Biography

 

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Ensemble Topaz is a Toronto-based music and dance ensemble dedicated to performing an original fusion of arts from the Turkish, Klezmer, Romani and Balkan traditions, as well as dances from South Asian and Central Asian Heritages. The artists involved in Ensemble Topaz have international dance and music profiles. Collectively conceived by music composers Mike Anklewicz, Selcuk Suna and dance artist Paromita Kar, Ensemble Topaz offers a variety of dance and musical traditions.  The Ensemble has performed at numerous events in Toronto, Ontario and abroad. Highlight performances include the International Stage at the Canadian National Exhibition,  Toronto International Dance Festival at the Fleck Dance Theatre at Harbourfront Centre, Asian Heritage Day hosted by SAFSS,  Toronto International Youth Dance Festival, Klezmer Brunch at the Free Times Cafe, and at the Mid-Autumn Harvest Festival at the Chinese Centre of Mississagua. Ensemble Topaz also hosted a behind-the-scenes experience and performances for Ontario Culture Days at the historic Annette Library in September 2016 and can offer a wide range of dance and music workshops for all ages and audiences.

 

The Artists of Ensemble Topaz

 

Paromita Kar – dance

Photo credit: Captive Camera - Toronto Sports & Event Photography

Photo credit: Captive Camera – Toronto Sports & Event Photography

Paromita Kar is the first to complete a PhD degree in Dance Studies in Canada (York University, Toronto). She is the recipient of Canada Council Grant to Professional Dancers (2015),  Shastri Indo-Canadian Fine Arts Fellowship for Dance (2012), and the Lawrence Heisey Award for Fine Arts for Dance discipline (York University, 2009). In addition to classical Indian dance, she is also a member of the Saucy Tarts, a Toronto-based nouveau can-can troupe which performs frequently across Toronto and Montreal, Ekakshara Dance Creations, which performs traditional and contemporary South Asian dance work as well as Bollywood, and Dilan Dance Company, which performs traditional and contemporary dances from Turkey, Middle East and Central Asia.  She is also the lead dancer in Ensemble Topaz, a Toronto-based music and dance ensemble dedicated to performing an original fusion of arts from Turkish, Jewish, Romani and Balkan traditions.

While performing actively, Paromita is also actively involved in dance research and scholarship. She has presented her research at conferences such as the Society of Dance History Scholars (SDHS) at Berkeley, California, and Peabody Institute, Maryland, the International Council for Traditional Music Conference in Astana, Kazakhstan, and Initiative for Romani Music Conference in New York City, Recombinant Creativity Conference at OCAD in Toronto.  She has also been published variously in international dance publications.

Mike Anklewicz – saxophone and clarinet

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Mike Anklewicz is a versatile musician who performs, composes, arranges, and teaches in many different areas of music, ranging from classical to jazz to klezmer to the avant-garde. He has recorded and performed with distinguished artists in all of these genres. Mike leads KlezFactor, a “klezmer-fusion” band that plays both traditional and original compositions fusing Eastern European Jewish folk music with jazz, rock and classical musical techniques.

KlezFactor has garnered international acclaim for their three albums. “Europa,” the band’s latest CD was released in the summer of 2016 after recording in Germany and Canada. “Klezmachine” has topped university radio charts in Ontario, and has also been played in Canada, the US, Argentina, France, Portugal, Spain and Russia. Mike can also be heard on Prague-based band Eggnoise’s latest album, Yolk, and Ondřej Galuška’s solo album, O.G. and the Odd Gifts, released in the Czech Republic.

As an active freelancer in Toronto, Mike has performed in some of Toronto’s top venues including Massey Hall, The Rex, and Harbourfront Centre. Mike has been on faculty at the Royal Conservatory of Music as their saxophone instructor since 2005.

Mike holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Queen’s University at Kingston, Ontario, where he studied composition and saxophone performance. He also holds a Master of Music degree from the New England Conservatory in Boston, Massachusetts in saxophone performance. He has completed his PhD in Ethnomusicology from York University in Toronto, Canada with a dissertation entitled Musical Hybridities and the Klezmer Revival.

Stephanie Stella – dance

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Photo credit: Mauricio Alvarez

Stephanie Stella studied and performed Middle Eastern dance since 2009. Her teachers include Roula Said, Laura McCutchan and Zahira. As a dancer, she has worked with dance companies specializing in Middle Eastern dance and traditional and contemporary South Asian dance work, and has worked with choreographers such as Roula Said, Iona Timaru, Siham Sumaya and Paromita Kar. Her performances include the International Youth Dance Festival, South Asian Homelands Festival, Kurdish Festival of Peace and Culture, Peruvian Festival, Toronto Pride, Anatolian Cultural Foundation, and Nuit Blanche.

Angelica Marrett – dance

Photo credit: Sheraine Eccleston

Photo credit: Sheraine Eccleston

Angelica has been studying Flamenco dance under Esmeralda Enrique for the past 14 years.  She has performed with Fiesta Flamenco at numerous event. She also spent two  years performing with Sanskriti Arts Ensemble, with whom she performed at various events, including the Sherbrooke Festival du Monde in Quebec. Angelica has a love of vintage dance, and following this passion, in 2010 she co-founded Disco Revolution, a small dance group dedicated to keeping alive the funk and groove of 70’s Disco dance.  She also enjoys Charleston/vintage Jazz and 60s style  Go-Go dance, and dances  the neo-cancan with the Saucy Tarts. She has been a dancer with Ekakshara Dance Creations since 2014.

Selçuk Suna – saxophone and clarinet

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Photo credit: Ken Dobb

Born in Istanbul, Turkey in 1981, Selcuk comes from a family of musicians. His father, a professor of Traditional Turkish Music at Istanbul University, and his brother, a violin player and song writer, brought Selcuk into the music scene at a very young age. Selcuk was 8 years old when he joined the children’s opera in AKM (Ataturk Cultural Centre). In addition, his parents decided to get him started on the clarinet when he was 11 in order to strengthen his lungs. It was the clarinet that led Selcuk to the saxophone at age 17. By the time Selcuk was 18, he was performing on various television programs and for many famous pop musicians throughout Turkey.

In his high school years, Selcuk studied clarinet at the conservatory in Istanbul.  He also won many high school vocal competitions. Selcuk was granted a full scholarship to study Jazz at Bilgi University, Istanbul, in the Jazz Performance (Saxophone) Department, which earned him a degree in Jazz Music.

Selcuk has worked with Mike Wilkins, Ricky Ford and Butch Morris. He has also played on stage with well-known artists such as Shakira. While living in Turkey, Selcuk played on a weekly late-night show for 13 years; he also played for numerous pop-stars. Selcuk plays saxophone and clarinet for countless albums, theme music, television shows, and musicals. Selcuk also participates in vocal recordings, and is very knowledgeable in composition and has composed music for the theatre.

Selcuk currently resides in Toronto, Canada as a freelance musician. He plays regularly at Painted Lady and can be seen at various venues throughout the Greater Toronto Area.

Mert Omurtak – guitar

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Photo credit: Ken Dobb

Mert Omurtak has been playing guitar for thirteen years. He likes incorporating traditional melodies with more advanced harmonic structure and bridging eastern ideas with western interpretation. He moved to Toronto in July 2010 from his hometown, Istanbul/Turkey, where he used to work as a session musician/Guitar instructor. Mert has been performing in countless events and shows in Canada and Turkey.

Bret Higgins – bass

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In addition to leading his own band, Bassist Bret Higgins performs regularly with Canadian folk-rock group ‘Great Lake Swimmers’, Canada’s leading klezmer-balkan group ‘Beyond The Pale’, East-meets-West instrumental project ‘Zebrina’, and the folk based ensemble ‘Ozere’. Additionally, he has performed and / or recorded with many luminaries of the folk, jazz, and world music communities, including Sarah Slean, Rose Cousins, Basia Bulat, David Myles, Serena Ryder, Justin Rutledge, Bob Egan (Blue Rodeo), DJ SoCalled, The Wailin’ Jennys, Ben Caplan, Lara St. John, Lily Frost, Ben Goldberg (Tin Hat, New Klezmer Trio), Frank London (Klezmatics), David Buchbinder (Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band, Odessa-Havana), Hugh Marsh, David Amram, Ben Grossman, and Brenna MacCrimmon.

The recipient of numerous Canadian scholarships, awards and arts grants, Bret performs extensively in Toronto, and has toured throughout North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. Special highlights of his career include; a performance at the 2010 JUNO Awards, two feature concerts in Whistler and Vancouver at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, showcasing at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 2009 with Beyond The Pale as special guests at the 85th birthday of legendary actor, folk singer, and theatre icon Theodore Bikel, and a 2005 performance at the Canadian Governor General’s Awards at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

Bret is also very prolific as a composer, songwriter, and producer, and his music has been heard in clubs, theatres, and concert halls throughout North America, Europe, Australia, and Brazil.

Max Senitt- drums and percussion

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Photo credit: Ken Dobb

Toronto-based drummer, Max Senitt, has been playing music for longer than he can remember. He started in his crib, kicking the side with a surprisingly steady pulse. By the age of seven, interest in “skillful banging” continued to escalate, and a drum set was appropriately purchased. Now with more than 30 years of drummer under his belt, Max shows no signs of slowing down. The beautiful sounds of music from all around the world continue to inspire and feed his deep thirst for musical knowledge.

Max maintains a busy freelance career playing a wide range of musical styles with many highly acclaimed Juno and Grammy Award winning artists. His past and present credits include: Josh Groban, Alex Cuba, Hilario Duran, Gord Sheard, Ivan Mazuze, Carol Welshman, Zebrina, Eliana Cuevas, Gary Morgan and Panamericana, Etienne Charles, The Flying Bulgars, Canefire, Elizabeth Shepherd, Odessa/Havana.