years, Higher Ground has been responsible for Artrageous and Whistler’s Street Entertainment.

In fact, Kessner originally designed The Great Whistler Parade as part of Street Entertainment. Unforeseen circumstances at the time prevented the parade coming to life, but Kessner’s determination led to the VANOC contract.

The parade is also being designed to get a high level of community participation.

“What we really need right now is community involvement. We need all elements of involvement — we need businesses to help us, performers to get involved and we are also going to be holding workshops to teach people skills they can use to get involved,” said Kessner.

“I want everyone involved. From tourists, to businesses, to hospitality workers,” he said.

To get the community engaged, Kessner is bringing in performers and artists from outside Whistler to hold free workshops on different skills.

The workshops will include rhythm, costume design, choreography, lantern making and flag and banner making, as well as workshops targeted to elementary school students and high school students.

Kessner estimates the parade will need at least 40 volunteers and he is strongly encouraging everyone to get involved. He also said that anyone with a performance background — actors, dancers and musicians — should get in touch with him.

“And we want everybody to come out and watch this parade and think about what it could be 20 years down the road,” he said, adding with passion that he definitely sees The Great Whistler Parade continuing beyond the Olympics to become an annual spectacle of Whistler’s growing culture.

To get involved as a volunteer for The Great Whistler Parade, contact the Whistler Arts Council at . Performers can also contact Kessner at .