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Summerside’s Highland Storm is a visual, audio, and cultural masterpiece

Step and Highland dancers, Skygate Videography.
Step and Highland dancers. - Skygate Videography
SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. —

As the heat cranks up, cherry-picked world-class performers are ready to breathe life back into the bone-dry city of Summerside and bring down a storm.

The popular Highland Storm is back and playing at the Celtic Performing Arts Centre, with evocative, uplifting musical numbers, stunning visuals, military-precision step and Highland dancers, all blended with seamless storytelling.

Piper James MacHattie, Skygate Videography.
Piper James MacHattie, Skygate Videography.

Over the years, the sensational summer production has touched the hearts of a devoted audience. Many people return again and again to soak in this celebration of the PEI-Scottish spirit. But this time around, rather than under a tent, the show is hosted in the comfort of a technical marvel.

Listen to the dynamic range of the bagpipes, silky smooth Celtic harmonies, dancers, fiddler, and College of Piping band perform in a world-class acoustic and visual reality for the city. Director of Highland Storm, Peter Gallant says to add to the experience there’s a twist in the show, like nothing seen before.

“There’s a storm! we’re going full tilt with a blizzard and debris to stage a winter scene,” he said.

The show pays homage to the early Scottish settlers that arrived by three vessels on the Malpeque shore in 1770.

“The Falmouth, Annabella, and Edinburgh are the three vessels appearing throughout the show. The Annabella and the Edinburgh arrived each carrying 60 families, and the Falmouth carried 60 men destined to begin a flax plantation in the Malpeque area. We scoped this history for the show,” Gallant said.

“We contacted the Mi’kmaq Confederacy to confirm the information is correct and respectful, and they came back with great advice. We contacted historian Georges Arsenault for information on the Acadian expulsion. And, Fred Horne from Culture Summerside for the Irish, English, and Scottish history.”

The opening segment called “maps” gives the audience insight into the period and place, beginning during the bleak and bare Autumn months at Hillsborough Bay. 

“There’s uncertainty when the early settlers arrived on the Island. A mother, after eight weeks on a boat, doesn’t know if her baby will survive. You see a crib on the stage, and five dancers perform to the well-known song Dream Angus, by Jackie Oats in a surreal sequence.”

Even the light fixtures go beyond making sure the audience can see the stage. Jen Beck and Jay Perry enhance the mood and atmosphere using lights, stage, and sound. Lights create shadows across the cast for more somber moments or establish a time and location.

“The two are like magicians,” said Gallant. 

The audience is taken, on the edge of their seat, through the early history of the Island.

“This is an authentic P.E.I. experience, and not just about Scotland because we are not them. We have our own, unique, past,” said Gallant.

Con Douly (James MacHattie), quite possibly the first piper on the Island, is introduced out of the shadows – staged by Jen Beck and Jay Perry – with the hauntingly beautiful notes of the bagpipe.

“He would have played the piobaireachd (Gaelic for ‘piping’), which is the classical music. I play a stately and austere song called 'Salute on the Birth of Rory Mor MacLeod,’ before breaking into a lively jig,” said MacHattie, an award-winning piper of more than 30 years and teacher for 10 with the College of Piping.

Combined with haunting melodies of beautiful traditional songs and the consuming fire of the fiddle, there’s “Pippin’s song – Edge of the Night,” from The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King movie, and the pitch-perfect performance by Celtic singer Christine Gallant.

“People come to the show expecting good music and dance, but they leave blown away by the whole production – right from the visuals to the choreography,” concluded MacHattie.

From August 12 to 16 (on select dates) the Highland Storm, directed by Peter Gallant, is playing at the Celtic Performing Arts Centre in Summerside. Mini concerts will also take place Monday to Friday through Aug. at 11 a.m., noon, 1, 2 and 3 p.m. For more information, visit www.collegeofpiping.com.

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