Best dancer: Peggy Baker
There are so many good dancers in the city that it's hard to single out just one. The National Ballet has the versatile Guillaume Cté , the athletic Jennifer Fournier and the instinctively dramatic Xiao Nan Yu . The whole company at Toronto Dance Theatre is exciting, and we're the first at any show featuring Kate Alton , Yvonne Ng , Daryl Tracy and Sasha Ivanochko . But Peggy Baker communicates so much with every inch of her legendarily long arms, it's hard to take your eyes off her. Never mind that she's over 50 in a profession that loves youth. She gets more interesting with each performance.
Best choreographer: Christopher House
A new work by Peggy Baker or Julia Sasso is a reason to get up and dance, and Sasha Ivanochko and the much-in-demand Matjash Mrozewski are big draws. Maybe now that James Kudelka has let go of the administrative reins over at the National he can focus on what he does best: create good non-narrative dance works. But the king of contemporary has to be Christopher House , who keeps pushing the envelope in terms of what works dramatically onstage. His new piece next month is a collaboration with hot local troupe the Hidden Cameras . It won't be hidden for very long.
Best comedy host: Graham Wagner
A good comedy host has to whet your appetite for the acts to come yet also hold his own (unfortunately, most of the best hosts are guys) without making you wish he'd just get on with it. Some of the best include regular Laugh Resort hosts Simon Rakoff and Ted Bissallion and Yuk Yuk's staples like Steve Patterson and Kenny Robinson . Marcel St. Pierre over at Bad Dog Theatre is a pretty decent MC, too - self-effacing but sharp. This year, however, I caught Graham Wagner - of the improv troupe Iron Cobra - hosting a show, and he knocked everyone else out of the ring. The young improv ace (whose mug is on those Virgin cellphone "Catch" ads) makes it look easy, and seems to be having as much fun as - if not more than - everyone else.
Best comic history lesson in a hallway: Second City
No need to worry that the move from Blue Jays Way to the back end of Wayne Gretzky's (51 Mercer) would mean taking down the terrific blown-up portraits of Second City members past and present. There's plenty of room in the new venue for the pics of Dan Aykroyd , John Candy , Catherine O'Hara , Mike Myers and others to tell us this is still the city's best training ground for comic actors. A close second is Yuk Yuk's Downtown , where autographed headshots of stand-ups line the walls.
BEST DIRECTOR OF THE CLASSICS: JOSEPH ZIEGLER
For decades Joseph Ziegler 's proven himself a skilled actor, but in recent years he's blossomed as a director. Whether working with George Brown students on Love's Labour's Lost, at the Shaw Festival in this season's Major Barbara or at the helm of Soulpepper's Hamlet, Ziegler reveals his clear understanding of the text and his ability to deliver a work's emotional truths. His acting hasn't been put in mothballs either - witness his neatly contrasted roles as the ethereal ghost and the comic gravedigger in Hamlet, and his Dora-nominated turn as the drunken, pugnacious but ultimately cowardly paterfamilias in A Whistle In The Dark.
Best female clown: Karen Hines
Who can make us laugh and give us uncomfortable goosebumps at the same time? Easy: Karen Hines 's vivid, self-centred, kewpie-doll clown Pochsy, who bemoans tragic world events while contributing to them. Remember the Third World kid she sponsored, whose name she couldn't pronounce, and her short-lived regret that she'd forgotten to send the cheque on time? Sharpening her skills by directing that masterful dark clown duo Mump and Smoot , Hines has also proven her talents out of whiteface, as a skilled actor (Angels In America, The Newsroom, Swollen Tongues) and playwright (Hello... Hello).
BEST FEMALE AND MALE ACTORS WHO CAN ALSO SING UP A STORM: KATE HENNIG and BRENT CARVER
Sure, they're talented actors, but they can do a lot more than just carry a tune. Kate Hennig won a Dora nomination for The Danish Play and has proven her dramatic mettle in Phedre and The Last Romantics - in fact, everything from Noel Coward to Shaw. But she also won a Dora for the musical Ratbag, and this summer was the alternate for Mama Rose in the Shaw Festival's Gypsy, where she turned in a thrilling, commanding turn as the voracious stage mother who finally claims the spotlight. Brent Carver 's been one of our faves for years, in classic and contemporary plays (Don Carlos, Hamlet, High Life) and musicals (Jacques Brel, Fiddler On The Roof - who knew he'd be such a winning Tevye?). Happily, he's also been acknowledged outside the country, most notably with a Tony Award for Kiss Of The Spider Woman.
Best improv theatre: Bad Dog Theatre
No question. The folks over at Bad Dog Theatre have brought comedy to the Danforth. Under ace improvisers Kerry Griffin and Marcel St. Pierre , it's become the magnet for the most unpredictable of comedy acts. One minute they're spinning off on Star Wars and Harry Potter, the next they're riffing on horror flicks. Old school, new school and everything in between, if you like laughs on the fly, this is your place.
BEST MALE AND FEMALE INDIE PRODUCERS: DERRICK CHUA and NAOMI CAMPBELL
Producers are those elusive people behind the scenes who, bringing together all the pieces of a production, tie it up with a bow for the audience. In the world of independent theatre, there are no better bow-tiers than Derrick Chua and Naomi Campbell . Chua (Little Dragon, Poochwater, The Laramie Project), an entertainment lawyer and president of the Fringe board, is always in demand to offer advice to young companies and take a hand in their upcoming shows. Campbell (Rough House, A Suicide-Site Guide To The City, BREATH[E]) is involved in the development and touring of Canadian shows by Mammalian Diving Reflex, Theatre 2.0, Nightswimming and other troupes.
Best outdoor theatre: Shakespeare in the Rough
CanStage may have the bigger site in High Park, but Shakespeare in the Rough offers the most inventive summer Shakespeare in town. For most of its dozen years, it's performed in the east end's Withrow Park , using two magnificent trees to set off the main acting area, with the performers working literally within reach of viewers. But over the years directors Dawn Marie McCaugherty , Diana Kolpak , Sue Miner , Michael Waller and Sanjay Talwar have expanded the stage to take in any park vistas we can see, literally opening up the Bard's fictional realm to include the world of today's Toronto.
Best stage-to-TV crossover writer: George F. Walker
One of Canada's most talented and exportable playwrights, George F. Walker (the Suburban Motel series, the East End trilogy) has been a mainstay in Toronto theatres, notably Factory, since the early 70s. Two years ago he and several others (including co-writer Dani Romain ) created TV's This Is Wonderland , a high-energy, darkly comic look at the (in)justices that take place in the Toronto court system. Using many of T.O.'s best theatre actors (including Yanna McIntosh , Michael Healey and Eric Peterson ) and reflecting the multicultural makeup of the city, the series hits you in the gut while entertaining with its razor-sharp scripts and exciting performances.
Best theatre history lesson in a lobby: Tarragon Theatre
Sure, the posters, production photos and headshots are for Tarragon shows, but the talent includes most of this country's best theatre artists. Above the audience lining up for the Mainspace, you'll see pics of playwrights Judith Thompson , Jason Sherman , Diane Flacks , Chris Earle and Karen Hines mixing with Ibsen , Chekhov and Shepard . And a young Atom Egoyan and Brad Fraser stare out at you from the very first Playwrights Unit shot. MOST VERSATILE MALE ACTOR Nigel SHawn Williams There's no more chameleon-like Toronto performer than Nigel Shawn Williams , a Dora winner for Two Words For Snow. But that production, set in the Arctic, is only the tip of the iceberg for the talented Williams. He's played the MC in the multimedia show Variété (a role described as equal parts Tom Waits, Hunter S. Thompson and diva Jessye Norman), preened as a suave but dangerous Judge Brack in Hedda Gabler and shown his skill in the premieres of Harlem Duet and Belle, key works about the black experience. Wish we could have seen his latest turn, playing the usually whiter-than-white composer Salieri in a Calgary staging of Amadeus.